Bulls look to repeat last matchup with Cavs tonight on CSN

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Bulls look to repeat last matchup with Cavs tonight on CSN

After suffering through its worst offensive performance of the early season -- a 76-point effort in a loss to the Pacers last night -- the Bulls return to the spot where they enjoyed their best performance when they travel to Cleveland for a matchup with the Cavaliers tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live.

On Nov. 2, Tom Thibodeau's group traveled to Cleveland for its first road game of the year, and shot better than 63 percent from the field in a 115-86 win. Five players scored in double-digits, and four more scored 8 or 9 points in the Bulls' largest win of the season. Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer led the way with 19 points apiece, while Nate Robinson added 16 points off the bench.

Helping in Chicago's return to Cleveland tonight is that the Cavaliers are hurting. Point guard Kyrie Irving, who led the Cavs with 15 points in the previous matchup, is out with a broken finger, and rookie Dion Waiters, who scored 7 points in November but has improved since, is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. He is a game-time decision tonight, leaving Cleveland's backcourt thin for tonight's matchup.

Perhaps evening the playing field, however, will be Hamilton's absence. The Bulls' second-leading scorer suffered a torn plantar fascia on Saturday against Philadelphia, and will miss a week or more of action. Though Hamilton averaged 27.1 minutes per game, his numbers were missed last night as the Bulls shot just 38 percent from the field and received 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting from plug-in starter Marco Belinelli (5 points) and Jimmy Butler (4 points).

With the Bulls attempting to figure out their backcourt struggles -- starter Kirk Hinrich scored 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting the last three games -- they've relied on their frontcourt for scoring to complement leading scorer Luol Deng, namely Joakim Noah. The 6-foot-11 center has maintained his career-best pace in the scoring department (13.0 points on 10.5 field goal attempts) and he'll have his hands full against Cavs' center Anderson Varejao. The 30-year-old leads the league in rebounding (15.4 per game) and while his blocks are down he's improved his defense, which has been his calling card since he entered the league eight seasons ago. Noah had 10 points in the Nov. 2 meeting, while Varejao had his lowest rebounding total, five, in the blowout loss.

Yet Varejao has picked things up on the offensive end in Irving's and Waiters' absences, averaging 18.2 points on better than 56 percent shooting. Noah will have his hands full against the Cavs' new go-to option.

Though Varejao has improved on both ends, the Cavaliers have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league. To date, Cleveland is allowing opponents to shoot better than 48 percent from the field, the highest mark in the NBA, and 101.2 points, 25th worst in the league. If there's one team for the Bulls to get going against offensively, it's the injury-riddled Cavs.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

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)

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