Blackhawks

Bears say they have to play better but can they?

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Bears say they have to play better but can they?

MINNEAPOLIS Sitting in front of his locker on Sunday afternoon, one member of the Bears offense took his time before answering. The hesitation, stretching on to a surprising 15 seconds or so, was an answer of its own.

The usual response to a question about a teams confidence is routinely upbeat. This one was not, and when the answer finally came it was about the level of confidence but rather about the Bears overall situation.

We have our window, the player said, quietly, but its getting pretty thin.

With their fourth loss in the last five games, the Bears (8-5) took one huge step closer to the abyss. They finished Sunday afternoons 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings (7-6) as the No. 6 playoff team, down from No. 2 just a month ago.

They went into the Metrodome in acute need of a win against a team they had defeated six straight times. They left with quarterback Jay Cutler out with an unspecified neck injury after throwing two costly interceptions to hand the Vikings 14 points.

The Bears have gone from team that finds ways to win to one that finds ways to lose. The offense has scored 17 or fewer points in the four losses and perhaps there is no more telling indictment of the Lovie Smith offenses than that they are now 12-49 when they fail to score at least 18 points. Five of those 12 wins were in the 2005 season when the defense was the NFLs best in points allowed.

Notably perhaps, or not, defensive end Julius Peppers said afterwards that if the Vikings can beat the Bears after losing six straight, the Bears can do the same to the Packers, whove beaten the Bears five times.

It was not convincing logic.

The Bears dropped touchdown passes. Two, one by Devin Hester, one by Alshon Jeffery. And thats not even the bad news.

The really bad news is that those werent the only problems.

There were a lot of problems, said Cutler, one of those problems. Offensively I didnt play well (he didnt play well defensively, either). Interceptions, however they happened, they still happened. Weve just got to play better.

The overall is that you are what your record says you are. The Bears are 1-4 in games that have increasingly mattered. At this point. 13 games in, the biggest question is whether or not the Bears actually can play better.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.