Plenty of local flavor in Bulls' home opener

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Plenty of local flavor in Bulls' home opener

When people talk about the city of Chicago breeding guards, they arent kidding. Three of the four starting guards in the Bulls New Years Day home opener against the Grizzlies hail from the Windy City.

In addition to reigning league MVP Derrick Rose for the home team, Memphis boasts a starting backcourt of two Chicago Public Schools products, shooting guard Tony Allen and point guard Jeremy Pargo, who has replaced the injured Mike Conley in the starting lineup.

Allen went to Crane High School, blocks from the United Center, before heading to junior college and leading Oklahoma State (which also featured Bulls reserve John Lucas III) to a Final Four. His younger brother, Ryan Allen, a senior on the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukees mens basketball team, also happens to be one of Roses best friends.

Hes a tough competitor. He can really play. Hes had some injuries in his career, but whenever hes gotten extended minutes, hes played really well. Hes as good as a defender as youll find in the league. Terrific cutter, slasher, can put it on the floor, can score, can play off people. If you turn your head, hes great at moving without the ball, said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of Allen, who inspired Memphis Grit and Grind themed playoff run last postseason. I had the opportunity to coach him in Boston and hes a winner. Tough guy. When he got the opportunity to play last year, he played great.

Pargo, the younger brother of erstwhile Bulls guard Jannero Pargo, now with the Atlanta Hawks, grew in the same Englewood neighborhood as Rose. However, like his brother (who played in junior college before playing at Arkansas with current teammate Joe Johnson), he took the long route to the NBA, excelling overseas before making it to the league after the lockout ended.

Its another game. Youve got to come out and be prepared, and do whatever it takes to help your team win, said the younger Pargo, who estimated that he had 20 well-wishers at the game. Rose is a great player. Ive got to come out and be focused and ready, and when the opportunity presents itself, try to take advantage of the opportunities and the moments.

During the lockout, I had no idea what the expectations would be or should be. It was a tough time and fortunately, we were able to come through it, continued the Robeson High School graduate, who starred collegiately at Gonzaga before playing professionally in Israel. Its something that I wanted to do, play ball at the highest level and Ive been given an opportunity, so Im going to do whatever I can to help the team and take full advantage of the opportunity.

Finally getting a little luck, Kevan Smith comes up huge in White Sox comeback win

Finally getting a little luck, Kevan Smith comes up huge in White Sox comeback win

Hit ‘em where they ain’t, right?

Kevan Smith hasn’t had an overabundance of luck following that old baseball maxim in his short time up with the White Sox this season. But Monday, Smith came up with one of the game’s biggest hits, tattooing a ball into the right-field corner for a game-tying double in the seventh inning of the White Sox 5-4 comeback win over the visiting Boston Red Sox.

Hitting the ball hard hasn’t been a problem for Smith, but he’s run into some bad luck, hitting balls hard but right at fielders. Move some of those batted balls a little bit in one direction or the other, and Smith’s numbers could be very, very good.

On balls hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater, hitters across the league are hitting .539 (7,068-for-13,108), according to BaseballSavant.com. Entering Monday’s game, Smith was just 4-for-12 on such batted balls, making him significantly unluckier than the average hitter. That seventh-inning double had an exit velocity of 93 mph, coming close to the kind of hard contact Smith’s been making this season.

He’ll take coming through in the clutch Monday, though, contributing big time to the White Sox fourth win in their last five games.

Finally, Smith was able to hit it where they ain’t — or, if for nothing else but grammar's sake — where they weren’t.

“For once, right?” Smith said with a smile after the game. “Been working hard on my swing. It’s frustrating, obviously, whenever you hit it right at people, but that’s the way the game goes and that’s why you’ve got to realize it’s a ‘failing’ sport. You’ve got to get used to failing. But it fell for me today and in a big spot. So it felt good.”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Smith’s numbers have been impressive of late. Including his 1-for-2 game Monday, he’s hitting .350 with three doubles in his last six games.

It’s nice for him to finally see some results from what’s been a good swing.

“That’s what’s tough because when you’re not getting hits, you think you have to do more, you think you have to get in the cage more. But you’re going to take hard hits all day long,” Smith said. “It’s just staying confident, trusting the work, just going out each day being consistent. And that’s what I’ve been doing, and hopefully they start falling a little more.”

Smith also made an impact on the base paths, coming around to score from second on Melky Cabrera’s infield single a few batters later. An aggressive two-out send from third-base coach Nick Capra set up the run, one that might not have scored if not for the throw bouncing away from Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez.

Instead, Smith slid in safely for the eventual game-winning run, delivering yet another win for the White Sox, who are feeling much better during a to-this-point 4-1 home stand since returning from a 3-7 road trip at the end of last week.

“I thought the ball got through,” Smith said of the play. “I knew he was playing up the middle a little bit because he was kind of stacked behind me at second. When he hit the ball, I was like I’m either going to hold up at third or he obviously got it. And then when he starts waving me, kind of caught me off guard. I thought it got through, but after I got in (to the dugout) I found out it didn’t. When he says go, I’m going. Fortunately it worked out in our favor.

“Obviously the rough road trip, but we had a lot of good games, we battled hard. And (manager Rick Renteria) got us together a little bit, kind of got us refocused and ready for this home stand. We have a good squad in here. We’re excited. We just have to trust that each of us are going to do our part, just come together and keep having big wins like this and getting this good energy in the clubhouse. Feels good.”

Benches clear as Bryce Harper charges mound in Nationals vs. Giants

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AP

Benches clear as Bryce Harper charges mound in Nationals vs. Giants

Fireworks came early when the Nationals-Giants ballgame turned into a wild boxing match on Monday. 

The gloves came off and benches cleared after San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland pegged 2015 N.L. MVP Bryce Harper with a fastball in the eighth inning.

To put it mildly, Harper did not take that too kindly as he charged the mound and launched his helmet in the direction of Strickland, missing wide. Punches for both parties, however, connected. Each side got in a nice right hook, leading to a massive scrum near the mound. 

It took about five Giants players and coaches to separate Strickland from the brawl, and even in the dugout he remained emotional. For Harper, it resulted in his ninth career ejection.   

The two competitors do have some history. Three years ago, Harper hit two home runs off of Strickland, admiring both for a long time. 

This is just Game 1 of the series, so the bad blood may be just beginning.