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.

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.