Lingering concerns for Bulls after tough loss?

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Lingering concerns for Bulls after tough loss?

Games like Thursday night's narrow home loss to the Thunder illustrate both the ceiling and floor of this season's edition of the Bulls. Certainly a good team, one that can be penciled into the playoffs at this early juncture and depending on the matchups, one that could potentially make some noise--the top-heavy nature of the East, with presumed Central Division favorite Indiana now missing a key piece in Danny Granger for an extended absence, Boston starting slow out of the gates with its retooled roster and the two New York teams having major question marks only reinforces the Miami and everybody else assumptions many made before the campaign began--but clearly one with flaws.

Not that they weren't before, even with Derrick Rose's game-changing ability as an equalizer, the size of Omer Asik looming as a defensive presence underneath the basket, sharpshooter Kyle Korver's elite marksmanship and an experienced, deeper, more cohesive bench, but this season will tests the team's discipline on both sides of the ball, as well as the commitment to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau's oft-stated principles. Indeed, more than ever, low turnovers, strong rebounding, unselfish play, inside-out offense and last but definitely not least, stout defense.

The thing is, while Thibodeau could nit-pick about which of those tenets weren't being followed after contests during the past two seasons, when the Bulls won a league-high number of regular-season games, they didn't fall on deaf ears, but they were much less of a concern, due to the effort being displayed on the floor, a high level of overall execution and superior talent. When facing the league's elite teams, there wasn't necessarily room for deviation from the plan, but the Bulls could eke out wins without completely following the game plan to the letter.

That's no longer the case, as the Oklahoma City loss proved. It was just one game, but little things here and there, as well as superstars Russell Westbrook and especially Kevin Durant asserting themselves down the stretch, was an early example of the fact that even when the Bulls come to play, they won't always have enough when it comes to the league's true contenders.

"Theyre hard to guard, they made some tough plays and we couldnt close it out," Thibodeau observed. "I thought we battled.

"The game was there. The game was there to be had," he went on to say. "Our turnovers hurt us. We had a good start to the game. Our defense was very good at the start of the game, but it was nowhere near a 48-minute game for us defensively."

"You have to give them credit. Theyre a good team."

Joakim Noah added: "It was a frustrating loss because we really had a chance to win this game. Theyre obviously very talented, but a couple of our shots down the stretch just went in and out. Overall, I felt like we played hard, but those turnovers definitely haunted us.

"At the end of the day, its all about Ws and Ls, so we got an L tonight. Weve got to learn from it. We always feel like we can play against anybody and its just frustrating because you do two or three things differently and you win the game. I guess you can always look back at games like that, but when you lose by such few possessions, its tough," he continued. "Were definitely capable. I think everybody who saw the game could see that were capable. Twenty turnovers against some high-scoring team, you cant do that. Those guys get out on the break, its two points.

"I think you have to look at it and learn from your mistakes because these games are won by one or two possessions, and theres obviously things throughout the game that you feel that you could have done better as a team. Its frustrating right now because we lost, but you have to learn from it and get better, and I think that we can definitely get better...I think we did a good job on KD. Hes just a great player. He hit some tough shots at the end of the game, off one leg. I think on one of his shots, he was behind the backboard. Youve got to give credit where credit is due, but we feel like we could have played better."

Rip Hamilton chimed in: "We were right there. We came out slow early in the fourthit was all about a game of runs. I thought, late in the game, we defended real well. I thought Kevin hit two great shots. There was nothing you could do about them. But we were right there. We really feel as though we let one slip away.

"Theyre the defending Western Conference champs and any time youve got an opportunity to play against one of the teams thats considered the best, youve really got to bring your A game because if you dont, theyll show you up, so that was the biggest thing. We wanted to come out, take care of home and we just couldnt get it at the end."

It's hard to take solace in simply playing the Thunder close and the Bulls aren't a team that accepts moral victories, but there were some positives in the defeat. Hamilton and All-Star Luol Deng both had it going simultaneously, and while neither is a player that will beat a team by themselves as a scorer on a nightly basis, the two-pronged wing attack is extremely difficult for opposing teams to deal with, particularly when Noah is playing with such a high activity level, regardless of his point production, reserve swingman Jimmy Butler continues to make strides as a defender and the feisty Kirk Hinrich plays one of the top point guards in the game, Westbrook, to a virtual draw.

But with the team's offense-by-committee approach, if one primary scorer--in this case, Carlos Boozer, who did make his presence felt on the glass--doesn't have it going, then the Bulls will have issues, as certain matchups, such as Westbrook, who has great size for his position, basically nullify diminutive energy player Nate Robinson and fellow backup guard Marco Belinelli, a player with defensive shortcomings, doesn't have his shot falling. Still, give Thibodeau, a tireless strategist, and his heady, veteran squad, time to figure out how to get over the hump against the supposed glamour teams on a regular basis.

"Its still early. Weve just got to get rolling," Deng said. "Normally, we start rolling. We start putting wins together. I know its early, but the last two games we lose were at home.

"Theres always a positive in every game. Our mindset is just finding a way to win somehow. Theres a lot of positive stuff out there, but theres still a lot of stuff weve got to do better. At home, the game is close, weve got to find a way to win," he added. "Weve just got to find ways without having Derrick there, even if youre having a bad night.

"We cant be surprised when its a close game. Theres going to be a lot of those games. Just got to be tough-minded in winning those games at the end, but theres going to be a lot of those games."

Against Saturday's visitor to the United Center, Minnesota, a team the Bulls are already quite familiar with, having split two exhibition contests with the Timberwolves, expect the hosts to come out with energy and focus, traits they're apt at showcasing following losses, especially since they haven't lost a trio of consecutive games during Thibodeau's tenure. While they tend not to overlook teams like Minnesota--an improved group themselves, but not a club that presents the proverbial measuring-stick game--their subsequent opponent, the Celtics, are more the type of marquee squad the Bulls would like to get redemption by beating.

But in the meantime, expect an adherence to Thibodeau's beloved principles, particularly his ball-security edict, as that was perhaps the aspect of Thursday's loss that stuck in the coach's craw the most. In fact, while Thibodeau isn't one to reflect upon past failures, he was surprisingly candid about the defeat following the team's Saturday-morning shootaround at the Berto Center.

"You never have it figured out. It's something that you constantly have to work on. It got us. That really was the difference in the game, in a hard-fought close battle, giving buckets away. In many ways, they're very similar to Miami. If you turn it over and it's a live ball, you're basically giving them a layup and that's what we did, so that, more than anything, is what hurt us and that being said, we did a lot of good things in that game. Disappointing," he explained, adding "today's a new day," just in case the assembled media decided to make a habit of dissecting an event that occurred two days prior. "We're up six going into the fourth, 87-87, with three minutes to go. We've got to find a way to win that. But that's gone, we've got to focus in on Minnesota, get better. We had a good shootaround today and hopefully we'll be ready tonight."

David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

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David Accam is back and that's good for the Fire

David Accam is the Chicago Fire's best player and when he plays the team is better.

While that statement should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Fire on a regular basis this year, it is worth mentioning because of how much time Accam has missed this season.

Accam played a starring role in the team's 4-3 loss in the season opener. He had a goal and an assist. The next match he scored early in Orlando before the Fire were forced to defend while playing down a man due to a red card.

Then he got injured. Accam missed six games and the Fire scored four goals in those matches without him. After making two abbreviated appearances during the team's recent road trip, he was unable to play last week at home due to a suspension.

“It’s difficult for me because I’ve been through a lot in the last two months," Accam said. "For me I’m just happy to be on the pitch now and playing. It will take some time for me to get into match fitness and start going, but I’m happy with my performance today.”

Accam scored in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Portland. It was his first start at home since his barnstorming season debut back on March 6. It was also his first 90-minute outing since March 11.

Kennedy Igboananike assisted on the goal. The partnership in the attack between Igboananike and Accam is one the Fire needs to become a fine-tuned weapon for the team to have a successful season.

“I think what we are looking for is to have associations in the team and the two of them work very good together," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We could see that in the first game when David was fit, also in the second game until we had the (red card). Since then David was injured, but David is very important. Not only because of his individual qualities, but he improves our team in how our team feels better on the field and offensively with more potential."

Accam had five shots, two on goal, and Igboananike had four shots, three on goal. Accam thinks the team is starting to improve its on-field chemistry.

“I think so, especially in the front three," the Ghanaian said. "We are creating chances. Last week we created a lot of chances and today, too.

“In the last two games we started to feel the way we wanted to play and for me it’s been much better. We conceded one goal in the last three games and we created I think more than five clear chances so for me it’s getting better.”

Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

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Fire unable to find winner in tie with Portland

Getting a second goal is becoming a thing for the Chicago Fire.

A thing they aren't getting.

The Fire pushed for a go-ahead second goal against Portland on Saturday, but it never came. The team's inability to find a second goal, something the team hasn't scored since the season opener, meant they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against the Timbers.

In a lot of ways, the Fire played better. They outshot Portland 17-8, 6-2 in shots on target, and in the second half had rare extended stretches of possession. But they were still not able to break a halftime deadlock.

"It was just that we didn’t score that second goal, which was very important for us," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We are building the momentum. We were close to winning this game today and we are happy with the performance.”

The Fire (2-5-5, 11 points) are now 2-2-3 in seven home matches.

Portland (4-6-4, 16 points) took the lead in the 18th minute when Diego Valeri took advantage of a poor Rodrigo Ramos clearance. Ramos' ball got caught up in the wind and stayed near the box. Valeri won the ball back and beat Sean Johnson from a tight angle, sliding a shot just inside the far post.

Almost immediately the Fire leveled the match through David Accam. Accam, making his first home start since the season opener, redirected a Kennedy Igboananike centering pass to tie things back up.

“I know when he goes wide I need to be in the box," Accam said. "I know he has a good left foot also to put that ball in the box so I was in the right position when the ball came in.”

It was Accam's third goal of the season and his first since March 11. Accam and Igboananike created most of the dangerous chances for the Fire, linking up regularly other than the goal.

Another forward who could have joined the attack, Gilberto, was out for personal reasons. The Brazilian had played his best of the year last week.

The Fire had a strong wind at their backs in the second half and used it to keep the ball in Portland's half and extend the lead in shots they took into halftime. Despite being unable to get the win at home, multiple players claimed they are seeing progress in the team's performances.

"I think we’re finally putting full 90s together as a team," midfielder Matt Polster said. "I think during the beginning of the season we were getting used to each other. I think we put in good 65, 70 minutes of a game. As we’re growing as a team now I think we’re putting a full 90 together.”

Now the Fire go on break for the Copa America. The team will not train next week other than a fitness plan given to the players. The next match will be in the US Open Cup on June 15 with both location and opponent to be determined on June 1.

The next MLS match is June 18 at Philadelphia and the next MLS home match will be July 1 against San Jose.

Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

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Sale looks to stop the slide as White Sox face Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale vs. Edison Volquez

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