Bulls' offense still a 'work in progress'


Bulls' offense still a 'work in progress'

With their star player sidelined until at least halfway through the season and seven newcomers on board, there were bound to be some growing pains offensively for the Bulls.

And while Tom Thibodeaus group has averaged 89.3 points through six preseason games, improvement can be seen from a team still learning each other and their tendencies.

The Bulls raced out to a 51-40 lead last night in an eventual 94-89 win over the Thunder. And while things began well for Chicago, a sluggish end to the third quarter carried into the fourth quarter, allowing Oklahoma City back into the game.

Indecision and passed-up shots plagued the Bulls offense, which shot less than 38 percent from the field after halftime.

Youve got to know you job; know your job and do your job and youll be fine, Thibodeau said. When youre taking your shots and youre making the right plays, youre gonna live with yourselves. Its the indecision that gets you into trouble.

The Bulls played at a noticeably faster pace against the Thunder in the first half, something Thibodeau said his team may do this year to play to the teams strengths. But both the primary and secondary breaks he plans on using require control and spacing, something he noticed was lost in the second half.

We have to stay disciplined, we have to have the ability to run late to try and get some easy scores, Thibodeau said. When we do that well be efficient offensively. But when we break things off and we make things up, its hard to read and react off that. So we just have to stay more disciplined.

Often times were initiating, also, when we havent gotten to our spots yet. So usually with offense, if it doesnt start right its not gonna end right; so we have to make sure were starting it right.

Part of that, veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton said, is the offensive unit still learning both Thibodeaus schemes and their new teammates.

Were playing well in spurts, Hamilton said of the teams offense. I think guys are still learning each other. With our seven new players, guys are still trying to learn their roles and things like that. So I think were getting a little bit better each and every day. I think were nowhere near where we want to be. I think its still a lot of room for improvement.

Hamilton even includes himself in that group. After arriving in Chicago as a free agent last summer, there was no acclimating to his new teammates or the playbook during the lockout-shortened offseason. Had Hamilton still been in Detroit, where he spent nine seasons, it wouldnt have been an issue. But even he is seeing the positive effects of a full offseason.

If I was in Detroit I wouldnt mind it because I know the offense in-and-out, I know whats expected and things like that, he said. But coming into a situation where you have no clue on the coaching staff, your teammates, anything like that, and just going out there and playing games. Thats not an easy task.

Hamilton said he is not worried about any inconsistencies in the Bulls offense through six games, noting that while it may not be completely in order by Opening Night on Halloween, the team will continue to work on its chemistry and discipline until its where it needs to be.

I think its still a work in progress. The goal for any NBA team is to be playing your best basketball late, and trying to get all the kinks out early, Hamilton said, just try to learn and get better as games go by. I think thats the key.

Why Joe Maddon chose Albert Almora Jr. over Jason Heyward in huge Game 6 for Cubs

Why Joe Maddon chose Albert Almora Jr. over Jason Heyward in huge Game 6 for Cubs

With the chance to book their first trip to the World Series since 1945, the Cubs benched the player with the biggest contract in franchise history and started a 22-year-old rookie who began this season at Triple-A Iowa.

Now that says something about Clayton Kershaw’s overall brilliance and Albert Almora Jr.’s precocious nature, but it also again spotlights Jason Heyward’s offensive spiral during the first year of that $184 million megadeal.  

Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field, well-rounded skills and clubhouse intangibles certainly helped the Cubs get to this point – up 3-2 on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series – but manager Joe Maddon wanted to go in a different direction for Saturday’s Game 6 at Wrigley Field.   

“Kershaw’s pretty good,” Maddon said. “You look at his numbers, he’s been absurd versus lefties, (so you) get another right-handed bat out there and the way Albert can play defense really makes it a little bit easier.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

“If we didn’t have the opportunity to do something differently tonight I wouldn’t have. But we do. Albert just presents well at the plate – and well on defense – to the point where I thought we needed to give it a go.”

Almora – the first player the Theo Epstein regime drafted here with the sixth overall pick in 2012 – could be the 2017 Opening Day starter in center field if Dexter Fowler cashes in elsewhere as a free agent.

After posting career lows in homers (seven) and OPS (.631) during the regular season, Heyward has gone 2-for-28 (.071 average) in the playoffs and will probably need to reboot during the winter.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of internal work done in the offseason with him, no question,” Maddon said. “You know he’s not satisfied with the year. (But) he was a big part of our 100-plus wins this year.

“It is something that he has to work on – and he will work on it – but by no means is anybody giving up on him. He just needs to probably clear his mind a little bit when this is all said and done and get back to the drawing board.”

Huskers stay unbeaten with comeback win over Purdue


Huskers stay unbeaten with comeback win over Purdue

At halftime Saturday, Nebraska, the No. 8 team in the country, was trailing Purdue, which just fired its coach.

Uh, what?

Order was soon restored, but the Huskers needed to bounce back from a halftime deficit to grab a 27-14 win over the lowly Boilermakers on Saturday in Lincoln.

Purdue threw an interception on the game's opening drive, and Nebraska turned that into a touchdown, something that looked very much like how everyone expected this one to go. But quarterback David Blough retaliated with the first of two first-half touchdown passes, while the Huskers mustered only a field goal on the next drive and then went silent the rest of the opening 30 minutes, punting three times and Tommy Armstrong throwing an interception right before the break. In there, Blough threw his second touchdown, an 88-yard monster to DeAngelo Yancey that gave the Boilers a lead.

That lead didn't last too long, though, as after going three and out on their first drive of the third quarter, the Huskers scored on each of their next three possessions: an Armstrong pass to De'Mornay Pierson-El, a 24-yard run by Alonzo Moore and a 51-yard field goal by Drew Brown. Meanwhile, the Nebraska defense clamped down, and Purdue had just one drive that lasted more than five plays in the second half, with that drive ending in a turnover on downs and Blough adding an interception.

All in all, the Huskers out-gained the Boilers, 409-333, and had the ball for about seven more minutes, avoiding a repeat of last year's matchup, when Purdue scored its lone Big Ten win over Nebraska.

Armstrong threw for 252 yards, one touchdown and one interception and added 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Terrell Newby had 82 yards rushing.

Blough threw for 309 yards, but the Boilers managed just 24 rushing yards.

The win sent Nebraska to a perfect 7-0 ahead of next weekend's huge Big Ten West Division showdown with Wisconsin.

The loss dropped Purdue to 3-4. The Boilers take on Penn State next weekend.