Bulls, Lucas III stun Heat without Rose

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Bulls, Lucas III stun Heat without Rose

So much for the bogus theory that the Bulls are all Derrick Rose and a bunch of nobodies, something that should have been dismissed long ago in the first place.

It was just a regular-season game, so lets keep things in perspective, but although the Bulls (36-9) 106-102 win over the rival Heat (31-11) Wednesday night at the United Center, without the leagues reigning MVP in the lineup, may not have been enough to erase the memory of last springs playoff loss, it certainly went a long way in changing the perception that the team is a one-man gang, as the unlikeliest of heroes, John Lucas III, led the way.

Without Rose, the Bulls relied on their typically excellent ball movement and their unselfishness paid off in the form of easy layups and dunksswingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points, six rebounds), in particular, was a prime beneficiarywhile making timely defensive plays to propel the home team to a slim cushion early in the contest.

The visitors, lustily booed by the raucous crowd, struck back behind their two superstars, LeBron James (35 points) and Dwyane Wade (36 points), who each hit a variety of contested degree-of-difficulty shots.

That trend continued for Miami, as the All-Star wing duo provided the guests only offense in the opening period, although team defense and a slight edge on the glass made up for the lack of secondary scoring.

A gimpy C.J. Watson (11 points), starting on place of Rose while playing on a clearly tender left ankle, gutted out a solid initial stint, while Carlos Boozer played a strong all-around frame and his backup, Taj Gibson (eight points, eight rebounds), provided energy off the benchas did rookie Jimmy Butler (eight points), who fared well guarding James for a spellbut the Bulls trailed, 23-19, after a quarter of play.

Gibson, coming off one of his best efforts of the season Monday evening against his hometown Knicks, continued to spark the Bulls early in the second quarter, helping the squad regain the lead with big finishes, relentless rebounding and by providing a defensive presence.

He received help from a modified Bench Mobfeaturing Butler, who drove to the basket with abandon in transition, sharpshooter Kyle Korvers (12 points) outside marksmanship and backup center Omer Asik, who energized the building with a deft save of a loose ball before it went out of bounds, followed by a tip-in on the other endand the hosts obtained some breathing room, though Miamis third All-Star, Chris Bosh (12 points), began to contribute.

Upon Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserting his starterswith the exception of Watson; John Lucas III (24 points, 8-for-12 shooting, 3-for-5 from three-point range) remained in the contestthe Bulls immediately stretched the spread to double digits, as All-Star Luol Deng (11 points, five rebounds), in his first game back after a two-game absence to rest his ailing right wrist, knocked down a triple, and Joakim Noah (14 points, six rebounds) absolutely posterized Heat center Joel Anthony.

Lucas, however, was the star of the show, as the diminutive floor general not only acquitted himself much better than he did when he last played against the Heat, but went above and beyond, knocking down three consecutive long bombs, including two three-pointers, to give the Bulls a comfortable lead, though a furious Heat run, fueled by James, cut the lead to 53-42 at the intermission.

Following the break, an expected Miami spurt took place early in the third period, but while the Bulls withstood the visitors initial push, the Heat gradually decreased the deficit, as a dominant James and increasingly efficient Wade went to work.

But the hosts refused to fade away and with timely scoring from the likes of Brewer and Watson, as well as continued hustle plays and strong team defense, they not only maintained their advantage, but built it back up to double digits again.

Deng and Noah, two of the teams normal starters, also imposed their will on the contest by becoming more assertive on offense, while consistently making hustle plays and getting defensive stops, all of which contributed to the Bulls advantage further ballooning. Thibodeau again went to his reserves, keeping Deng on the floor, and they responded, as they limited the Heat defensively and headed into the final stanza with an 81-70 advantage.

The balanced-attack Bulls continued to withstand the Heats repeated pushes, with solid rebounding, defense and unselfish offense leading the way, not to mention individual scoring plays at critical junctures from the likes of Deng and even the rookie Butler.

Once again, however, Lucas carried the Bulls offensively, seemingly scoring at willeven when guarded by James, the same strategy Miami used to stymie Rose in last springs Eastern Conference Finalsto hold off both an impressive individual run by Wade and a Heat comeback, at least as the game entered its stretch run.

Noah came up big late, finishing point-blank shots in traffic with contact, but Wade continued to exercise his will and on the other end, James blanketed the much smaller Lucas to get the ball out of his hands.

But the Bulls came up big when it counted most, as Korver knocked down four free throws and Lucas, the hero sealed the deal with a pair of shots from the charity stripe with six seconds to go, offsetting Heat designated marksman James Jones two late triples, allowing the Bulls to prevail and the unexpected to occur.

White Sox pitching staff nearly complete with prospect Zack Burdi headed to Triple-A

White Sox pitching staff nearly complete with prospect Zack Burdi headed to Triple-A

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With Zack Burdi headed for the minors, the White Sox 12-man pitching staff is all but set.

The Opening Day roster won't be finalized until Sunday and the White Sox hypothetically could find an attractive candidate to claim off the waiver wire over the weekend. But barring that, it looks as if veteran Anthony Swarzak and second-year reliever Michael Ynoa have made the team after Burdi said Wednesday morning that he'd start the season at Triple-A Charlotte. 

The No. 7 prospect in the organization, according to MLBPipeline.com, Burdi finished the spring with a 6.75 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 12 innings. Burdi finished his Cactus League on a high note with three strikeouts over an inning on Tuesday, including one of Kansas City four-time All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. 

"Man, it's been crazy," Burdi said. "Coming in and being the young guy in the locker room and then just progressing and showing a little bit more (comfort) around the guys and the veterans and then just being able to pick their brains and go out every day and try to progress. You get to the innings and you are facing guys you've watched your last 10 years of your life. It has been crazy and definitely something I won't forget."

Burdi lasted the longest this spring out of the cache of highly-touted prospects the White Sox brought to big league camp. Prior to escaping a first-and-third, one-out jam Tuesday, Burdi looked like he would allow a run in a third straight game after a hot start to camp (he only allowed a run in one of his first 10 appearances). But Burdi battled back and struck out Perez on three pitches, one of two straight strikeouts to strand both runners.

Pitching coach Don Cooper has been impressed by Burdi throughout the spring. But he also wants to see the Louisville product continue to work on command in the minors.

"You can't not see his stuff," Cooper said. "Everybody gets excited when you see 99, 100, 101. But whether you throw it 101 or 83 like [Mark] Buehrle you have to throw it to the glove with command, change speeds and all that stuff. But he's a big part of our future going forward. He's one of the names."

Burdi said he plans to operate like he has already spring and not pay attention to any of the hype. Though he'd like to play in the majors, Burdi is excited to play alongside the likes of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer in Charlotte.

"Once you get a feel for all this stuff and you feel how cool it is to be in the locker room with all these guys and play with them, of course you want to get back up here," Burdi said. "But at the same time, a lot of my really good friends are on Charlotte and I couldn't be more excited to go down there and play with them and make the most of the season down there."

Bears Chairman George McCaskey sets 2017 demands for Ryan Pace, John Fox

Bears Chairman George McCaskey sets 2017 demands for Ryan Pace, John Fox

PHOENIX — When the 2014 season concluded, with all its drama, poor play and internal dysfunction, Bears Chairman George McCaskey passed along the unvarnished mood of Bears matriarch and owner Virginia McCaskey:
 
"She's pissed off," George McCaskey declared.
 
The 2016 season ended worse record-wise (3-13) than 2014 (5-11) but Bears ownership sees arrows pointing up, not down as they appeared after 2014, occasioning the jettisoning of the general manager and coaching staff.
 
"[Virginia] sees the progress, but like any Bears fan, she wants results," George McCaskey said, chuckling at the recollection of relaying his mother's mood. "That's the quote that won't go away."
 
"Progress" and "results" are vague terms, and sometimes relative. But Bears ownership is not setting a public fail-safe point for either general manager Ryan Pace or head coach John Fox to remain in place, although no scenario could presumably consider four wins actual "progress" from three.
 
"We want to continue to see progress, see the building blocks but there isn't any sort of particular threshold," McCaskey confirmed. "We're not on any particular timetable that somebody else is wanting to set for us. We're wanting to see continued progress toward our goal of sustained success."
 
"Sustained success" is not beyond the scope of possibility, assuming that a talent core can be established and includes a quarterback, which the personnel department under Pace believe it is on the brink of putting in place, whether around Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez or a player to be drafted or traded for later.

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GM Phil Emery adopted the buzz phrase of "multiple championships," but current leadership does sound less grandiose and more grounded. And where Emery drafts proved disastrous, the Pace administration has had clear hits, injuries notwithstanding, as recently as the 2016 class, which McCaskey mentioned in the context of Pace building the roster exactly the way ownership prefers.
 
"We have confidence in Ryan and John," McCaskey said. "We want to build through the draft. Ryan said that in his interview when he said he was interested in coming to the Bears and we like how he's stuck to that plan. We saw it last year when we had three rookies on the Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team; Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Howard.
 
"And that's what we need to keep doing; keep building through the draft. I told Ryan he should get ripped this time of year every year for not being more active in free agency and that's because we're developing our own guys and rewarding our own guys."
 
McCaskey supported the actions, or lack of same, by Pace in the pursuit of max-dollar free agents this offseason. The Bears dropped out of sweepstakes for cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Tony Jefferson, among others, when prices spiked far beyond the parameters set by the Pace staff.
 
"I've been very impressed with [Pace] as a leader, as an evaluator of talent," McCaskey said. "And one of the things I've been most impressed by with him is the discipline he's shown just as recently as this free agency period. He didn't want to overpay guys. Too often, I think, you overpay guys who don't come through for you and then you have a big hole in your salary cap and you're behind the 8-ball. So I like the discipline he has shown, the restraint he has shown in free agency."