Gutsy effort by Bulls earns win over Sixers

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Gutsy effort by Bulls earns win over Sixers

PHILADELPHIATired, coming off a late game, the second game of a back-to-back and on little sleepnone of these excuses mattered to the Bulls Wednesday night, as they dispatched a familiar foe, the 76ers, 96-89 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Like most Bulls wins, it wasnt pretty, but a combination of their vaunted defense stepping up at the right time, the surprising poise of rookie Marquis Teague (six points, four assists), All-Star Luol Deng (19 points, 12 rebounds) coming through in the clutch and simply a major display of heart and determination sealed the victory for the gritty group.

Behind the scoring of Joakim Noah (21 points) and the playmaking of Deng, the Bulls (12-9) got off to a quick start, a must as they were missing their starting backcourt, as Rip Hamilton, still recovering from a torn left plantar fascia, didnt make the trip to his home state and Kirk Hinrich was sidelined with a knee injury suffered in the previous evenings home loss to the Clippers.

The jump-shooting Sixers (12-10)still without offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum, the All-Star center expected to finally give them a low-post presencegot into the groove quickly thereafter, as the likes of point guard Jrue Holiday (26 points, nine assists), pushing for an All-Star bid in his fourth NBA season, sixth man Nick Young (10 points) and swingman Evan Turner (16 points), a Chicago native.

Nate Robinson (14 points), filling in for the injured Hinrich, made his presence as a scorer felt early, but the visitors had already dug themselves a hole, as Philadelphia got into transition for easy baskets, something their coach, former Bulls head man Doug Collins, said his team would try to do before the contest even started.

With Deng and Noah carrying the offensive load for the entire opening period, the Bulls trailed, 24-21, at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Taj Gibson (six points, seven rebounds) joined Noah and Deng as the Bulls catalysts at the outset of the second frame and as Teague ran the show in Robinsons stead, the Bulls overtook their hosts.

Teague, who has already played with poise in his limited minutes this season, gave a solid defensive effort, was assertive as a floor general and displayed the pure playmaking ability that, among other things, the Bulls have lacked on the young campaign.

As the first half waned on, the Sixers, propelled by Holiday and insiders Lavoy Allen (six rebounds) and Thaddeus Young (13 points), fought back and regained the advantage, making a back-and-forth affair for the remainder of the period.

While it wasnt exactly the grind-it-out contest that Collins said he feared before the game and in which the Bulls usually thrive, the guests certainly didnt appear to be worn downon the second night of a back-to-back, after a late game at home and arriving in Philadelphia in the wee hours of the morningthe Bulls were behind at the intermission, 44-41.

After the break, it was Marco Belinellis (16 points) turn to spark the Bulls offense-by-committee approach in the close-knit affair, but with Holiday continuing to use his size advantage at the point to score and the hosts enjoying an edge on the boards, the momentum wasnt with the visitors and the Sixers once again built a slim cushion.

Robinsons instant-offense game kept the Bulls within striking distance, but with Philadelphia both getting out in transition and keeping typical rebounding forces Noah and Carlos Boozer (five points) off the glass, the guests were definitively playing catch-up, even if the gap between the two teams wasnt huge.

The Bulls replacement backcourt of Belinelli and Robinson, as well as Noahwho has quickly become Public Enemy No. 1; after getting booed following his severe ankle injury in last springs playoffs, he feels the same way about the Philadelphia crowdwith a boost off the bench from the ever-active Gibson, produced enough points to even take the lead, though that mostly by virtue of their stingy defense.

The Bulls led, 69-66, heading into the final stanza.

A slow offensive start to the fourth quarter allowed the Sixers to briefly seize control of the game, but Deng, aided by the contributions of reserve Jimmy Butler (nine points), came alive as a scorer to again make the contest a back-and-forth affair.

While Holiday, flanked by the trio of both Youngs and Turner, continued to be effective, the home team was in for a battle down the stretch, as the two teams settled into a defensive showdown reminiscent of the first-round playoff series.

Eerily, Deng went down in a heap after being fouled in transitionthe arena went quiet until he got up and walked it off, unlike how they booed Noahand the All-Star resumed his role as closer, along with the teams vaunted defense coming up with big stops when it counted helped them gain late-game separation from the Sixers.

A Noah jumper with 1:19 remaining made it a three-possession game, 90-83, and while Philadelphia didnt give up hope of a last-gasp comeback, it was all academic from that point forward.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the Gym at EFT: Wide receiver skill development

In the first edition of EFT Football Academy, TF North graduate Landon Cox, who was a star wide receiver at Northern Illinois and later in the NFL, shares some tips on how to become a better receiver and be more efficient on the field.

Cox is a Performance Specialist and wide receiver coach at EFT. In this segment Cox works on a few different techniques with Warren Township junior wide receiver Micah Jones.

EFT has evolved into the premier elite performance training facility in the Midwest, where every EFT football coach has NFL experience and the dedication to helping each player reach their potential. The EFT Football Academy is designed to assist in the development of grade school, high school, and collegiate football players.

Some of their off-season training experience includes 70+ active NFL athletes, six Super Bowl Champions, six Olympics, and more.

[MORE: High School Lites Football Roundup: Week 1]

In addition, performance includes explosive power development, positional movement pattern development, proper spring and change of direction mechanics, and more. Every EFT workout focuses on improving each athlete's overall abilities like speed development, agility and mobility, acceleration and deceleration, and strength and condition — just to name a few.

Former Bears wide receiver Devin Hester called it "the best workout in the world."

Watch Cox's tips in the video above, and be sure to look out for next week's edition on CSNChicago.com.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.