Bulls hold off 76ers, move over .500

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Bulls hold off 76ers, move over .500

Against the team that ousted them from last springs playoffsin the same first-round series that saw superstar Derrick Rose suffer a devastating ACL injury, ending his injury-plagued seasonthe Bulls (8-7) knew it wouldnt be easy, as a revamped 76ers (10-7) squad, without the services of sidelined center Andrew Bynum, has been one of the early surprises of the young NBA campaign.
Saturday nights rematch, the first game between the two clubs since last postseason, actually resembled one of those playoff slugfests, and through a combination of tough defense, balanced scoring and an All-Star level evening from Luol Deng, the Bulls prevailed, 93-88, at the United Center.
Facing a familiar foe, the Bulls offensive approach mirrored the visitors in the early going, though probably not by design. The hosts elected to shoot contested outside jumpers, a tactic likely necessary for the smallish Sixers to thrive, but certainly not one that fits Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeaus desired inside-out philosophy.
Philadelphia was led by the play of Chicago native Evan Turner (12 points, seven assists), but behind balanced scoring from the starting frontcourt trio of Deng (25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists), Carlos Boozer (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (12 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists), the Bulls made it a close-knit affair. Through one quarter of play, they led, 22-19.
Thibodeau threw in a slight wrinkle to his rotation in the second quarter, subbing out Deng, the leagues minutes-per-game leader, earlier than usual, for reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who had shown improvement as of late. Then, upon Dengs return to the contest, he left Belinelli in the game, removing swingman Jimmy Butler, who first entered the contest in the opening period, as has been customary recently.
The Bulls held a slight edge for much of the quarter, with the Sixers nipping at their heels the entire time, as point guard Jrue Holiday (23 points, seven assists) propelled the visitors efforts. Despite continued stellar play from the frontcourtthough Noah was saddled with early foul troublethe Bulls allowed their guests to catch up and at the intermission, the game was knotted at 41 apiece.
Holidays blend of playmaking, strong drives to the basket, where he used his size to finish, and pull-up jumpers sparked Philadelphia after the break, aiding the visitors in taking a slim advantage. However, the Bulls utilized the talents of their own backcourt performer, veteran Rip Hamilton (15 points), to keep pace, as the shooting guards trademark mid-range game was clicking until he got hurt with 3:15 left in the frame, suffering an apparent left foot sprain and limping heavily before teammates Deng and Kirk Hinrich helped him to the bench and he subsequently went to the locker room.
The Bulls soldiered on without one of their top offensive threats for the remainder of the quarter and regained the lead, as Deng asserted himself as a scorer. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 67-64 advantage.
The hosts second unitwith like starters Noah, Deng and Hinrich mixed inmaintained the teams lead by ratcheting things up on the defensive end of the floor, forcing turnovers and capitalizing with transition offense. Butler and Taj Gibson (11 points, eight rebounds), in particular, energized both the crowd and their teammates with high-flying acrobatics and timely scoring in general.
But the Sixers didnt relent, and with Turner functioning as a playmaking point forward and athletic forward Thaddeus Young (22 points, seven rebounds) quietly wreaking havoc against both the Bulls set defense and on the break, Philadelphia remained within striking distance as the contest headed into the stretch run.
Taking Holidays lead, the visitors played valiantly as the game crept up to its conclusion, making clutch shots to give Philadelphia a last-gasp chance, but while it got a little hairy at the enda Young layup made it 90-88 with 16.6 seconds remaininga combination of unselfish Bulls offense, getting stops when it counted and high-pressure free-throw shooting, including three of four foul shots in the final minute by Hamilton, who returned to the contest, managed to preserve the hard-fought win.

Watch: Former Bulls center Joakim Noah misses everything with this free-throw attempt

Watch: Former Bulls center Joakim Noah misses everything with this free-throw attempt

We all remember Joakim Noah's twisty-turny tornado shooting style from the free-throw line.

It was funny, and it worked better than you might expect, with Noah's unconventional shooting style from the charity stripe going through the net better than 73 percent of the time over a five-season span from 2009-10 to 2013-14.

But things haven't gone so well there for Noah in his first season with the New York Knicks. Entering Monday night's game, Noah was shooting just 42.9 percent from the free-throw line.

Well, things might've hit rock bottom Monday, with this nasty-looking free-throw try from Noah that missed everything.

Take a look:

Say it ain't so, Jo.

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs three times from 2013-15.

But it's the Wild that NHL coaches believe will win the Western Conference this season as we approach the trade deadline.

In his annual midseason poll, TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed 25 of 30 coaches to vote on multiple categories, such as the league's best player and the team most likely to win it all.

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According to the survey, 11 coaches predicted the Wild will win the West while the Blackhawks and Sharks tied for second with four votes.

As for winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are the favorite, earning 10 votes, followed closely by the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins with eight. The Wild and Blackhawks rounded out the poll with three and two votes, respectively.

Joel Quenneville earned one vote as the NHL's best coach, which is three fewer votes than he had last year, despite this year being arguably his most challenging — and best — coaching job since arriving in Chicago, given the youth on the roster.