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.

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

PITTSBURGH – Making a risk-reward decision, the Cubs will shut down Jason Hammel and not start him Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds, leaving his playoff status and future in the organization uncertain.

Hammel said he’s been feeling tightness in his right elbow for weeks, which may have dulled the sharpness to his slider and explained some of his second-half struggles, which have put him on the postseason-roster bubble, if not on the outside looking in. 

After Friday’s TBD, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are still scheduled to start the season’s final two games at Great American Ball Park, putting them at the front of a playoff rotation that didn’t figure to include Hammel anyway.

“That decision lays in their hands,” said Hammel, who has been playing catch and throwing off flat ground during this week's spring-training-like series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “Health-wise, I’m not stressing about it. Collectively, we talked about it. And for being available through October, is it really worth something right now happening in a game that – more or less – doesn’t really matter?”

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The Hammel 2.0 reboot still has to be considered a success, with another All-Star-caliber first half, a career-high 15 wins, a 3.83 ERA and an overall resume that would look dramatically different if he didn’t have three starts allowing nine or 10 runs. 

The Cubs hold a $12 million option – with a $2 million buyout – for next season that could make Hammel an attractive trade chip given this winter’s shallow pool of free agents.   

“Obviously, not happy with the way things ended,” Hammel said. “But I would say for 9/10ths of the season, I was very good. I’ll take that into the offseason and add onto what I added (last) offseason.

“Some crazy freak incident like this can derail it, but overall my body feels good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, which was to make 30-plus starts and be competitive, save for five, six starts. Out of 30, I’d say that’s pretty good.”   

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Could Jay Cutler lose his starting job as Bears QB?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Could Jay Cutler lose his starting job as Bears QB?

Tonight's panel include Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun Times, Hub Arkush from Pro Football Weekly, and NFL Analyst Dan Pompei. The guys discuss whether Jay Cutler could lose his starting job to Brian Hoyer, question if Joe Maddon is managing his starting rotation properly heading into the postseason, and talk about whether Robin Ventura will return to manage the White Sox next season.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: