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.

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

Here are the latest rankings of Illinois high school basketball teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters.

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Edwardsville (8) 25-1 97 2
2 Bolingbrook (1) 23-1 75 1
3 Simeon 24-3 71 4
4 Evanston Township 23-3 66 T8
5 Fremd (1) 25-0 65 5
6 Curie 23-3 50 3
7 Wheaton Warrenville South 26-1 39 7
8 Whitney Young 20-7 27 6
9 Joliet West 22-3 21 10
10 East Moline United 22-6 9 NR

Others receiving votes: Rockford Boylan 7, East St. Louis 7, Geneva 6, Willowbrook 4, Algonquin (Jacobs) 2, Lincoln Way East 2, Lisle (Benet Academy) 1, Danville 1.

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Morgan Park (6) 19-6 94 1
2 Fenwick (2) 23-4 90 2
3 Springfield Lanphier (2) 21-3 84 3
4 Bloomington 20-4 67 4
5 North Lawndale 20-6 58 5
6 Benton 27-2 43 6
7 Effingham 23-3 35 8
8 Washington 21-5 30 9
9 Breese Central 23-4 14 7
10 Bogan 16-7 12 10

Others receiving votes: Springfield Southeast 11, Cahokia 6, Farragut 3, Burlington Central 2, Aurora Central Catholic 1.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Quincy Notre Dame (7) 24-2 104 1
2 Chicago Uplift (2) 21-5 96 2
3 Orr (2) 16-5 93 3
4 Teutopolis 25-3 78 4
5 Alton Marquette 26-3 59 5
6 Pinckneyville 26-2 38 8
7 Tremont 23-3 34 6
8 Rockridge 19-5 31 10
9 Mt. Carmel 22-4 18 7
10 Pittsfield 24-2 14 NR

Other receiving votes: DePaul College Prep 9, Illini Bluffs 6, Pleasant Plains 5, Eldorado 5, Waterloo Gibault 3, Hoopeston 3, Sterling Newman 3, Petersburg PORTA 3, Williamsville 2, Chicago-University 1.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Colfax Ridgeview (7) 26-1 96 1
2 Okawville (2) 26-3 91 2
3 Chicago Hope Academy 23-4 71 4
4 Quest Academy (1) 25-4 67 3
5 Newark 23-3 57 5
6 Annawan 27-3 50 7
7 East Dubuque 27-2 45 6
8 DePue 24-3 27 9
9 Harvest Christian Academy 23-4 20 10
10 Effingham St. Anthony 23-5 9 8

Others receiving votes: Patoka 5, Nokomis 4, Freeport (Aquin) 3, Crab Orchard 2, Mendon Unity 2, Elverado 1.

Cubs: Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon finally make peace

Cubs: Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon finally make peace

MESA, Ariz. – Over red wine, Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon ended their cold war on Monday night, dining at Andreoli Italian Grocer and vowing to work together as the Cubs try to defend their World Series title.  
 
The Montero-Maddon dynamic had been one of the awkward, lingering storylines in a feel-good camp after the veteran catcher questioned the star manager's communication skills and in-game decisions during a WMVP-AM 1000 interview – on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally.

"I got a lot off my chest," Montero said Tuesday. "I care so much for the game. I care so much for the team. I'm here to win. And it's hard when you have that (weight) on your shoulders.
 
"I've never been a cancer (anywhere) that I played for all these years. And I'm not planning to be one of those guys."
 
Maddon requested the dinner meeting – quality assurance coach/ex-player Henry Blanco joined the peace summit as a neutral third party – while Montero picked the Scottsdale restaurant and suggested posting a photo of them toasting drinks on his Twitter account.  
 
"I want to let the people know that it's going to be a great year," Montero said.  

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Montero said he slept so much better that night and showed up for work at the Sloan Park complex the next morning with a new energy level. Montero, a two-time All-Star, stressed that he understands his role as a $14 million backup and a mentor to young catcher Willson Contreras. Montero offered to continue helping police the clubhouse – in exchange for Maddon keeping him more in the loop.   
 
"Whatever it takes me to help him," Montero said. "I was true with him when I said: ‘If you feel Willson needs a break and it's (Clayton) Kershaw pitching for the other team, put me in, I'm fine.'
 
"That's my job and I accept it. Just count on me for whatever. If we need to send a message out there to the players, I'm here for you, too. I can help you on that.
 
"If I do something that you don't like, just let me know. Just chew me out, whatever, I don't care. I'll take it like a man. It was a great time."
 
Montero had already told reporters that his comments on the radio weren't simply complaining about his own individual situation. Montero also spoke up for teammates frustrated by a perceived lack of communication and uncertainty over roles, though those behind-the-scenes issues appear to be cooling for now.
 
"We have a special team," Montero said. "We have a legitimate chance to win another championship. So in order to do that, we need to be together here. And I think we are now – and we're going to stay that way."