The Lakers are starting to find their groove


The Lakers are starting to find their groove

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are winning again. It's just a two-game streak, but it's still a turnaround from their abysmal play of late.Bryant scored 34 points, Metta World Peace added 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds and the Lakers won consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month with a 111-98 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.Dwight Howard had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who led 60-50 at halftime. Darius Morris had a career-high 15 points, all in the first half, and Chris Duhon scored 14. It was World Peace's first double-double since Jan. 13, 2010, at Dallas.The Lakers (11-14), who beat Washington 102-96 on Friday night, won two in a row for the first time since a three-game streak from Nov. 16-20."It's guys playing with confidence and guys trusting each other," said Bryant, who was 12 for 21 from the field and 8 for 9 from the free-throw line. "We played well, communicated well, kept attacking and good things happened. I know the questions have been coming because we hadn't been winning, but our time will come."Even without injured stars Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers hardly resembled the team which entered the night four games below .500. Bryant has scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games."We did a great job of attacking early and then we stayed with it," he said. "Our bench did a great job and stepped up and our whole team stepped up and just played with confidence."Nick Young paced the reeling Sixers (12-12) with 30 points while Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner added 16 apiece. Thaddeus Young had 14 for Philadelphia, which dropped its third straight game for the first time this season."We just have to keep working, keep going to practice and go back to the drawing board," Thaddeus Young said.Like the Lakers, the Sixers also have been playing short-handed. Point guard Jrue Holiday, who averages a team-best 18.4 points, missed his second consecutive game with a sprained left foot.Los Angeles led 87-73 after three, but the Sixers closed to 91-82 with 8:27 remaining.The Lakers responded with a 9-3 surge to go back up by 15 at 100-85 with 5:15 left. Suddenly, all those boos careening down from the rafters toward Bryant and his teammates turned into fans heading up the aisles to leave the building."They knocked down a lot of 3s and they kind of spread the floor," Nick Young said. "You have to give them credit."Los Angeles was 14 for 34 from 3-point range. Duhon was 4 for 10 from beyond the arc, and World Peace and Morris each made three 3s."Guys are playing well, we had open looks and guys were able to knock them down," Duhon said. "I think you have to take what the defense gives you."The Lakers' 10 3s in the first half broke the record for most in a half at the Wells Fargo Center, which opened in 1996.NOTES:Jordan Hill, a forward-center with Los Angeles, was a late scratch with back spasms. ... Sixers C Kwame Brown started for the eighth time. He also has seven DNP-Coach's Decision this season. Brown received a technical foul with 10:39 left in the third quarter. . Including this game, the Sixers are playing 10 of the next 12 against teams from the Western Conference. . Eagles running back LeSean McCoy attended the game. ... The Lakers went 19 for 24 at the line, compared to 6 for 11 for the 76ers.

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

FOX insider Jay Glazer confirmed on Sunday that the Bears expect quarterback Jay Cutler will be back from his sprained thumb and able to start against the Minnesota Vikings next Monday night in Soldier Field.

That would put Matt Barkley back where he has been pretty much his entire three-plus-year NFL career. Waiting.

That's the Bears want what every team wants – a young quarterback in the developmental pipeline – is no secret. Ryan Pace is among the NFL executives who speak of drafting a quarterback as much as every year, even if they don’t.

Could the Bears already have that player on their roster?

If Barkley, who was pressed into service when Brian Hoyer went down with a broken arm in last Thursday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, is in fact that player, he might not be surprised. But the rest of the NFL would be.

"I'm confident that no matter where I am or what the deal is,” Barkley said, after going 6-for-15 with no TD’s and two interceptions, “I can play in this league.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

He may be one of the few still holding onto that belief. The Bears picked up Barkley after the Arizona Cardinals discarded him in early September. The Cardinals didn’t see Barkley as even a practice-squad option, which the Bears did and where Barkley was working before Cutler’s thumb injury forced the Bears to sign him to the active roster.

“The [Bears] personnel people thought he was a taller [6-2] guy that stood in the pocket pretty well,” said coach John Fox. “A guy that we thought we could work with, that had some experience and, hopefully, he got a little bit more experience [at Green Bay].”

Barkley has gone from possible No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft to just another touted USC quarterback who failed or were no better than just-OK at the NFL level (Todd Marinovich, Rob Johnson, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez), who has thrown 65 NFL passes, none for a touchdown and six that were intercepted, including two in the Bears’ 26-10 loss last Thursday in Green Bay.

The question for Barkley at this point in his career is whether Chicago is his last stop and/or chance. Fourth-round draft picks have played their ways into prominence (Kirk Cousins in Washington, Dak Prescott in Dallas, even Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Van Brocklin if you want to find Hall of Famers), but Barkley has the added challenge of being on his third team and learning yet another offense after beginning this season running Houston and Philadelphia plays for the Bears’ defense.

Barkley offered no excuses for his poor showing (18.3 passer rating). Sort of.

“It definitely would be more beneficial [to have gotten more snaps before Green Bay],” Barkley said. “I’m not going to say what Coach should do; that’s his decision and you’ve got to deal with what you’re dealt.

“Just since I’ve been here, you know, scout-team reps and trying to put our plays into what we’re seeing on cards, you try to do every little thing you can to get better no matter what you’re doing. That’s no excuse.”

Buckeyes not dead by a long shot, but this much is clear: Michigan is Big Ten's top dog


Buckeyes not dead by a long shot, but this much is clear: Michigan is Big Ten's top dog

Make no mistake, Ohio State isn’t out of the championship running because it lost one game on an October night in Happy Valley.

But here’s perhaps the biggest thing we learned on Saturday night: Michigan is the team to beat in the Big Ten.

The Wolverines didn’t prove that all by themselves, of course, because a 41-8 win over lowly Illinois is nothing special to a team in the national-title hunt. But with the Buckeyes falling in stunning fashion to Penn State, a comparison can start to be drawn.

We got a glimpse last weekend, when Ohio State couldn’t turn in nearly the same shut-down performance against Wisconsin that Michigan had two weeks prior. The Wolverines almost completely silenced the Badgers when the two met in Ann Arbor, a 14-7 win for Michigan in which it looked absolutely unbeatable on the defensive side and was a few missed field goals away from holding a much bigger lead. In its matchup with Wisconsin, the Ohio State defense showed up, too, particularly after halftime. But the Badgers still scored more than triple the points they did against the Wolverines and racked up more than 300 yards in the first half alone. The Buckeyes won and looked good doing it, but they looked nowhere near as good as the Wolverines did.

Then came Saturday night, when Ohio State struggled on offense despite some good raw numbers in terms of yardage. And the Penn State defense pressured the heck out of Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett, sacking him six times including on Ohio State’s final two offensive plays of the evening. These Lions are the same that the Wolverines scorched by a 49-10 score in late September. Michigan allowed Penn State to gain just 191 total yards in that game and sacked Trace McSorley six times, all while scoring nearly 50 points on 515 total yards.

Now, a few points.

The main difference when it comes to comparing the two games against Wisconsin and Penn State is that Michigan was at home for both and Ohio State was on the road for both. That’s a big difference, sure.

But the other point is that the Wolverines are doing this to everybody. They are obliterating the competition. Outside of the Wisconsin game — a game against a top-11 team with one of the best defenses in college football — every win has been a blowout. Including the Wisconsin game, the average margin of victory is 38.7. Excluding it, the average margin of victory is 44.

Michigan ranks No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10 points a game, and ranks No. 3 in the country in scoring offense, averaging a whopping 48.7 points per game. There doesn’t seem to be a weakness to this team, and there are no “yeah, but” arguments to be found, especially after what Ohio State did against Wisconsin and Penn State, two teams Michigan effectively dominated.

Jim Harbaugh’s crew is barreling toward playing for a national championship, it would seem. Of course, those Buckeyes still stand in the way, and should Ohio State take care of its business between now and the regular season’s final week — easier said than done with undefeated Nebraska still on the schedule — then The Game will be the Big Ten title game play-in we all thought it would be.

That game will still be a clash of the titans. But right this second, there’s a favorite. And it’s Michigan.