No joke: Thunder blow out Bulls

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No joke: Thunder blow out Bulls

OKLAHOMA CITYOn April Fools Day, the joke wasnt just on the Bulls (42-12), they were the joke, as the Thunder (40-12) absolutely demolished them in Sundays marquee matchup, 92-78, a score that was closer than the actual affair, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Undermanned as always, the Bulls typical road toughness, defensive fortitude and overall pride were all almost completely absent, a rarity under Tom Thibodeau, in a game billed as an NBA Finals preview between the best teams in their respective conferences.

The potent All-Star duo of Kevin Durant (26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, five assists, four steals) got the Thunder off to a quick start, putting the Bulls in an 8-2 hole to begin the game. But the visitors fought their way back into the contest behind the interior play of Carlos Boozer (eight points, 10 rebounds) and the outside marksmanship of Kyle Korver (14 points, four assists), who started at shooting guard in place of Ronnie Brewer.

Thibodeau changing the starting lineup and thus, affecting his usual rotation notwithstanding, a familiar formula of inside-out offense, a strong effort on both ends of the glass and the correct defensive adjustments had the undermanned guests in rhythm, if still trailing. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls were down, 27-20, following a late-quarter three-pointer from Thunder sixth-man extraordinaire James Harden (11 points).

Contributions from reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, 11 rebounds) and starting point guard C.J. Watson starting in place of the injured Derrick Rose, who missed his 10th consecutive game with a strained right groin helped Chicago further narrow the gap, but the latter picking up his second foul briefly put a halt to the momentum.

Propelled by the relentless scoring of the aforementioned Durant and Westbrook Westbrook, Roses summer workout partner, drew Watsons third foul, forcing Thibodeau to turn to John Lucas III (19 points, four assists) and the interior defense of starters Serge Ibaka (nine points, six rebounds, five blocked shots) and Kendrick Perkins, as well as veteran backups Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed, a Chicago native, the Thunder built a double-digit lead.

However, led by Lucas instant-offense game, Boozers efficiency and Korvers shooting, the Bulls again trimmed the gap, making it a close-knit affair once again. But lapses on both ends toward the end of the half allowed the hosts to end the second quarter with the games momentum, sending the Bulls into the intermission with a 49-39 deficit.

After the break, Oklahoma City blitzed Chicago right out of the gates, going on a 15-2 run that was mostly propelled by the shared brilliance of Durant and Westbrook, both of whom the Bulls simply had no answers for. From contested jumpers to fast-break alley-oops, the Thunder seemingly got whatever they wanted against the Bulls vaunted defense and on the other end of the court, Chicago endured one of the offensive droughts they periodically suffer through.

Things didnt get any easier for the usually tough-minded Bulls as the third quarter waned on, as the Thunders lead continued to balloon and the separation between the two squads grew to an insurmountable margin. The situation incredibly became more disastrous, symbolized by a late-period Westbrook posterization of Omer Asik, and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were behind, 80-51.

Both Thibodeau and Thunder head coach Scott Brooks tacitly agreed that the game was over to begin the fourth quarter, with each coach sending in their deep reserves at the periods outset. Regardless of who was on the floor, it didnt matter with the laugher of a contest decided long beforehand and the Bulls frankly outclassed in every aspect of the game.

With the devastating loss behind them, the Bulls return to Chicago to host the Houston Rockets Monday at the United Center and will likely be without Rose, though Hamilton could be back in action, if Thibodeau deems the veteran ready to play. A more pressing concern, however, is to ensure the bad taste of Sundays loss doesnt linger, as the Bulls displayed glaringly poor body language and appeared to have a defeatist attitude, things that simply havent occurred under Thibodeau.

Former Blackhawks D-man Trevor Daley reflects on bittersweet postseason with Penguins

Former Blackhawks D-man Trevor Daley reflects on bittersweet postseason with Penguins

Trevor Daley’s hearing the same chatter in the Pittsburgh Penguins this season as he did with the Blackhawks last fall.

“It feels a lot like when I started last year with Chicago, where a lot of guys were speaking the same thing: ‘We want to try to do it again,’” Daley said on Wednesday evening. “I felt I was in that situation with the same feeling with the guys around me, so it was an exciting time.”

Well, there is one difference this time around. When Daley was traded to the Blackhawks in the summer of 2015 he didn’t know that feeling of winning a Stanley Cup. Now, he does. After the Blackhawks traded Daley to Pittsburgh he became a key part of the Penguins’ run to their Cup triumph.

Daley fit in immediately with the Penguins because they all found common ground: he wasn’t the only one going through changes at the time. Daley was traded to Pittsburgh two days after the team named Mike Sullivan its new head coach.

“The way they were going with a new coach coming in, I think everyone was happy to have a fresh start, including myself. I felt I was in the same situation they were,” Daley said. “It all worked out obviously in the long run. But a lot for my success had to do with being on the same page as everyone else.”

Daley suffered a fractured ankle in late May, missing the rest of the postseason. But after the Penguins won the Cup in Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks, Daley, on the ice in full uniform and skates, was the first to get the Cup from captain Sidney Crosby.

“When you get to hoist that thing,” Daley said. “There’s nothing better than that.”

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The postseason was bittersweet for Daley, as his mother became ill with cancer as the playoffs began. She got to see Daley hoist the Cup on June 13. Sadly, she died on June 21.

“Pittsburgh was great to me. I got to go home in between series. When I had time off I got to see her and when I got hurt I got to spend more time with her. It did make it bittersweet,” Daley said. “Before she passed she would always say, ‘Why are you here? I want you to be playing.’ But under the circumstances, at least I got to say I got to spend a little more time with her.”

The Penguins are waiting for a few players, including Crosby, to return from the World Cup. Who knows how the season unfolds but much like last fall, Daley is part of the let’s-try-to-repeat talk.

“We’re excited for those guys to be able to have the opportunity they have [at World Cup]. We get to watch the best player in the world doing what he does, knowing he’s coming back to us,” Daley said of Crosby. “We’ve been enjoying it; we’ve been staying in touch with them while they’re gone. Most of them are back now. Those guys are going to be ready to go. They’ve already played some big games, so it’ll be good.”

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Bears have run hurry-up offense, Brian Hoyer style

Brian Hoyer spent Wednesday’s practice as the presumptive No. 1 quarterback, sources said, and with Jay Cutler limited due to his thumb injury, the Bears began prep for the Detroit Lions next Sunday in Soldier Field with Hoyer getting more used to the offense that he has only sparingly run since training camp.

Some of Hoyer’s teammates spent Wednesday’s practice getting a little more used to him.

A veteran of 27 NFL starts, Hoyer doesn’t do things the way Cutler does them. He doesn’t throw as hard. He doesn’t throw as far. And he runs a sort-of hurry-up offense compared to Cutler.

“Hoyer has a real good sense of urgency to him,” said left tackle Charles Leno Jr. “He’s more fast paced. He likes to quicken up things, whether it’s the cadence, the flow – he just has a real natural sense of urgency about himself.”

This involves more than just a feeling. The Bears ARE faster under Hoyer, based on one very unofficial measure, because game situations differ even though the Bears ultimately lost all three games.

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Based on snaps and time played, the Bears have run 2.2 plays per minute with Cutler. They have run 2.6 per minute, approaching 20 percent more, under “urgent” Hoyer.

The play rate, however, is not entirely on the quarterback. Like all teams, the Bears build tempos into their system, and defenses also dictate some of how the Bears elect to work.

Still, “Jay is more laid back, more relaxed, even-keeled,” Leno said, smiling. “But that’s just Hoyer, more sense of urgency."