Fire's Berry to make MLS debut vs. Chivas USA

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Fire's Berry to make MLS debut vs. Chivas USA

The Fire will have a new face in its lineup Friday night when it takes on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. Austin Berry will man a central defenders spot while making his debut in Major League Soccer.

Berry might seem a liability as the Fire (2-2-2) tries to recover from last Saturdays 2-1 home loss to the Seattle Sounders. He was the Fires first-round selection in Januarys MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Louisville and the only reasons hes playing is because Cory Gibbs is recovering from knee surgery and Jalil Anibaba is serving a one-game suspension.

Still, Berry feels hes ready for his first big chance as a pro player.

"I had a strong preseason, and Im getting better every day," he said following a training session in Bridgeview this week. "I feel confident."

Experience-wise, of course, he lacking. Berry has played only in three reserve team matches and a friendly against his college team since coach Frank Klopas finalized his regular season roster. Berry, though, feels hes better prepared than it might seem.

"In college I had some opportunities to train with teams at the next level, so that made me sure about what it would be like," said Berry, "so there were no surprises for me. I knew what I had to work on."

A three-sport athlete in high school, Berry became a student of soccer while at Louisville and was invited to train with the Fire Premier Development side as well as stints with the Columbus Crew, Portland Timbers and Sounders of MLS and a club in Sweden.

"All those 10-day training sessions were good preparation for me before stepping into this preseason," said Berry, "and just being out (at Fire training) every day has helped my technical ability. But its not just technical ability, its making the right decisions on the field."

Berrys biggest adjustment was to the faster speed of play in MLS, and he believes playing beside German veteran Arne Freidrich will ease his transition to MLS game action on Friday.

"Organization and communication have always been one of my strong suits," said Berry, "and itll help having Arne beside me. Hes a world-class player whos big on communication."

With Klopas unable to communicate with the club while at the Home Depot Center (he will make the trip with the club to Los Angeles), the Fire will be coached by assistants Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich on game day. Both are former Chivas USA assistant coaches, having worked with that club when Preki was its head coach.

Chivas USA (3-5-0) is coming off a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids last Saturday. The Goats, as the team is called, has a defender, Rauwshaun McKenzie, who grew up in the Chicago area and played for Chicago Fire Premier in 2007. Orr Barouch, a Fire reserve, was with Chivas in a similar development program before turning pro with Mexican club Tigres prior to being acquired by the Fire.

The match with Chivas USA will be the first of six MLS tests for the Fire in May, and the teams first game in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will be on May 29, with the opponent and site yet to be determined.

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

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AP

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

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.

Northwestern's sluggish stretch continues with loss at Indiana, how does it affect NCAA tournament hopes?

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AP

Northwestern's sluggish stretch continues with loss at Indiana, how does it affect NCAA tournament hopes?

On the verge of being in the NCAA tournament isn't the same as being in the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern has fans sweating as what looked like a surefire first-time trip to the Big Dance is getting increasingly bubblicious with each game.

The Wildcats are in some kind of a rut at the worst possible time, with losses in five of their last seven games. It's a stretch that could potentially take them from what seemed to be "lock" status to the bouncy NCAA tournament bubble real quick.

The latest blow to Northwestern's chances came Saturday night in Bloomington, with Indiana stealing a 63-62 victory in an odd game.

The Cats looked good through the middle part of the first half, finally getting some offensive contributions from Scottie Lindsey in the leading scorer's third game back from a four-game absence. Lindsey scored nine first-half points, getting a pair of steals that turned into breakaway dunks and knocking down a 3-pointer. Everything seemed to be clicking for Northwestern, which built a 12-point lead, before Indiana exploded on a 22-0 run to close the first half. That stretch featured four 3-pointers, including Devonte Green's half-court, buzzer-beating heave that will make all the highlight shows.

The Cats, though, responded, dominating for much of the second half. A 10-point halftime deficit was long gone thanks to Northwestern outscoring Indiana by a 23-6 margin through the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Cats' defense kept the Hoosiers to just three made baskets during that time. Northwestern held onto its lead, though Indiana did start to chip away. Still the Cats were ahead by eight with three minutes to play thanks to a big Bryant McIntosh banked-in 3-pointer.

A McIntosh free throw with 93 seconds left made it a seven-point game, but the Hoosiers scored the next eight points, clamping down on the defensive end and taking advantage of the Cats' misses at the ends of uneventful possessions. James Blackmon Jr.'s 3-pointer made it a two-point game with 38 seconds left, and after another empty Northwestern possession, Thomas Bryant got a game-tying dunk at the other end. Lindsey fouled Bryant on the play, and the Indiana center got a fortunate bounce on the free throw, giving the Hoosiers a one-point lead with two seconds left. McIntosh's half-court shot hit the rim but didn't fall, and the Cats lost in agonizing fashion.

Northwestern held a nine-point scoring advantage after halftime, but it was just barely not enough. The Cats shot 39 percent from the field on the game and were 4-for-18 from 3-point range. Northwestern scored 16 points off 16 Indiana turnovers, but the Hoosiers won on the boards and had a 21-7 edge in bench scoring.

McIntosh finished with 22 points, though he was 8-for-18 from the field. Lindsey had 13 points but was 6-for-15. Dererk Pardon had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Vic Law again struggled, scoring just four points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Though not allowing that 22-0 run would have been the best way to avoid defeat, a lot of attention will be paid to Lindsey's mental error of fouling Bryant in the game's final seconds. Northwestern has talked all year long about this year being different, how this team has found a way to win — or perhaps a way not to lose — the close games they've lost in years past. But this looked more similar to that type of outcome, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

There are just two games remaining on the regular-season schedule for the Cats: two home games against Michigan and Purdue. The Wolverines are hot, playing as well as just about anyone in the Big Ten right now after scoring a double-digit win over the Boilermakers on Saturday. The Boilers are still in first place in the conference standings. The next two games present an incredible challenge for a Northwestern team that's having trouble finding its footing at season's end.

Did Saturday's loss cost Northwestern a spot in the NCAA tournament field? According to the bracket-projection people, the Cats' spot has been secure since the win at Wisconsin. Even this week's loss at Illinois was followed by a video from ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi in which he assured Northwestern fans that the Cats would be going dancing.

But this has the potential to be a crash-and-burn finish to the regular season. Should games against Michigan and Purdue end in losses, Northwestern would be looking at a four-game losing streak with losses in seven of its last nine games. That would put an incredible amount of pressure on the team's trip to Washington for the Big Ten Tournament if the Cats are sitting on the bubble a week and a half from now.

Northwestern is still looking for its school-record 21st win. For a long while during the second half Saturday, it looked like it would come in Bloomington. Then it didn't.

For a long while, it's looked like Northwestern would get into the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, too.