Lessons Learned From Sunday’s Clásico

Inside a Camp Nou with over 90,000 fans & to over 400 million viewers world wide, the always crucial Clásico did not disappoint. In what was an extremely competive and contested match, FC Barcelona came out with a 2-1 win over arch rivals Real Madrid to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga Table. Here are some of the take aways we can draw from the match.  

 

1- Defense for both sides is what ultimately decided who took the 3 points. 

The defense of both sides was the most important part of the game. Real Madrid’s back line had many crucial errors and an overall lack of discipline. The first mistake came early in the first half, when Sergio Ramos let Jeremy Mathieu escape from his mark and connect with a Lionel Messi cross to head home and give Barça a 1-0 lead. Then in the second goal, Ramos again commited a mistake. He allowed himself to fall back behind Pepe and the rest of the defensive line to allow Suarez to not be marked offside and latch onto a deep pass from Dani Alves. Pepe then could not accurately calculate Suarez’ run, in an attempt to get a hold of the Uruguayan’s shot, which would end up to be Barcelona’s second. Aside from this, both Pepe and Ramos were booked for unnecessary fouls from behind. Carvajal was also shown yellow for a needless tackle. Towards the end of the match, referee Mateu Lahoz seemed to almost pity the Madrid defense, as more fouls were committed by the Madrid back line that easily could have been worthy of another yellow and therefore, ejection from the match. 

Barcelona’s defense on the contrary was impeccable. Gerard Pique was an absolute rock, dismissing any danger that would come from Ronaldo and co with crucial and accurate tackles. Jeremy Mathieu also made important challenges, as well as providing the Catalan club’s first goal. Dani Alves kept Ronaldo quiet for grand part of the match and provided the assist for Barça’s second goal.   

Luis Suarez easily beats both Ramos and Pepe to put Barcelona up 2-1.

2- Karim Benzema & Luka Modrić are extremely influential. 

Benzema & Modrić were arguably Madrid’s best players on the field. The Frenchman may not have scored, but time and time again he challenged Barcelona’s back four, and easily played through the midfield when needed. Also, he gave the assist to Ronaldo’s goal. Modrić commanded the midfield, connecting well with Madrid’s other offensive weapons, as well as making key passes such as the one to Benzema to set up the Ronaldo goal. Both players looked alive throughout the match, & were a big reason Madrid completely dominated the first half. If the two players take advantage of the international break coming up, they can continue their good form and help influence Madrid’s attack force.  

 

3- La Liga is now Barcelona’s to lose. 

The outcome of this Clasico would have a huge impact on this seasons La Liga campaign. Should Madrid have won, they could have gone ahead of Barça by 2 points. Instead, they failed to take advantage of an excellent first half and let Barcelona stay in first place, now ahead by 4 points. With 10 games left in the season, Madrid will be hoping that Barcelona can slip up and lose points, with the Blaugrana having important matches later on in La Liga with Valencia, Atletico Madrid, & Real Sociedad. However, if the Catalan club can keep their composure and not let the Clasico win get to their heads, they should be able to close the season fine & end up as champions.  

Barcelona players celebrate Suarez’ goal.

4- Both sides can really challenge for the Champions League. 

Of course Real Madrid and Barcelona should always be considered candidates to win the UEFA Champions League. However, this game showed each side is extremely capable to chalenge favorites Bayern Munich to the title. Real Madrid dominated the first half, while Barcelona dominated the second. Although neither team was able to produce a full 90 minutes of good play, each side showed how dangerous they are in their respective half. If the two can play at the level they did in the 45 minutes they each claimed, it will extremely hard for any of the remaining teams to beat them.  

 

Conclusion 

It will be interesting to see how both teams finish up the season. A lot could still happen, so we’ll have to see if either one commits errors and makes the title race go on towards the very last few games. Let us know what you think in the comments below, share with friends, & follow FortOnSports on Twitter. 

One Step Closer To Berlin 

  

After weeks of a dramatic Round of 16 stage, the UEFA Champions League quarter finals have been set. The pretenders are now seperated from contenders, leaving players, coaching staffs, as well as fans aching for April to come. 

The first leg of each tie will be held on the 14th & 15th of April, while the second will be a week later on the 21st & 22nd. Here are the matches that we will be seeing 

  • Paris St. Germain (FRA) vs FC Barcelona (SPA)
  • Atlético Madrid (SPA) vs Real Madrid (SPA)
  • FC Porto (POR) vs FC Bayern München (GER)
  • Juventus (ITA) vs AS Monaco (FRA)


We are seeing some matches with history. The Madrid Derby has always been iconic & has been more important over the last few seasons with Ateltico wanting to get out of Real’s shadow. PSG against Barcelona has been a fixture we’ve seen more recently, with neither team being able to make a real statement. Porto vs Bayern, would be a repeat of the 1987 final. 

None of the teams left made it out of luck. There are no push overs. Each team should take their opponent very seriously if they want to advance. We’ll take a look at each tie and provide a preview, analysis, & prediction. 


PSG vs Barcelona 

These two teams have met seven times in the Champions League for the past three years. Each one has 2 wins, 2 loses, with the other 3 games ending in draws. The more recent games between the two came in the Group Stage of this years tournament. On the 21st of October PSG defeated Barça 3-2 at home. On the 10th of December at the Camp Nou Barça beat the French champions 3-1. This will most likely be the most tightly contested tie of the four. Both are on good form and loaded with talent on their team. It will be extremely close and could go either way. 

Barcelona advances to the Semi Finals.  

 

Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid

A repeat of last tournaments finals. Real Madrid would win it 4-1 to obtain their tenth UEFA Champions League trophy, the most in history. This season in La Liga, Atleti swept Real, beating them 2-1 at the Bernabeu & a whopping 4-0 at the Vicente Calderon. They also eliminated Madrid from the Spanish Copa Del Rey 4-2 on aggregate. Madrid also just came off an embarrassing 4-3 at home to Schalke, while Atletico advance on penalties against Bayer Leverkusen. With only 1 win in their last 4 games in all competitions Madrid’s form may be a bit worrisome. However, the Quarter Finals are still a month away, & they must find good form before then if they want to make it. Atletico once again gets the best of Ronaldo & co. 

Atlético Madrid advances to the Semi Finals. 

 

FC Porto vs FC Bayern München 

Bayern München should be considered heavy favorites for this tie. Along with Barcelona, the German Champions are ahead of the pack in terms of talent, form, and virtually everything else. Müller, Götze, Alaba, & co have been excellent in recent weeks. After thumping Shaktar Donestk 7-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16, Bayern is feeling unstoppable & should be feared by the remaining teams. FC Porto is running on very impressive form right now as well. They beat Basel 5-1 on aggregate to get to the Quarter Finals. It should be an entertaining tie, but Bayern should prove to be too much for Porto. 

Bayern München advances to the Semi Finals.

 

Juventus FC vs AS Monaco

Italian champions Juventus will come up against up and coming French side Monaco. Juve are in a run of good form, thrashing Borrusia Dortmind in their own home 3-0 & advancing 5-1 on aggregate. Monaco, was able to hold off Arsenal and advanced off 3 away goals when it ended 3-3 on aggregate. Monaco showed they are a force to be reckoned with and Juve should not overlook them, even if they have superior star talent. Monaco is not experienced enough at this stage, & even with out Paul Pogba, Juve should be able to take this one.

Juventus advances to the Semi Finals. 

 

The Quarter Finals will be very entertaining. Each team will put in their all if they want to advance. These eight teams will have roughly a month to prepare themselves. Let us know who you think will advance in the comment section bellow, share with friends, & follow FortOnSports on Twitter. 

 And Coach of the Year goes to…?

If you’re an Eagles fan like me, I am sure these offseason transactions have you worried. Chip Kelly seems to believe these transactions will improve the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster. The big question is how?

In the last two months Chip Kelly has made some questionable offseason moves. However he continues to assure the city of Philadelphia and other Eagles fans that the transactions will improve the Eagles roster in the end.

Only time will tell if the Eagles will improve by the time the 2015-2016 NFL Season starts, however at this point many Eagles fans are seriously concerned about the success of next season.

I won’t discuss all the offseason transactions, but I’ll discuss the most important ones.

Lesean “Shady” McCoy, is a top three running back and one of the best Philadelphia has ever seen. Many defensive backs describe him as one of the hardest backs to bring down. Sure last season was not his best, however he led the NFL in rushing yards two seasons ago with 1,607 beating the previous franchise record set 34 years ago.

He is an aggressive, consistent running back and has broken the 1,000 yard rushing mark four times in his six year career so far. Instead of keeping him Chip traded him away to the Bills for a linebacker who’s been injured for the past couple of years.

A few weeks later Chip Kelly made a deal to get Demarco Murray who led the NFL in rushing yards last season with 1,845 yards.

On the surface this might seem like a good acquirement, but you have to realize that when Murray lead the NFL in rushing yards he had almost 400 rushing attempts and averaged 4.7 yards per attempt. Not to mention the fact that he ran behind what was arguably the best offensive line in the NFL last year.

Two season ago when McCoy lead the NFL in rushing yards he had a little over 300 rushing attempts and averaged 5.1 yards per attempt. Add that to his consistent 1,000 rushing yard season and his value increases past Murray. Don’t get me wrong Murray is not a big down grade, but the fact is the Eagles paid too much to acquire him.

Over paying for players seemed to be a trend for the Eagles this year actually. The Eagles signed Byron Maxwell, an excellent cornerback, for a six year $63 million deal, with a guaranteed $25 million. Byron Maxwell is a great defender however is he worth $63 million without the remaining Legion of Boom? Will he be the same Byron Maxwell we saw in his previous Seahawk years?

The Eagles also had another head scratcher when they signed Ryan Mathews for a three year $12 million dollar deal. That might not be a lot of money in many people’s eyes, but to me it’s too much, he hasn’t proved anything to me for the last two seasons; I’ve never really been a firm believer in Ryan Mathews.

Just when Eagles’ fans began to get over the loss of Desean Jackson the year before Chip Kelly goes and does this. Jeremy Maclin without a doubt was a monumental part of the Eagles offense last year, especially after the Foles injury. Letting Maclin go to the Chiefs was like giving away a third of your offense. Now Jordan Matthews, a second year receiver, is going to have to pick up some major slack. This lack of a move was bad but did not anger me as much as the next.

Really Chip, Samuel Bradford? Come on man, this trade had Eagles fans all over the U.S. pulling their hair out. The amount of frustration I have had during this offseason does not compare to frustration I have from this trade.

$78 million, really? $78 million dollars for a QB that has had several knee injuries and only played two full seasons since being drafted 1st pick overall in 2010. $78 million for a guy who missed all of last season due to an ACL injury. $78 million for a guy who hasn’t proven himself in the NFL and continues to show his true weakness when he faces a little pressure in the pocket. And worst of all, $78 million for Samuel Bradford.

Come on Chip. You’re starting to lose us.

One & Done or More to Come?

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“Never judge a Quarterback off of his first year,” is a great quote to live by.

Ever since I was told that I’ve started to evaluate quarterbacks differently. Instead of judging them off of their first year I give them a three year process. The three year mark is a long enough frame because various things come into play within those three years.

In the very first year, a quarterback will often struggle with the pace, flow of the game. They don’t know their teammates as well which could lead to a few chemistry issues. Another problem is that most quarterbacks drafted high in the draft go to bad teams. Due to lack of experience, how are they supposed to be successful right off the bat? And even with those problems, opposing defenses don’t know to fully prepare for them, thus giving them a slight edge.

There has been cases where they fail in their first year and there have been cases where they succeed in their first year. One sample is never enough.

In year two, defenses are better prepared for the quarterback. They watch film, tapes and a lot of other useful tactics that help in their approach towards stopping them. Quarterbacks struggle and history shows that quarterbacks or any position, for that matter, struggle in the second year. That’s just how it goes.

Only a handful of quarterbacks didn’t endure the second year slump and those pretty much the franchise caliber guys. (Luck, Wilson etc)

Year three is when the player finally comes into their own. They’ve matured. They’ve gained experience. And they’ve seen a variety of defensive looks. Case in point, they’re more comfortable with their surroundings, coaches, players etc.

Whatever the case may be year three is when you find out if you have a stud or if you have a dud.

This evaluation can work for every quarterback, outside of Robert Griffin lll.

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Coming in as a rookie RG3 was arguably the best QB in his draft class. He had a tremendous arm, was very dead on when throwing the deep ball and had Olympic level speed. He was a tremendous athlete whose only downfall was not being able to slide at the appropriate times when facing pressure.

Nevertheless during his rookie season Griffin dominated the league. He was one of the highest rated passers. His completion total was decent and he had nice TD-INT ratio. In a week 17 showdown against the Dallas Cowboys Griffin outshined Tony Romo in a game that had playoff implications. RG3 even had a 14pt lead against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs following the win against the Cowboys before he got injured.

Unlike year one, year two wasn’t nearly as good.

Problems brew in the locker room between players and coaches; Griffin was injury riddled; the whole Redskins organization was in a flux. At the end of the season Mike Shanahan was fired and the Redskins moved in a different direction. To top it all off RG3 was injured yet again sending his mobility and health into a state of question.

That offseason the Redskins filled a couple of holes. They went and signed Jay Gruden as head coach, brought in safety Ryan Clark (Steelers) and defensive lineman Jason Hatcher (Cowboys) to shore up the defense and even stole wide-receiver DeSean Jackson away from the Eagles. They looked prime for a renaissance if RG3 was healthy and in tip top form.

Last season, RG3’s third year, ended up being a mess as well. He missed bits and pieces of Training Camp/pre-season action and wasn’t fully ready to go week one of the season. Need playbook, new coach and having a new target all added onto his struggles. At one point he even lost the trust of a few teammates.

Last season wasn’t even about football for him. It was more about him finding common ground with his new coach and his teammates, as well as regaining his health the thing that he ultimately failed to do.

Griffin was in & out of the lineup last season as well, but he did show signs of improvement when he was healthy. The jury is still out on whether or not RG3 can be a nice solid QB. His 2nd & 3rd seasons were injury riddled and filled with constant change in regards to the situation around him. (Luck and Wilson have always been in stable environments.)

If anything year 4 will start to tell the true story of Robert Griffin lll. He’ll have more time learn the playbook, get in sync with his weapons and get a better connection with his coach. More importantly he’ll finally be going through an offseason where he is completely healthy. (Hasn’t happened since his rookie year.)

So don’t doubt RG3 just yet. There is still some time left for him.

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Murray, Misleading, Money, Mistake

For the longest amount of time the Dallas Cowboys had been a mediocre team that showcased a multitude of deficiencies, year in and year out.

For a couple of years the problems came on the defensive side of the ball. While other years, it was poor O-line play, and lack of experience coaching wise. But even with those problems being at the forefront, there was still a problem that lingered and hindered them for a long period of time. That problem happened to be the lack of a run game.

During the 6-10 and countless 8-8 seasons, the ‘Boys went through a plethora of runningbacks. Guys like Marion Barber, Tashard Choice, Phillip Tanner, Felix Jones and Sammy Morris had opportunities to shoulder the load, but none of them seized control of the moment like DeMarco Murray did in 2011.

Drafted in the 3rd round with the 71st pick he wasn’t sought out to be the #1 back. He was looked at as guy, for some, who would be a decent backup to Felix Jones. Meant to ease his load as he was often injured. Little did we know Murray was going to end up being a capable back.

DeMarco Murray’s Career Stats (Rushing)

Year  Games  Attempts  Yards   Y.P.C    Fum   TDs

2011:   13          164         897         5.5        1          2

2012:   10          161         663        4.1          2         4

2013:   14          217        1,121       5.2         2          9

2014:   16          392        1,845     4.7           3         13

When Murray was coming onto the scene and taking over for Felix Jones, he started to generate some buzz and make a name for himself. He was a hard runner who had pretty good vision, but would leave yards on the field as he tended to follow his blockers. And was deemed as a guy prone to injury. Solid, but not a stud. (AP, Charles, McCoy, Forte, Foster, Lynch, Rice, Turner).

As the years went by and he progressed, there started to be talk in regards to feeding him more and let Romo take a backseat. That argument really didn’t have much spring to it until after 2013 when he played in 14 games. His most to that date.

With Jason Garrett’s coaching job on the line, Romo’s back issues, and Murray’s contract being up; the Boys decided to run Murray, much to his liking this past season to see what he could do and also because it was the smart thing to do. Murray responded by breaking Smith’s franchise record yard count with 1,845 yards, and helped Romo have a career year and led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record.

Good things happened when he was fed the ball. They maintained drives. Opened up opportunities for Dez and Witten. Kept the defense off the field. Controlled time of possession. Spectacular.

From the outside looking in Murray seemed/seems to be the sole reason for the Cowboys success when that isn’t the case at all.

Did he help? Sure, but it’s deeper than him.

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From 2011-13 the Boy’s finished 8-8.

In 2011: the O-line wasn’t that good and ended up being the start of the rebuilding process as the Cowboys drafted left tackle Tyron Smith in the first round. (Murray also drafted). Injuries came all across the line plus Murray didn’t play in three of those games. This team was also one of the most heavily penalized teams. Garrett was the play caller.

In 2012: the defense ended up being historically bad. (3rd worst all time.) Rob Ryan was the defensive-coordinator, and despite his progression as a player, Murray showed a knack for getting injured. Star linebacker Sean Lee missed 10 games gutting the defense. Jason Garrett was the play caller. They were still heavily penalized. Rarely forced turnovers. However, Dez was officially established. And Murray missed 6 games.

In 2013: the Cowboys drafted center Travis Frederick in the first round aiding the line. Monte Kiffin became defensive coordinator changing the scheme of the defense. Sean Lee missed 5 games. Murray missed 2 games. And Tony Romo missed the final game of the season. The defense was a record setting defense and the worst in NFL history, ever. Bill Callahan was play caller. (Offensive coordinator as well.) Heavily penalized still.

In 2014: the Cowboys drafted guard Zack Martin. (All-Pro as a rookie). Murray played in all 16 games despite getting injured. Romo played in all 16 games. Rod Marinelli became defensive coordinator. Scott Linehan became the offensive coordinator as well as play caller. Callahan was moved to offensive line coach. The defense was slightly on par with being average. Sean Lee missed the full season. This team wasn’t penalized as much as previous years, and the defense forced the 2nd most turnovers in the league.

As I stated before, Murray was a key cog in the Cowboys success but he wasn’t the main reason.

Guys like Witten, Romo, and Dez made the game easier for him as he did for them. All of those guys were already proven stars while Murray was still on the cusp.

Having Murray did hide the defense some; but how much of it was really him when the defense was second behind Houston in forcing turnovers?

His leadership on the field was nice too, but does that out do Rolondo McClain’s and Justin Durant’s leadership on the other side of the ball? Oh wait, what about Dez being vocal and rallying guys hyping them up? Was that just Murray too?

I’m guessing Marinelli making the most of what little talent he had defensively was more about Murray too.

Football is the greatest team sport there is. Each man HAS to do their job for the other to succeed. Collective effort bottom line.

With all of that being said DeMarco Murray did deserve to be paid. Just not by the Cowboys.

Dallas couldn’t have afforded him and still have money to make some moves on the defensive side of the ball. Throw in the facts that the o-line is elite, Murray is prone to injury and that he started to slow down at the end of the season and the decision is a no brainier.

Running-backs can easily be replaced. You can have a two back tandem, a three headed monster, or just one stud and have a nice amount of production. Especially with a good offensive line.

With this upcoming draft being RB heavy, the Dallas Cowboys can easily find a replacement for DeMarco at a CHEAPER cost for four more years. Simple and smart. There will be money to add new players as well as feed your own.

The Bengals have a two headed monster. The Bills had a two headed monster. The Ravens found a quick Ray Rice replacement in Forsett….

The Boys are playing it smart right now, which is good. They know what they are doing.

Recent history shows they have a plan…

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Food For Thought:

Backup RB Joesph Randle

2013: 13 Games 54 Attempts 164 yards 3 YPC 2TD

2014: 16 Games 51 Attempts 343 yards 6.7 YPC 3TDs

Was it really Murray making the o-line or did the o-line make RBs in general better?

Only time will tell.

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Jahlil Okafor or Willie Cauley-Stein? Who Goes First?

With March Madness upon us, some serious talent will be displayed in the upcoming tournament. Among the powerhouses of Duke, Kentucky, Virginia, and Villanova, there are two players that will most likely be the top players in this upcoming NBA draft. Those two are 6’10 Jahlil Okafor, and 7’0 Willie Cauley-Stein.

In my opinion, Willie Cauley-Stein since had the opportunity to play with a loaded Kentucky team, so we really don’t know truly how good he is by himself. So far this season, he’s averaged 8.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 1.6 bpg. However, my personal favorite, Karl-Anthony Towns shares the court with him, so those numbers aren’t reflective of his skill. Stein is a great defender, and possibly the best in this upcoming draft. He’s a full 7-footer that’s a great shot blocker. He rarely gets into foul trouble and is a very flexible defender. He’s usually the front man on Kentucky press defenses and causes difficulty in the passing lanes. He has no difficulty switching on pick and rolls, and has quick enough feet to stay in front of some guards. However, Stein’s problems come on offense.

He’s great at running the floor and catching lobs on the pick and roll or fast breaks, but he’s not a threat on the low post. He’ll need to work on his low post game, and also his midrange jumper. He’s gone 10/31 on jumpers outside the paint. The NBA’s big men have greatly been improving their jump shooting in the last few years, and it’s something that teams look for. I’d compare him to a more dedicated Dwight Howard. Expect Stein to go to a team in need of a defensive stopper and rebounder. Most likely the Knicks or Magic..

Jahlil Okafor is the most polished player coming into this draft. He’s not as athletic or as good of a defender, but he’s a much better offensive player. Playing under Coach K, he’ll definitely have a great basketball IQ and will come out pro ready. He’s great at passing out of double teams to shooters, and will punish his defender if he’s in 1 on 1 (as evidenced vs. North Carolina). He averages 17.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, and 1.4 bpg. The offense flows through him and he determines Duke’s success or failure. His footwork is great for a freshman, and Coach K has said that he should be the #1 pick in this coming draft.

Okafor’s biggest downfall will most likely be his lack of athleticism. He has problems chasing down loose balls, and unlike Stein, can’t switch on pick and rolls. He’s also not really a rim protector considering how little lift he has. His jumpshot is better than Stein’s, but not by much. I’d still take Okafor over Stein considering how great his low post game is. His NBA comparison is more of an Al Jefferson type. His best fit would be the Lakers or Timberwolves.

Tyler Carter
Twitter: @AyeMrCarter24
@Fortonsportsinc

Are the Bulls Done?

As you all may know, Derrick Rose has recently torn his meniscus in his right knee for the second time. The first coming back in November of 2013 which knocked him out for the entire season.

Previously, the Bulls have managed to compete decently in the Eastern Conference, but there’s no denial that without Rose, this is a different team.
With that being said, I still believe this Bulls team is much better than the teams of 2013 and 2014. With the emergence of Jimmy Butler as the go to guy and the addition of Pau Gasol, the Bulls were set to make a title run with Rose back.

However, injuries are really starting to take their toll. Taj Gibson suffered an ankle injury, Pau Gasol has been out with an illness, and Rose had the meniscus tear.

Gibson and Gasol will be back before the playoffs, so the Bulls title hopes all fall on Derrick Rose’s return. He has 4-6 weeks to prepare mentally because he has no choice but to come back strong. He’s already angered the city of Chicago with his comments on preserving his body for his future, but now it’s time to ball.

Aaron Brooks has been playing well for the last few games, but he isn’t capable of leading them into a deep playoff run.
Chicago has just moved into the second seed of the Eastern Conference, so everything will be ready for his return.

Heck, the first game the Bulls play six weeks from now are the Philadelphia 76ers. The perfect game for Rose to get back into game shape with.

For the first time, there’s some urgency for Rose to return now that Coach Thibodeau’s job is on the line if there’s no deep playoff run. Initially, the Bulls were my choice to make it to the Finals, but with the combination of Cleveland’s excellent play as of late combined with Chicago’s injuries, I may have to change my prediction.

For possibly the third year in a row, only time will tell whether these Chicago Bulls can finally make it back to the NBA Finals.

 

Tyler Carter
Twitter: @AyeMrCarter
@Fortonsportsinc