Gutsy effort by Bulls earns win over Sixers

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Gutsy effort by Bulls earns win over Sixers

PHILADELPHIATired, coming off a late game, the second game of a back-to-back and on little sleepnone of these excuses mattered to the Bulls Wednesday night, as they dispatched a familiar foe, the 76ers, 96-89 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Like most Bulls wins, it wasnt pretty, but a combination of their vaunted defense stepping up at the right time, the surprising poise of rookie Marquis Teague (six points, four assists), All-Star Luol Deng (19 points, 12 rebounds) coming through in the clutch and simply a major display of heart and determination sealed the victory for the gritty group.

Behind the scoring of Joakim Noah (21 points) and the playmaking of Deng, the Bulls (12-9) got off to a quick start, a must as they were missing their starting backcourt, as Rip Hamilton, still recovering from a torn left plantar fascia, didnt make the trip to his home state and Kirk Hinrich was sidelined with a knee injury suffered in the previous evenings home loss to the Clippers.

The jump-shooting Sixers (12-10)still without offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum, the All-Star center expected to finally give them a low-post presencegot into the groove quickly thereafter, as the likes of point guard Jrue Holiday (26 points, nine assists), pushing for an All-Star bid in his fourth NBA season, sixth man Nick Young (10 points) and swingman Evan Turner (16 points), a Chicago native.

Nate Robinson (14 points), filling in for the injured Hinrich, made his presence as a scorer felt early, but the visitors had already dug themselves a hole, as Philadelphia got into transition for easy baskets, something their coach, former Bulls head man Doug Collins, said his team would try to do before the contest even started.

With Deng and Noah carrying the offensive load for the entire opening period, the Bulls trailed, 24-21, at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Taj Gibson (six points, seven rebounds) joined Noah and Deng as the Bulls catalysts at the outset of the second frame and as Teague ran the show in Robinsons stead, the Bulls overtook their hosts.

Teague, who has already played with poise in his limited minutes this season, gave a solid defensive effort, was assertive as a floor general and displayed the pure playmaking ability that, among other things, the Bulls have lacked on the young campaign.

As the first half waned on, the Sixers, propelled by Holiday and insiders Lavoy Allen (six rebounds) and Thaddeus Young (13 points), fought back and regained the advantage, making a back-and-forth affair for the remainder of the period.

While it wasnt exactly the grind-it-out contest that Collins said he feared before the game and in which the Bulls usually thrive, the guests certainly didnt appear to be worn downon the second night of a back-to-back, after a late game at home and arriving in Philadelphia in the wee hours of the morningthe Bulls were behind at the intermission, 44-41.

After the break, it was Marco Belinellis (16 points) turn to spark the Bulls offense-by-committee approach in the close-knit affair, but with Holiday continuing to use his size advantage at the point to score and the hosts enjoying an edge on the boards, the momentum wasnt with the visitors and the Sixers once again built a slim cushion.

Robinsons instant-offense game kept the Bulls within striking distance, but with Philadelphia both getting out in transition and keeping typical rebounding forces Noah and Carlos Boozer (five points) off the glass, the guests were definitively playing catch-up, even if the gap between the two teams wasnt huge.

The Bulls replacement backcourt of Belinelli and Robinson, as well as Noahwho has quickly become Public Enemy No. 1; after getting booed following his severe ankle injury in last springs playoffs, he feels the same way about the Philadelphia crowdwith a boost off the bench from the ever-active Gibson, produced enough points to even take the lead, though that mostly by virtue of their stingy defense.

The Bulls led, 69-66, heading into the final stanza.

A slow offensive start to the fourth quarter allowed the Sixers to briefly seize control of the game, but Deng, aided by the contributions of reserve Jimmy Butler (nine points), came alive as a scorer to again make the contest a back-and-forth affair.

While Holiday, flanked by the trio of both Youngs and Turner, continued to be effective, the home team was in for a battle down the stretch, as the two teams settled into a defensive showdown reminiscent of the first-round playoff series.

Eerily, Deng went down in a heap after being fouled in transitionthe arena went quiet until he got up and walked it off, unlike how they booed Noahand the All-Star resumed his role as closer, along with the teams vaunted defense coming up with big stops when it counted helped them gain late-game separation from the Sixers.

A Noah jumper with 1:19 remaining made it a three-possession game, 90-83, and while Philadelphia didnt give up hope of a last-gasp comeback, it was all academic from that point forward.

Michigan's magical March ends in one-point loss to Oregon in Sweet Sixteen

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USA TODAY

Michigan's magical March ends in one-point loss to Oregon in Sweet Sixteen

Michigan's March magic finally ran out.

The guy who's been so fantastic throughout his senior season, point guard Derrick Walton Jr., missed a game-winning 3-point try at the buzzer, and the Wolverines fell to the Oregon Ducks by a 69-68 final score in the Sweet Sixteen.

It was an incredibly competitive game between the Big Ten Tournament champs and the Pac-12 regular-season champs, with neither side ever leading by more than six.

But Moe Wagner, who scored a career-high 26 points in Michigan's second-round win over Louisville, was pretty much a non-factor in this one, scoring just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting.

Still, seniors Walton and Zak Irvin kept an unusually cold-shooting group of Wolverines alive with a combined 39 points, 23 of which came after halftime. D.J. Wilson also scored in double figures with 12, all coming on 3-pointers.

But Michigan, which had been on fire offensively for much of the last month, shot just 43.1 percent from the field and missed 20 of its 31 shots from behind the arc.

The Wolverines actually shot under 40 percent over the opening 20 minutes as the two defenses did good work for these typically high-scoring squads. Michigan turned the ball over seven times before the break but trailed by just two as it went to the locker room.

The tit-for-tat nature of the game continued at the outset of the second half before Oregon reached its game-high six-point lead, but Michigan responded with seven straight and grabbed its first lead of the second half around the 11-minute mark. The Ducks answered that mini surge with six straight of their own, part of a larger 10-4 spurt, before Wilson and Walton hit back-to-back triples to once again give the Wolverines a narrow advantage, this time with a little more than four minutes remaining.

Oregon and Irvin traded buckets from there, and a Walton jumper was Michigan's sixth straight make from the field, putting the Wolverines up three with under two minutes to play. But Michigan didn't score again, and Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey got back-to-back layups, the latter the game-winning one ahead of Walton's missed 3-point attempt as time ran out.

Dorsey was fantastic for the Ducks, scoring 20 points, his sixth straight game with at least 20 points. Bell had a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Oregon advanced to its second straight Elite Eight with the win.

Michigan's entertaining end-of-season run is over. Entering Thursday night's game in Kansas City, the Wolverines had won seven straight and 10 of their last 12. Those two losses came by a combined seven points. Add this loss in and just eight points separated Michigan from 13 consecutive wins.

Certainly this group of Wolverines will be remembered for its sensational four wins in four days at the Big Ten Tournament after that horrifying aborted takeoff, as well as for reaching the third Sweet Sixteen in the last five seasons under John Beilein.

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs president Theo Epstein showed zero interest in playing along with Fortune magazine putting him on the cover and ranking him No. 1 on the list of "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders," or two spots ahead of Pope Francis.

"The pope didn't have as good of a year," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday, channeling Babe Ruth.

Epstein essentially bit his tongue, responding to reporters with a copy-and-paste text message that reflected his self-awareness and PR savvy. 

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house," Epstein wrote. "The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball – a pastime involving a lot of chance. If (Ben) Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. 

"And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Epstein obviously has a big ego. No one becomes the youngest general manager in baseball history and builds three World Series winners without a strong sense of confidence and conviction. But he genuinely tries to deflect credit, keep a relatively low profile and stay focused on the big picture. 

Fortune's cover art became an older image of Epstein standing at the dugout, surrounded by reporters during a Wrigley Field press gaggle. (This was not Alex Rodriguez kissing a mirror during a magazine photo shoot.) The text borrowed from Tom Verducci's upcoming "The Cubs Way" book. 
 
Fortune still hit an Internet sweet spot and generated a lot of buzz, ranking Epstein ahead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (No. 4), Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (No. 7) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (No. 10).

"I'm all about the pope," Maddon said. "Sorry, Pope Francis. We're buds. I'd like to meet him someday. But after all, what we did last year was pretty special. 

"Has the pope broken any 108-year-old curses lately?"

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Epstein also ended an 86-year drought for the Boston Red Sox, putting the finishing touches on the immortal 2004 team and winning another championship in 2007 with eight homegrown players. 

No matter how the Cubs try to airbrush history now, that five-year plan featured lucky breaks, unexpected twists and turns and payroll frustrations as the franchise went from 101 losses in 2012 to 103 wins last season. But even after the biggest party Chicago has ever seen, no team in baseball is better positioned for the future. And there is no doubt that Epstein is a Hall of Fame executive.  

"He's very good at setting something up and then permitting people to do their jobs," Maddon said. "That's the essence of good leadership, the ability to delegate well. But then he also has the tough conversations. 

"He sees both sides. I've talked about his empathy before. I think that sets him apart from a lot of the young groups that are leading Major League Baseball teams right now. You know if you have to talk to him about something, he's got an open ear and he's going to listen to what you say. He's not going to go in there predetermined. 

"You can keep going on and on, him just obviously being very bright, brilliant actually. He's got so many great qualities about him. But he leads well, I think, primarily because of his empathy."

That blend of scouting and analytics, open-minded nature and pure guts led to the Cubs: drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber; trading for Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell and almost their entire bullpen; and signing transformative free agents like Jon Lester and Zobrist.            

Chairman Tom Ricketts locked up Epstein before the playoffs started last October with a five-year extension believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $50 million. Arrieta didn't laugh off the Fortune rankings.

"It just shows you all the positive that's he done," Arrieta said. "Not only here, but beforehand in Boston and what he's built for himself and for the city of Boston and the city of Chicago. It's hard to understate what he means to the organization."