Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls

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Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls

DEERFIELD, ILL. The Bulls next opponent is a familiar foe, Philadelphia, the team that ousted them in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring.

Like the Bulls, the 76ers experienced an offseason of change, losing All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, leading scorer Louis Williams, veteran power forward Elton Brand and shooting guard Jodie Meeks.

The circumstances of each departure was different Iguodala was traded to Denver in a blockbuster deal, Williams and Meeks each left via free agency (Williams, regarded as one of the leagues top sixth men, signed with his hometown Hawks, while Meeks reached an agreement with the Lakers) and Brand, the former Bull, was amnestied and subsequently acquired by the Mavericks but based on the organizations busy summer, this season was supposed to bring new hope.

Along with short-term deals given to free-agent acquisitions Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Kwame Brown, as well as retaining big men Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, the Sixers received All-Star center Andrew Bynum, in addition to veteran Jason Richardson, in the Iguodala deal.

However, while Bynum hasnt suited up in Philadelphia due to ongoing knee problems, the Sixers are making the best of it, as former Bulls head coach Doug Collins continues to get the most out of a gritty defensive-oriented team with no superstar scoring threat, but a lot of heart.

Those attributes have earned the respect of the Bulls current head coach, Tom Thibodeau.

Theyre good, hard-playing, different. Added a lot of shooting. Kwame Brown is an underrated addition. Jrue Holidays playing great, Evan Turners playing great for them. Theyre playing well, Thibodeau said Friday, following the teams afternoon practice session at the Berto Center.

Thibodeau isnt dwelling on the Bulls series loss to Philadelphia, which saw Derrick Rose suffer a devastating ACL injury and Joakim Noah severely sprain his ankle en route to losing in six games. But the coach is conscious of the fact that players like Holiday, who signed a four-year, 41-million contract extension on the opening day of the NBA season, and Turner, a Chicago native and former No. 2 overall draft pick, have improved.

Its in the past. You learn from every situation, we move on. Theyre our next opponent, so we have to know them well. Theyre different in terms of some of their personnel, but philosophically, theyre the same. Dougs their coach -- a great coach -- he always gets his teams to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses, so we have to be ready, he explained. I think Turner and Holiday continue to improve each year, significantly, and then when you add in some of their additions Nick Young, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright theyve added a lot of three-point shooting to their team.

Then, Kwame Brown gives them a lot of toughness up front. Hes a guy thats sort of under the radar, but hes a good defensive player. Spencer Hawes is a guy who can spread you out, great touch. Lavoy Allen, great touch. Their bigs are skilled. Thaddeus Young is a tough matchup, he can out-quick you at the four, can overpower threes, hes tough in transition. So, I think they put pressure on you, they play together and defensively, theyve always been tough.

After a resounding victory Wednesday over Dallas at the United Center, Thibodeau wants the Bulls to keep building on the positive momentum. As solid as the Bulls were from top to bottom in that game, the detail-oriented coach still found some areas the team needs to address.

Just continue to improve every aspect of your defense, from defensive transition to challenging shots, to finishing with the rebound to your pick-and-roll defense, catch-and-shoot defense, low-post defense, help defense, so you never have it fully solved and you can always do better. So, thats the mindset that we want to have. We want to be moving in the right direction, Thibodeau said.

We have to be a 48-minute team. There were stretches where I thought we probably didnt play as well as I would have liked. The thing I did like was offensively, getting to the free-throw line, which allowed us to get our defense set. We have to continue to cut down our turnovers. Thats critical for us, but regardless of what happens on offense, youve got to make sure youre taking care of all your responsibilities defensively and then, the offensive end, I want us to continue to play the way we did the other night. I thought we had a lot of very unselfish plays and the ball was moving, bodies were moving and we got into the paint.

American sweep and European rally at Ryder Cup

American sweep and European rally at Ryder Cup

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) -- Even with the first opening-session sweep in four decades, the Americans were reminded anew Friday that no lead is safe in the Ryder Cup.

Not after one session. Not after one day.

And based on the last Ryder Cup on American soil, not until it's over.

Europe battled back from a 4-0 deficit behind its best tandem, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, and capped off a long and rowdy day at Hazeltine when its best player, Rory McIlroy, holed a 20-foot eagle putt and then mocked the crowd by taking a bow.

The American celebration turned into a consolation.

They had a 5-3 lead, the margin after the first day at Medinah four years ago that ended in another European victory. They lost a chance to really put Europe in a hole.

"It's frustrating not to come out a little bit more ahead," U.S. captain Davis Love III said.

Love could not have scripted a better start - a symbolic one, too.

To honor Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday night, Ryder Cup officials placed on the first tee Palmer's golf bag from when he was captain of the 1975 Ryder Cup team. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed then set the tone with a 3-and-2 foursomes victory over Stenson and Rose, and the Americans delivered the first sweep of the opening session since that 1975 team at Laurel Valley.

Phil Mickelson, feeling more pressure than usual because of his influence on changes and on this team, also produced big shots. His wedge into 5 feet that Rickie Fowler converted was key in the Americans winning three straight holes for a 1-up victory over McIlroy and Andy Sullivan.

"With everything going on - me not having a point and Phil being a big part of getting the players a lot more involved to Arnie passing and him being a huge part of the week, this is big for us," Fowler said.

It just didn't last.

"The guys were disappointed with the way they played this morning and the way they performed," European captain Darren Clarke said. "But they showed tremendous bravery and heart and desire to go out and play the way they have done this afternoon."

Beaten for the first time, Rose and Stenson went right back out against Spieth and Reed and handed the American duo its first Ryder Cup loss. The Europeans made nine birdies in 13 holes for a 5-and-4 victory in an afternoon session in which the board was filled with European blue.

Sergio Garcia, who along with Martin Kaymer made only one birdie in a foursomes loss, teamed with fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello to dismantle J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore. McIlroy and Pieters never trailed against Johnson and Kuchar, handing them their first loss in four Ryder Cup matches.

The lone American point in the afternoon came from Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, who had no trouble against Kaymer and Danny Willett.

Willett had a little trouble with the crowd, especially when they lampooned him around Hazeltine with references to hot dogs and his brother, Pete, who had written a column in a British publication disparaging American galleries.

"It was anticipated," Willett said. "Coming to America is a tough one, just like when the Americans come to Europe. They gave me a little bit more. I think it was exactly what we thought it was going to be."

It wasn't just directed at Willett, however.

The crowd was loud and boisterous from the opening tee shot in misty conditions. There were a few rude comments, not unusual in America for a Ryder Cup. McIlroy had a 20-foot birdie putt to halve the morning foursomes match against Mickelson and Fowler when a fan from across 100 yards away shouted, "Get an American to putt it for you." That was a reference to McIlroy and Rose losing a playful $100 bet to an American fan who made a putt in Thursday's practice session.

Most striking was how quickly the crowd cheered bad shots for Europe. Typically, there is the slightest delay. Not on Friday. Sullivan, one of six rookies for Europe, hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th that put Europe 1 down and effectively ended the match. The crowd cheered before there was a ripple.

That's what inspired McIlroy in the final match of the day. He and Pieters were 2 up on the 16th hole, with Kuchar already in for a birdie, when the four-time major champion drained his 20-foot putt. Turning to the crowd, he bowed twice and screamed out, "C'mon!"

"I wanted to put an exclamation on that session for us," McIlroy said. "I thought about that celebration before I hit the putt."

More than a celebration, it was a message from McIlroy to what he felt was a hostile crowd.

"I'm not fazed by anything said by the crowd," McIlroy said. "And I'm not fazed by anything the U.S. throws at us."

Joe Maddon keeping thoughts on Cubs’ playoff rotation to himself

Joe Maddon keeping thoughts on Cubs’ playoff rotation to himself

CINCINNATI – After Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price dropped 77 F-bombs on reporters during an epic rant that went viral last year, Joe Maddon explained his dealing-with-the-media philosophy by saying: “At the end of the day, we’re not trying to conceal weaponry being sold to Iran.”

Maddon’s had a clear understanding of how the Cubs want to align their playoff rotation for about a week now, but the manager who will thoughtfully answer just about any misinformed or off-the-wall question doesn’t want to reveal those plans yet.  

“We have an idea of what we want to do,” Maddon said Friday at Great American Ball Park. “But we haven’t had that final conversation with Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) and everybody else (in the front office) and all of our coaches.

“What I like to do under these circumstances is talk to the players first before they have to read about it in the newspaper.”

Do the pitchers already know?

“They’re not stupid,” Maddon said.

That type of scenario sparked Price’s meltdown last April, when it looked like one of Maddon’s former players – they worked together in 1985 and 1986 in Midland, Texas, at a Double-A affiliate for the California Angels – could get fired midseason. Price survived 98 losses, and even with the team heading toward another last-place finish this season, the Reds announced a one-year contract extension with a club option for 2018 before Friday’s game against the Cubs.   

Where the manager’s hot seat used to be the dominant storyline around this team at this time of year, the Cubs have now lined up Jon Lester (19-4, 2.28 ERA) and Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 1.99 ERA) for Games 161 and 162 this weekend, giving them two leading Cy Young Award candidates for the front of their playoff rotation.

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Maddon indicated the opponent – whoever emerges from the three-team battle among the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals and wins the National League wild-card game – won’t change how the Cubs set their pitching matchups.

In theory, the Cubs can also rearrange Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA) and John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA) in a different order for Games 3 and 4, but it sounds like the brass has already made that decision, whatever it is. 

“You could if you wanted to, but I don’t anticipate that,” Maddon said. “Again, I want to make sure before we make that announcement.”

However it shakes out, Arrieta and Lackey will have to wait almost two full weeks from their last regular-season start until their first playoff action on Oct. 10-11, on the road, in a best-of-five series where anything can happen.   

“That’s always been the major complaint I’ve heard,” Maddon said. “It’s just up to us to handle it properly. Now, of course, it may be difficult or rusty or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know. And then again, the rest might just do somebody really good. It just depends on the individual. These are the kind of things that are kind of outside of your control.

“You do your best in order to meet the challenge. That’s it. And you don’t make excuses. You don’t cry about it. You just do it, because, in advance, you know this is how it is set up.

“Otherwise, there’s nothing you can do about it, man.”

The Cubs have first-division problems, avoiding the major arm injuries that decimated the Mets. The Giants would have to burn a Madison Bumgarner start in the one-game playoff. The Cardinals are in this precarious position because their rotation has been so inconsistent.

“We are where we are because of our starters,” Arrieta said. “Our offense has been, obviously, spectacular, (but) we’ve all pitched really well throughout the year. I think we’re in a situation where we should be able to enjoy that for a little while.

“We’ll be ready for the first round.”