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.

Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

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Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

The White Sox take on the Royals on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. from Kansas City. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 4.57 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (0-0, 2.13 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Phillies on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (4-3, 2.60 ERA) vs. Adam Morgan (1-2, 5.61 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

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Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

The Bears’ decision to move on from Matt Forte, the No. 2 running back in franchise history behind only Walter Payton in yardage, was not necessarily an easy one. It was, however, unanimous at Halas Hall, sources told CSNChicago.com. And it was also part of a significant deeper change in the main operating principle underpinning the Bears’ rushing offense.

Depending upon what Forte does with the New York Jets — and for how long — the decision might be open to question. Few NFL decisions aren’t.

But the Bears’ offense under John Fox and new coordinator Dowell Loggains was clearly going away from what Forte was accustomed to — a true featured back with a relief-back in the form of a Chester Taylor/Marion Barber/Michael Bush — and moving onto a true use of two backs in the fashion that Fox’s Denver Broncos offenses used them.

The change will be more than just a few carries. Forte lost carries last season to Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey. This is different.

Instead of Forte and an understudy, as the de facto rushing offense has been since Forte was drafted in 2008, the Bears this offseason made the decision to emphasize the run even more under Loggains, and that has meant something other than simply more carries for Forte’s understudy.

For perspective purposes: Last season Forte missed three full games due to a knee injury but still totaled 276 touches (carries plus targets) to 236 combined for Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. When Forte returned from the three-game injury break, the offense had changed. Forte had four 20-carry games in the first six. He had one over the final six.

Forte did not appear publicly to genuinely embrace the job-sharing approach as Langford’s carries matched and in cases exceeded his own. Whether he would have been on board with ceding even more meaningful time to a co-back is another matter that would have been open to question, though any suspicions that direction are now moot.

(If Forte would have had problems with younger backs rising, he would not have been the first; Thomas Jones ultimately demanded a trade after the Lovie Smith Bears drafted Cedric Benson to broaden the run game.)

Regardless, the true multi-back system will be a change for the Bears, harking back perhaps to the Bears building their run game on two starter-grade backs in Benson and Jones. The Bears’ unsuccessful attempt to bring in C.J. Anderson from Denver suggests less a no-confidence vote in either Carey or Langford than a measure of the commitment to both competition and a depth chart with meaning past the top one or even two names. The Bears have used mid-round picks on running backs in three straight drafts (Carey, Langford, Jordan Howard this year), making the same point the Anderson interest did.

And that’s how Langford took the Howard selection to a position that where confidence in him was one of the reasons the organization was OK with parting with Forte.

“I really didn’t think too much of (the Howard pick),” Langford said. “I know it’s just competition. That’s what brings a lot of running backs, a lot of positions, to push themselves even more. Competition is always a good thing, and playing in the NFL, there’s always going to be competition, so you can’t really become too complacent as a player.”

“Complacent” wasn’t a word anyone was likely to apply to Langford, and certainly to Carey, who played his way up from a roster bubble at the end of training camp last year. And Howard as a fifth-round rookie isn’t guaranteed anything for awhile in training camp except reps with the 2s or 3s, with Jacquizz Rodgers also re-signed after an injury shortened 2015.

Loggains has been dealt a hand without an ace like Forte but with what he and the organization think can be three or four kings, depending on roster decisions at the end of August.

“We like where Jeremy’s at,” Loggains said. “He needs to continue to develop. There’s things he can do a better job of in the passing game, but we still like our other backs. Ka’Deem Carey finished strong for us last year. We obviously drafted a back. We’re excited about getting Jacquizz Rodgers back as well.”