Bulls fall to Rockets, first back-to-back losses of season

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Bulls fall to Rockets, first back-to-back losses of season

The stage was set, with the return of half of their starting backcourt, but a second-half collapse led to the Bulls dropping the two games in a row for the first time all season, as they fell to the Rockets, 99-93, Monday night at the United Center.

An atypical defensive showing and the inability to take care of the basketball led to the rare occurrence of the team that entered the evening with the leagues best record losing at home, a day after a disappointing blowout defeat at the hands of the Western Conference-best Thunder in Oklahoma City.

In his return to the lineup after missing 14 games due to a right-shoulder injury, Rip Hamilton (six points on 2-for-7 shooting, three assists in 19 minutes) made an immediate impact, providing the Bulls (42-13) with an aggressive perimeter scoring threat, as well as a capable playmaker.

A beneficiary of the veteran shooting guards underrated playmaking was Joakim Noah (15 points, nine rebounds), who got off to a solid start in general, as evidenced by his activity on the boards, strong finishes at the rim and running the floor in transition.

Houston (29-25), however, was clicking on the offensive end, as the veteran inside duo of Luis Scola (18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists) and Marcus Camby (12 points, 11 rebounds) went to work early, as the pair was a force on the glass, rained in jumpers and scored on the interior.

With point guard Goran Dragic (21 points, five assists) also contributing on offense, the Rockets took advantage of the Bulls again playing below their usual standards on defense, putting the hosts behind, 26-22, after a period of play, despite All-Star Luol Deng (24 points, seven rebounds) chipping in with a quietly solid opening quarter.

The always-energetic Taj Gibson came off the bench to spark the Bulls early in the second frame, helping the home team quickly overtake the visitors and seize the lead. The entire Bench Mob gave the Bulls a boostRonnie Brewer, back to being a backup with Hamilton starting, stood out as a passerextending the lead with an all-out defensive effort and sprinkling of transition offense against the Rockets reserves.

Noah continued to thrive on both ends of the floor, finishing with authorityof his first six baskets, five were dunksand providing a defensive presence, both of which aided the Bulls in acquiring a comfortable double-digit advantage.

However, the visitors stormed back toward the end of the first half, as Dragic scored six points in less than 20 secondstwo fast-break layups off Bulls turnovers, then another off an inbounds passto narrow the gap, leaving the hosts with a 51-40 lead at the intermission.

After the break, Deng became the Bulls offensive focal point and delivered as a scorer, but received little help from his teammates throughout the period. For Houston, the opposite was true, as a total team effortgreatly aided by the Bulls ball-security issues, leading to transition baskets on the other end of the courtgot the guests back into the game.

Camby and Scola were instrumental in the comeback, but Dragics scoring and playmaking prowess was key for the Rockets, who also got solid contributions from supporting-cast members, such as starting wings Courtney Lee (13 points) and rookie Chandler Parsons, as well as reserves Chase Budinger (13 points) and recently-signed veteran Earl Boykins.

With the Bulls struggling on both ends of the floor, the visitors surged to take a 71-70 into the fourth quarter.

The Rockets held on to the games momentum early in the final stanza, as Budingers long-range accuracy offset Carlos Boozers (16 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists) mid-range shooting, giving the visitors a double-digit cushion to work with.

Familiar fourth-quarter savior John Lucas III and designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver attempted to spark a run, but the balanced visitors continued to get help from a variety of sources, as Boykins and second-year power forward Patrick Patterson came through with timely scoring to keep Houston in firm control midway through the period.

Turnovers and the inability to capitalize on missed Rockets opportunities still plagued the Bulls as the game entered its stretch run, but even after a Deng jumper cut it to a four-point contest, Lee responded to make it 94-88 with 51 seconds remaining.

A Korver turnover and subsequent foul on the next possession virtually sealed the deal, giving the Bulls back-to-back losses for the first time since falling to Golden State and Portland last February.

Is it time for the White Sox to call up Reynaldo Lopez?

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USA TODAY

Is it time for the White Sox to call up Reynaldo Lopez?

With Yoan Moncada now with the White Sox and making an early impact, White Sox fans may be wondering which highly-touted prospect is next to join the big league roster.

Reynaldo Lopez is certainly making a strong case for himself in Triple-A Charlotte. Lopez, one of the pitchers the Sox received from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade, gave up one run in six innings for the Knights on Friday night. That was the latest in a string of five strong starts for the 23-year-old.

In Friday's 2-1 loss against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, Lopez struck out six and allowed just two hits and one walk. That's five straight starts for Lopez in which he has allowed two or fewer runs while pitching six or more innings.

Here's his last five starts:

June 29 vs. Columbus: 6 2/3 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts, 1 walk, 6 hits

July 4 at Durham: 6 innings, 1 run, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk, 5 hits

July 9 at Louisville: 6 innings, 2 runs, 4 strikeouts, 1 walk, 7 hits

July 16 vs. Gwinnett: 7 innings, 1 run, 12 strikeouts, 2 walks, 2 hist

Tonight at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: 6 innings, 1 run, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk, 2 hits

Loepz has a 3.65 ERA on the season with 107 strikeouts in 106 innings against 40 walks and 90 hits. In a short stint in the majors last season, Lopez had a 4.91 ERA in 44 innings in six starts and five relief appearances for the Nationals.

Does Guaranteed Rate Field await the Dominican right-hander?

White Sox minor league trade could signal more big league moves to come

White Sox minor league trade could signal more big league moves to come

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- What may appear at face value to be a deal for pitching depth could be a precursor of more White Sox trades to come.

The White Sox acquired Triple-A relief pitchers Mark Lowe and Jean Machi from the Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Mariners) on Friday night. While the move merely could be to add bullpen arms to a system short on them after trades and injuries have depleted their depth, the White Sox could also be preparing themselves for the next wave of moves. David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle may be gone.

But the White Sox still possess a strong rental reliever in veteran Anthony Swarzak and left-hander Dan Jennings could also draw interest even though his 4.05 ERA is the highest he’d had since coming to the White Sox.

“We are still open for business,” general manager Rick Hahn said on Tuesday night. “We’re starting to get a little younger in that clubhouse. A few guys are starting to get opportunities over the next few weeks and months. It will be interesting to see. If we don’t do anything over the next couple weeks we’ll have a better assessment of where we are heading into the off-season, perhaps set some things up for them.”

A free agent in the offseason, Swarzak has a 2.45 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 44 innings this season. Jennings has a career 2.94 ERA in 278 games.

Lowe has spent the entire season at Tacoma. He has a 4.22 ERA in 382 career games in the majors. Machi has a 3.38 ERA in 194 games in the bigs and has pitched for San Francisco, Boston and Seattle. He had a 3.44 ERA in 29 games at Tacoma.

The White Sox intend to have Tyler Clippard work as their closer after the departures of Robertson and Kahnle, manager Rick Renteria said.

Hahn has already been extremely busy this month, making a pair of deals that netted seven prospects and Clippard. He dealt Jose Quintana to the Cubs on July 13 for four prospects and traded Robertson, Kahnle and Todd Frazier to the Yankees on Tuesday.