The Bears have to feel a little snake-bitten right about now. Last year it was Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, and now it's Brian Urlacher going on the shelf. It didn't take long before I was asked if this could hurt Urlacher's chances of re-signing with the team next year, and you have to admit it's now going to become a hot topic. Before the season began, I thought it would be a long shot to bring back the aging linebacker, but I started thinking today it may not be so far-fetched for him to get a short deal in the two-year range IF the Bears' brass believes he is still capable of playing at a high level. If they don't think he can do that and stay healthy, all bets are off. Perhaps the biggest thing working in Urlacher's favor is the progress made by so many young defensive players. Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Major Wright, Chris Conte and Corey Wooton have all shown they are the future of this defense, which means the organization isn't forced to immediately invest in defensive players. The current crop of young guys are not high priced, and only Melton is in line to get big money. That means paying Urlacher shouldn't hurt the team from a cap standpoint. On the flip side they may have to invest on the offensive line, which will no doubt be the number one focus when the off-season arrives. Even if that is the case, a top level offensive line free agent will cost big dollars and it's unclear if Phil Emery would spend that on a veteran or invest in a young player in the draft. Regardless, I'm not sold that this is the end of Urlacher in a Bears Uniform, and if not he can thank the young kids on defense for him sticking around.
Winning a game against a LeBron James led team has proven to be an easier task than most for the Chicago Bulls in the last couple regular seasons.
And winning without James has proven to be a herculean task for the Cleveland Cavaliers since his return in 2014.
So putting those two events together seemed to produce an inevitable result at Quicken Loans Arena, with James out due to illness, as the Bulls pulled away from the Cavaliers 117-99 Saturday night.
The win marks the fourth straight for the Bulls, pulling them over .500 for the first time in nearly two months and they lead the season series 3-0 over the NBA Champions.
Of course, if James were healthy perhaps the Cavaliers would look more cohesive but without him, only Kyrie Irving was in double figures amongst the starters for most of the night. Irving was unguardable with 34 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
After the lead rose to 20, Irving went to work to get the Cavaliers back in it by scoring eight in the quarter and cutting the lead in half with 2:30 left. But without James, the Bulls were able to hold off the Cavaliers with baskets from
Cristiano Felicio and Nikola Mirotic, who had his second straight big game with 14 points and 10 boards.
A third-quarter flurry from the Bulls gave them some breathing room after a back-and-forth 24 minutes. The Cavs threatened to blow the game open with a 65-59 lead to start the third but the Bulls quickly turned the tables, getting stops and leaking out for fast breaks.
Dwyane Wade corralled weak-side rebounds and popped it ahead to Butler and Bobby Portis for layups.
Butler then hit two triples in succession to give the Bulls a 76-67 lead.
He struggled from the field but hit four triples on his way to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and Wade was one rebound short—one Felicio rebound attempt with seconds remaining, from getting a triple-double with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes
But the 3-point shooting has been a welcome addition since the trade of Doug McDermott, their best 3-point shooter.
Denzel Valentine followed up his sterling showing Friday night with another competent and confident performance, hitting three triples to score 11 and at least competing on the defensive end.
Cameron Payne made his debut as a Bull and hit two triples in the first half, both passes off the ball as he hasn't had enough time to grasp the offense, only going through a morning walkthrough with the coaching staff after the team arrived in Cleveland.
All in all, the Bulls had their ninth game with 10 or more triples, hitting 15.