Cubs

Bulls host Boston in Eastern Conference battle

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Bulls host Boston in Eastern Conference battle

Thursday, April 7, 2011Posted: 12:22 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

In the aftermath of Tuesdays narrow escape over Phoenix, the Bulls locker room was under siege. Reporters were firing questions at players left and right regarding the closeness of the victory, allowing the Suns to come back from 22 points down, the direction of the team, recent rebounding issues and the chemistry between Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.

While Derrick Rose showed genuine concern, Noah exclaimed We won the game! and Boozer grew frustrated by the cute nature of the queries, Luol Deng logically observed that the Bulls put themselves in this position.

Were holding ourselves and you guys the media are holding us to a standard, said Deng. Weve raised the bar.

READ: Former Bulls reflect positively on time in Chicago

I think everyone out there, even the fans today, theyre happy with the win, but they know we can play better and thats because weve showed it, he continued. Once youve shown you can do it, youre held accountable to keep doing it.

Coming into this season, a chance to finish first in the East and win 60 games likely would have exceeded even the most ardent fans expectations. Now? Players, media and fans alike have grown so accustomed to the Bulls winning ways that even a close call sounds off alarms.

This isnt a traveling rock band-type of crew, like in Michael Jordans heyday, but rather a blue-collar and to paraphrase Noah, a peoples champ styled squad, triumphing based on defense, team-first principles and in Rose, the most humble superstar in the game. While theyre happy for their success and appreciative of the attention, one gets the sense that they almost yearn for the mid-season anonymity that will never return.

Thursdays opponent, the Celtics, and the other team chasing the Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings, the Heat, still resonate more with casual fans. Yet, when opposing players and coaches are asked about title contenders, Chicago is never left out of the conversation these days.

READ: Decision time looming for college underclassmen

What a sharp contrast to a year ago, when injury woes, organizational turmoil and a fight to seasons end just to qualify for the postseason were primary concerns. While injuries have been an issue this season, the Bulls have so deftly adjusted on the flyhow many people believed 38-year-old Kurt Thomas and rookie Omer Asik would be such key contributors?that at least short absences by Boozer and Noah are no longer cause for panic.

Thursdays matchup is no longer notable simply because the Celtics are in town. It could be a future playoff matchup and without looking ahead too much, the onus could be on Boston, not the Bulls, to ensure it happens down the line.

One of the lines reporters are now used to hearing from Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaualbeit usually after a lossis, In this league, you get what you deserve. Well, if thats the case, then that bar Deng referred to could get even higher.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: