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Bull hope to continue home success vs. Knicks

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Bull hope to continue home success vs. Knicks

Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
9:41 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Heading into the last offseason, all the scuttlebutt had the Knicks making a big splash in free agency. New York was able to lure All-Star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire to the Big Apple, but fell short of its goal to add a LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or even Joe Johnson to form a dynamic duo, instead bringing on the likes of point guard Raymond Felton, former Warriors Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Randolph (both via sign-and-trade for the departed David Lee), ex-Bull Roger Mason Jr. and Russian center Timofey Mozgov.

In head coach Mike D'Antoni's third year with the team, patience is running thin, with fans in the city that never sleeps expecting to at least be a playoff squad by this season. The Knicks reportedly remain a prime candidate in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes (whether through trade or free agency next summer) and have been linked to superstar point guard Chris Paul after an infamous summer toast at Anthony's summer wedding. However, another alleged object of the team's desire, Tony Parker, is now off the board after inking a multi-year extension to stay in San Antonio. This is all evidence that the team is far from being the envisioned contender they intended to be after a seemingly decade-long rebuilding process.

This version of the Knicks features the virtually-anonymous Landry Fields (the rookie swingman was a second-round draft pick out of Stanford) and the aforementioned Mozgov starting alongside offseason acquisitions Felton and Stoudemire, as well as Italian sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, who is off to a not-so-stellar start to the season, after a promising previous campaign. That is significant because "Gallo" is reportedly a key piece to a potential Anthony deal and if the 6-foot-10 small forward is struggling, Denver would almost certainly look elsewhere for a more suitable swap, if they indeed opt for an in-season trade of its franchise player.

Meanwhile, Stoudemire has so far embraced the New York scene with boasts of bravado and while he is putting up sufficient numbers early in the season, it appears he is finding the going a bit more difficult without Steve Nash spoon-feeding him easy buckets. That's not to say Felton isn't acquitting himself well (Larry Brown would probably love to have him back in Charlotte), but as his playoff struggles against Orlando's Jameer Nelson last spring proved, he isn't a top-tier NBA point guard.

The aforementioned Randolph, regarded as having some of the best potential in the league by some observers, has been sidelined due to injury, but reports out of the preseason somehow pegged him as possibly a bad fit for D'Antoni's up-tempo system, despite his talent and versatility. Mozgov was pretty much an unknown, and while like Fields (who had an excellent senior year at Stanford), he might be a diamond in the rough, but isn't considered a starting-caliber player for a postseason contender at this point.

Bench players like the rugged Turiaf, backup point guard Toney Douglas, a Madison Square Garden fan favorite, and slashing wing Wilson Chandler may be the team's saving grace. In a shallow Eastern Conference--it's obviously very early, but the top six teams appear to be Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Milwaukee, Orlando, with a steep drop-off after that group--New York may have just enough firepower to sneak back into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

That said, it's a long season and the Knicks could overachieve, even completely flop or simply live up to expectations. But outside of acquiring a superstar like Anthony in a dramatically roster-altering deal before February's trade deadline, it's unlikely the end result will be enough for impatient New York fans eager for a return to past glory.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.