Chicago Bears

Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

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Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

On the bright side, the Bulls (16-13) can regard Mondays 91-81 loss to the Bobcats (8-23) at the United Center as a thing of the past, something to be forgotten when the ball drops at midnight. But in the here and now, it was a defeat at the hands of one of the NBAs worst teams, losers of 18 straight games when they arrived in Chicago and even without the services of starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, thats the type stain that doesnt just wash away in the laundry.

A sluggish start put the Bulls in an hole in the early going, as the young Bobcats played with energy to make up for any perceived talent disparity, similar to the way the Wizards made it competitive in the hosts last outing. Beginning contests slowly isnt something new for the Bulls, but surprisingly, they didnt bounce back immediately against the downtrodden visitors, who built a double-digit lead.

Behind balanced scoring and superior rebounding, the Bobcats controlled the games pace against the poor-shooting Bulls, who struggled to scoreRip Hamilton (11 points), in his second game back from injury, was effective before picking up two quick foulslet alone defend up to their usual standards. Despite determined, if inefficient, play from forwards Luol Deng (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (19 points, 14 rebounds), after a quarter of play, the home team trailed, 28-18, much to the dismay of the matinee-going audience.

When things didnt change early in the second quarter, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau went with a rarely-used all-reserve lineup, though the backup Bobcats backcourt of Ramon Sessions (15 points) and former Bulls sixth-man extraordinaire Ben Gordon (15 points) wreaked havoc with their scoring ability. The burden fell upon Taj Gibson (eight points, nine rebounds) and Marco Belinelli to deliver and they helped the second unit make the Bulls deficit more manageable.

Gibsons energy on both ends, the solid interior play of backup center Nazr Mohammedin the game early for starter Joakim Noah for the second straight game, but not due to foul trouble this time aroundand poised minutes from rookie point guard Marquis Teague helped the Bulls stay within striking distance as the period waned on. Still, at the intermission, the Bulls were behind, 47-42.

After the break, Charlotte went on a 6-0 run to make it a double-digit affair again, prompting a Thibodeau timeout to restore order. While that didnt happen immediately, the Bulls, who, with the exception of Boozer, were mostly unable to score proficiently against their guests set defensewhile Nate Robinson (seven assists), starting in place of the sidelined Hinrich, made a concerted effort to get others involved, his strength is being a scoring point guard for the more offensively-challenged benchpushed the pace and manufactured scoring opportunities in transition.

Toward the end of the third quarter, the Bulls finally made more of an inroads and though they occasionally impeded their own progress with shaky free-throw shooting and inattentive defensive rebounding, the contest morphed into a close-knit affair late in the period. Propelled by the wing duo of Hamilton and Deng, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with the game knotted up at 65 apiece.

Charlotte upped the ante at the outset of the fourth quarter, this time going on a 10-0 run to create separation from the listless hosts, whose fans made their displeasure felt. The likes of Gordon, undersized big men Bismack Biyombo (11 rebounds) and Jeff Adrien (nine points, 10 rebounds) and the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker (18 points) and Gerald Henderson (16 points) were all part of the cast of characters that helped stake the Bobcats to a comfortable lead, as the Bulls struggled with ball-security issues, rebounding deficiency, lack of defensive intensity and overall malaise, made evident by Thibodeaus myriad substitutions, in search of an all-encompassing answer.

Despite implementing different lineups and the players on the court ratcheting up their collective sense of urgency, shots simply wouldnt drop and the defense couldnt get key stops against the Bobcats, as the Bulls once again faced a double-digit deficit, but with the game entering the stretch run, there wasnt enough time for a miraculous comeback run, even if they somehow managed to build the momentum. Incredibly, things got even worse as time ran out on the hosts, who were in the penalty and forced to send their guests to the foul line in an effort to stop the clock, but the damage had already been done early and the only positive that can be taken from the whole sordid affair is that perhaps things will be different in 2013.

Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

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Bears: Where does Kyle Fuller fit with Prince Amukamara back?

Prince Amukamara (ankle) is expected to make his 2017 regular season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers after being a full participant in practices Thursday and Friday (he wasn't listed on Friday's injury report). But that leads to the question: What does defensive coordinator Vic Fangio do with Kyle Fuller?

Fuller acquitted himself well in starts against the Atlanta Falcons — in which he helped limit Julio Jones to four catches on five targets — and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bears signed Amukamara to start opposite Marcus Cooper, but Fuller has at least earned the opportunity to keep his job — or a job — on Sunday. 

And it's worth noting that both Fuller and Amukamara are in contract years, so both should be motivated to not lose playing time going forward. 

“I was pleased with the waay Kyle played overall,” Fangio said. “There's obviously some plays he'd like to do over and play them a little better, but overall I thought he did a good job. I like where he's at right now.”

Fangio didn’t play Fuller as a nickel corner in 2015. But if the Bears want to get their best defensive players on the field could Fuller force his way into a nickel role with Amukamara and Cooper as the outside guys? 

That’s an especially pertinent question given Pittsburgh’s explosive trio of receivers: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

“No matter where a receiver lines up, it’s not going to be a down to take off,” Amukamara said. “We’re always going to have to have our ‘A’ game.”

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia's 'big head' isn't getting in the way of defensive improvements

Avisail Garcia's "big head" almost cost the White Sox on Friday night. At least, that's Reynaldo Lopez's humorous theory. 

With the game on the line and the Royals' tying run dashing for the plate, Garcia slipped a bit before making a clutch recovery to nail Whit Merrifield. The craziness continued after the tag as Narvaez caught Lorenzo Cain drifting off first base to seal a win. 

"I was watching the game on the TV here," Lopez said, "and then when I saw the hit from Cain, and I saw that Avi fell down because he has a big head, I was concerned but at the same time I saw that his throw, he has a good arm and he made a very good throw." 

Just your average 9-2-4-6 double play to end a game on the South Side, right? 

"Obviously, when he slipped we took a little gasp," Renteria said. "But we were talking about his body control to be able to maintain himself enough to get up and make the throw that he did. Unbelievable. It's pretty exciting finish to a ballgame that kind of got a little ugly early on."

Ugly is an apt way to describe the first few innings. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada both made errors in the Royals' six-run third inning, and Lopez capped it off with a wild pitch that allowed Eric Hosmer to score. But it went from an eyesore loss to an overzealous "we could make noise in 2019" rebuild win from there, and Garcia's defense -- of all things -- played a significant role. 

Garcia's outfield assist in the ninth was his second of the game. The first, an absolute strike to cut down Alex Gordon in the sixth, didn't involve a slip, though. 

And while much has been made of Garcia's breakout year with the bat, he believes his defense is hugely improved, too. 

"I think 100 percent," he said. "I just try to get better every day with hitting and defense. That’s baseball so get better in everything."

He has 12 outfield assists on the season, up from five a year ago. And despite his overall fielding percentage being down, his strong arm may give him a stronger defensive reputation. 

"Since last year, he's always had an excellent arm," Renteria said. "I think his accuracy is something to be pointed out too because as off balance as he was, he's made some throws to the plate that have been really spot on."

Renteria attributes Garcia's accuracy to the outfielder putting in extra time with Daryl Boston. 

"(Boston) has those guys throwing, and none of you guys are out there watching them work, but they'll throw quite a bit to the bases, especially second base," Renteria said. "They'll get deep and they'll work on doing that, so that's just a part of their routine."

The evolution of Avi carries on.