Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

946905.png

Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

HOUSTONMaybe in a few months, if and when the Bulls (5-6) cement their previous status as one of the Easts upper-echelon teams, Wednesday nights 93-89 loss to the Rockets (5-7) will be something to laugh about. But now, as losers of three consecutive games for the first time in the Tom Thibodeau era, nothing seems like a laughing matter.
The defensive tone Thibodeau had basically been pleading for the duration of the Circus Tripand the entirety of the young seasonwas evident in the early going, as there was less emphasis on pushing the tempo and more focus on getting stops. Kirk Hinrich came out aggressively on offense, knocking down his first two shots from the field, but the Bulls played balanced basketball, with each of the five starters getting on the board.
For Houston, starting wings James Harden (28 points) and Chandler Parsons (18 points, 13 rebounds) were the focus of the hosts attack, but power forward Patrick Patterson (20 points, eight rebounds) was also effective from the outset and gave them an inside scoring presence. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a 22-20 edge.
It appeared the visitors would continue their recent trend of second-quarter lulls to begin the frame, as they struggled on offense initially and both Harden and Patterson made major impacts, along with rugged young big man Greg Smith. However, Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds) began to assert himself as a scorer, as did Joakim Noah (11 points, seven rebounds).
Thibodeau made a slight change in his rotation, playing second-year swingman Jimmy Butler (eight points) earlier than usualfirst alongside Deng, at shooting guard, then at small forward, when the at least temporarily demoted Marco Belinelli entered the contestand it seemed to pay off, as the Bulls regained the lead from Houston, with reserves Nate Robinson (21 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Taj Gibson (nine points, six rebounds) also providing a lift. Still, the Rockets stayed in close contact behind the play of Harden, and at the intermission, the Bulls maintained a narrow, 46-42 lead.
Another ongoing issue for the Bulls, slippage at the beginning of the third quarter, briefly reared its ugly head immediately after the break, as the Rockets surged out of the gates with a 9-2 run. While the guests eventually regained their composure, the contest became a close-knit affair, with Harden, Patterson and Parsons continuing to do damage and the Rockets capitalizing off yet another Bulls issue this season, turnovers.
Houston built a slim cushion as the third period waned on, as miscues by the visitors piled up and the Bulls struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Deng remained their primary source of scoring, but received ample assistance from Carlos Boozer (13 points, 15 rebounds), who play inspired basketball as a scorer and rebounder to close out the quarter, though the Bulls still trailed, 66-65, heading into the final stanza.
It remained a back-and-forth contest in the fourth quarter and while the familiar trio of Harden, Patterson and Parsons were still the catalysts for Houston, Robinson became the Bulls top option. The diminutive scorer delivered time again, either with fearless drives and finishes at the rim, seemingly ill-advised deep jumpers or clever floaters over the tall trees.
When it counted, the visitors made huge hustle plays, particularly on defense, but a series of controversial whistlesfirst, an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Bulls was overturned, then a block-charge call went the Rockets wayand some clutch baskets by Houston, as well as untimely Bulls miscues, gave the hosts both the lead and momentum. Harden and reserve point guard Toney Douglas (11 points) salted things away at the charity stripe for the hosts, and while the Bulls, as always, fought until the bitter end, the night ended with Thibodeaus squad marking an unwanted first.

Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell compete for Cubs defensive highlight of the year on back-to-back plays

Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell compete for Cubs defensive highlight of the year on back-to-back plays

Joe Maddon declared Monday as "Albert's game" a couple hours before first pitch.

He didn't even know how right he was at the time.

"Albert" is Albert Almora Jr., the Cubs' rookie centerfielder who hasn't gotten to play as much lately with Ian Happ's emergence over the last week.

But with a left-handed pitcher on the mound for the San Francisco Giants Monday night, Maddon wanted to get the right-handed hitting Almora in the lineup. There was also the added benefit of Almora providing the best defense in center with John Lackey — a flyball pitcher — on the mound for the Cubs.

It took only three batters for Almora's impact to be felt:

He was off on a dead sprint from the very second that ball was hit.

What makes the play even more amazing is two pitches prior, Addison Russell had the crowd buzzing with his own highlight-reel play:

If it weren't for Almora's play, Russell's effort might go down as the Cubs' defensive highlight of the season to date.

Of course, this isn't the only time we've seen Almora turn in a highlight-reel catch:

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

On April 22, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman vented his frustrations on the team’s all-too-abrupt exit from the postseason, adding that he and coach Joel Quenneville, “are going to work together to make sure that this never happens again.”

There will be plenty of decisions for the two to mull between now and September, when the Blackhawks convene for training camp. When it comes to the assistant head coach vacancy, however, that might need to be decided with a more one-sided approach. That choice ultimately should be made by Quenneville.

In a recent podcast, Pat Boyle and I discussed the Blackhawks’ need to work together on some upcoming decisions. But with the assistant coach, the head coach has to have the loudest voice. The head coach probably should even have the final vote. The relationship between coaches has to be there because they’re around each other constantly. They’ve got to be on the same page. There has to be trust from Day 1.

As for when the Blackhawks name that assistant, there appears to be nothing imminent. A source said Monday that the Blackhawks and Ulf Samuelsson have been in communication about the job — Chris Kuc of the Tribune first reported on Samuelsson on Sunday. On paper it looks like it would be a great fit. Samuelsson and Quenneville played several seasons together with the Hartford Whalers, along with current Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen. The relationship with Samuelsson has been there for a long time and it would make for a smoother transition. It might also provide somewhat of a panacea for Quenneville after former assistant Mike Kitchen, whose friendship with Quenneville also went back to their playing days, was fired last month.

Earlier this month Bowman told the Sun-Times that Quenneville will have a big role in the Blackhawks’ finding their next assistant coach, with the final choice being a “joint collaboration.” We get that there’s an order to these things and everyone has to be in agreement with the final decision. But in the end the head coach has to be 100-percent happy with his immediate staff. So whoever the next assistant coach is, the decision has to be 100 percent Quenneville’s.