Rivers talks Bulls, Thibodeau, Robinson

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Rivers talks Bulls, Thibodeau, Robinson

With Kirk Hinrich sidelined for Mondays contest against the Celtics with a right hip strain, Bulls backup point guard Nate Robinson will be thrust into a starting role.

Robinson has already started and played tremendously in Hinrichs place during a pair of preseason contests and overall, the diminutive energy player has been solid, at minimum, thus far during his stint in Chicago.

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers isnt surprised at Robinsons success. Robinson played under Rivers for parts of two seasons, including the Celtics 2010 run to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Lakers, but since leaving Boston, Rivers has been pleased with Robinsons progress from afar.

Well, I just think hes matured, honestly. Ive told Nate this: Its never been his basketball. Nate knows how to play. Hes grown up. Hes more of a professional. I think hes got better focus, Rivers said after the Celtics shootaround Monday morning at Moody Bible Institute. I thought he started doing it last year. I thought last year, you could see the difference in Nate and Im happy for him. I want him doing that. Its not like we dont want players to be good. Im a fan of Nates talent and this is good for Nate.

Added former teammate Rajon Rondo, who will match up with Robinson in Mondays affair: He was the starting point guard for part of the season in Golden State, so hes been there before."

Rivers acknowledged that the Bulls are in a tough situation without All-Star Derrick Rose, but believes that behind his good friend and former assistant Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls' head coach, the team will overcome the major setback.

Its like not having Rondo, but theyre better at it because theyve done it for a while. Injuries are bad obviously, but when you have a training camp without the guy, you can make a team. I think injuries are far tougher when you have them in the middle of the season and then youre working a guy out. Its like Sunday night in the Bears game. The starting quarterback goes out, its tough because they didnt have training camp doing that. Its a little different, but Chicagos playing well, the Maywood, Ill., native explained. They play great D, Nates come in and done a terrific job. Its not like the guys they have playing are bad players. Hinrich may or may not play tonight, but Im talking about their team as a whole, and Nate Robinson, theyre NBA players, so theyre pretty good.

I dont look at it, honestly, because Derricks not playing. I dont prepare that way. I just look at what they are now and obviously, having Derrick, youre a better basketball team because he creates their offense all on his own for the most part and they dont have that. They still run the same stuff, but the same thing with any great point guard. What great point guards do is run the offense better, but more important is at the end of a set or anything, they can create their own offense in transition or off the end of sets, and thats the difference, he continued. I hope every coachs team takes on their identity or somethings not right, unless the best players that good, where they take on that players identity. In this case, I think the team has clearly taken Thibs identity and Derricks, for the most part, but I think its Thibs leadership. I think he sets the tone and he didnt let them give in, and to me, thats the value of Thibs.

They also use the clock on offense. They shoot the ball with one second on the shot clock a lot. They have great ball control. Its not like they wont run they will but theyre going to exhaust the clock until they get the exact shot that they want and so, you can be a running team all you want, it cuts your possessions in half.

Chimed in Rondo: Theyre still a defensive-minded teamI think its worked so far. Different guys have to step up.

Rivers revealed that Thibodeau, despite signing a new contract prior to the start of training camp, is still very frugal, joking, Hes still cheap as hell. Ive been trying to get him to buy a place here, instead of renting. But he tips now. Thats the first step. One step at a time.

The coach was also very complimentary of Bulls starters Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

Deng likes playing against us, if you go by the numbers. Hes good against us. I love Luol. Hes just a good player. Solid, solid basketball player. Hes another one of those All-Stars thats a role player, but hes an All-Star. Hes just such a team-oriented guy. Hes a great guy to have on your team, he gushed. Noah is being more aggressive, hes taking people off the dribble a lot and his I.Q. is as good as there is in the league. Noah, Kevin Garnett. Theres only a handful of bigs that have great I.Q.s, as far as point-guard I.Q.s and Noahs one of them.

Rivers also opined about the Lakers hiring of Mike DAntoni as head coach to replace the fired Mike Brown and eventually, interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff, a former Bulls assistant instead of former Bulls and Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, an 11-time NBA champion.

Ive kind of heard about it through the media. Thats good. Hes a hell of a coach. Its a good fit, he said. I think its a terrific fit.

Not my team, so I could care less, as you know, but I dont know how anyone can scoff at Mike DAntoni being a head coach.

Bears add power on RB depth chart with Indiana’s Jordan Howard in Round 5

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Bears add power on RB depth chart with Indiana’s Jordan Howard in Round 5

Running back, one of the foundation pillars of Chicago Bears football, was in some turmoil this offseason. First was the exit of Matt Forte. Then was the failed pursuit of Denver’s C.J. Anderson, a statement that while the Bears were pleased with the futures of Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford, those two were not necessarily the future of the offense, particularly in situations calling for raw power.

Accordingly, the Bears went big in the fifth round, using the 150th pick of the draft on Indiana running back Jordan Howard, a 230-pound force who averaged more than 123 yards from scrimmage in his combined 32 collegiate games at UAB and Indiana.

At 230 pounds, Howard eschews subtle.

“I feel like I’m a grinder,” Howard said. “I can get those tough yards and in the NFL. You don’t really see those long, explosive runs like you see in college. There are a few, but not many, so I feel my game suits the NFL more than it does college.”

It also appears to suit the Bears, who have struggled too often over the past several years in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Howard, however, may need to tweak his game just a bit.

Big running backs like Earl Campbell, Larry Csonka and Christian Okoye have had success spikes but not always sustained at those peak levels. The reason: Big backs deliver big hits but they also take more of them, and hits take their toll. John Riggins (240 pounds) extended his Hall of Fame career using speed that away from tacklers rather than taking all of them on.

Howard has a smash-mouth mindset but NFL tacklers will be substantial tiers above what he ran into at Indiana. And he missed time last year with knee and ankle injuries that limited him to nine games, in addition to averaging 216 carries per season for his three college years.

Still, “I feel like my size will benefit me well because a lot of time guys they won’t want to tackle me a lot of times, especially after long games when we’ve just been pounding,” Howard said. “They then start diving and then I can avoid them. I think it works very well for me.”

(Hard to see Aaron Donald, Luke Kuechly, Julius Peppers and J.J. Watt “diving,” but you never know.)

Howard will not be doing a lot of diving himself. He carries a decided chip on his shoulder after getting just one scholarship offer (UAB) coming out of high school, then having UAB drop football while he was there.

"Yeah definitely some pride because coming out of high school I had one offer to play at UAB in Conference USA, so I definitely wanted to prove I could play on a bigger stage," he said. "And I was doing it for UAB because they shut the program down. I wore my heart on my sleeve for them."

Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

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Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

Adam Warren was the lowest-profile addition of the Cubs' offseason, but he's already emerged as a vital part of the team out to the hottest start in baseball.

Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist (plus the re-arrival of Dexter Fowler in spring training) got all the headlines as new acquisitons over the winter.

In fact, Warren wasn't even the main focus in the deal that made him a Cub as the return from the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro, the former face of the franchise who tallied 991 hits in six seasons in Chicago.

Yet where would the Cubs be right now without Warren?

The 28-year-old right-hander has pitched the most innings in the National League without giving up an earned run this season (8) and has allowed just two hits and three walks for a sparkling 0.625 WHIP.

"Just as I thought: outstanding," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I try not to abuse him, pretty much. ... I"m very comfortable pitching him in the latter part of the game, whether it's the seventh, eighth, ninth — it doesn't matter to me. 

"I think this guy could finish games. He's got that kinda ability; he's got that makeup. You got that kinda weapon in your toolbox — he's good against righties and lefties, he's durable, he's got all this variety of different pitches, fits our culture beautifully. I just don't want to abuse the guy."

Warren has worked as a starter in the past and said the Cubs initially told him they wanted him to work in the rotation at some point down the road. 

But for right now, Warren is set as a jack of all trades in the bullpen pitching with confidence.

"I like being versatile," Warren said. "I like being able to do a lot of different things. So if I can continue to do that, that's where I like to be in the bullpen, just because I feel like that helps our team out the most."

Warren — like the rest of the Cubs — doesn't like to think too far ahead. He doesn't worry about what his "title" is in the bullpen, which is a necessary attitude to have with a manager that loves to play the matchups and is constantly tinkering with his relievers.

But Warren has emerged as a high-leverage arm Maddon can combine with Pedro Strop (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 4 holds) and Hector Rondon (0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP, 4 saves) at the back end of the bullpen.

As the new guy on the pitching staff, Warren made it a point to get out to a good start.

"With a new team, you really want to prove yourself," he said. "So I think you have that chip on your shoulder a little bit to want to go out there and start off hot. But really, I think it's just going out there, having a gameplan with our scouting report and just executing."

Warren feels comfortable with his new team and in the bullpen, crediting his teammates and the Cubs coaching staff for welcoming him in.

Coming from the Yankees — a historic franchise with 27 World Series championships and a penchant for doing things a certain way (such as their no facial hair policy) — it was a little bit of a culture shock for Warren to come to a Cubs team that hasn't won the World Series in more than a century and essentially has no rules in a clubhouse designed to let everybody be themselves.

But the transition has gone as smoothly as possible, Warren said.

"It's completely different," he said. "Here, they've created the atmosphere of just be yourself, be laid back. I like that. I like being able to grow facial hair if you want.

"You start focusing completely on baseball. The atmosphere that fans create out there has been unreal to me. Even when it's been cold, they've been up for every pitch. It's really refreshing to see the excitement around the team."

Bears hope they found another Peanut Tillman with CB Deiondre’ Hall

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Bears hope they found another Peanut Tillman with CB Deiondre’ Hall

In the second round of the 2003 draft the Bears took a flyer on a tall cornerback out of a smaller school. Now they have gone a similar route, hoping to land another Charles Tillman.

At the very least they secured a tall cornerback from a smaller school who WANTS to be another Charles Tillman.

Deiondre’ Hall, 6-2, 190 pounds, became a Bear with the team’s third pick in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Hall comes out of Northern Iowa with 13 career interceptions, six returned for touchdowns, with another 28 passes broken up.

In the Tillman tradition he also finished with four forced fumbles, three of those his senior season.

His role model, “for cornerback, me personally, I’ve always loved him, is Charles Tillman,” Hall said. “Just being a ballhawk and getting that ball. That’s something that’s been huge to me throughout my time at Northern Iowa… .

“I’ve always kind of tried to model my game after him. Like I said, just being a ballhawk and getting that ball out. That’s one of the key emphasis throughout my time at Northern Iowa. Not basically mimicking his game but taking bits and pieces and adding it to mine.”

The turnover bits and pieces of his game will be welcome additions for a team that totaled just 17 total turnovers last season and whose cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter) combined for just three interceptions.

But Hall has started at linebacker, is a physical defensive back, and is likely to get at least a look at safety as well. There his football template changes.

“For safety positions, I’ve always kind of saw myself as a ‘Honey Badger,’” Hall said, referencing Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. “Being able to play a little corner, coming down in the slot and guarding those quicker guys and being able to stay up top and cover ground. That’s huge in the game these days.”