Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

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Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

On the bright side, the Bulls (16-13) can regard Mondays 91-81 loss to the Bobcats (8-23) at the United Center as a thing of the past, something to be forgotten when the ball drops at midnight. But in the here and now, it was a defeat at the hands of one of the NBAs worst teams, losers of 18 straight games when they arrived in Chicago and even without the services of starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, thats the type stain that doesnt just wash away in the laundry.

A sluggish start put the Bulls in an hole in the early going, as the young Bobcats played with energy to make up for any perceived talent disparity, similar to the way the Wizards made it competitive in the hosts last outing. Beginning contests slowly isnt something new for the Bulls, but surprisingly, they didnt bounce back immediately against the downtrodden visitors, who built a double-digit lead.

Behind balanced scoring and superior rebounding, the Bobcats controlled the games pace against the poor-shooting Bulls, who struggled to scoreRip Hamilton (11 points), in his second game back from injury, was effective before picking up two quick foulslet alone defend up to their usual standards. Despite determined, if inefficient, play from forwards Luol Deng (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (19 points, 14 rebounds), after a quarter of play, the home team trailed, 28-18, much to the dismay of the matinee-going audience.

When things didnt change early in the second quarter, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau went with a rarely-used all-reserve lineup, though the backup Bobcats backcourt of Ramon Sessions (15 points) and former Bulls sixth-man extraordinaire Ben Gordon (15 points) wreaked havoc with their scoring ability. The burden fell upon Taj Gibson (eight points, nine rebounds) and Marco Belinelli to deliver and they helped the second unit make the Bulls deficit more manageable.

Gibsons energy on both ends, the solid interior play of backup center Nazr Mohammedin the game early for starter Joakim Noah for the second straight game, but not due to foul trouble this time aroundand poised minutes from rookie point guard Marquis Teague helped the Bulls stay within striking distance as the period waned on. Still, at the intermission, the Bulls were behind, 47-42.

After the break, Charlotte went on a 6-0 run to make it a double-digit affair again, prompting a Thibodeau timeout to restore order. While that didnt happen immediately, the Bulls, who, with the exception of Boozer, were mostly unable to score proficiently against their guests set defensewhile Nate Robinson (seven assists), starting in place of the sidelined Hinrich, made a concerted effort to get others involved, his strength is being a scoring point guard for the more offensively-challenged benchpushed the pace and manufactured scoring opportunities in transition.

Toward the end of the third quarter, the Bulls finally made more of an inroads and though they occasionally impeded their own progress with shaky free-throw shooting and inattentive defensive rebounding, the contest morphed into a close-knit affair late in the period. Propelled by the wing duo of Hamilton and Deng, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with the game knotted up at 65 apiece.

Charlotte upped the ante at the outset of the fourth quarter, this time going on a 10-0 run to create separation from the listless hosts, whose fans made their displeasure felt. The likes of Gordon, undersized big men Bismack Biyombo (11 rebounds) and Jeff Adrien (nine points, 10 rebounds) and the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker (18 points) and Gerald Henderson (16 points) were all part of the cast of characters that helped stake the Bobcats to a comfortable lead, as the Bulls struggled with ball-security issues, rebounding deficiency, lack of defensive intensity and overall malaise, made evident by Thibodeaus myriad substitutions, in search of an all-encompassing answer.

Despite implementing different lineups and the players on the court ratcheting up their collective sense of urgency, shots simply wouldnt drop and the defense couldnt get key stops against the Bobcats, as the Bulls once again faced a double-digit deficit, but with the game entering the stretch run, there wasnt enough time for a miraculous comeback run, even if they somehow managed to build the momentum. Incredibly, things got even worse as time ran out on the hosts, who were in the penalty and forced to send their guests to the foul line in an effort to stop the clock, but the damage had already been done early and the only positive that can be taken from the whole sordid affair is that perhaps things will be different in 2013.

Illini make final five for five-star recruit Jeremiah Tilmon

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Illini make final five for five-star recruit Jeremiah Tilmon

John Groce is no stranger to making the final cut for highly rated recruits. But actually getting them to play in an Illinois uniform is a different story.

Well, the Illini are once again among the final choices for a top-ranked prospect, with Class of 2017 center Jeremiah Tilmon including the orange and blue in his final five.

The 6-foot-10 Tilmon is ranked as a five-star recruit by Rivals, the No. 24 player in the country in the Class of 2017. An Illinois native, he's attending high school in Indiana, the same state from which Groce wooed Jalen Coleman-Lands.

Michigan State, North Carolina and Kansas are powerhouse programs, and Illinois hasn't fared too well against those types in the past, notably losing out to Kansas for the services of Cliff Alexander and watching Jalen Brunson choose Villanova.

But other Big Ten schools offered Tilmon and didn't make the final cut: Indiana, Iowa and Purdue, per Rivals.

Northwestern's Tre Demps joins Bulls' Summer League roster

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Northwestern's Tre Demps joins Bulls' Summer League roster

From Chicago's Big Ten Team to Chicago's NBA team.

Former Northwestern guard Tre Demps will play for the Bulls in this offseason's Summer League in Las Vegas.

Demps spent four seasons in Evanston and became quite a prolific scorer, averaging 15.7 points per game as a senior last season after averaging 12.5 points per game and 11 points per game during his junior and sophomore seasons, respectively. Last season, Demps connected on 39.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and shot 33.2 percent from behind the 3-point line, averages down from the previous season.

Demps had some incredible scoring performances last season, including a 30-point effort on the road against then-No. 3 Iowa that featured six made 3-pointers, a career high he matched with six triples in a win over Rutgers later in the season.

Demps is the son of New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

Cubs: How Kris Bryant became a superstar in the making

What initially looked like a garbage-time home run for Kris Bryant – and day-after spin from Theo Epstein – actually summed up why the Cubs have a homegrown superstar and a franchise ready for another close-up in October.

It also helps explain how Bryant – at the age of 24 – became the first player in history to hit three homers and two doubles in a Major League Baseball game. Bryant set a franchise record with 16 total bases during Monday night’s 11-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, becoming the youngest Cub to ever have a three-homer game (or 10 days younger than Ernie Banks in 1955).

After the New York Mets swept the Cubs out of last year’s National League Championship Series, Epstein sat in a dingy Wrigley Field storage room converted into a media workspace for the playoffs. During that end-of-season news conference, the president of baseball operations highlighted Bryant’s final at-bat, how New York’s right-handers kept attacking him with changeups.

Cubs officials felt like they were beaten at their own game, impressed how the Mets did such a great job with advance scouting, breaking down numbers and executing that night’s plan. If Bryant appeared to be vulnerable to that weakness – and a little worn down at the end of an All-Star/Rookie of the Year campaign – he still had the presence of mind to make an adjustment in Game 4.

With his team down seven runs in the eighth inning, Bryant drove a changeup from a two-time All-Star reliever (Tyler Clippard) 410 feet into the left-center field bleachers for a two-run homer.

Bryant can grow up as the son of an old Boston Red Sox prospect who learned the science of hitting from Ted Williams – and have his own batting cage at his family’s Las Vegas home – and still not feel burned out from the game or create the wrong Sin City headlines.

Bryant can get drafted No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego in 2013, shoot a Red Bull commercial with a goat before his first at-bat in The Show and have his own billboards in Wrigleyville – and still not alienate himself from teammates or come across as having the wrong priorities.

Bryant is athletic enough to play third base, right field and left field during that 5-for-5, six-RBI, three-homer game. He can also get analytical and self-diagnose – without feeling paralyzed at the plate.

Bryant didn’t remember the NLCS as an eye-opening experience or give the Mets too much credit: “They all throw 96 (mph), which is kind of just where baseball is nowadays, too – a ton of people are throwing gas.”

For Bryant, it’s a constant process of self-evaluation, from his 0-for-4, three-strikeout debut last April, through the 21 games it took before hitting his first big-league homer, beyond hitting the rookie wall last summer (.639 OPS in July).   

“It’s the peaks and valleys of baseball,” Bryant said. “From August and September last year, I had two really good months (.900-plus OPS). I didn’t really have the postseason I wanted to. But up until that point, I was swinging the bat really good. I was feeling really good about myself.

“I kind of just went back to what I did in college, a drill that kept me more flat to the ball. That’s what helped me. And then going into the offseason, I really wanted to expand on it. Just continue with it and see where it took me.”

After finishing second in the majors with 199 strikeouts last season, Bryant struck out 12 more times in 37 playoff plate appearances. He’s now on pace for around 160 strikeouts – with 21 homers and 57 RBI a week out from the Fourth of July.  

“What he had been doing before was not going to work (long-term),” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m not one of those guys (who says): ‘Hey, you can’t hit like that in the big leagues.’ I always used to hate hearing that from coaches. (But) the fact was that he had such an abrupt uppercut or chicken wing – whatever you want to call it – easily exposed by good pitching. Easily. And it had to go away.

“(He) worked through it. He knew how he was getting beat up at the plate. He knew what he couldn’t get to that he was able to get to before. He’s only 20-something years old, (but) he’s quick (and thinking): ‘I’m seeing the ball good. I just can’t get to it. What do I have to do to get to those pitches?’ Now he is.”

The Mets won the pennant, but their foundation might already be crumbling, with Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard reportedly dealing with bone spurs in their pitching elbows and Matt Harvey (4-9, 4.64 ERA) struggling to live up to his Dark Knight of Gotham persona after throwing 216 innings during last year’s return from Tommy John surgery.

The Epstein regime built a franchise around young power hitters like Bryant – believing that young power pitchers are inherently too fragile – and the Cubs could be 25 games over .500 when they get another shot at the Mets in an NLCS rematch that begins Thursday night at Citi Field.  

“Obviously, the front office has done a really good job of getting good players,” Bryant said. “You look at the young talent around the room, it’s pretty cool to see that.

“They’re just good people. They drafted good people, signed good people, and I think that just makes it easier to go out there and play our game and be yourself.”