Thunder outlast Deng, Bulls

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Thunder outlast Deng, Bulls

Maybe the Bulls (3-2) dont have nationally-recognized star power with superstar Derrick Rose on the shelf, but they showed that they can hang with the leagues elite teams, albeit in a loss, Thursday evening at the United Center.

Oklahoma City (3-2) outlasted the Bulls, 97-91, in a game that was ragged at times, but extremely intense and a nip-and-tuck affair throughout.

Propelled by a fast start from Rip Hamilton (20 points, eight rebounds), the Bulls jumped out to a quick lead over the visiting Thunder, whose primary source of offense in the early going was defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha, a player who has some familiarity with the rims on West Madison Street.

The hosts got balanced offense from the entire starting five, highlighted by Luol Dengs (27 points) aggressive play and Carlos Boozers (nine points, 11 rebounds) interior work, as well as the teams ongoing commitment to transition play.

But Oklahoma City righted the ship quickly, led by Serge Ibakas (21 points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots) much-improved outside jumper the leagues reigning shot-blocking leader showcased his new weapon against the Bulls in the preseason and narrowed the gap. The Bulls clung to a slim lead for the remainder of the period, but three-time consecutive NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant (24 points, three blocks) stole a pass and finished an uncontested fast-break dunk to tie the game at 24 apiece to end the first quarter.

Oklahoma Citys second unit caught the wave of momentum from the starters, with newly acquired scorer Kevin Martin (15 points) asserting himself in the second quarter. From three-pointers to traditional three-point plays, the veteran shooting guard scored in various fashions to help the guests overtake the Bulls.

However, in their usual resilient fashion, the Bulls fought back second-year swingman Jimmy Butlers defense and hustle was a catalyst as the first half waned on and built their own slim cushion. But another Thunder run, this time a 6-0 spurt, to close the half sent the Bulls into the intermission trailing, 48-47.

The two opposing starting floor generals, Kirk Hinrich (12 points, five assists) and Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook (16 points, 12 assists), both heated up after the break and though the latters shot selection was questionable, his oft-overlooked passing was significant for Oklahoma City in the first half. Hinrich and long-time running buddy Deng carried the Bulls offensively at the outset of the third quarter, again helping the Bulls gain an edge, albeit a tiny one, on the scoreboard.

Hinrichs backcourt partner, Hamilton, again found his stride, as well, engaging in a subtle battle with Martin, a player with similar skills masters of the mid-range game, adept at getting to the foul line, outstanding at moving away from the ball but with Westbrooks shooting struggles, further compounding matters, the Bulls took control of the tight-knit affair. The Bulls held a 72-66 advantage heading into the final stanza.

Oklahoma City stormed back in the beginning of the fourth quarter, erasing the hosts cushion and again making it a back-and-forth contest, as Ibakas influence on both ends of the floor, coupled with timely scoring from Durant, nullified a yeoman-like effort inside from Joakim Noah (nine points, 13 rebounds, six assists).

The visitors built a slight winning margin, but it was immediately in peril because of Dengs determination as scorer, which saw the All-Star assert himself as the Bulls go-to player in a successful attempt to even things out.

Knotted up at 87-all with just over two minutes to go, the Thunder took the lead on a Westbrook driving layup, buckled down on defense, then made it a two-possession game on a Durant floater with 46.8 seconds remaining.

A Taj Gibson jumper with 35.1 seconds to go gave the United Center faithful hope, but a Durant fadeaway off one foot with 19.5 seconds on the clock silenced the crowd and while a Noah dunk with no resistance from the Thunder brought the Bulls closer, it was all academic after that, as Oklahoma City closed the game out at the charity stripe.

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

Call it the White Sox latest Cuban connection.

When news came out of the team pursuing 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, it was pretty easy to guess that Jose Abreu, the franchise’s previous big-time, free-agent signing from Cuba, would be involved.

But not only was Abreu involved in the White Sox courting of Robert, sending a personalized message as part of the team’s video pitch, he’s been a willing participant. And now that Robert is officially signed after Saturday’s much-hyped introduction, Abreu is ready to take on a mentorship role, much like he has with another one of the organization’s Cuban prospects, Yoan Moncada.

In the lead up to Saturday’s press conference, it was Abreu touring Robert around Guaranteed Rate Field, chatting with him in the dugout and taking pictures on the infield.

“I was very excited to have him here, and I’m very happy right now because he’s signing with the team,” Abreu said through a translator ahead of Sunday’s series finale with the visiting Detroit Tigers. “He’s a very good player. I just told him that he has to keep working hard and keep doing the things to get here as soon as he can. He’s a nice guy.

“I’m excited to have that opportunity (to be a mentor). That’s something that I like to do. I like to advise the guys and tell them what to do for their best like I am doing right now with Moncada. I’m just waiting for that opportunity to happen with (Robert).”

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While Abreu arrived on the South Side an older, more experienced player who was ready for the big leagues, Robert’s journey to the majors will be a much different, much longer one. Abreu recognizes that and talked about how tough the transition will be. He also has confidence Robert, who has received glowing scouting reports comparing him to perennial All Stars, can succeed.

“It’s not an easy thing to do to come here straight to play in the majors because this is a very high level and a tough one to play,” Abreu said. “I think the best for him is the decision that he’s making for him, to have some games in the minors and let him develop there. He’s had a long time without playing baseball. Baseball in Cuba is good, but it’s not as good as baseball here in the U.S. and you have to adjust. I think that process for him is going to be perfect in the minors.”

Saturday, Robert talked about the White Sox tradition of Cuban players, mentioning how it helped motivate him to sign with the team. Abreu has been one of the franchise’s most successful Cuban players, a list that includes the legendary Minnie Minoso as well as more recent players like Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo and Moncada in the minor leagues.

While that tradition might not be the entire or even main reason Robert is now a part of the organization, general manager Rick Hahn talked about how it’s created an environment that will help Robert develop. Banners featuring Minoso, Abreu, Ramirez and Moncada flanked the table where Robert signed his contract.

Abreu said it’s a tradition he’s very proud to be a part of.

“That made me feel happy and proud. Not just for this organization that I’m a part of, but also for my heritage because I know that this is a very good organization and they are trying to take care of the Cuban players,” Abreu said. “I also feel a huge respect for Minnie Minoso because he was the first one who opened this door here with the White Sox.”

Through his mentoring, Abreu could keep that tradition going into the future. Robert and Moncada are huge pieces of the White Sox rebuilding puzzle, and Abreu is helping put those pieces together for the White Sox.

Two days out, White Sox already excited about facing former teammate Chris Sale

Two days out, White Sox already excited about facing former teammate Chris Sale

There are still two days remaining until the White Sox take the field against their old teammate, but the questions are already coming about what it will be like to face Chris Sale on Tuesday night.

The Boston Red Sox come to the South Side for a three-game series starting Monday afternoon, but the highlight of the set will be Tuesday night's matchup: Sale against his old team, which will counter with another All-Star arm in Jose Quintana.

The White Sox jumpstarted their rebuilding effort this offseason when they traded Sale to Boston, getting a hefty haul back in return led by top prospect Yoan Moncada.

Sale was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball during his tenure in a White Sox uniform and has continued that trend in Boston, where he's posted a 2.34 ERA in 10 starts this season, punching out a league-leading 101 batters in a league-leading 73 innings of work.

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Tuesday night he'll go up against his ex-mates for the first time, something those players are pretty excited about.

"I have so much respect. He was one of the best teammates that I had here in my first three years," first baseman Jose Abreu said Sunday. "That will be fun. He’s a very good pitcher, and we’ll see what happens that day."

"Facing Saler is going to be awesome, big time," Quintana said. "A big moment of the season. He was my teammate. It's a different feeling, but it's good to face the best left-hander in the league. I'm excited and I think he's excited, too. But my focus right now is to do my job. Do my work and do my thing and put us in a good position to win. That's all I can do."

There'll be much more reaction to come from both the White Sox and the Red Sox ahead of the matchup on Monday and Tuesday. But already this big-time showdown against Sale — who made five consecutive All-Star appearances in his seven years on the South Side — is demanding everyone's attention.