Chicago Bears

Bulls rout Sixers to open playoffs

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Bulls rout Sixers to open playoffs

Playing the first game of the entire NBA playoffs for the second consecutive postseason, the Bulls didnt experience any of their typical early-start issues they had a 2-6 record in matinee games during the regular season Saturday afternoon at the United Center, easily handling the 76ers 103-91, as Derrick Rose took a major step in returning to his previous form after an injury-plagued season.

However, despite taking a 1-0 first-round series lead in triumphant fashion, the games ending couldnt have been worse, as Rose suffered what was determined to be a season-ending torn ACL with 1:20 remaining in the contest and had to be helped off by the teams medical staff.

After Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday opened the games scoring with a triple, the hosts rattled off 10 unanswered points, as four of the teams five starters got on the board in the early going, led by All-Star Luol Deng. While the Sixers responded behind Elton Brand the veteran power forward is familiar with the confines from his stint with the Bulls, for whom he won Rookie of the Year honors shooting guard Rip Hamilton clearly looked poised for the postseason, as the former champion with the Pistons scored 11 first-quarter points.

Philadelphia was mostly forced to settle for contested outside jumpers, a staple of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus vaunted defense and thusly dug themselves an early hole. However, the insertion of some of Philadelphias dangerous reserves including Chicago native Evan Turner, who was booed by his hometown fans for comments perceived as disparaging the Bulls particularly athletic backup forward Thaddeus Young, sparked the visitors, who closed to within 28-24 at the conclusion of the opening period.

After the Sixers ran off the second quarters first four points to tie the contest, C.J. Watson, Roses understudy at point guard the reigning league MVP struggled with his shot in the previous frame, going 1-for-7, but snatched five rebounds, dished out three assists and most importantly, appeared healthy led a Bulls push to give the home team some breathing room. But the feisty guests stormed back, as Turner, playing in a point-forward role with one of the positions predecessors, Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, watching from courtside, was a major catalyst.

Although Brand continued his solid first-half play, he was countered by his fellow veteran Hamilton, whose ability to get out in transition was a boon for the Bulls with Rose still trying to find his groove, as well as center Joakim Noahs high activity level. Toward the end of the period, the Bulls lead ballooned to double figures, stemming from Roses emergence, as the All-Star point guard started knocking down shots, at one point making three in a row a driving layup, his patented floater and a pull-up jumper leading to the Bulls taking a 53-42 advantage into the intermission.

Turner, who started the second half in place of ineffective shooting guard Jodie Meeks, helped the Sixers cut the deficit to single digits, leading to a Thibodeau timeout for defensive adjustments. His strategy apparently worked, as the Bulls not only clamped down on defense, but the backcourt of Rose and Hamilton started to get off, pushing the hosts lead back to a comfortable double-digit margin and inciting a crowd that had been relatively quiet since the break.

A villain in his own hometown, Turner did nothing to help his image in Chicago, as he fouled Noah on a dunk attempt, got tangled up with Boozer resulting in technical on Rose, Hamilton and Brand after a mild skirmish and on the next possession, fouled Hamilton and briefly exchanged words before Deng pulled his teammate away. Aside from all of the hard feelings, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 79-66 edge, despite Philadelphia All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala finally making an impact.

The Bench Mob extended the Bulls lead, as designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver and always-energetic power forward Taj Gibson propelled the squad, holding off a potential Sixers run. Thibodeau would eventually reinsert Deng and Rose who was already flirting with a triple-double and while they both contributed with timely baskets, Korvers shooting, as well as the interior defense of Gibson and tag-team partner Omer Asik was the difference in the hosts advantage ballooning to a 20-point spread midway through the period.

Noah also rejoined the mix and resumed being a dominating force on the glass, while Korver continued to drain jumpers and the Bulls turned the games stretch run into extended garbage time. But with 1:20 on the clock, Rose drove to the basket and his knee buckled, causing him to lay prone on the floor in pain, as the United Center fell to a hush while the Bulls trainers assisted him off the court and he heavily favored his left knee, which would make it his sixth separate injury of difficult campaign, putting a damper on what was previously an afternoon filled with joy.

Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

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Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

Prince Amukamara (ankle) is expected to make his 2017 regular season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers after being a full participant in practices Thursday and Friday (he wasn't listed on Friday's injury report). But that leads to the question: What does defensive coordinator Vic Fangio do with Kyle Fuller?

Fuller acquitted himself well in starts against the Atlanta Falcons — in which he helped limit Julio Jones to four catches on five targets — and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bears signed Amukamara to start opposite Marcus Cooper, but Fuller has at least earned the opportunity to keep his job — or a job — on Sunday. 

And it's worth noting that both Fuller and Amukamara are in contract years, so both should be motivated to not lose playing time going forward. 

“I was pleased with the waay Kyle played overall,” Fangio said. “There's obviously some plays he'd like to do over and play them a little better, but overall I thought he did a good job. I like where he's at right now.”

Fangio didn’t play Fuller as a nickel corner in 2015. But if the Bears want to get their best defensive players on the field could Fuller force his way into a nickel role with Amukamara and Cooper as the outside guys? 

That’s an especially pertinent question given Pittsburgh’s explosive trio of receivers: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

“No matter where a receiver lines up, it’s not going to be a down to take off,” Amukamara said. “We’re always going to have to have our ‘A’ game.”

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

Avisail Garcia's "big head" almost cost the White Sox on Friday night. At least, that's Reynaldo Lopez's humorous theory. 

With the game on the line and the Royals' tying run dashing for the plate, Garcia slipped a bit before making a clutch recovery to nail Whit Merrifield. The craziness continued after the tag as Narvaez caught Lorenzo Cain drifting off first base to seal a win. 

"I was watching the game on the TV here," Lopez said, "and then when I saw the hit from Cain, and I saw that Avi fell down because he has a big head, I was concerned but at the same time I saw that his throw, he has a good arm and he made a very good throw." 

Just your average 9-2-4-6 double play to end a game on the South Side, right? 

"Obviously, when he slipped we took a little gasp," Renteria said. "But we were talking about his body control to be able to maintain himself enough to get up and make the throw that he did. Unbelievable. It's pretty exciting finish to a ballgame that kind of got a little ugly early on."

Ugly is an apt way to describe the first few innings. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada both made errors in the Royals' six-run third inning, and Lopez capped it off with a wild pitch that allowed Eric Hosmer to score. But it went from an eyesore loss to an overzealous "we could make noise in 2019" rebuild win from there, and Garcia's defense -- of all things -- played a significant role. 

Garcia's outfield assist in the ninth was his second of the game. The first, an absolute strike to cut down Alex Gordon in the sixth, didn't involve a slip, though. 

And while much has been made of Garcia's breakout year with the bat, he believes his defense is hugely improved, too. 

"I think 100 percent," he said. "I just try to get better every day with hitting and defense. That’s baseball so get better in everything."

He has 12 outfield assists on the season, up from five a year ago. And despite his overall fielding percentage being down, his strong arm may give him a stronger defensive reputation. 

"Since last year, he's always had an excellent arm," Renteria said. "I think his accuracy is something to be pointed out too because as off balance as he was, he's made some throws to the plate that have been really spot on."

Renteria attributes Garcia's accuracy to the outfielder putting in extra time with Daryl Boston. 

"(Boston) has those guys throwing, and none of you guys are out there watching them work, but they'll throw quite a bit to the bases, especially second base," Renteria said. "They'll get deep and they'll work on doing that, so that's just a part of their routine."

The evolution of Avi carries on.