Blackhawks

Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

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Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

There have been a handful of surprises through the first week of the NBA season.

James Harden's offensive explosion in a leading role for the Rockets. The Lakers' 1-3 start combined with Steve Nash's injury. Portland point guard Damian Lillard's early bid for Rookie of the Year honors.

But of the many storylines, there may not be one more surprising than the 2-0 start by the Orlando Magic.

The Bulls (2-1) will try and put a stop to Orlando's hot start to the season when the two teams square off tonight at the United Center at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.

Orlando was the headline of a wild NBA offseason, but for all the wrong reasons. All-Star Center Dwight Howard had demanded a trade and essentially brought about the firing of head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith. Howard was eventually traded to the Lakers, but the best piece the Magic received in return was Arron Afflalo from Denver, as part of a four-team trade. And maybe just as significant, the Magic lost power forward and 2011-'12 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson to free agency.

The Magic were expected to be awful on offense, as Afflalo was the leading scorer from a year ago at 15.2 points per game, with Jameer Nelson (11.9) and Redick (11.6) close behind. They were supposed to struggle defensively, too, after losing Howard, a five-time All Defensive First Team member and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

But through two games, the Magic have been stellar, averaging 108.5 points and allowing just 91.5 per game.

It's a miniscule sample size, but home wins over Denver and Phoenix, the latter without Nelson, have given the Magic plenty of momentum heading on the road to face the Bulls, who will be looking to rebound from an ugly home loss to the Hornets on Saturday.

The Bulls have been equally as good on defense, allowing just 87.3 points per game. Their focal point will be to stop Glen Davis, who has averaged 25 points through two games. The compact big man has the front court reins following Howard's departure, and has been the go-to scorer for the surprising Magic.

Carlos Boozer will have his hands full, but he should improve on his four-point effort against New Orleans against the pesky yet undersized Davis. Boozer was off to a hot start, posting 18 and 19 points in the Bulls first two wins, and Phoenix's Luis Scola, a similar player in build and skill-set to Boozer, posted 24 points in the loss Sunday. The Bulls are still looking for a consistent scoring option, and Boozer finding his rhythm again should help a Chicago team averaging 96.7 points per game (18th in NBA).

The Magic may be without Nelson, who's currently battling multiple injuries, which will make Orlando's wings vital to their offense. If Nelson can't go, the Magic will start E'Twaun Moore, who played with the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League. In Nelson's absence, Redick and Afflalo have been impressive offensively, meaning Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and Jimmy Butler's defense could go a long way toward the Bulls picking up win No. 3. Hedo Turkoglu broke his hand Sunday and will likely miss a month.

The Bulls have made an effort to get out and run off missed shots, as Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam noted yesterday. That will be a difficult task tonight, as the Magic have allowed just 8.5 transition points per game, the best mark in the NBA. With a generally small lineup, the Magic have gotten back in transition, and their scoring makes it tough on opponents to get fast breaks started. Marco Belinelli finding his shooting stroke against New Orleans (13 points) would add another dimension to the Bulls' break, as will Nate Robinson's continued efficiency (15 assists to 7 turnovers).

New general manager Rob Hennigan took over a gutted roster that contained just one player originally selected in the NBA Lottery, J.J. Redick (No. 11 overall, 2006). That's an unfathomably low number, considering even the lowly Bobcats have six former Lottery picks, but the results have been positive thus far.

But the road is a different story. The Bulls are looking to rebound from an ugly loss and the Magic haven't played away from Orlando this year. With a solid defensive showing, the Bulls will be able to cool the Magic offense and help initiate transition offense.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

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USA TODAY

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.