Thunder outlast Deng, Bulls

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Thunder outlast Deng, Bulls

Maybe the Bulls (3-2) dont have nationally-recognized star power with superstar Derrick Rose on the shelf, but they showed that they can hang with the leagues elite teams, albeit in a loss, Thursday evening at the United Center.

Oklahoma City (3-2) outlasted the Bulls, 97-91, in a game that was ragged at times, but extremely intense and a nip-and-tuck affair throughout.

Propelled by a fast start from Rip Hamilton (20 points, eight rebounds), the Bulls jumped out to a quick lead over the visiting Thunder, whose primary source of offense in the early going was defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha, a player who has some familiarity with the rims on West Madison Street.

The hosts got balanced offense from the entire starting five, highlighted by Luol Dengs (27 points) aggressive play and Carlos Boozers (nine points, 11 rebounds) interior work, as well as the teams ongoing commitment to transition play.

But Oklahoma City righted the ship quickly, led by Serge Ibakas (21 points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots) much-improved outside jumper the leagues reigning shot-blocking leader showcased his new weapon against the Bulls in the preseason and narrowed the gap. The Bulls clung to a slim lead for the remainder of the period, but three-time consecutive NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant (24 points, three blocks) stole a pass and finished an uncontested fast-break dunk to tie the game at 24 apiece to end the first quarter.

Oklahoma Citys second unit caught the wave of momentum from the starters, with newly acquired scorer Kevin Martin (15 points) asserting himself in the second quarter. From three-pointers to traditional three-point plays, the veteran shooting guard scored in various fashions to help the guests overtake the Bulls.

However, in their usual resilient fashion, the Bulls fought back second-year swingman Jimmy Butlers defense and hustle was a catalyst as the first half waned on and built their own slim cushion. But another Thunder run, this time a 6-0 spurt, to close the half sent the Bulls into the intermission trailing, 48-47.

The two opposing starting floor generals, Kirk Hinrich (12 points, five assists) and Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook (16 points, 12 assists), both heated up after the break and though the latters shot selection was questionable, his oft-overlooked passing was significant for Oklahoma City in the first half. Hinrich and long-time running buddy Deng carried the Bulls offensively at the outset of the third quarter, again helping the Bulls gain an edge, albeit a tiny one, on the scoreboard.

Hinrichs backcourt partner, Hamilton, again found his stride, as well, engaging in a subtle battle with Martin, a player with similar skills masters of the mid-range game, adept at getting to the foul line, outstanding at moving away from the ball but with Westbrooks shooting struggles, further compounding matters, the Bulls took control of the tight-knit affair. The Bulls held a 72-66 advantage heading into the final stanza.

Oklahoma City stormed back in the beginning of the fourth quarter, erasing the hosts cushion and again making it a back-and-forth contest, as Ibakas influence on both ends of the floor, coupled with timely scoring from Durant, nullified a yeoman-like effort inside from Joakim Noah (nine points, 13 rebounds, six assists).

The visitors built a slight winning margin, but it was immediately in peril because of Dengs determination as scorer, which saw the All-Star assert himself as the Bulls go-to player in a successful attempt to even things out.

Knotted up at 87-all with just over two minutes to go, the Thunder took the lead on a Westbrook driving layup, buckled down on defense, then made it a two-possession game on a Durant floater with 46.8 seconds remaining.

A Taj Gibson jumper with 35.1 seconds to go gave the United Center faithful hope, but a Durant fadeaway off one foot with 19.5 seconds on the clock silenced the crowd and while a Noah dunk with no resistance from the Thunder brought the Bulls closer, it was all academic after that, as Oklahoma City closed the game out at the charity stripe.

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

Plenty of Cubs fans surely were star-struck to meet Addison Russell at Cubs Convention last weekend. But the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop has a shortlist of people he would be amazed to meet, too. 

Russell reveres President Barack Obama, on Friday the outgoing Commander-in-Chief’s work in the community when talking about getting to visit the White House. So on Monday, Russell got to check off meeting one of the people on his list. 

“There’s probably about three people that I would be star-struck by, and (Obama’s) one of them,” Russell said. 

One of those three spots is “open,” Russell said. The other member of that list is former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. 

Russell wears his No. 27 because of George, who wore that number during his career in which he made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. Prior to the 2016 season, George sent Russell and autographed Titans helmet inscribed with good luck message.

After the season, Russell said George texted him seeing if the newly-crowned champion had time to chill. Few things rattled Russell last year — he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series when he blasted one in Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians last November — but getting a text from George did. 

“I couldn’t text back,” Russell said. “It was nuts. I waited four days because I was thinking of what back to say.”

Even the most famous athletes still get star-struck. Russell’s been lucky enough in the last few months to meet and hear from two of the people who bring out that sense of awe in him. 

“Just to come in contact with people like that, it just makes me smile,” Russell said. “It definitely gets me in the mood of getting better, and that’s the goal this year, is getting better.” 

White Sox trio lands on MLB.com's Top 10 RHP prospects list

White Sox trio lands on MLB.com's Top 10 RHP prospects list

The White Sox farm system has taken a complete 180 over the past calendar year.

Gone are the days where the White Sox would be lucky to land a single prospect in Top 100 prospects lists.

After undergoing an overhaul that saw franchise cornerstones Chris Sale and Adam Eaton shipped out for a bundle of prospects, the White Sox are soaring up MLB farm system rankings.

As they will each day until the end of the January, MLBPipeline.com will release baseball's Top 10 prospects at each position.

To kick off the countdown, the Top 10 right-handed pitching prospects were released on Tuesday, and to no surprise the list is White Sox heavy.

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Lucas Giolito (No. 3) and Reynaldo Lopez (No. 10), sent to the White Sox from the Nationals in a blockbuster deal for Eaton, both cracked the Top 10 list. 

Michael Kopech, who was a key piece along with MLB.com's 2016 top overall prospect Yoan Moncada in the White Sox haul from the Boston Red Sox for Sale, came in at No. 4 on MLBPipeline's rankings.

Check out what MLB.com's Mike Rosenbaum had to say about each White Sox pitcher below:

3. Lucas Giolito, White Sox
The prized right-hander of last year's class, Giolito saw his stock wane over the course of the season and especially in the big leagues, where apparent mechanical issues resulted in diminished velocity and hindered his control. He's shown the ceiling of an ace in the past, with the ability to command a mid-to-upper 90s heater, a knee-buckling curveball and a fading changeup, and now has renowned pitching coach Don Cooper on his side after joining the White Sox as part of the offseason Adam Eaton blockbuster deal.

4. Michael Kopech, White Sox
Kopech began the year on the disabled list with a broken hand but made up for the time lost with dazzling performances in the Class A Advanced Carolina League and, later, in the Arizona Fall League. Acquired in the Chris Sale trade in December, the 20-year-old hits triple digits with ease and backs it up with a plus slider and a promising changeup. As he continues to make developmental strides, Kopech will move quickly in 2017.

10. Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox
Overshadowed by Giolito headed into last season, Lopez proved the more effective of the duo in the big leagues before joining him in the offseason trade to Chicago. A more consistent and linear delivery resulted in improved strike-throwing ability for the 23-year-old righty, who can miss bats with his well above-average fastball, excellent curve and improved changeup.

Ironically, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow and Houston Astros pitcher Francis Martes, two players who have been rumored to be involved in their respective team's talks with the White Sox for starter Jose Quintana, made the Top 10 list on Tuesday.

Heading into the 2016 season, shortstop Tim Anderson (No. 38) and pitcher Carson Fulmer (No. 42) were the only two White Sox prospects on MLBPipeline's Top 100 list.

At the very least the White Sox will double that number in 2017 with the three aforementioned pitchers and Moncada.