Bulls to host Bucks tonight on CSN

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Bulls to host Bucks tonight on CSN

For the first time in two weeks the Bulls take to the United Center with a chance to reclaim first place from the visiting Milwaukee Bucks tonight on Comcast SportsNet.

A five-game road trip, including four against Western conference opponents, proved a tall order for the Bulls, which went just 2-3 in a 10-day span away from the United Center. They did, however, break their first three-game losing streak in three seasons under Tom Thibodeau with a 93-86 win against the Bucks in Milwaukee to close the road trip.

Carlos Boozer scored 22 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to lead the Bulls, while Richard Hamilton contributed a season-high 22 points of his own.

As the Bulls' health starts trending in the right direction -- Kirk Hinrich (hip) averaged 27.6 minutes on the road trip after missing a Nov. 12 matchup with the Celtics -- the Bucks have concerns as point guard Brandon Jennings left Saturday night's game after rolling his right ankle in the closing minutes of the Bucks' loss. If Jennings can't suit up, it's a major loss for a team that has relied on the 23-year-old's hot start to take first place.

Jennings, who will become a restricted free agent next season, is averaging 17.5 points, a career-best 7.5 assists and 3.5 steals, the latter of which leads the NBA. He had 23 points and 7 assists Saturday night against Chicago, but is listed as questionably by the Bucks' official website.

Beno Udrih would get the start if Jennings can't go, but shooting guard Monta Ellis would be the one to take on a larger role. The combo guard has struggled out of the gates in 2012, shooting just 40 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc. There were concerns as to how Jennings and Ellis, similar players in skill set, would work together when the Bucks traded former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut for Ellis, but the two have yielded positive results in the win column despite Ellis' drop-off in stats.

The Bucks have managed to maintain their lead atop the Central division despite a major disappointment from Ersan Ilyosova, who signed a 45 million extension this offseason. A breakout performer a year ago, Ilyosova averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds but has reached double-figures just three times in 2012, and in those games has failed to score more than 11 points. His rebounding numbers are down as well, which has hurt Milwaukee on the interior. Saturday night Boozer and the Bulls collected 20 offensive rebounds, a number which could be reachable again at home.

Larry Sanders has salvaged some of the Bucks' inside woes, but a jumbled frontcourt that also includes rookie John Henson, Joel Pryzbilla and Sam Dalembert is a weakness that Boozer and Joakim Noah should exploit again tonight.

It's only November, but the Bucks (6-5) sit 12-game in front of the Bulls, and with first place on the line the Bulls would like to win one tonight in front of their home crowd. Tune into Comcast SportsNet for all your Bulls' coverage tonight, with Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. and Bulls Postgame Live following the contest.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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

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Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

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USA Today Sports Images

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

Anthony Ranaudo hadn’t reached base in eight major league plate appearances and hadn’t got a hit since his high school days in New Jersey. He didn't have any at-bats in the minor leagues, and wasn't given an opportunity to hit while playing for college baseball powerhouse LSU. 

But in his second trip to the plate in the White Sox 3-1 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Ranaudo lifted a solo home run into the right field bleachers off right-hander Jason Hammel. It was a bizarre (in a good way) moment for a guy who also took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against one of baseball’s best offenses. 

“I figured it was going over Heyward’s head,” Ranaudo said. “I thought it was a double at first. I thought it got stuck in the ivy and I kind of pulled up at second base. I looked back at (the White Sox dugout) and realized it was a home run, from the way everybody was reacting and stuff, and I had to finish out the jog. I think it took me a little longer than I wanted it to, but it was a good experience. It was fun.”

Ranaudo last homered nine years ago as a senior at St. Rose High School (Belmar, N.J.), where he actually once faced White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier (Toms River, N.J.) during a state tournament as a freshman. He also blasted a home run in the New Jersey state championship game as a sophomore in 2005. 

With his fifth-inning solo home run, Ranaudo became the first White Sox pitcher to homer since Mark Buehrle blasted a dinger against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 14, 2009. He joined Buehrle and right-hander Jon Garland as the only White Sox pitchers to hit a home run in the designated hitter era (1973-present). 

Ranaudo also became the first pitcher to homer in his White Sox debut since Jack Salveson went deep in a 16-11 loss to the Washington Senators on June 14, 1935. He’s also only the second American League pitcher to homer at Wrigley Field, joining Detroit Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, who took one out on Aug. 19, 2015. 

Ranaudo, who entered Wednesday with a 17.18 ERA in 2016, had his one-man show spoiled by home runs he allowed to Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. But the former first-round pick out of LSU still won’t forget his White Sox debut thanks to his no-hit bid and mighty wallop. 

“Yeah, that was definitely cool,” Ranaudo said. “Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

When Jay Cutler came to the Bears in that 2009 trade with the Denver Broncos, he was “the new guy.” The locker room belonged to Olin Kreutz and Brian Urlacher on their respective sides of the football, and while the quarterback position by definition places its occupant in a necessarily leadership position, that wasn’t the Bears. They weren’t going to be “Cutler’s team,” not for a while.

But Matt Forte exited this past offseason and with him went the last position player – on either side of the ball – who had been here longer than Cutler now has. The reality wasn’t lost on Cutler.

“I was looking at the roster a couple of weeks ago and I feel like there’s been a major shift in experience — especially on the offensive side,” he said. “I’m at 11 [years] and then you look down, there’s a couple of nines, a couple of eights and mostly five and under, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think a new talent and new guys in the building, there’s new energy and new attitude. I’ve embraced it. I’ve enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff’s done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It’s a good group right now.”

It is also a group that looks to Cutler perhaps in ways teammates haven’t. Where Forte was at least the template for an NFL professional for his position group, Cutler now becomes the go-to veteran for everything ranging from details on a play-call to how to behave as a rookie.

It is a role that at times Cutler did not always appear to fit into comfortably, particularly with established veterans and personas that were the Bears’ identity for, in cases like Kreutz and Urlacher, a decade or more. Now, a player once sometimes perceived by outsiders as poutish or petulant has become something of a standard-setter for teammates.

“Obviously Jay does a great job with the younger guys,” said guard Kyle Long. “He brought me along, and continues to bring me along. He can be a little honest and blunt with me from time to time, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s the right thing to do in his position, as the leader and vested player.

“The quarterback is the leader of our team. I think he’s done a great job. I see him with the defense a lot, which is something I didn’t see a lot the first few years. I don’t necessarily know if that’s on Jay, or if it’s a perception-of-Jay basis. He’s a great guy. People in that locker room love him. He’s tough as hell. He’s got a cannon. He can run. And he’s a competitor. We love him. He’s been great this offseason and we’re looking forward to seeing how he’ll be this season with this new O-line and with the defense getting us the ball back a lot.”

Tough love approach

Cutler has earned the respect of his teammates. But gaining the confidence of his head coach and general manager through last year were possibly career turning points.

Cutler had been given a contract extension six games into his first (2009) year with the Bears. He responded by leading the NFL in interceptions.

When Phil Emery arrived as general manager, he spoke from the outset of Cutler as a “franchise quarterback” and “elite.” Emery gave Cutler a seven-year contract after the 2013 season, whereupon Cutler again led the league in interceptions in a 5-11 season marked by friction with coordinator Aaron Kromer and coach Marc Trestman, whose staff was fired after that year.

Instead of fawning treatment, Fox, coordinator Adam Gase and GM Ryan Pace were decidedly noncommittal on Cutler through last offseason and into the year. Cutler produced the best statistical year of his career, still not as good as Aaron Rodgers’ poorest single season, but with an overall performance that settled the Bears’ quarterback situation for the foreseeable future.

"I had questions on everybody," Fox said. "You come in, you take a job, you evaluate and you have to make decisions oftentimes before you even meet somebody in Year 1 as a head coach or general manager. They could be robots for all you know. But the game is still about people and relationships.

“I will say this: At the conclusion of the whole season working with Jay, I was very impressed. So I feel way more confident about him."