Bulls won't accept losing

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Bulls won't accept losing

HOUSTONBecause theyve never experienced it before, you knew it was genuine. The frustration and bewilderment on the faces of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng -- two players who hadnt been through the phenomenon of losing three straight games under Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau -- was real.

Noah and Deng, along with a then-rookie Taj Gibson, are the active holdovers the sidelined Derrick Rose was also present, as was Kirk Hinrich, toward the end of his original stint with the Bulls from the last time the team had a streak like this. In fact, that unfortunate occurrence eventually reached 10 consecutive defeats in current Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negros final season. But that was a different time, before the Bulls regained their status as one of the leagues upper-echelon squads.

Now, following two campaigns in which the Bulls recorded league-best regular-seasons marks, it was expected that they wouldnt be as dominant without Rose in the lineup, but while some rough stretches, ugly games and various getting-to-know-you struggles were expected, nobody thought the team would be this lost, this early.

Its a lot of things we need to do. Weve got to put a whole 48 minutes together. Just got to stay mentally strong. Got to get a win and get it rolling again. Just got to stick with it, stick with what we do. Its tough right now losing. You dont want to lose, but weve got to keep working and stick with it, and try to get a win, Deng said in the aftermath of the Bulls 93-89 loss to the Rockets, themselves losers of three straight prior to Wednesday evening.

Added Noah: Weve got to do better. Weve just got to do better. Losing three in a row is unacceptable. Were better than that.

Thibodeau himself, a steadfast proponent of consistency from his principled philosophy to his rotation, which he altered a bit Wednesday, perhaps hoping to stave off his first three-game skid as a head coach indicated that change might be the answer. The coach shortened his rotation in Houston, his old stomping grounds as a Rockets assistant, and inserted second-year swingman Jimmy Butler into the contest earlier than usual, ahead of backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli, resulting in giving Deng, the NBAs minutes-per-game leader, an earlier break than usual.

Thibodeau went with Butler, who shifted over to shooting guard, down the stretch, along with opting for Taj Gibson in place of Carlos Boozer, something observers have grown used to over time, as well as completely taking reserve center Nazr Mohammed out of the mix and playing instant-offense sub Nate Robinson for extended minutes over starter Kirk Hinrich. Afterwards, he hinted at the possibility of more lineup changes.

Well see, he said. I mean, right now, Im looking at a lot of things.

When informed about Thibodeau considering shaking up the rotation, Noah said, Those arent things that I can control as a player, but to me, I dont think changing the lineup is going to make a difference. Weve got to execute better down the stretch. Thats what it comes down to. Thats what I think.

Chimed in Deng: When youre losing, you see a lot of things. Sometimes you win and those things are there. Whatever decisions the coaching staff makes, as players, when youre losing, you cant really question that. If were winning and we make changes, then youve got the right to question it, but if were not getting the job done, whatever changes are made, youve just got to wait and see what the result is. But the coaching staff, they spend hours and hours trying to figure it out. Our job is to get the work in, work as hard as we can and try to execute the game plan and right now, weve got to get better at that.

Whether or not Thibodeau makes a change to the Bulls starting lineup, the Bulls still have issues to address, such as outside shooting, ball security and most glaring as of late, fourth-quarter execution. Even without Rose, the Bulls have been a team that mostly executes precisely, on both ends of the floor, in the clutch, something thats been lacking from this seasons newcomer-filled team.

Weve got to execute better in the fourth quarter. These games are close, man, and were not executing in the fourth quarter. Weve got to play better, together. Were not playing great together right now, Noah said. I think weve just got to trust each other a little bit more on the court. Weve just got to play together a little bit more and execute. Were a team thats always been great at executing down the stretch and were not in the right positions, and its frustrating.

Added Deng: We could do a lot better. Ive got to watch the tape again. We will as a team. We know we didnt execute well enough. We know weve got to do a better job of that. Weve got to make smarter plays, whether its turning the ball over or fouling for no reason, and getting stops, finishing the plays. Weve just got to do a better job.

In the last two losses, narrow defeats to Portland and Houston the first loss of the negative streak, to the Clippers, was the only game in which they didnt have a chance down the stretch the Bulls struggled with decision-making and made crucial, often unforced errors at the worst possible moments. The catalyst of late comebacks in both of those games was Robinson and although his occasionally wild tendencies can cause consternation, nobody can doubt his determination, unbridled enthusiasm and desire to win because even if it manifests itself in a turnover here or rushed shot there, hes also the only player on the roster with the ability to truly create.

Whatever it is we need to do, we need to do it. I cant pinpoint one thing. weve just got to play hard and play through adversity, play through frustration and play basketball, man. I think at times, we want to win so bad and do good for each other, and its just not going our way right now. Weve just got to play through it, a dejected Robinson, whose play Thibodeau described as some good, some bad, said. Weve just been beating ourselves, pretty much. Its like other teams are finding ways to win and were just finding ways to lose, so weve got to go back to the drawing board and get this next one.

Just thinking too much. I think weve got to go out and just play, man. Whatever happens, happens. Were just thinking too much, trying to make the right play, let it happen. Each guy is pulling for each other, I think a little bit too much, that everybodys just trying to do the right thing instead of just playing basketball and let whatever happens, happen.

Rip Hamilton, who didnt take part in any of the late-game festivities against the Trail Blazers or Rockets, supposedly due Thibodeaus policy of units that function well together and have the team playing well being given the chance to finish games, expressed a similar sentiment to a man, including Thibodeau, theyre all pretty much saying the same thing, if in different words, right? about the Bulls late-game problems.

Weve just got to be better in the fourth, know time and possession. Weve got to keep the floor spaced, weve got to know who we want to get the ball to. We need to defend. The fourth quarters totally different than the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter. Its really time to knuckle down, so every possession counts and we dont do a good job of valuing every possession at the end of the game, Hamilton said. Weve just got to play a little smarter. We have opportunities and its kind of like the same old story the last couple games, so I just think weve got to be smarter. Weve just got to keep the guys heads up and hopefully, stuff will change and well get a win.

Then, theres their vaunted defense, which hasnt been up to snuff lately. Keeping the Rockets, a team capable of putting up triple digits, under 100 points the first time theyve done so in seemingly forever; actually, they did end one streak Wednesday, as their previous four opponents each scored over 100 points against them was a start, but defensively, theyre still a far cry from the feared unit that was able to win games even when they struggled offensively.

Ive been here with Tom, with the system we have, for the last three years. As a player, you never worry about how you shoot, as long as youre getting your work in and youre taking shots within your game. That comes and goes. The one thing is stopping teams to win. Thats how we win. Weve never been a team that tries to out-shoot teams. We cant get into that. Thats not our style, thats not what we practice, Deng explained. We do a lot of good things and then we have a period of time where teams are making their run. Weve just got to get back to what we do and finish games. All five players have got to be on the same page on the floor. Its tough. The way our defense is, weve all got to be on the same page.

Concurred Thibodeau: Houston is a tough team to guard and at times, I thought we were pretty good and I thought we forced them into some turnovers. We couldnt get some key stops late, so thats something we have to correctI thought we did some good things for most of the game and then, our defensive discipline got us at the end of the game.

Noah more bluntly stated: The defense is not what it used to be. Its not what it was last year, thats for sure.

At the same time, its important to keep everything in perspective. Maybe the annual Circus Trip wasnt a success, but even in the heyday of the Michael Jordan era, its historically been a difficult proposition for the Bulls to get through that portion of the schedule relatively unscathed.

Thus, just because the Tom Thibodeau era has seen different results in its first two seasons, that doesnt mean it will be the norm, nor does the teams first sub-.500 record since immediately after the first game of the 2010-11 campaign a loss at Oklahoma City, for those who dont remember the days when Thibodeau couldnt instantly turn water into wine mean that this will be an ultimately unsuccessful season. The previous two years have spoiled people, from the media to fans and observers around the NBA, but even with the lowered expectations borne from Roses injury, the teams strategic expertise, nucleus of players and intestinal fortitude is not something to be taken lightly just yet.

I dont think its time to panic yet. Weve got a lot of guys that want to win. We dont have any guys in this locker room that are dogging it or are okay with losing. Its tough, especially because weve been winning the last two years, so this is something were not used to, Deng concluded, head held high as he finished addressing the media. The best way is to just go out and work as hard as you can. Whatever you want to call it, a slump or whatever, youre not going to get out of it just talking. Guys understand that we need to do better.

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Specifics such as whom the Bears will draft at No. 3, or 36, or somewhere in between weren't going to be gleaned from this week's conversations with Bears Chairman George McCaskey, GM Ryan Pace or head coach John Fox. But more interesting, and important, too, are some the the more strategic takeaways from visits with the hierarchy most involved with Bears football fortunes.
 
More significant than anything regarding a player or position is the stability of the core, meaning Pace's and Fox's position under McCaskey. Because that ultimately affects draft choices, signings and myriad elements extending beyond the 2017 season. And some of all that involves understanding McCaskey's vision and history.
 
Realize: Pace was McCaskey's second GM hire in barely three NFL years. The first one of Phil Emery was an abject failure, as was the accompanying coaching hire. The absolute last thing McCaskey wants to be forced by circumstances into doing is replacing another general manager. Brother Michael lost his berth as president due to making the NFL's charter franchise into a laughingstock because of a botched coaching hire; Brother George has no wish to continue the kind of high-level turnover that both reflect, cause and perpetuate dysfunction, and losing.
 
Against that backdrop, one trail of breadcrumbs leads to a strong sense that Pace is secure in his job, barring something going epically wrong. McCaskey was clear that he approved of and likes the direction the Bears are moving under Pace, to the point of having Pace in a video directed to the fanbase. If Pace were on some sort of hot seat, McCaskey and the organization do not make him a short-term face of the franchise while they hope for a player to emerge as that "face."
 
McCaskey could not put a whole lot more pressure on Pace than the latter gets as part of his job and wanting to stay in Chicago for more than football reasons.
 
"Keep building through the draft," McCaskey said during the recently concluded owners meetings. "I told Ryan he should get ripped every time around this year, this time of year ever year for not being more active in free agency. And that's because we're developing our own guys and rewarding our own guys."

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The breadcrumbs from there lead to Fox's situation. Start with the thought that coaches operate for the present and GMs for the future. Not exactly true; GMs balance present and future.
 
But every indication, verbal and otherwise, has been that Fox was very much on board with the major makeover at one spot in particular — quarterback — and a coach with down to possibly a final season pounds the table for win-now material, particularly at that position. And when the Bears didn't re-sign Brian Hoyer this offseason, which may not have appeared to be benchmark non-move but was, at least one Bears coach was apoplectic at not staying a course with a quarterback who delivered 300 passing yards and zero turnovers in his brief Bears "career."
 
Fox, however, was clearly comfortable with giving the quarterback wheel a spin with Mike Glennon, and ultimately so is his staff. Because it is part of program plan.
 
Consider this scenario: The Bears rebound to a respectable seven or eight wins; not spectacular but the NFC North is the only division in either conference to send two teams to the postseason , meaning that Fox's Bears likely put up a couple wins over good teams, which can be construed as the "progress" that McCaskey referenced this week.
 
Meanwhile, Pace has a third draft with impact players, the Kevin Whites, Eddie Goldmans and others come back from injuries, the Bears go into the 2018 offseason and land Kirk Cousins or have Glennon be what they'd hoped, and the Bears are what McCaskey envisions: a challenger with an arrow pointing up.
 
All theoretical or hypothetical, but Pace has a plan that McCaskey knows and endorses, and best guess is that he gives his GM, and coach, time to have it play out.
 
"We have confidence in Ryan and John," McCaskey said, imposing only "progress" and "results" as his conditions. "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 has stuck to that plan."
 
Maybe that was the most significant tell; McCaskey has seen progress apart from the record: "Yeah," he confirmed. "Yes sir."

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

Tomas Jurco's reaction to his first goal on Monday night was as much celebration as a little bit of relief. The forward, acquired by the Blackhawks about a month ago, had had a few great scoring chances in recent games but just couldn't capitalize.

Finally, he got that first of the season against Tampa Bay.

"It's kind of a release, you know?" Jurco said on Wednesday. "I've had a lot of good chances and it would just never go in for some reason. Obviously I'm very happy that it went in and hopefully this is the start of, I would say, more luck for me."

Looking for consistency in his own game as well as a consistent spot in the lineup, Jurco was looking for a boost of confidence. Getting that first goal could be part of it, as a bit of a weight disappears with that zero in the goal column. 

"That's a hurdle that can be in the back of your mind a lot and all of a sudden it could be a nice release," coach Joel Quenneville said of that first goal. "He's progressing in our team game, technically. Whether it's his pace of play or going to the right areas quickly, we're looking for progression. We saw it [Monday] night and I think he'll continue to get better off that. But certainly that should help him get confidence as we go along here."

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Jurco's been around the net, something the Blackhawks always encourage, for most of those scoring opportunities. Perhaps some of that puck luck wasn't quite there. But Jurco is gaining confidence in recent games, and getting that goal could boost it that much more.

"I've always said, especially in my case, scoring helps that confidence come easier. It brings that fun to the game," Jonathan Toews said. "Maybe if you're not feeling it or not playing with high energy, at a certain point in a game when you score, for some reason you get that jolt, you get that jump. For [Jurco], he's been playing well when he's been in, and no doubt that scoring a goal like that can help boost confidence and help him find his game, which we know he has and will continue to show."

The scoring hurdle has been cleared and Jurco is gaining confidence. Will he carve out a consistent spot in the lineup? Quenneville has some options through the bottom six. That, coupled with the Blackhawks playing inconsistent hockey lately and missing that four-line rotation, Jurco's been one of several who have been in and out of the lineup. But Quenneville said on Wednesday, "I don't see making constant changes once the [playoffs] begin." If Jurco keeps getting chances and capitalizing on a few, and if he ends up as part of a rotation that's successful again, he could stick.

Jurco waited a little bit for that first goal. He hopes it's just the start.

"You know eventually it's going to go in but it was just frustrating. Another game and another and another with good chances and it just wouldn't go in. So it's a big release," Jurco said. "Hopefully I'll keep going, keep producing."