Gutsy effort by Bulls earns win over Sixers

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Gutsy effort by Bulls earns win over Sixers

PHILADELPHIATired, coming off a late game, the second game of a back-to-back and on little sleepnone of these excuses mattered to the Bulls Wednesday night, as they dispatched a familiar foe, the 76ers, 96-89 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Like most Bulls wins, it wasnt pretty, but a combination of their vaunted defense stepping up at the right time, the surprising poise of rookie Marquis Teague (six points, four assists), All-Star Luol Deng (19 points, 12 rebounds) coming through in the clutch and simply a major display of heart and determination sealed the victory for the gritty group.

Behind the scoring of Joakim Noah (21 points) and the playmaking of Deng, the Bulls (12-9) got off to a quick start, a must as they were missing their starting backcourt, as Rip Hamilton, still recovering from a torn left plantar fascia, didnt make the trip to his home state and Kirk Hinrich was sidelined with a knee injury suffered in the previous evenings home loss to the Clippers.

The jump-shooting Sixers (12-10)still without offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum, the All-Star center expected to finally give them a low-post presencegot into the groove quickly thereafter, as the likes of point guard Jrue Holiday (26 points, nine assists), pushing for an All-Star bid in his fourth NBA season, sixth man Nick Young (10 points) and swingman Evan Turner (16 points), a Chicago native.

Nate Robinson (14 points), filling in for the injured Hinrich, made his presence as a scorer felt early, but the visitors had already dug themselves a hole, as Philadelphia got into transition for easy baskets, something their coach, former Bulls head man Doug Collins, said his team would try to do before the contest even started.

With Deng and Noah carrying the offensive load for the entire opening period, the Bulls trailed, 24-21, at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Taj Gibson (six points, seven rebounds) joined Noah and Deng as the Bulls catalysts at the outset of the second frame and as Teague ran the show in Robinsons stead, the Bulls overtook their hosts.

Teague, who has already played with poise in his limited minutes this season, gave a solid defensive effort, was assertive as a floor general and displayed the pure playmaking ability that, among other things, the Bulls have lacked on the young campaign.

As the first half waned on, the Sixers, propelled by Holiday and insiders Lavoy Allen (six rebounds) and Thaddeus Young (13 points), fought back and regained the advantage, making a back-and-forth affair for the remainder of the period.

While it wasnt exactly the grind-it-out contest that Collins said he feared before the game and in which the Bulls usually thrive, the guests certainly didnt appear to be worn downon the second night of a back-to-back, after a late game at home and arriving in Philadelphia in the wee hours of the morningthe Bulls were behind at the intermission, 44-41.

After the break, it was Marco Belinellis (16 points) turn to spark the Bulls offense-by-committee approach in the close-knit affair, but with Holiday continuing to use his size advantage at the point to score and the hosts enjoying an edge on the boards, the momentum wasnt with the visitors and the Sixers once again built a slim cushion.

Robinsons instant-offense game kept the Bulls within striking distance, but with Philadelphia both getting out in transition and keeping typical rebounding forces Noah and Carlos Boozer (five points) off the glass, the guests were definitively playing catch-up, even if the gap between the two teams wasnt huge.

The Bulls replacement backcourt of Belinelli and Robinson, as well as Noahwho has quickly become Public Enemy No. 1; after getting booed following his severe ankle injury in last springs playoffs, he feels the same way about the Philadelphia crowdwith a boost off the bench from the ever-active Gibson, produced enough points to even take the lead, though that mostly by virtue of their stingy defense.

The Bulls led, 69-66, heading into the final stanza.

A slow offensive start to the fourth quarter allowed the Sixers to briefly seize control of the game, but Deng, aided by the contributions of reserve Jimmy Butler (nine points), came alive as a scorer to again make the contest a back-and-forth affair.

While Holiday, flanked by the trio of both Youngs and Turner, continued to be effective, the home team was in for a battle down the stretch, as the two teams settled into a defensive showdown reminiscent of the first-round playoff series.

Eerily, Deng went down in a heap after being fouled in transitionthe arena went quiet until he got up and walked it off, unlike how they booed Noahand the All-Star resumed his role as closer, along with the teams vaunted defense coming up with big stops when it counted helped them gain late-game separation from the Sixers.

A Noah jumper with 1:19 remaining made it a three-possession game, 90-83, and while Philadelphia didnt give up hope of a last-gasp comeback, it was all academic from that point forward.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

Could the Bulls go after Chris Bosh for next season?

The basketball world woke up Friday morning to a report from ESPN senior writer Marc Stein saying the Bulls may go after Chris Bosh for the 2017-18 NBA season.

It's surprising and intriguing for multiple reasons: 

1) Bosh was believed to have played his last days in the NBA due to blod clot issues.

2) The Bulls are at something of a franchise crossroads, sitting as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference following Thursday's games and still determining what the right step is for the near future and the long term. 

3) Bosh will be 33 in March and hasn't played in an NBA game in nearly a year (last appeared with the Heat Feb. 9, 2016).

But Stein said the Heat are not planning on waiving Bosh before March 1, so he wouldn't be eligible to join the roster of a playoff contender.

Stein then says: If Bosh does return to the hardwood, "word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him."

Bosh is an 11-time All-Star who has averaged 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game throughout his career. He helped the Heat win several titles as part of the Big Three with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Bosh was also just in Chicago visiting Wade earlier this month:

Could he form another Big Three with Wade and Jimmy Butler, this time in Chicago?

It's worth noting Wade just turned 35 earlier this week and will be in his 14th NBA season next year.