Hamilton's eventual return in Thibodeau's hands


Hamilton's eventual return in Thibodeau's hands

OKLAHOMA CITYAnother Bulls game, another game-time decision for Rip Hamilton, another DNP-CD. For those not versed in NBA jargon, the acronym stands for Did Not Play-Coachs Decision, and Hamiltons current situation might be the definition of it.

The veteran shooting guard has worked his way back from his right-shoulder injury and has been a full participant in team practices and shootarounds for the past week, yet he hasnt played. Contrary to popular belief, that decision isnt Hamiltons.

Whatever he wants. I know its one of those things where we dont really know the effect of getting hits. We did some three-on-three, but I told him Im comfortable with whatever he wants to do, if we need to get out there and shoot more or take a couple more hits, said Hamilton after Sundays loss to the Thunder. We take it a day at a time. We dont look at it being next week. Hopefully its next game, so well see.

Saturday day we did a little bit more, so its a little sore, but its a good sore. It wasnt a bad sore, he continued. My mindset is if I can shoot, I can play. Thats always been my mindset. If I can run up the court, Im cool to play. I was a little stubborn the first time, so I leave it up to Coach to put me out there when its time.

By he and Coach, Hamilton is referring to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. As much as Thibodeau wants to win regular-season games and have his full roster available to play, it appears that the reigning NBA Coach of the Year is more concerned with going into the playoffs healthy.

Well see tomorrow. Hes feeling pretty good, but I just want to make sure. I think we have to play this smart, Thibodeau said about Hamilton. Hes doing fine. Im the one. Hes raring to go, hes chomping at the bit.

But when it comes to Hamiltons partner in the Bulls starting backcourt, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, thats another situation altogether.

Thibodeau was typically dismissive when asked about how much Roses absence affected the Bulls in Sundays atypical blowout defeatDerricks a great player, he said. Obviously wed prefer to have him, but we have more than enough.but Rose himself, while weary of questions about his recovery from a strained right groin, did exhibit a hint of concern about his immediate future this season.

Its the same thing every thing every day. Just trying to improve, running a little bit more and lifting weights, so if anything, I should be stronger than ever, the reigning league MVP said. Its up to me, so yeah, I think I am returning before the end of the regular season.

The most Im doing is lifting weights and stretching, trying to loosen up the scar tissue, he continued. My injury definitely is worse than he thought initially. Missing this amount of games definitely hurts, but if anything, Im hoping thats a blessing in disguise. The only positive thing I can look at is Im getting my rest.

At the same time, the 23-year-old remains confident that when he does return, the Bulls wont miss a beat.

Its going to take me a minute to get my rhythm back. Hopefully it takes me a game. That would be great, but well have to see, he said. Im not worried at all. Weve been together for a while now to now each others games. Me being out, just watching everybody, I know everybodys tendencies now, just being on the bench for this long and I think that we shouldnt have any problems.

Roses absence didnt mean the Thunder, led by peers and friends Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, took any pity on the Bulls Sunday.

We know its going to be tough for those guys without Derrick, but theyve been playing very well without him, winning some big games and we couldnt take them lightly, said Durant. John Lucas has been having a great run when Derrick Rose has been hurt, C.J. Watson, as well, so we just didnt want to take those guys for granted and we wanted to come out there and play as hard as we can, and see what happens.

Added Westbrook: It was tough. I know Derrick, if he was healthy, he would definitely come out and compete and wed definitely talk some trash in the summertime.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.