Bulls out-duel Celtics

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Bulls out-duel Celtics

Apparently the cure to what ailed the Bulls (43-13) during their two-game losing streak was playing an opponent they had some animus for, as the team with the NBAs best record got back to their winning ways Thursday evening with a 93-86 win over the Celtics (30-24) at the United Center.

Matching up with surging Boston might not have been an ideal bounce-back game, but a strong second-half defensive performance and a big night from All-Star Luol Deng (26 points, six rebounds) enabled the Bulls to survive a late scare from the Celtics to get their first win of April.

Without Derrick Rose for the 12th consecutive game, the Bulls turned to the other half of the starting backcourt they expected at the seasons outset, Rip Hamilton (nine points in 20 minutes), in the early going and received mixed results. Hamilton was active and showed some defensive versatility in guarding Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (10 points, 12 assists), but was clearly rusty and couldnt find a rhythm.

Behind Rondos top-notch playmaking ability and fellow All-Star Paul Pierces (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) scoring prowess, Boston gained a slight edge early in the opening period, as the Bulls tried to counter with the inside duo of Joakim Noah (17 points, nine rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (12 points, 14 rebounds), which proved effective on the glass. At the conclusion of a quarter of play, the Bulls trailed, 22-18, mostly due to mediocre marksmanship from the field.

A battle of both teams reserves including Celtics sharpshooter Ray Allen (14 points), who came off the bench for emerging second-year guard Avery Bradley didnt yield much for the Bulls, although Deng got his offense going, as the primary scorer when paired with the Bench Mob. The hosts defense clamped down and limited the visitors offense, but still struggled to find point production of their own.

However, role-playing Celtics like Brandon Bass (15 points, five rebounds) began to exploit scoring opportunities, while Rondos playmaking and Kevin Garnetts (12 points, 14 rebounds) all-around abilities helped Boston open up a double-digit lead late in the period. Despite C.J. Watson (15 points, eight assists) providing an offensive boost, the Bulls went into the intermission facing a 49-38 deficit, as Pierce again heated up late in the half.

A 6-0 Bulls run immediately after the break brought the Bulls within striking distance, as the home team started to get easier scoring opportunities through solid ball movement and aggressive penetration from the likes of Watson.

The hosts continued to plug away and reduced the deficit, buoyed by Noahs frenetic energy the charismatic center, known for being an irritant, drew an offensive foul on Garnett, which led to a subsequent technical from the veteran, who graduated from high school in the Windy City and the versatile Dengs hustle play.

But it was Watson who truly sparked the Bulls, as he tied the game, then gave his squad its first lead since the opening period with three-pointers on consecutive possessions. With the United Center crowd in a frenzied state, the Bulls headed into the games final frame with a 67-66 advantage.

Deng, again on the floor with the Bench Mob, handled both playmaking and scoring duties not to mention defense, as he was tasked with guarding Pierce and was the primary reason the Bulls built a slim cushion early in the fourth quarter, though timely scoring from Taj Gibson and John Lucas III also helped the cause.

The hosts survived a flurry of scoring from both Garnett and Bass and with Deng continuing to carry them offensively, entered the contests stretch run with some breathing room.

From contested pull-up jumpers and fast-break layups to offensive rebounds and creating off the dribble for his teammates, Deng put his All-Star skill set on full display and saved his best for last, with lockdown defense on Pierce, clutch shots and setting up Boozer for a dunk to give the Bulls a 10-point lead with under two minutes remaining.

Boston, however, wasnt quite finished putting up a fight and after an Allen jumper originally ruled a triple, then reversed after video review cut it to a five-point game with 42.3 seconds left, but the Bulls were able to endure the attempted comeback.

Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

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Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

The White Sox take on the Royals on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. from Kansas City. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 4.57 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (0-0, 2.13 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Phillies on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (4-3, 2.60 ERA) vs. Adam Morgan (1-2, 5.61 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

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Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

The Bears’ decision to move on from Matt Forte, the No. 2 running back in franchise history behind only Walter Payton in yardage, was not necessarily an easy one. It was, however, unanimous at Halas Hall, sources told CSNChicago.com. And it was also part of a significant deeper change in the main operating principle underpinning the Bears’ rushing offense.

Depending upon what Forte does with the New York Jets — and for how long — the decision might be open to question. Few NFL decisions aren’t.

But the Bears’ offense under John Fox and new coordinator Dowell Loggains was clearly going away from what Forte was accustomed to — a true featured back with a relief-back in the form of a Chester Taylor/Marion Barber/Michael Bush — and moving onto a true use of two backs in the fashion that Fox’s Denver Broncos offenses used them.

The change will be more than just a few carries. Forte lost carries last season to Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey. This is different.

Instead of Forte and an understudy, as the de facto rushing offense has been since Forte was drafted in 2008, the Bears this offseason made the decision to emphasize the run even more under Loggains, and that has meant something other than simply more carries for Forte’s understudy.

For perspective purposes: Last season Forte missed three full games due to a knee injury but still totaled 276 touches (carries plus targets) to 236 combined for Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. When Forte returned from the three-game injury break, the offense had changed. Forte had four 20-carry games in the first six. He had one over the final six.

Forte did not appear publicly to genuinely embrace the job-sharing approach as Langford’s carries matched and in cases exceeded his own. Whether he would have been on board with ceding even more meaningful time to a co-back is another matter that would have been open to question, though any suspicions that direction are now moot.

(If Forte would have had problems with younger backs rising, he would not have been the first; Thomas Jones ultimately demanded a trade after the Lovie Smith Bears drafted Cedric Benson to broaden the run game.)

Regardless, the true multi-back system will be a change for the Bears, harking back perhaps to the Bears building their run game on two starter-grade backs in Benson and Jones. The Bears’ unsuccessful attempt to bring in C.J. Anderson from Denver suggests less a no-confidence vote in either Carey or Langford than a measure of the commitment to both competition and a depth chart with meaning past the top one or even two names. The Bears have used mid-round picks on running backs in three straight drafts (Carey, Langford, Jordan Howard this year), making the same point the Anderson interest did.

And that’s how Langford took the Howard selection to a position that where confidence in him was one of the reasons the organization was OK with parting with Forte.

“I really didn’t think too much of (the Howard pick),” Langford said. “I know it’s just competition. That’s what brings a lot of running backs, a lot of positions, to push themselves even more. Competition is always a good thing, and playing in the NFL, there’s always going to be competition, so you can’t really become too complacent as a player.”

“Complacent” wasn’t a word anyone was likely to apply to Langford, and certainly to Carey, who played his way up from a roster bubble at the end of training camp last year. And Howard as a fifth-round rookie isn’t guaranteed anything for awhile in training camp except reps with the 2s or 3s, with Jacquizz Rodgers also re-signed after an injury shortened 2015.

Loggains has been dealt a hand without an ace like Forte but with what he and the organization think can be three or four kings, depending on roster decisions at the end of August.

“We like where Jeremy’s at,” Loggains said. “He needs to continue to develop. There’s things he can do a better job of in the passing game, but we still like our other backs. Ka’Deem Carey finished strong for us last year. We obviously drafted a back. We’re excited about getting Jacquizz Rodgers back as well.”