No easy solutions for Bulls' offensive problems

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No easy solutions for Bulls' offensive problems

Its always dangerous to make any conclusions this early in the NBA season, but with that disclaimer out of the way it looks to me like the Bulls are going to have a tough time scoring in their half-court offense until Derrick Rose returns. This team reminds me of the Scott Skiles teams that clawed their way into the playoffs from 2005 to 2007: lots of jump shooters and no one really adept at breaking down his defender and getting to the basket. Those Skiles teams utilized a drive-and-kick offense run by Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon. Captain Kirk is now back, still shooting around 40 percent from the field and not able to drive past defenders as often as he did in his younger days.As a result, the Bulls are prone to long dry spells from the field, making it crucial they take advantage of their fast break opportunities. As weve seen early in the season, Tom Thibodeau is encouraging his players to push the ball up-court after every turnover or defensive rebound. The starters have done a pretty good job of seeking out early offense, but the second unit still is searching for its rhythm.Nate Robinson was in the lineup during the fourth quarter against the Hornets and Magic to get more speed on the floor, and Nate is probably the only player on the team who can consistently beat his man off the dribble and break down the opposing defense. The Bulls scored 31 fourth quarter points against Orlando with a lineup of Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, after managing just 68 points in the first three quarters combined. It looks like Thibodeau wont hesitate to go to that smaller, quicker line-up if he feels his team needs to force turnovers and push the ball down the stretch.But what can the Bulls do to get more points in the half-court offense?
Thibodeau always likes to talk about playing inside-out, which basically means throwing the ball into the post to force a double team, then pass the ball back out to an open shooter. Problem is, the Bulls dont really have a consistent scoring threat in the low post. Noah has done a good job so far with a pair of 20-point games, but hes not a big enough threat to draw a double team. Carlos Boozer was brought to Chicago to be that low post guy, but hes become more of a pick-and-pop player, looking to fade out to the elbow for fall-away jumpers.As a result, the Bulls have tried to use Deng and Rip Hamilton in post-up situations, trying to take advantage of whichever match-up gives them the best chance score from close range. Look for more of Deng in the post as the season moves forward. He seems more comfortable there than any other player currently on the roster, with the possible exception of back-up center Nazr Mohammed, who doesnt figure to play much because of his limited mobility.Bottom line, the formula for the Bulls to make a run at another Central division title continues to be lock-down defense and control of the defensive boards. Weve seen a little slippage in those areas early in the season, but the Bulls still managed to hold three of their first four opponents under 90 points.
And, with the news of Danny Granger being sidelined for the next three months because of knee tendinitis, it might only take 48 to 50 victories to win the Central this season. If the Bulls can become more productive in their half-court sets, that win total is certainly within their reach.

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Carl Edwards Jr. couldn't dream up a better pitcher to try to emulate than Mariano Rivera.

Not for a young right-hander who is still getting used to being a reliever with a cutter as his bread and butter pitch.

After picking up his first career save late in 2016, Edwards mentioned how he has been watching video of Rivera. At the Cubs Convention earlier this month, Edwards name-dropped Rivera again in response to a fan question and went into more detail with exactly what he's aiming to accomplish by watching Rivera tape.

Let's be clear: Mariano Rivera is inimitable. He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent and there almost assuredly will never be a better closer in Major League Baseball.

But Edwards knows that. 

"He's great. He's a Hall of Famer," Edwards said. "He goes out there like he has the world in the palm of his hand. He's very competitive; I've never seen him back down. That's one [takeaway] for myself — I'm gonna go out and never back down.

"I don't really get into trying to be like him. I just look more into how he goes about his business. That's something that I can control — how I go about my business."

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Cubs coach Mike Borzello was there with Rivera in 1997 when the now-legendary cutter was born.

It's not fair to compare Edwards' cutter to one of the greatest pitches ever, but his version is pretty nasty in its own right:

The Cubs are still searching for long-term answers in the rotation, but don't have any intentions of moving Edwards back to a role as a starter.

Like Edwards, Rivera began his career as a starting pitcher coming up through the Yankees system. But Edwards actually has a leg up on baseball's all time saves leader: Edwards' first save came in his age 24 season while Rivera didn't tally his first save until age 26 in New York.

Edwards also struck out 13 batters per nine innings in 2016 while Rivera never posted eye-popping whiff totals (a career 8.2 K/9 rate).

As Edwards gets set for what he and the Cubs hope will be his first full season in the big leagues in 2017, his maturation will be important in an age of baseball where relief pitchers have never been more valued.

Rivera pitched in the playoffs nearly every year, routinely working more than one inning and posting ridiculous postseason numbers: 0.70 ERA, 0.759 WHIP and 42 saves while taking home the World Series MVP in 1999 and ALCS MVP in 2003.

The Cubs hope Edwards will be pitching in the postseason on a regular basis, too.

For now, the 25-year-old is still reveling in the glory following the 2016 Cubs championship.

He served as honorary drummer at the Carolina Panthers game in November.

"That was pretty amazing. That's a highlight of my offseason," Edwards said.

He grew up as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan despite being a South Carolina native, but Edwards said he did get a pair of Cam Newton cleats to wear for 2017 when he and Cubs teammates like Addison Russell or Matt Szczur throw the football around in the outfield to get loose.

Edwards was also blown away by the reception from Cubs fans at the Convention — "This is my third year and every year as been better" — but still hasn't fully wrapped his mind around the ending of the 108-year drought.

"Everything happened so quick," he said. "Hopefully in the next couple weeks when I have a break, I can sit down and soak it all in."

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of area basketball fans in our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @CSNPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights of that game will appear on that night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00pm. The show also live streams at csnchicago.com. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30am and 8:30am the following Saturday. This week, for the first time ever in our “Viewers’ Choice” poll, we will have girls basketball as our focus:

Warren at Lake Forest, 7:00pm

Glenbrook South at Maine South, 7:00pm

Vernon Hills at Maine West, 7:30pm

Poll opens Monday at 12:00pm and closes Thursday at 4:00pm. Here is what fans need to do to vote:

**Follow @CSNPreps on Twitter.

**Note the “pinned Tweet” atop the @CSNPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.

**Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @CSNPreps just after 4pm Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @CSNPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week,” along with other basketball news, scores and highlights this season.