On brink of elimination, will Hamilton get his shot?

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On brink of elimination, will Hamilton get his shot?

DEERFIELD, ILL. Besides fan favorite and deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, the only player on the Bulls roster with a championship ring is starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton. With injuries to Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah, one would think Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would be leaning more on the veteran, but as in the regular season, Hamilton hasnt seen much action in the fourth quarter of the first-round series against the 76ers, only playing down the stretch in Fridays Game 3 loss in Philadelphia.

Hamilton, like most of his teammates, has struggled offensively against the athletic, defensive-minded Sixers. But along with reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver hes considered one of the Bulls best pure shooters, as well as a proven longtime scorer in the NBA and a clutch playoff performer. Still, Thibodeau was loathe to commit to playing Hamilton more in Tuesdays potential elimination contest, Game 5 of the series at the United Center.

Well see how its going. Depending on how the groups are playing, but if hes playing well, hell be out there. Kyles closed a lot of games, Lus closed a lot of games. I thought C.J. played very well in the second half. Carlos. Weve got a number of guys who can make shots, the coach said after Monday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. To me, theyve committed a lot of their defense to him. I think hes made the right plays. Hes not forcing things. To me, whenever theres two on the ball and youre a primary scorer, you have the responsibility to make the right play, hit the open man.

Theyre blitzing and weve gotten good, quality shots off of it, and we have to continue to do so, but thats what the playoffs are. Both teams are shooting a low percentage, but thats what you expect. Youve got to fight, youve got to get easy baskets, youve got to get second shots, youve got to execute, youve got to screen well, Thibodeau added. You have to do all those things and I think when you get to the playoffs, the guys who command the double teams, those are the guys you have to count on to create offense for you, so we have Rip and we have Kyle that do that, and theyre both unselfish and theyll make the right play. Carlos, he demands a lot of attention, too, and he also has the responsibility of finding the open man and creating offense for us.

That's not exactly a strong endorsement of Hamilton as the Bulls closer, something theyve sorely needed in the absence of Rose and even without Noahs underrated playmaking, but at least he acknowledged the veterans value. Earlier in the series, Thibodeaus counterpart, Sixers head coach Doug Collins who coached a younger Hamilton in Washington talked about making defensive adjustments after Hamiltons 19-point outing in Game 1 on just seven shots, albeit with Rose helping to set him up.

Rip is a jump-starter. He did that in Detroit, said Collins. He used to always get them going early in games and so, weve got to be aware of that.

Whether he did it intentionally or not, could Collins be tacitly implying that stopping Hamilton at the outset of games is key because Thibodeau wont play him late in contests? But reading tea leaves aside, Hamilton has continued to be diplomatic about his lack of minutes in the clutch.

After Game 1, playoffs are about adjustments, so what they try to do is every time I come off a pick-and-roll, they double. Every time I come off a pin down, they double. When I try to post up, they try to bring another guy and double. But its one of those things that, now, for me, youve got to make plays for your teammates and when guys get the ball, theyve got to step up and thats what the game is about, trusting your teammates, he said. You just look at it as our whole season, everything has been team, team, team. We never looked at the game as individuals, so we all know that in order to win, we all have to do it together.

You do want to be in the game late, but it is what it is. When I came here, whatever they need me to do, Im going to do, so my job is if Im not on the court in the fourth quarter, its to cheer for the next guy because I know the next guy would do the same thing for me. So, its one of those things where youve got to just stay in tune with the game, the 13-year pro continued. Whatever they need me to do, Im going to go ahead and do. Since I came back from injury, Ive been playing limited minutes.

As valuable Korver is as a pure shooter, Hamiltons playmaking ability, with Rose and Noah out, would seemingly be crucial for the Bulls. Better yet, why not play the pair together at times, shifting All-Star Luol Deng to power forward against the smallish Sixers from a size perspective, Deng matches up well with Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young or simply not tethering together the first and second units?

At this point, after losing three consecutive games for the first time all campaign and on the brink of elimination, it wouldnt be a bad decision to pull out all the stops such as trying out journeyman Mike James at point guard for a stretch, as his size, strength and experience could help slow Philadelphias Jrue Holiday to prevent an early summer vacation. But perhaps Hamilton summed it up best as he was leaving the assembled media at the Berto Center.

I didnt think a whole lot of stuff this year would happen, he said. But it did.

Elena Delle Donne scores 18, leads Sky over Wings

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Elena Delle Donne scores 18, leads Sky over Wings

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Elena Delle Donne had 18 points and eight rebounds to help the Chicago Sky beat the Dallas Wings 92-85 on Sunday.

Courtney Vandersloot added 15 points and nine assists, Cappie Pondexter scored 14 and Erika de Souza had 12 for Chicago, which is sixth in the AP power poll.

The Sky (13-13) had an 18-1 run spanning the first and second quarters to make it 40-16 on de Souza's basket with 6:09 left in the first half.

The 10th-ranked Wings (9-18) cut the deficit to 60-54 in the third quarter but Chicago answered with a 12-3 run. From there, the Wings trailed by double-digits until a late 13-2 run brought them within 90-85 with 15 seconds left.

Odyssey Sims scored 22 points and Skylar Diggins added 16 to lead Dallas, which dropped its eighth in a row.

Cubs close out road trip with narrow loss to Dodgers

Cubs close out road trip with narrow loss to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon watched John Lackey board the team bus on Sunday morning wearing a Team USA onesie. The Cubs manager later noticed Aroldis Chapman in pajamas in the clubhouse on his way out to the dugout for his pregame media session at Dodger Stadium.

“We’ve created our own little culture, our own little identity,” Maddon said. “I just love the fact that they buy into those moments. Your stars are buying into it.”

The Cubs are in their own world, followed like rock stars on the road, freed from baseball’s unwritten rules and checked out from the daily anxiety and scoreboard-watching stress during a normal pennant race. 

But this afternoon still had a playoff-type atmosphere, with a crowd of 44,745 watching a scoreless game finally pivot in the eighth inning. Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill hit Andrew Toles with a pitch, jammed Howie Kendrick and threw the soft groundball into right field. An intentional walk to Corey Seager loaded the bases, setting up a matchup between Carl Edwards Jr. and the heart of the Los Angeles lineup.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The rookie unleashed a 97-mph fastball and struck out Justin Turner on a foul tip. Edwards then went right back at Adrian Gonzalez, inducing a chopper toward third baseman Javier Baez, who threw the ball to second base. The Cubs missed escaping the jam by a split second, with Seager’s right foot sliding into second just before Ben Zobrist’s left foot touched the bag.

That would be the difference in a 1-0 loss that again showed the narrow margin between these two big-market, first-place teams. The Cubs needed 10 innings to secure a comeback win on Friday night before Los Angeles won one-run games on Saturday and Sunday at Dodger Stadium.  

The Cubs would still leave Los Angeles with a 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, their magic number to clinch the division now 20, ending a West Coast trip with a onesies theme almost exactly one year after Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, showing this team would be a force in October.

With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?

With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?

LOS ANGELES – John Lackey is ramping up for a return to the rotation and all those “Big Boy Games” the Cubs are supposed to play in October.

The Cubs expect Lackey to test his strained right shoulder and throw two bullpen sessions this week, manager Joe Maddon said Sunday at Dodger Stadium. If everything goes smoothly for the two-time World Series champion, the Cubs will tentatively schedule Lackey’s next start for either the Labor Day weekend showdown against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, or near the beginning of a three-city road trip in early September.     

Lackey (9-7, 3.41 ERA) has accounted for 158-plus innings, making 24 starts and stabilizing the rotation before going on the disabled list on Aug. 15. Jason Hammel should eventually cool off and will be “well-rested” after Maddon’s quick hook on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. The Cubs also like what they’ve seen from Mike Montgomery, believing the lefty can develop into a solid big-league starter.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Could the Cubs go to a six-man rotation down the stretch?

“We haven’t planned that specifically yet,” Maddon said. “I’m not opposed, let me put it that way. We’ll see how it all plays out with Mikey the next time through. Again, to do anything we possibly can to conserve our arms for the end of the year is important. 

“It’s being proven throughout the industry right now. Moving forward, the biggest trick there is to get the sixth guy that you like. Most teams are clamoring to get (No.) 4 and 5. We got five that we like. Now we’re working on 6.”

It’s not like the Cubs are fighting for a wild-card spot or clinging to a one-game lead in the division. The best record in baseball allows them to look at the big picture and get creative in September. The counterargument to keeping starters fresh for October would be keeping creatures of habit like Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in a rhythm. 

“Starting pitchers have always rallied to say that they need to stay on that particular plan,” Maddon said. “But I think it’s kind of been proven – just give them that extra day or two on occasion and it really benefits them. So I just think you’re fighting this old view of specifically how it needs to be done."