No easy solutions for Bulls' offensive problems

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No easy solutions for Bulls' offensive problems

Its always dangerous to make any conclusions this early in the NBA season, but with that disclaimer out of the way it looks to me like the Bulls are going to have a tough time scoring in their half-court offense until Derrick Rose returns. This team reminds me of the Scott Skiles teams that clawed their way into the playoffs from 2005 to 2007: lots of jump shooters and no one really adept at breaking down his defender and getting to the basket. Those Skiles teams utilized a drive-and-kick offense run by Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon. Captain Kirk is now back, still shooting around 40 percent from the field and not able to drive past defenders as often as he did in his younger days.As a result, the Bulls are prone to long dry spells from the field, making it crucial they take advantage of their fast break opportunities. As weve seen early in the season, Tom Thibodeau is encouraging his players to push the ball up-court after every turnover or defensive rebound. The starters have done a pretty good job of seeking out early offense, but the second unit still is searching for its rhythm.Nate Robinson was in the lineup during the fourth quarter against the Hornets and Magic to get more speed on the floor, and Nate is probably the only player on the team who can consistently beat his man off the dribble and break down the opposing defense. The Bulls scored 31 fourth quarter points against Orlando with a lineup of Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, after managing just 68 points in the first three quarters combined. It looks like Thibodeau wont hesitate to go to that smaller, quicker line-up if he feels his team needs to force turnovers and push the ball down the stretch.But what can the Bulls do to get more points in the half-court offense?
Thibodeau always likes to talk about playing inside-out, which basically means throwing the ball into the post to force a double team, then pass the ball back out to an open shooter. Problem is, the Bulls dont really have a consistent scoring threat in the low post. Noah has done a good job so far with a pair of 20-point games, but hes not a big enough threat to draw a double team. Carlos Boozer was brought to Chicago to be that low post guy, but hes become more of a pick-and-pop player, looking to fade out to the elbow for fall-away jumpers.As a result, the Bulls have tried to use Deng and Rip Hamilton in post-up situations, trying to take advantage of whichever match-up gives them the best chance score from close range. Look for more of Deng in the post as the season moves forward. He seems more comfortable there than any other player currently on the roster, with the possible exception of back-up center Nazr Mohammed, who doesnt figure to play much because of his limited mobility.Bottom line, the formula for the Bulls to make a run at another Central division title continues to be lock-down defense and control of the defensive boards. Weve seen a little slippage in those areas early in the season, but the Bulls still managed to hold three of their first four opponents under 90 points.
And, with the news of Danny Granger being sidelined for the next three months because of knee tendinitis, it might only take 48 to 50 victories to win the Central this season. If the Bulls can become more productive in their half-court sets, that win total is certainly within their reach.

Wake-up Call: Miggy gets the boot; Rodon's rocky debut; More bad news for Cubs?

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AP

Wake-up Call: Miggy gets the boot; Rodon's rocky debut; More bad news for Cubs?

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”