Bulls pull out second consecutive OT win

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Bulls pull out second consecutive OT win

AUBURN HILLS, Mich.Who needs Websters to define letdown game when the Bulls, following a high-profile, thrilling triumph over the Heat at home Thursday, exemplified the phrase throughout much of Sunday evenings game against the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills?

Once again playing down to inferior competition, a pattern theyve followed throughout their successful season, the Bulls pulled out a 100-94 overtime road victory, a game in which Derrick Rose showed he was closer to returning to his reigning league MVP level, in part by draining a three-pointer to send the game into the extra period of play.

Rose (24 points, nine assists) quickly proved he was feeling better, as he opened the games scoring with a driving layup, then followed it up with a pull-up jumper, part of an 8-2 Bulls spurt to start the game before Pistons (22-38) head coach Lawrence Frank called a timeout to make adjustments.

Even aside from Rose, the Bulls (46-14) were a well-oiled offensive machine in the early going, as the All-Star point guard tried to return to his previous form, displaying explosiveness, making good decisions and getting in rhythm.

Joakim Noah (20 poins, 17 rebounds) was his active self, particularly on the offensive glass and Rip Hamilton (13 points)the longtime Piston was productive while engaged in a mini-duel with former teammate Rodney Stuckey (32 points)but Detroit didnt let things get out of hand, as second-year big man Greg Monroe (13 points, eight rebounds) kept the hosts within striking distance.

At the conclusion of the opening period, however, the visitors led, 26-19.

The unlikeliest of suspects, Pistons veteran reserve forward Charlie Villanueva (13 points)Luol Dengs high school teammate had played all of 40 minutes for the entire season, due to being in Franks doghouseturned the game around for the home team in the second quarter.

From offensive rebounds, to driving dunks and three-pointers, the disappointing free-agent acquisitionalong with former Bulls guard Ben Gordonfrom three summers ago looked rejuvenated and was the Pistons best offensive threat for the bulk of the period.

Chicago sacrificed the lead to the Pistons, but upon the reinsertion of the Bulls regulars by head coach Tom Thibodeau, the guests to the Palace of Auburn of Hills made a push to reclaim their advantage. Noah continued to kill the Pistons on the offensive boards and Rose again showed progress in his attempt to return to full strength, giving the Bulls a 49-41 edge at the intermission.

After the break, the Bulls lead ballooned to double figures behind the backcourt of Rose and Hamilton, as well as an improved defensive effort. Hamiltons exploits werent unfamiliar to his old team, as the veteran shooting guard knocked down mid-range and three-point jumpers alike, wriggled his way to the basket for layups and using his perpetual-motion style of play, led his defender around a maze of screens, while Rose maintained his aggressiveness in attacking the basket and also distributed the ball effectively as a playmaker.

But behind guards Stuckey, rookie point guard Brandon Knight (13 points, seven assists) and Gordon, a reserve, the Pistons climbed back into the game and tied it on a monster follow-up flush by Maxiell late in the third quarter.

Detroit went on to snatch the lead once again and through three quarters of play, the Bulls trailed by a 66-64 deficit.

Things didnt get any better at the beginning of the final stanza, as the Pistons increased the lead with contributions from reserve forwards Villanueva and Damien Wilkins, infuriating Thibodeau and leading to a Bulls timeout, as well as Roses return to the contest.

Rose made an instant impact as both a scorer and playmakerthough he launched his fourth airball of the contest, a product of rust, as he actually shot the ball fairly proficiently in the gameand combined with sharpshooter Kyle Korvers (13 points) outside marksmanship, the visitors made a run and the game escalated a notch after Villanuevas flagrant foul on Rose in transition, which was ruled a flagrant and led to Rose suffering a cut on his nose and Villanueva being assessed a technical for woofing with Rose after the play.

The officiating became increasing tight as the close-knit affair waned on, with both teams being called for fouls for even the slightest contact as the game entered its stretch run, and despite the Bulls blowing repeated chances to seize opportunities lateCarlos Boozers (15 points, nine rebounds) baseline jumper with under a minute remaining put the Bulls within a single point, but after a crucial defensive stop on the other end, he failed to convert inside; a questionable awarding of a timeout to the Pistons, then a five-second call on Deng on an inbounds play with 15 seconds to go didnt help mattersthe Bulls still had a chance.

Stuckey twice split a pair of free throws with under 20 seconds left and after the his second trip, Rose raced downcourt and knocked down a game-tying triple with 6.4 seconds left to the game at 86 apiece and send the contest into an extra session.

In overtime, Stuckeywho missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer in regulationtried his best to redeem himself for his previous failings, but the big-man tandem of Noah and Boozer delivered as the squads offensive focal points.

After Korvers long bomb made it a two-possession game, Noahs putback layup gave the Bulls a six-point lead with 29.9 seconds on the clock, giving the visitors the necessary breathing room to know that a crisis was averted, although Stuckey would attempt further late-game heroics and Detroit would send a parade of Bulls to the foul line in an attempt to extend the contest.

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

John Fox and the Bears have added another assistant coach.

Zack Azzanni is leaving the University of Tennessee to become the Bears' new receivers coach.

Azzanni has been with Tennessee since 2013 as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Prior to that, he spent time at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan and six seasons at Bowling Green.

Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Bowling Green in 2001-02 and also coached Pittsburgh Steelers superstar receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. Under Azzanni's tutelage at CMU from 2007-09, Brown totaled 305 receptions for 3,199 yards and 22 TDs, earning a sixth-round draft selection in 2010.

Curtis Johnson spent 2016 as his first season in the role of Bears' wide receivers coach, but announced he was leaving after the Senior Bowl to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.

It's unknown if Azzanni will get a chance to coach Alshon Jeffery (who is currently a free agent) but the incoming coach will have an important job in molding young receivers like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.