Bulls 109, Knicks 103: Julius Randle can’t do it alone as starters flop once again

knicks, julius randle

The New York Knicks had an opportunity to string together another victory against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday evening, but against a superior opponent, they were mostly stifled in what ended up being an incredibly competitive match-up. The Knicks had lost a few disappointing games in recent days, specifically against the Orlando Magic and barely scraping a win against the Houston Rockets on Friday, but a victory against a good team would’ve been a step in the right direction.

The Bulls currently set 12-5 on the season and have won six games at home, losing just two. The Knicks have had far more success playing away this season, but they were unable to overcome Chicago, despite a dominant performance from power forward Julius Randle.

Randle was incredible in the contest, posting 34 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and hitting 13-of-19 shots over 39 minutes. Randle only attempted two three-pointers. In fact, the entire starting team only attempted 11. Randle was the only starter to reach double-digit points, as RJ Barrett contributed 9, Evan Fournier 3, and Kemba Walker 7.

After a solid performance against Orlando where he shot 50% from three-point range and collected 19 points, Fournier posted three against Chicago, hitting 1-of-7 shots from the field and turning the ball over twice. Fournier‘s performance this year is seeming to be a massive disappointment after the front office gave him a four-year contract.

As a team, the Knicks totaled just 25.9% from deep and 41.7% from the field. They contributed 44 total rebounds, 32 defensive, and 12 offensive. They matched the Bulls in intensity, and Barrett surprisingly posted 15 rebounds on the evening. If the Knicks continue to post inconsistent three-point shooting, it will be incredibly difficult to beat quality teams. Chicago shot 37.9% from deep, and if Tom Thibodeau’s team would’ve matched that hit rate, they’d be walking away with a win.

Defensively, the Knicks were inconsistent, despite a dominant third-quarter that held the Bulls to just 21 points. They allowed three of Chicago’s starters to post double-digit points, including 31 from DeMar DeRozan and 21 from Zach LaVine, who missed all five of his three-point attempts.

Ultimately, an effective small ball strategy by the Bulls picked the Knicks apart, hitting several clutch shots down the stretch to give them an advantage. Once again, the game’s storyline is the starters for New York, who haven’t been playing well as of late. Julius was the only notable exception with his 34 points, but he can’t carry the load by himself.

New York Giants: Leonard Williams breaks down challenge of stopping Tom Brady

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

Stopping Tom Brady is one of the most important tasks for the New York Giants on Monday night. While it’s highly unlikely that the Giants completely shut Brady down, they do need to slow him down to some extent to have a chance against the Bucs. One of the players at the forefront of that challenge is Leonard Williams.

Williams was the team’s sack leader last season and currently has 5.5 sacks this season. The expectation is that he, and Azeez Ojulari, will be the main Giants to get after the quarterback.

Naturally, Williams’ past experience facing Tom Brady came up during Saturday’s media availability.

Leonard Williams speaks on facing Tom Brady

“Exactly like you said, he gets the ball out really fast,” Williams said when asked what facing Brady as a defensive lineman is like. “I’ve had a lot of frustration going against him most of my career. Even since I’ve been here, I’ve been playing him. Obviously, he’s a great quarterback, a Hall of Famer guy.”

Williams was, of course, drafted by the Jets and originally faced Brady as a division opponent. After Brady’s move to Tampa, Williams faced him again during the 2020 season with the Giants.

“He gets the ball out so fast that as a D-lineman you get frustrated, but you’ve got to just stay mentally locked in it, just keep rushing, don’t let it frustrate you. Then when you’re not getting home just get your hands up,” Williams elaborated further.

According to him, however, the Giants defenders can still make an impact without getting sacks directly.

“Also, if you’re not getting sacks and stuff like that, getting pressure on him in the middle affects him as well, so even if he feels bodies in front of him and if he has to move his feet at all it kind of affects him at times.”

Much of the focus leading into this game has been on whether the offense can exploit weaknesses in the Tampa defense, but coming out of a bye week, this one is just as much of a test for the Giants defenders.

Tampa, after all, is one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. Can the pass rush and secondary slow down Tom Brady enough for the Giants offense to even have a chance at winning? We’ll find out on Monday night, when the team finally returns to the field from their bye.

New York Giants have real chance at landing top-ten pick from Chicago Bears

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants are in an exciting and wild position. They currently hold two top-ten picks in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. Yet, the Giants are also only 1.5 games out of a playoff spot. The Chicago Bears lost their fifth game in a row today to the Baltimore Ravens, increasing the probability that the Giants can land a top-ten pick.

The Giants and Bears completed a trade during the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Giants traded down with the Bears so Chicago could draft Justin Fields. Meanwhile, the Giants drafted Kadarius Toney and acquired Chicago’s 2022 first-round draft pick.

If the season ended today, the 3-6 Giants would hold the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears are now 3-7, which would give the Giants the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Many optimistic Giants fans believe their team still has a chance of making the playoffs. The Giants got off to a slow start this year but have picked up some wins in recent weeks to give their fanbase some hope and keep the team in the hunt. Regardless of where the Giants finish the year, they still have a real chance of landing a top-ten pick in the draft, thanks to the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears draft pick

The Chicago Bears are on a five game losing streak with a 3-7 record. They have their easiest matchup of the season coming up this Thursday. On Thanksgiving, the Bears will face the 0-9-1 Detroit Lions. This could be the bounce back game for the Bears. Yet, it could also be the nail in the coffin if Detroit is able to earn its first win of the season.

The Detroit Lions are a winnable game for the Bears. However, every game after this week is going to be a tough matchup for Chicago:

  • Week 12: Detroit Lions (0-9-1)
  • Week 13: Arizona Cardinals (8-2)
  • Week 14: Green Bay Packers (8-3)
  • Week 15: Minnesota Vikings (5-5)
  • Week 16: Seattle Seahawks (3-6) *Russell Wilson back and healthy
  • Week 17: New York Giants (3-6)
  • Week 18: Minnesota Vikings (5-5)

The Bears will have to play three four divisional matchups in their final seven games. They will also have to face two of the current top-three seeded teams in the NFC. Additionally, the 3-6 Seahawks have just gotten Russell Wilson back from injury. These are all going to be difficult games for the 3-7 Chicago Bears.

The New York Giants will go into their Week 17 matchup against Chicago hoping to bury their opponent a tad deeper and gain a greater draft pick in April. Considering the rest of the Bears’ schedule, there seems to be a real chance that the Giants are going to be picking in the top ten next offseason.

Chicago Bears: Losing streak now at five games after latest loss

bears, matt nagy

What seemed to be a relatively competitive game for the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon got away very quickly in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Soldier Field. After failing to score on the first six possessions, the Bears finally managed to get on the board after wide receiver Darnell Mooney scored a 60-yard touchdown with just 8:12 remaining in the third quarter.

With rookie quarterback Justin Fields leaving the game due to an injury and then being ruled out, the Bears were forced to turn to veteran Andy Dalton, who tossed two second-half touchdowns, including a 49-yard pass touchdown to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on 4th-and-11.

Veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn, who is in the second year of a five-year $70M contract signed in 2020 made an impact all afternoon. With Khalil Mack sidelined for the remainder of the year due to a foot injury, Quinn totaled five tackles, 3.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits, making his presence felt from the beginning.

Currently, in the middle of a five-game losing streak, the Bears’ final seven opponents will be against NFC teams. However, this latest loss to the Ravens stings merely because Chicago seemed to be in the game until the very final possession when Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley connected with wide receiver Sammy Watkins for a 29-yard gain with just 33 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. From there, running back Devonta Freeman scored a three-yard rushing touchdown to give Baltimore the lead.

Despite being shorthanded with no Allen Robinson, Eddie Jackson, or Akiem Hicks, the Bears did all a three-win team could to try and stay competitive but ultimately, a missed field goal in the first half by kicker Cairo Santos and an inability to execute in key situations made the difference in the Bears latest loss. With the Bears scheduled to play in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, the opportunity to snap a five-game losing streak presents itself.

Knicks: Evan Fournier claims Nerlens Noel is better than Rudy Gobert in one aspect

Nerlens Noel made a timely return for the New York Knicks from his knee injury Saturday afternoon as Mitchell Robinson went down with a head concussion.

Noel produced only two points on two free throws, but his impact was more pronounced on the defensive end with six rebounds and three shot blocks. His huge block on Christian Wood ignited a 9-2 Knicks run in the fourth quarter that transformed an 89-86 deficit into a 95-91 lead. The Knicks never looked back and pulled away for a 107-99 win that improved their record to 9-7 and 4-5 at home.

“Nerlens gives you elite rim protection, great decision-making. [He’s] a multiple-effort guy. So you couldn’t ask for anything more from your center,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He doesn’t give up on plays. He doesn’t give in. So that’s huge.”

Evan Fournier, who broke out of his shooting slump with 19 points, can’t help but marvel at Noel’s elite defense. Fournier had played with All-Star centers Nikola Vucevic with the Orlando Magic and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert with the France national team. But Noel, he said, is better than Gobert in one aspect on the defensive end.

“Nerls is different defensively against any other big [men] I’ve played with,” Fournier said, “in a sense that he’s really able to impact the ball on a pick and roll with his quick hands. He’s very fast so he can recover to the big that’s actually behind him. So he’s very different.”

“When I think about it, even Rudy (Gobert) when I played with him in the [France] national team, you know he’s actually in the paint. He’s not necessarily up to the task like Nerls can do. [Nerlens] has a special talent on that end. It’s glad to have him back.”

In the last playoffs, Gobert’s perimeter defense, or lack of it, was exposed when the Utah Jazz fell to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.

Last season, Noel did not receive any votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race despite averaging a league-third best 2.2 blocks and 1.1 steals. The Knicks re-signed Noel to a $32 million, three-year deal with the last year as a team option despite the snub.

But an assortment of injuries from hip to knees has limited Noel to just five games this season, and he had another close call against the Rockets when he received an elbow from Wood in the third quarter.

With a bloodied mouth, Noel proved sturdy and wound up playing 29 minutes. He welcomed the physicality in his return.

“It’s the way basketball should be played in some sense,” Noel said. “Just being able to play and not worry about the whistle. There’s definitely a level that you have to match as well. So, we just got to know what we’re getting into every night.”

Noel will have a challenging task in the second night of a back-to-back schedule as the Knicks flew to Chicago without Robinson while Taj Gibson is still questionable to play due to a sore groin. Even without Vucevic (out due to health and safety protocols), the Bulls thrived backup center Tony Bradley, who is producing 5.4 points and 5.6 rebounds as a fill-in starter.

Noel will have his hands full guarding the pick and roll and providing elite rim protection on Sunday night in Chicago. The Bulls employ the deadly pick and roll duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, who combine for at least 16 points off those game actions. DeRozan ranks 10th in the league in pick and roll possessions with 9.1 per game, while LaVine is not that far behind with 8.1 per game.

Noel needs to replicate or better his effort in the Knicks’ gut-wrenching win over the Rockets. The 6-foot-10 beanpole center impacted the game on both ends of the floor. He did little things that contributed to the win, like setting screens that helped Alec Burks shoot a career-high-tying six three-pointers.

“Me and AB (Burks), there’s no pick and roll [tandem] like us,” said Noel while seated beside Burks in the postgame interview. “I just have the mindset of setting screens. Don’t change anything. Whatever you need me to do, I’m just gonna do what I have to do and read the game.”

With the Knicks’ frontline getting thinner again, Noel’s health will be crucial as well. But the eight-year veteran center said his knee was in a decent place.

“It wasn’t the best place but I felt good enough to go out there and give what I had,” he explained. “It felt great [to be back]. I have far too much anxiety just sitting there watching as much as I have. I really want to be out there with my guys.”

The Knicks’ frontline situation bears watching as they enter a brutal stretch in their schedule where they will play their next 12 games against playoff contenders, starting with the Bulls.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Julius Randle helps Evan Fournier to get back on track

knicks, julius randle, evan fournier

It was an ugly win against the league’s worst team, but the New York Knicks may have found something to build on in their ongoing quest to fix their starting lineup’s chemistry issues.

A day after Evan Fournier put his dwindling playing time and recent fourth-quarter benching into perspective, the Knicks’ acknowledged leader Julius Randle got his message.

“We always say that we want the game to tell you what to do. Make the right plays. I don’t want them pre-determined ‘I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna shoot 15 times.’ If he’s open, I don’t want [Evan] hesitating. I don’t think all his teammates do either,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks dodged a bullet from the Houston Rockets, the league’s worst team.

“We all have a lot of confidence in his shooting. The question becomes ‘how can we help each other get better?’ And I thought Julius made a conscious effort to get him shots.”

True enough, Randle tracked Fournier throughout the game to get him not just shots but rhythm shots.

Fournier fired 19 points, 11 of them coming off Randle’s assists. Randle made 19 passes — the second-most he dished out to a teammate next to 27 to Kemba Walker. Seven of those passes resulted in a shot attempt, and Fournier converted four of them, accounting for 44.4 percent of Randle’s game-high nine assists.

In return, Fournier made 15 passes to Randle, which resulted in three looks at the basket. Randle made 1 of 3 out of those Fournier’s intended assist. It was the most number of passes Fournier made to a teammate. His next best passing partner, Kemba Walker, only received six passes.

“It will get better as we go. I thought it was very good. They made a number of really good plays. I thought they played off each extremely well. The more they do it, the better they get at it,” Thibodeau said of the Randle-Fournier two-man game.

It was a step in the right direction for the Randle-Fournier partnership, which was expected to be better than the Randle-Reggie Bullock tandem last season.

Thanks to Randle’s timely assist, Fournier finally snapped out of his November shooting slump and regained his fourth-quarter minutes. While Fournier scored only two points on 1 of 3 shooting in more than five minutes of playing time in the fourth quarter, his activity off the ball created opportunities for the Knicks.

Fournier’s pick and roll with Randle led to Alec Burks’ huge three-pointer that allowed the Knicks to pull away in the final three minutes.

“It’s fun to play in the fourth quarter. But to be honest, this is what I expect,” Fournier said. “I know what I am capable of and what I can bring so I have to make sure I play really well during those minutes that I have and hopefully, things are gonna go well. But as long as we win and we play well, that’s all that matters.”

Fournier sank 5 of 10 three-pointers and matched his scoring total over his last four games, entering Saturday’s game. His best stretch came in the second quarter, where he scattered 11 points. Fournier re-entered the game, replacing Burks with 5:41 left before halftime and the Knicks trailing. Fournier quickly made his presence felt, and his scoring binge gave the Knicks a five-point lead, 47-42 before the Rockets came back to tie it before the break.

“It felt pretty good. It’s been two, three games now that we have better ball movement. Like we have a better overall better body language out there, more rhythm. We can all benefit from it. For [us] starters, it’s really catching that rhythm that we had early on,” Fournier said.

It was a remarkable recovery from one of the worst starts of the Knicks under Thibodeau, where the starters combined to shoot 5 for 20 for just 13 points in the opening quarter.

While Fournier said practices are mostly confined in the film room more than five-on-five scrimmages, the starters are conscious of their recent on-court struggles and have been very vocal about it.

“We’ve been communicating a lot. All five of us, trying to really get ourselves going because obviously, we’re gonna need to play well if we’re gonna have a good season. We all want to do well and we all want to win,” Fournier said. “Talking is one thing, but we need action. And I thought like I said, those two, three games were better. It’s not where we want by any means but I think we’re getting there.”

Sunday’s rematch with the Chicago Bulls, who they beat in a 104-103 squeaker earlier, will provide an acid test on this newfound chemistry.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks battling early-season injury woes among their big men

nerlens nowl, knicks

The New York Knicks have played in 16 games this season, coming off a suspect victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday evening, the worst team in basketball. Winning by seven points doesn’t tell the full story of this contest, as the Knicks trails for a healthy portion, giving Houston far too many opportunities to stick in the game and potentially extract a victory.

Despite the starters underperforming lately, the Knicks have been dealing with issues among their big men. Health has been a problem early in the season, despite Mitchell Robinson featuring in 15 of their 16 games so far. He’s averaged 7.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and connected on 81% of his shots from the field.

However, teammate Nerlens Noel has played in just five games, missing the first few due to right knee soreness. Noel re-injured the knee against Philadelphia, playing in just 12 minutes before going down and missing four consecutive games until his return against Houston. He posted two points, three blocks, and six rebounds over 29 minutes, a healthy sample size of action. Noel signed a lucrative three-year, $27.7 million extension to serve as the team’s shot-blocking backup this past off-season.

“My knee was in a decent place. Wasn’t the best place but you know I felt good enough to get out there and give what I have,” Noel said. “My wind, I feel good about [Sunday]. I’m looking forward to it.”

Noel pushed through the pain and played anyway against the Rockets, and the Knicks desperately needed him with Gibson also dealing with a groin injury he suffered against Orlando Magic on Wednesday. Gibson has missed six games this season, with two DNPs included.

The Knicks are struggling in one crucial category as a result of injuries:

The Knicks have had their fair share of struggles in the rebounding category this year, earning 45.4 per game, good for 17th in the NBA. They rank 14th in offensive rebounds per game with 10.3 but impressively sit at 2nd with 6.3 blocks per contest. The presence of both Robinson and Noel is significant to the team’s success, so getting both healthy and in rhythm is a priority moving forward.

Despite their defensive prowess, the team lacks a scoring big man like Myles Turner, who can launch three-point shots and connect without much resistance. The front office may target a player like Turner at the deadline, given any are available.

Yankees News: Oakland looking to deal Matt Olson, but asking price is astronomical

yankees, matt olson

It’s not very often a player like Oakland Athletics star first baseman Matt Olson becomes available via trade two years before he’s eligible to hit free agency. The New York Yankees have been speaking with Oakland about a potential deal, but reports have indicated that the Athletics are seeking a monstrous package in compensation for arguably their best player.

Olson finished the 2021 season with a .271 average, 39 homers, and 111 RBIs. Olson has historically been an extremely healthy player, and coming off his best season with a career low 16.8% strikeout rate and 13.1% walk rate, he is one of the best first baseman in baseball, providing the Yankees an opportunity to upgrade a spot in flux for years.

There is still a good chance GM Brian Cashman extends Anthony Rizzo, retaining his lefty bat and providing the order with more diversity. The Yankees can’t afford to inject another right-handed hitter into their lineup, especially with Brett Gardner on his way out and Aaron Hicks proving to be unreliable.

While Olson is a star offensive player, he’s also a quality defender, winning a Gold Glove in 2019 and ranking 8th an MVP voting this past season. His lowest fielding percentage was back in 2019 with a .993, the season he won the GG. He allowed just six errors in 1,338.0 innings this past season, far better than the sample size Luke Voit contributed as a starter.

If the Athletics are truly aiming for the moon, they could be asking for one of the Yankees’ star young prospects, Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza. They could also be inquiring about Jasson Dominguez, a player that Cashman would be foolish to let go so early in his development. Given how talented Olson is, it is not surprising that Oakland is asking for such a hefty price tag, but the Yankees need to stick to their guns and not overspend when they have such exciting young talent waiting in the wings representing the future of the organization.

Mets will take their time to hire the right manager, per new GM

The New York Mets recently welcomed their new general manager, Billy Eppler, after a long search that included no less than 10 candidates. He has extensive scouting experience and was the GM of the Los Angeles Angels from 2015 to 2020.

One of Eppler’s first things to do in his new position is finding a new manager to lead the Mets “for years to come”. Asked whether he would prefer a skipper with more analytics-based thinking or an old-schooler, he said:

“I’d love to find somebody that checks every single box and is great in all areas. It’s interesting that you bring it up, because over this past year just learning and reading and kind of re-thinking some of the ways that you approach things, I wanted to be able to sit down with the senior baseball ops group, and then sit down with Steve [Cohen] and Sandy [Alderson] and kind of all collectively talk about what kind of criteria we think might be important for the next manager of the Mets.

“I have a little bit of my own feeling on that, but I’d rather hold back on giving exactly what that criteria is at this moment in time because I want to have the group engaged. And get a sense of, do you value, for example, tactical in-game management as your primary criteria or primary element? Do you value analytic in-game probabilistic thinking as your No. 1 criteria? Or your ability to connect with the media and fan base, obviously that’s critical, and clubhouse culture.

The Mets are considering at least five names

SNY reported that the Mets are currently considering at least five names: Brad Ausmus, Joe Espada, Eric Chavez, John Farrell, and Buck Showalter.

However, Eppler told media over the weekend that he doesn’t anticipate a quick resolution, and thinks the Mets will take their time to pick the manager that will replace Luis Rojas.

“As far as the manager process, I don’t expect it to be done overnight or even be done in the next week,” Eppler said. “I know we’re about to embark on a holiday week. Starting to have those conversations and carve out time each day to meeting a candidate, I think could be done simultaneously, just as you manage your time.”

Yankees News: How much did Brian Cashman offer Justin Verlander, Aaron Judge extension incoming

aaron judge, yankees

The New York Yankees have two priorities this off-season, acquiring a top shortstop and adding to their starting pitching rotation. General manager Brian Cashman made it apparent that a deal with a shortstop could happen any day, and they were recently in the hunt for Houston ace Justin Verlander.

Verlander hasn’t pitched since 2019, coming off Tommy John surgery. During his most recent campaign, he logged a 2.58 ERA with an 88.4% left on-base percentage. However, despite the pursuit from Cashman, the Houston Astros managed to retain one of their best pitchers on a two-year, $50 million deal with an optional second season.

The Yankees did their best to acquire his services, offering a one-year, $25 million deal straight up, but Houston essentially gave him an extra year of leverage, even if he struggles considerably after surgery. Cashman wasn’t willing to take that big of a risk with money tied up in multiple spots and a massive extension for Aaron Judge waiting in the wings.

There are a few other opportunities he can explore, including a potential trade for Cincinnati Reds star pitcher Luis Castillo. There are free agents on the market that could fit the bill, including Robbie Ray, so we should keep an eye on the market to see how it fluctuates in the coming weeks. The Yankees will find a solution at the top of their rotation, and we know they’re willing to spend $25 million on a top option.

Yankees are preparing to begin contract extension talks with Aaron judge this winter:

“We’ll have to have conversations about a one- or a more multi-year-level deal,” Cashman said. “We’re essentially a season away from free agency, so we’ll have to have conversations with Aaron Judge’s representation. But obviously he’s been a great Yankee and he’s certainly impacted us in such a positive way for quite a long time, so it’d be nice to keep it going.”

Judge has dealt with his fair share of injuries throughout his career, but he is an elite defender with one of the best arms in baseball. This past season, he showcased how dominant he can be when consistently healthy, playing in 148 games. He posted a career-best .287 batting average with 39 homers and 98 RBIs. Judge looked like one of the best players in baseball this season, and if they get that same version in 2022, the Yankees will be looking to extend him on a long-term deal at just 29-years-old.
Judge has already expressed his desire to play the rest of his career in pinstripes, and after pacing the club in most offensive categories this year, Cashman would be foolish to let him walk next free agency period.