Bulls wary of firepower of Del Negro's Clippers

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Bulls wary of firepower of Del Negro's Clippers

LOS ANGELES How lucky is Vinny Del Negro? The Clippers' head coach, fired by the Bulls after the 2009-10 season, was hired by the other L.A. team, which happened to have a No. 1 overall draft pick in Blake Griffin the second top selection hes coached and then, prior to the beginning of last season, the organization acquired All-Star point guard Chris Paul, changing the fortunes of the long-troubled franchise.

But as talented as last seasons team was they advanced to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, beating the Memphis Grizzlies in an upset of sorts, before losing to the San Antonio Spurs this years squad could be even better. While the drama surrounding the star-studded Lakers and their coaching situation has captivated fans, the Clippers might be the best team in the City of Angels, as well as the possibly the leagues deepest team.

Theyre explosive. When your leading scorer is coming off the bench, it says a lot," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau explained. "Jamal Crawfords playing great for them, but obviously their depths a huge asset. Six guys average in double figures, well-balanced. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan put a lot of pressure on you inside, and theyre skilled. Caron Butler, tremendous. Matt Barnes, energy. Ryan Hollins, energy off the bench. So, weve got to be ready for the challenge."

"Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, Crawford, those guys are going to put a lot of pressure on your defense because of their ability to break you down off the dribble and then, their ability to finish inside, but its well-balanced. Theyre moving the ball, theyre playing with great pace, so you have to get back, get your defense set, try to keep the ball out of the paint, challenge shots and then youve got to finish your defense. Youve got to rebound. Theyre tough on the offensive boards, as well."

"Chris Pauls been a great player in this league for a long time and theyve got guys that are still out. Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Theyre deep now theyre going to be deeper down the road, but Chris Paul, Bledsoe, even a guy like Willie Green. Willie Green has played great for them," continued the coach, whose team faces the Clippers at the Staples Center in a Saturday-night matchup. "Theres nothing that they dont have and defensively, the length up front, shot-blocking. You cant allow them to turn you over. They turn you over, theyre going to score easily in transition. Live-ball turnovers are a problem."

Were going to use everybody. Thats why you have a team. Well see how the game unfolds. But I feel good about our team. We just have to be ready to play. Youre on the road, so you have to be ready from the start. You have to set a tone. We know how good they are, we know how explosive they are. Their easy baskets theyre shooting as a team almost 50 percent, very unusual and theyre putting up over 100 points a game, so you cant let your guard down at all against them. Otherwise, they could get a 10-0 spurt against you in a minute, so youve got to make sure youre tied together in every aspect of your defense.

Indeed, with an elite playmaker like Paul, an athletic marvel like Griffin, an instant-offense scorer like Crawford, a former Bull, and an imposing, much-improved true center like Jordan, not to mention their incredible depth, the Clippers, who won an early-season showdown with the defending-champion Heat, do pose some matchup problems for the Bulls. While the teams by-committee approach has been successful, without the game-changing talents of the injured Derrick Rose, it will be an uphill battle.

Speaking of Rose, the superstar point guard is currently in Los Angeles, where he typically spends his offseasons as he continues his ongoing rehabilitation process. Thibodeau said the team has been contact with him since arriving in town Thursday and noted that Rose may attend Saturdays game.

The main focus for him is his rehab. We felt it was best for him to be here, in one place, doing his rehab. As I mentioned the other day, he started cutting and stuff, so hes doing fine, everythings going according to plan. He just has to keep doing what hes doing, he explained. I dont want him to be concerned with where we are with the team or anything like that. Hes doing fine and I want our guys here to be focused on improvement, and our next opponent.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.