Kings in Chicago to face East's best

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Kings in Chicago to face East's best

March 21, 2011

KINGS (17-51) vs.
BULLS (49-19)

Coverage begins at 5 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Bulls are known for playing tough defense under coach Tom Thibodeau.

That trait was virtually nonexistent for much of the Bulls' last game, however, and that led to their first loss in more than two weeks.

A much stronger defensive effort should be expected Monday night as Chicago looks to bounce back against the lowly Sacramento Kings at the United Center, where the Bulls have won 12 in a row.

RELATED: NBA conference standings

Chicago (49-19), tied with Boston for the Eastern Conference's best record, is first in the league in scoring defense at 91.0 points, but had a sloppy defensive performance in Friday's 115-108 overtime loss to Indiana, snapping an eight-game winning streak. The Bulls surrendered 62 first-half points after allowing fewer than that through three quarters in each of their previous two games.

"We've got to do a lot better," Thibodeau said. "This is a step backwards. We've got to come out ready to play."

Despite the sloppy first-half showing, Chicago, playing without Carlos Boozer for a fifth straight game, managed to force overtime by limiting the Pacers to 13 fourth-quarter points.

"The only quarter we played defense was the fourth," Thibodeau said. "So you usually get what you deserve."

A sensational performance by Derrick Rose also helped send the game to overtime.

The two-time All-Star scored 19 of his career high-tying 42 points in the fourth, made three free throws with 1.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the score and then blocked a shot to force overtime.

Despite Rose's heroics, Thibodeau was still upset with his team's effort, as Chicago fell to 3-13 when allowing opponents to hit the century mark.

When the Bulls play sound defense they usually win, going 42-2 when allowing fewer than 96 points.

Chicago also usually prevails when it takes the court at the United Center.

The Bulls, an East-best 30-4 at home, haven't lost in Chicago since falling to Charlotte by one point on Jan. 18, their only blemish in their last 21 games at the United Center. The 12-game home winning streak is Chicago's longest since a 17-game run during its 1997-98 championship season.

Similarly to Friday, the Bulls used a stellar defensive effort late against the Kings on Nov. 27, limiting them to nine fourth-quarter points in a 96-85 win, their fourth victory in five meetings.

Also like Friday, Rose carried Chicago, finishing with 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Boozer sat out with a broken right hand.

Luol Deng also had a strong game, as he usually does against Sacramento, finishing with 22 points and nine rebounds. In six games against the Kings since 2006-07, Deng is averaging 22.2 points, his highest against any opponent.

The Kings (17-51) arrive in Chicago after opening a five-game road trip with a 127-95 win over Minnesota on Sunday in a matchup of the West's worst teams.

REWIND: Dalembert, Thornton lead Kings to rout of Wolves

Rookie DeMarcus Cousins was ejected in the third quarter after shoving Martell Webster, but Sacramento went on a 21-0 run without him. Samuel Dalembert had 26 points and 17 rebounds and Marcus Thornton added 23 points to help the Kings bounce back from Friday's 102-80 loss to Philadelphia and win for just the second time in 10 games this month.

"We had our worst game of the year last game and our guys responded extremely well," Paul Westphal said. "I was happy for the effort."

Building on this performance and winning back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 28 and 29 could be tough against a Chicago team that hasn't lost two in a row since Feb. 5 and 7.

Giants Notes: Span feeling better, hopes to return to lineup Wednesday

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Giants Notes: Span feeling better, hopes to return to lineup Wednesday

CHICAGO -- Joe Panik's leadoff homer in the series opener was a jolt, but the Giants are a much more dangerous offense when Denard Span is clicking atop the lineup, a spot ahead of Panik, and they hope to have that duo going Wednesday. Span got treatment all day Tuesday and said he could return to the lineup against Kyle Hendricks. 

"The swelling has gone down," Span said of his sprained left thumb. "The thing to do is to come in tomorrow, test it out, and if it feels good, you strap it on."

Span said an X-ray came back clean, but he didn't grab a bat Tuesday to test the thumb, focusing instead on treatment. He is batting .326 in nine games since coming off the DL. His replacement in center this week, Gorkys Hernandez, was 0-for-3 against Jon Lester, lowering his average to .160. 

--- The main story from the second game of this series: Johnny Cueto is now dealing with a second blister, and you can see the lack of movement on his pitches. The Cubs took advantage. Lester didn't need much help while throwing a 99-pitch complete game in two hours and five minutes. 

"He threw a lot more changeups than we've seen in the past," Buster Posey said. "He's shown it in the past but tonight he had good command of it. It wasn't just a show-me pitch. He used it a lot and threw it to lefties as well.

Posey twice grounded short rollers in front of the plate.

--- Posey's throw to nab Javy Baez on Monday was one of the best of the year, and on Tuesday afternoon, Bruce Bochy said, "If he's given a chance, I don't think there's anyone better in the game." That might be true, but Willson Contreras is threatening to get into the conversation. He threw an 85 mph rocket to second in the fifth to nab Eduardo Nuñez. If you're wondering how Lester -- who flat-out has the yips about throwing to first base and doesn't do it -- has allowed just six stolen bases this season, look no further than his young catcher. Long-term, Contreras is the guy I would expect to compete with Posey for Gold Gloves. 

"Nuney, with his speed, can go," Bochy said. "Their catcher made a great throw. Put it right on the money."

--- From before Tuesday's game, what do the relievers think of the new hidden bullpen at Wrigley? And if you missed the Power Rankings the other day, the records are outdated, but there are updates in here on old friends Matt Duffy, Chris Heston, Tommy Joseph, Adalberto Mejia, Yusmeiro Petit and others. Petit in particular is incredible ... just keeps doing his thing. 

--- This play was made by the shortstop. That's good for the old UZR.

Irving fuels Game 4 comeback, Cavs take 3-1 lead over Celtics

Irving fuels Game 4 comeback, Cavs take 3-1 lead over Celtics

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving gritted his teeth, tightened up his left sneaker and hopped to his feet.

The pain didn't stop him. The Celtics didn't either.

Irving took over in the second half and finished with 42 points, LeBron James added 34 and the Cleveland Cavaliers moved within one win of an almost inevitable third date in the Finals with Golden State by rallying to beat Boston 112-99 on Tuesday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

With James in foul trouble, Irving stayed on the floor despite rolling his left ankle in the third quarter, when he scored 19 points in less than five minutes.

"He put us on his back and carried us," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

The defending NBA champions, who shot 71 percent in the second half to open a 3-1 lead in the series, can wrap up their third straight conference title - and a "three-match" against the Warriors - with a win in Game 5 on Thursday night in Boston.

But if Games 3 and 4 are any indication, it won't be easy.

Fighting to keep their season alive, the Celtics aren't giving an inch despite playing without All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, who may need surgery on a hip injury.

The Cavs, meanwhile, wouldn't be on the cusp of the Finals without Irving.

With Cleveland in jeopardy of dropping its second game in a row after James followed an 11-point Game 3 by picking up four first-half fouls, Irving put on a breathtaking one-man show in the third quarter.

Freezing Boston defenders with his dribble and driving to the basket whenever he wanted, Irving made six layups, two 3-pointers and a free throw in a dizzying span of 4:48. He capped his blistering 19-point outburst with a 3 in the final second of the quarter and celebrated at mid-court by pretending to put two pistols back in his holster.

"Coming out of halftime I just wanted to be aggressive, lead my guys and leave it all out there on the floor," Irving said.

When the horn sounded to end the third, Cleveland's players poured off the bench to greet him. They had to be careful not to knock him off his feet after Irving had put a scare through the frenzied Quicken Loans Arena crowd moments earlier when he stepped on the foot of Boston's Terry Rozier.

Irving stayed on the floor for several seconds before sitting up and re-tying his sneaker. Nothing was keeping him out.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was disappointed with his team's defense on Irving, who was able to spread the floor while surrounded by shooters.

"There's choices," Stevens said. "I'm not sure there are good choices. When he gets going like that, he's tough to stop. The ones we gotta look at are the ones he got at the rim."

Kevin Love added 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Cavs, now 11-1 in the postseason.

Avery Bradley scored 19 and Jae Crowder 18 for Boston.

Lue chuckled before the game when he was asked if he planned to say anything to James following his sub-standard performance in Game 3.

"No message," Lue said. "Just come out, be aggressive, in attack mode like he has been over the last four or five months. Nothing has changed."

Lue should have warned James to be careful, too, as the superstar picked up four fouls and spent the final 6:46 of the first half watching from the bench, unable to help his team.

But beyond James' foul trouble, the Cavs were having other issues as the Celtics outplayed them at both ends while opening a 16-point lead.

Irving kept Cleveland within striking distance while James was out by scoring 12 points over the final 5:11 of the second quarter.

And in the third quarter, the All-Star guard had James' back again, keeping the Cavs on their collision course with the Warriors.

TIP-INS:
Celtics: Thomas spoke to coach Brad Stevens and told him that he has visited one hip specialist and plans to see more before it's decided if he needs surgery. Thomas initially injured his hip in March and played the final two months of the regular season before aggravating it during the playoffs. ... Stevens started Kelly Olynyk, who had 15 points. ... Before the playoffs began, the Celtics were 22-5 at home since Jan. 1. They're 5-4 in the postseason so far.

Cavaliers: Irving scored 41 in Game 5 of last year's Finals. ... J.R. Smith and his wife, Jewel, brought their daughter home after more than five months in the hospital following her premature birth. Smith posted photos on his Instagram account of the couple leaving Hillcrest Hospital with their baby in a stroller. "We Walked In Together We Walked Out Together!!" Smith wrote. ... Deron Williams played 18 minutes after sustaining a shoulder "stinger" in Game 3.

UP NEXT:
The Celtics lost Game 2 at home by 44 and the first two games of the series by a combined 57.