Bulls look to extend home win streak on CSN

426532.jpg

Bulls look to extend home win streak on CSN

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 3:25 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

As the Bulls head down the regular-season home stretch and try to keep their hold on first place in the Eastern Conference, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose believes the team must concentrate their focus.

"Finishing on the right foot, making sure we finish positive. We dont want to take any steps back. Try to finish right. We should be playing our basketball right now, going into the playoffs and we should be playing with a lot of confidence," Rose emphasized as the team's primary goals. "Its hard. Right now, were just trying to keep things going. Were playing against good teams, were playing against teams thats fighting for their lives right now. Even against bad teams, theyre playing for their future. They want to let people know that they can play. Its hard, definitely, but I wouldnt trade this for anything."

In comparison to his first two seasons in the NBA--when the team sneaked through the back door to make the playoffs with a .500 record, garnering the eighth seed both seasons--the Bulls are sitting pretty, but don't expect Rose or his teammates to take their collective foot off the gas anytime soon.

READ: Derrick Rose to donate 1,000 per point to benefit Japan

"Everybody on the team has stepped it up a little bit. The way people have been playingour bench has been playing great, giving us the leadpeople have been stepping up their game, a lot of people," said Rose. "That's what we need on this team.

"We know, especially on the road, its going to be kind of crazy. Youre going to get everybodys best and you kind of get used to it. You cant come out sluggish. It makes you play kind of hard and aggressive," he went on to say. "It makes you ready to play in the games."

Unsurprisingly, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has been the prime source of the Bulls motivation, using his vast coaching experience as a reference point.

"Youre never going to stop hearing it from Thibs. He always says if we want to be this team we say we want ourselves to be, weve got to put a lot more things into it and thats what we have to do right now, keep pushing ourselves. We cant be satisfied with where we are right now and weve just got to keep going and pushing each other," said Rose. "He always tells us stories about the Knicks Thibodeau was a New York assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy, when the Knicks and Bulls were fierce rivals, saying that they were in a situation where guys werent playing up or certain plays that they didnt call defensively in that gamea Knicks gamewhere a guy didnt follow an assignment. It cost them a championship. He always throws things out there like that and makes you think about it."

WATCH: 'Bench Mob' unsung heroes of first-place Bulls

Not so ironically, Thibodeau's last stop--Boston--has been on Rose's mind lately, too; not just because the Celtics are currently chasing the Bulls for the East's top seed, but because the defensive schemes of the two teams are similar, and not by coincidence.

"Its kind of weird, definitely weird. Hell say something about them, how good they are and it makes you think about it. Were kind of like the same team, where we both over-help on the defensive side. Usually, people do that in college. Thats not normal NBA defense, Ill say. Most of the time, NBA teams leave you out on an island and us, we just help everywhere and we depend on each other," Rose observed. "Theyve Boston been in tough situations before. They play well together, kind of like us. We just keep fighting. No matter how much were down, its going to be a tough game. Right now, were just trying to win it out. If us winning gets us into the No. 1 spot, were fine with that, but if not, well still be thankful that were in the playoffs."

According to Rose, Thibodeau uses his insight into a championship squad--he was on Boston's staff for the 2008 Celtics title team--as a further reminder that the Bulls have work to do before matching that feat.

"He doesnt bring the Celtics championship ring, but he always saysif were messing around at practice or somethinghe always reminds us, if we want to be that team, we cant be doing what were doing. We cant take any steps back. Weve got to be playing with an edge every single game," Rose recounted. "If you want to win, youll do it or separate yourself from all the other teams in the NBA. Weve got good guys on the team. Theyre winners. Doing extra stuff, like shooting after practice, shooting before practice. When you come into practice, having the right attitude, making sure that you dont mess up practice. You dont want to be the one that messed up a whole practice because you messing up that practice, theres other teams that are having great practices in the NBA and that can put you back a little bit. We just try to come in, work every dayespecially defensivelytry to work hard and try to learn each other better on the defensive side."

Rose joked about Thibodeau's lack of a social life, but underneath the humor shone through an appreciation for the coach's dedication.

"Me and Joakim Noah were talking about that last night. I never played for a coach that was that focused. Theres nothing else. He has no kids, no wife, no leisure time just to watch TV. Im dead serious. Theres nothing else but winning. I never in my life played for a coach like that," Rose quipped. "Hes healthy, were winning, he seems like hes enjoying himself, so Im fine with it.

"Ive never heard about Thibs being out eating anywhere or ran into him eating him anywhere, ordont you know when you in the restaurant, theyre like, Your coach just leftnever. Never. No matter what city were in. I wont see him until the next day. Ive never been around a coach thats like that. Never. Or never met a coach thats like that I'll say," he continued. "He can keep it going. As long as were winning, he can keep it going."
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”

After losing uncle, emotional Jon Lester pays tribute with Notre Dame rallying cry

After losing uncle, emotional Jon Lester pays tribute with Notre Dame rallying cry

Jon Lester wore PLACT on his hat Saturday and he made good on the Notre Dame rallying cry — Play Like a Champion Today — against the Cardinals.

Lester didn't attend college and doesn't cheer for Notre Dame, but in his postgame session, he fought through tears to tell reporters why he decided to put the Notre Dame nod on his hat:

"My family — I lost my uncle yesterday," Lester said. "For the Notre Dame fans, he went to Notre Dame, so it's Play Like a Champion Today. Just to let him know that I was thinking of him."

Lester worked through the grief and carried a perfect game into the sixth inning, retiring the first 17 Cardinals hitters in the game.

Lester wound up surrendering two homers in the eighth inning, but the Cubs offense rallied behind him with three runs in the bottom of the inning, giving their ace his seventh win of the season.

But Lester's teammates didn't even know the struggle he was going through.

"I didn't even know that, man," said Kris Bryant, who scored the winning run. "That's tough. Jonny, he won't ever show you any emotion. Something like that, to hear that, obviously it's terrible, but he's probably one of the best teammates I've ever been able to play with in my short time.

"You know what you're going to get with him every day. You know he's gonna be the same guy, the same competitor and I love that about him."