Rare lackluster Bulls performance doesn't sit well with Thibodeau

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Rare lackluster Bulls performance doesn't sit well with Thibodeau

Following Saturday nights defeat at the hands of the lowly Nets, Tom Thibodeau was understandably frustrated at his teams performance. That disappointment carried over to Sunday afternoons practice at the Berto Center, after which he broke down the lackluster outing from the previous day.

The Bulls performed poorly in every aspect, from getting ready to intensity to defense to offensive energy. There wasnt anything that we did well and we dug ourselves a hole. Down 22-3 after the first five minutes of the game, 34-19 after the first quarter. The first five minutes of the game were poor, the last five of the second quarter were poor, the first five of the third quarter were poor. We were in such a big hole the whole game, we didnt give ourselves a chance, so we have to change that, the coach explained. Its both your offense and your defense because theyre tied to each other. If you dont have offensive energy and floor balance when youre shooting the ball, our spacing is breaking down, were quick-shooting the ball and we dont have floor balance, so it doesnt allow us to have our defense set and were giving up easy baskets. Were not making the effort thats necessary with our smalls being back on the raise of the shot and our bigs sprinting back to get our smalls back out. In this league, if you take shortcuts, youre going to pay for them and we have.

There wasnt one aspect of our defense that was done well. I thought there was one stretch in the third quarter, towards the end, where we picked it up a little bit, but you have to play for 48 minutes and in this league, if you give a team the type of confidence in the first five minutes that we did, youre making it real hard on yourself, which we did, so we have to change that. Weve got to be ready at the start of the game.

That said, Thibodeau said he wouldnt make any drastic lineup changes or anything of that nature, though hes concerned that in three of the Bulls last four contests dating back to last Sundays loss in Boston at the conclusion of the teams nine-game road trip and with the exclusion of Thursdays home win over the Celtics theres been defensive slippage, something thats been a rarity during his tenure in Chicago.

We wont change the lineup. Before you make changes, I always say theres two questions that you always ask yourself. One, are you doing it hard enough and are you executing it properly, he said. If you can answer that youre doing it hard enough and youre executing it properly, then you change the scheme or the play or whatever it is that youre looking at, but if youre not doing those two things, then its hard to judge whether you should change or not because those are the first two things that you have to get right.

If Thibodeau did decide to make a move, an obvious choice would be giving more minutes to 36-year-old veteran Mike James. Currently on a 10-day contract and in his second stint of the season with the Bulls, the backup point guard has provided an infusion of toughness, energy and defensive intensity when on the floor, something Thibodeau expects, as the pair is familiar with each other from their time together with the Houston Rockets.

Im comfortable with him because I know what his strengths are I think he understands what were trying to get done. He needs more reps, he needs a lot of reps, the coach acknowledged. The one thing about Mike is hes going to play hard every time hes out there. You can play him at both guard spots. Hes got experience, too. I like what hes brought to our team.

Another potential adjustment could be the implementation of more zone defense in certain stretches, something Thibodeau has been using more of as of late.

I do like the zone in certain situations, but I think in order to play a good zone, you have to play good man-to-man, so Saturday we did use it some and I didnt think it was very effective, he explained. It depends on who the Bulls opponent have on the floor. Depends on clock, situations like that. It depends on matchups, if you may be small or you may be trying to protect somebody, but I think the hard thing in the NBA is to have a steady diet of long zone because of the amount of shooting thats on the floor.

Right now, most teams have four shooters on the floor and then, youre going to be vulnerable to the second shot. But I do like the concept of the zone. A lot of the principles of our man-to-man also have zone principles, too.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the first edition of EFT Football Academy, TF North graduate Landon Cox, who was a star wide receiver at Northern Illinois and later in the NFL, shares some tips on how to become a better receiver and be more efficient on the field.

Cox is a Performance Specialist and wide receiver coach at EFT. In this segment Cox works on a few different techniques with Warren Township junior wide receiver Micah Jones.

EFT has evolved into the premier elite performance training facility in the Midwest, where every EFT football coach has NFL experience and the dedication to helping each player reach their potential. The EFT Football Academy is designed to assist in the development of grade school, high school, and collegiate football players.

Some of their off-season training experience includes 70+ active NFL athletes, six Super Bowl Champions, six Olympics, and more.

[MORE: High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1]

In addition, performance includes explosive power development, positional movement pattern development, proper spring and change of direction mechanics, and more. Every EFT workout focuses on improving each athlete's overall abilities like speed development, agility and mobility, acceleration and deceleration, and strength and condition — just to name a few.

Former Bears wide receiver Devin Hester called it "the best workout in the world."

Watch Cox's tips in the video above, and be sure to look out for next week's edition on CSNChicago.com.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.