Bulls beaten at their own game by similarly-styled Grizzlies

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Bulls beaten at their own game by similarly-styled Grizzlies

MEMPHISBeaten at their own game. Monday nights 80-71 loss to the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum was the type of rugged, low-scoring, defensive-minded affair that the Bulls usually thrive in.

But against a team thats just as physical, feels like they should own the glass and has the depth to send waves of bodies against their opponents, as well as weather the storm through a rough start, the Bulls didnt have enough in the tank against Memphis.

The Bulls lost the battle of the boards for the third straight game and notched their lowest point total since scoring 67 points against Minnesota on Jan. 30, 2008.

But beyond that, the frustration and feeling of helplessness in the visitors locker room was palpable late Monday evening off of the famed Beale Street strip in the downtown section of the Bluff City.

The combination of frontcourt stars Zach Randolph and Marc Gasoldespite not having great offensive nightswearing the Bulls down inside as a major part of the Grizzlies 51-39 rebounding edge, underrated point guard Mike Conley Jr. and a bench featuring unlikely contributors like backup shooting guard Wayne Ellington and his trio of long bombs in the second quarter were key elements to the final result.

I think its always what we failed to do. Thats what you can control. I think our defense was pretty good. We just got out-rebounded. Weve got to do a better job of rebounding the ball as a team. We got a lot of good stops and then we ran in transition, Joakim Noah said afterwards.

Weve got to get better at scoring in transition. Were getting good stops and were getting out on the break, and were just not getting those easy points. Were turning the ball over a little bit too much on the break. If we can score on those, well be better.

Weve just got to get in the battle a little bit more. Theyre a great rebounding team. I think that the last game was a little bit different, he continued. Their physicality hurt us a little bit. Weve definitely got to a better job.

Its a step back because we lost. Thats the only reason why its a step back.

Kirk Hinrich added: They did a good job. We got off to a pretty decent start and we had some opportunities on the break we couldnt finish on. We struggled to get rebounds and struggled to score. We just didnt make shots tonight. Youve got to give them credit.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, never pleased after any defeat, seemed especially displeased with the aforementioned second stanza of the game.

I saw the second quarter was the problem. Outscored 28-14. Great first quarter, terrible second quarter. You dont rebound on the road, you dont take care of the ball, youre not going to win, he said. They play hard. Thats how they play. Youve got to take care of the ball and we didnt do that. Then, we didnt get back and got in a hole, big hole. The whole game changed in the second quarter.

We didnt cover the line, let guys get loose, not reading penetrating drives and flat drives, over-helping, not recognizing whats going on in the game, throwing possessions away. Cant do that, not against a quality team. Not against any team, Thibodeau continued, listing a litany of his teams failures and necessary adjustments.

When youre coming in, its going to be hard fought. Theyre a tough team, so youve got to fight, youve got to know what youre doing, youve got to make the right reads, youve got to sometimes give yourself up, youve got to cut with force, youve got to replace with force, youve got to make the right play, youve got to be willing to move the ball. When you do that, youre going to get good shots. When you dont do that, youre going to take tough shots.

However, as disappointed as the Bulls were with the loss, their opponents came away impressed. Randolph and Conley both shared their thoughts on the retooled Bulls, without superstar Derrick Rose, who played his lone season of college basketball in Memphis, with CSNChicago.com.

Obviously when youre missing an All-Star like Derrick, you cant really replace that with much in this league, but with Kirk and Nate, you know theyre going to try to run the offense and try to get other guys involved more. Theyre the Bulls not as point guard-oriented as they are with Derrick, so you just expect to not hit as many screens and not have to guard as much, Conley explained.

I think theyre one of the best defensive teams in the league. As long as you play D, you can beat anybody and regardless of who your personnel is, so with Derrick back, theyre one of the top teams in the East.

Randolph chimed in: Theyve got a good team. Theyve got Kirk running point. Kirk is solid. Theyre a good team and they can play. They play smart and theyve got a great coach.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for a perfectionist like Thibodeau, things look grim right now. But when have things ever been pretty for these Bulls, still a respected team in the NBA, a team that requires opponents to take their best shot and perhaps most importantly, a team that, for the most part, is in every game, every night, regardless of the caliber of the competition.

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

Ulf Samuelsson saw the changes the Blackhawks made this season, his hiring as assistant coach being one of them. Soon he’ll be working with the team’s defensemen, another area that’s had some upheaval.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, some uncertainties and some moving parts that I probably, typically haven’t seen going into a season. So that makes it even more interesting and challenging,” Samuelsson said. “So I’m looking forward to this opportunity to really develop and work with some of the younger players.”

From its immediate coach to its personnel, the Blackhawks’ defense is dealing with plenty of change that will continue when the season begins this fall. The Blackhawks have had some addition (Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta and Jordan Oesterle) but dealing with the subtraction (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk) will nevertheless be tough. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that pairings are a work in progress.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we're going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” he said. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

For Murphy, who was acquired in the deal that sent Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, there are no set expectations as to where he fits yet.

“With any team you go into training camp proving where you’re going to be. Everyone has to come in and earn certain positions, especially me being a guy who they’re not as familiar with; I have to show what I can do,” Murphy said. “I definitely want to bring a more physical edge to defending at times and be able to skate well, have a good reach, make smart reads and try to help out with whatever’s needed with that.”

As for young players, the opportunity is there. Gustav Forsling admits he wasn’t happy that fellow Swede and role model Hjalmarsson was traded. But Forsling, who looked strong coming out of camp last September, knows he has to take advantage of the situation.

“Of course, I want to take the next step and play more,” he said. “I want to keep progressing my game and keep developing.”

The same goes for Jordan Oesterle, who the Blackhawks signed to a two-year deal on July 1.

“When I wanted to come here the opportunity was tremendous. Just the chance to come in and try to make the top six is there, it’s a battle with a number of us guys but that’s all you ask for in the situation I’m in,” he said. “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more. I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Again, the Blackhawks could re-address defense once they implement Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve after the season begins. General manager Stan Bowman said there’s “no exact plan” right now on how they use that space – “that’s probably going to be dictated by where we’re at when we get to October, how the team’s playing, what areas are strong, what areas we want to add to,” he said.

It remains to be seen on that front. Regardless, from coaching to personnel, much has changed with the Blackhawks defense. 

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

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USA TODAY

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

A game which paired two of the top teams in the MLS standings didn’t deliver in a traditional sense, but did produce a wild game on Saturday.

The Chicago Fire looked like a team coming off a break in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at New York City FC. The Fire played up a man from the 12th minute on, but defensive lapses throughout and a lack of crispness in front of goal cost the Fire.

After a first half in which the Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) were outshot 7-4 despite the man advantage, NYCFC (11-6-4, 37 points) scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half and held off the Fire’s late surge.

For much of the match, the Fire struggled to complete passes and couldn’t even put shorthanded New York City under pressure. Once the Fire fell behind 2-0, David Accam, who entered the match as a halftime sub, got the Fire within one with a long-range effort that slammed in off the bottom off the crossbar.

The final 30 or so minutes resembled the Fire’s previous struggles this season of playing against teams defending deeply. The Fire couldn’t score against Orlando when the Lions were down two players on June 4. Later in June in the U.S. Open Cup, the Fire couldn’t score against USL opponent FC Cincinnati which defended deep the entire match.

NYCFC took the lead two minutes into the second half on a David Villa volley where Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson was screened on the shot. A few minutes later Frederic Brillant rebounded his own header on a set piece to double the lead.

Accam’s goal finished off a stretch of three goals in eight minutes, but the Fire couldn’t beat former goalkeeper Sean Johnson again despite 25 shots.

The loss snapped the Fire’s 11-match MLS unbeaten run and tightened up the Eastern Conference race. Toronto FC, which tied NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, is up a point on the Fire. NYCFC is now a point behind the Fire with an extra game played.

Before the red card, the Fire caught a big break when a Bastian Schweinsteiger turnover nearly led to a penalty kick. Johan Kappelhof slid to knock the ball away from Herrera in the fourth minute, and appeared to miss the ball, but the ref did not give the penalty to the hosts.

Fire defender Brandon Vincent was announced as a starter before the match, but the club said he suffered a left quad strain in warmups and was replaced by Michael Harrington in the lineup.