Blackhawks

Energetic Robinson tones down flash, remains effective

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Energetic Robinson tones down flash, remains effective

Something unexpected became very evident as the Bulls' preseason progressed: Nate Robinson, despite his reputation as a flashy, shoot-first point guard, has the discipline to not only control the tempo, make plays for his teammates and take care of the basketball, but the diminutive scorer also possesses the capacity to not let the aforementioned traits limit him from doing what he does best. In Friday's win over the rival Pacers--a term that Carlos Boozer, for one, slightly objects to, saying "rivalry's a strong word," when characterizing the divisional battles the Bulls have had with Indiana, seen by many as the Central Division favorites this season--on the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Robinson scored an efficient 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting, dished out eight assists and perhaps most importantly, notched only one turnover while playing starter's minutes in place of the injured Kirk Hinrich.

"I had that one, but as a team, I think were taking care of the ball. Throughout the game, nobodys going to go perfect with no turnoversa whole team, Ive never seen a game like thatbut its something that weve got to get better at, taking care of the ball. Trying to stay under 13, but keep being aggressive, as weve been doing," the irrepressible Seattle native said. "For me, I just try not to make the home-run play all the time. I just make the right play. Just pass, move, cut. The pass is there, hopefully they make the shot. If they dont, you live with it, get back on defense."

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau concurred: "We want 13 or less and so, the last two games have been very good. Making the simple plays, the balls moving, bodies are moving, good spacing. If we can sustain our spacing, we should be able to take care of the ball."

Robinson, who first crossed paths with Thibodeau when both were employed by the Boston Celtics, had an idea of what he was in for when he signed with the Bulls. However, it was reinforced during voluntary workouts in the offseason and throughout training camp--particularly after his off-the-backboard fast-break alley-oop to swingman Jimmy Butler was closely scrutinized by the basketball-purist coach--that Robinson would have to tone down some of his crowd-pleasing ways in order to properly execute Thibodeau's system, without losing too much of what's made him successful in his well-traveled NBA career.

"We run it so much in practiceIve got to say it again: Coach is big on repetitionso we run the plays over and over. He drills it in our head about running the play, getting guys in their sets where theyre supposed to be and I think we do a great job in the course of the game," Robinson explained. "Im here to fill in. Guys go down, Ill be ready. Starting, off the bench. My role, I know, is off the bench. Thats what Ive been doing my whole career and Im happy with it."

"When basketballs fun, it becomes easy, so Friday was fun. We had a great time out there," he added. "We just had fun, it flowed, everything was good. There were some mistakes that we made out there offensively, but overall, it was like kids in the playground, hanging out, having fun."

Fun to Thibodeau is winning via his five basic tenets (inside-out offense, unselfish play, strong rebounding, a commitment to defense and low turnovers), but Robinson's definition also involves playing with boundless energy, which, when properly harnessed, has proven to be effective. Already very popular among his new teammates off the court, the University of Washington product has earned their respect on the floor

"Nate plays high energy. He picks up 94 feet. Offensively, he pushes the ball every time. Its great for us because weve got some great athletes, great finishers, so if we run in transition, put the pressure on the defense trying to get layups and dunks, then we can always pull it back out and execute our offense in the half-court. He does a great job of pushing the rock. You saw his stat line was phenomenal tonight," Carlos Boozer said. "He plays with a lot of confidence, man. Its a big deal. I think as we get healthy, when we get everybody back, hes going to be monumental for our second group."

Directly next to Robinson in proximity in the Bulls' locker room is center Joakim Noah, previously the team's undisputed champion in terms of bringing electricity to the court. But the locker-room neighbors are now battling for the crown.

"I hope so. I dont know. Joakim says no, so I guess Ive got to do a better job," Robinson responded to the question of just how much energy he plays with, before moving on to a query about a comparison with his teammate, who is more than a foot taller than him "Him? Nah, Ive got way more energy than Joakim. Im taking that title, so he better move to the back of the bus."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Tracey Myers and Pat Boyle discuss Nick Schmaltz returning to the Blackhawks line-up on Wednesday night and which player is looking forward most to his return?

They also weigh in on Corey Crawford’s incredible start to the season and why he’s the major reason why the Hawks begin the week in first place in the Central.

They also discuss who is the biggest Hawks rivalry right now, which new defenseman has impressed the most and how is Connor Murphy dealing with being a healthy scratch at times this season?

Plus, they discuss someone other than Nick Schmaltz returning to work on Wednesday night.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs need Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to produce or else their reign as defending World Series champs is over

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USA TODAY

Cubs need Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to produce or else their reign as defending World Series champs is over

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are the yin and yang of the Cubs lineup, the right- and left-handed forces that feed off each other, two huge building blocks for a World Series team, the smiling faces of the franchise, an ideal brand for social media and two friends close enough that Rizzo became a groomsman at Bryant’s Las Vegas wedding in January.

With the defending champs now down 0-2 in a best-of-seven National League Championship Series – and the Los Angeles Dodgers looking like an updated version of the 2016 Cubs – winter is coming if Bryzzo Souvenir Co. doesn’t start producing soon.

Like Tuesday night in Game 3 at Wrigley Field. Take away the 9-8 outlier against the Washington Nationals – where an intentional walk, a passed ball on a swinging strike three, a catcher interference and a hit by pitch sparked a big rally – and the Cubs have scored 11 runs in six playoff games this October.

“Everybody in the lineup, they feel the same way: When you don’t produce, it’s like you let the team down,” Bryant said. “But that’s not the right way to feel, because not one person makes or breaks the team.

“I put that in perspective all the time, and realize it’s not what you do in the playoffs, it’s what the team does. And, obviously, we haven’t been getting it done so far in the series. But this is a totally unselfish team. I don’t think anybody here is pouting or down on themselves.”

Bryant (.179 average) has struck out 13 times in 28 postseason at-bats while working only one walk and hitting zero homers. Rizzo – who shouted “RESPECT ME!” at Dusty Baker and the Nationals during the divisional round and went 0-for-6 over the weekend at Dodger Stadium – dismissed the idea that he feels any extra responsibility to jumpstart the offense.

“I think that is selfish if you did,” Rizzo said. “One through nine, all 25 guys, we got to get going. Our pitching is doing a heck of a job. You need help from everyone in the lineup, not just one or two guys.”

But Bryant and Rizzo can certainly make Joe Maddon’s job a lot easier, not forcing the pinch-hitters as early for Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta, creating some breathing room for the middle relievers or just getting the lead and taking the guesswork out of the equation: Give the ball to All-Star closer Wade Davis.     

Even without launching home runs, Bryant and Rizzo also happen to be very good on the bases, with enough speed and instincts to make things happen when the Dodgers keep putting zeros on the scoreboard. The Cubs are already sacrificing offense for defense at second base (Javier Baez) and in right field (Jason Heyward) and don’t have their World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) in peak condition.    

Bryant is exceptionally available to the media, and usually shrugs almost everything off with an upbeat answer, but even he sounded and looked a little different in terms of tone and body language on Sunday night in Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse.

Whether it was the nature of that walk-off loss – Where’s Wade? – or the reality of a different Dodger team or the jet lag, the Cubs seemed a little shell-shocked.

It was almost exactly a year ago when Bryant stood in the same room in front of the cameras and purposely said, “Nope,” when asked if there was any sense of panic creeping into the clubhouse after seeing Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill in back-to-back shutouts.

[MORE: Wade Davis won't second-guess Joe Maddon]      

But Bryant even admitted that defending a World Series title is more taxing than chasing a championship ring.  

“I wouldn’t say emotionally or mentally,” Bryant said. “Physically, yeah, I think some guys are tired. It’s been a really long year, (but) you only notice that before and after the game.

“During the game, there’s so much adrenaline and the fans cheering that you don’t really notice it. But then you sit down after a game, you feel pretty tired and beat. And then you wake up and do it all over again the next day.”

That has been the story of 2017 for Bryant, who followed up an MVP campaign with a 29-homer/.946 OPS season that drew attention for his lowered RBI total (73). But just like Rizzo, he has a tenacious competitive streak and a unique ability to separate one pitch from the next. The Cubs need all of that now, or else their reign as defending World Series champs is about to end.   

“I’ve put some good swings on some balls, but sometimes you just get beat,” Bryant said. “Sometimes you go through good stretches, bad stretches, stuff like that. I realize it’s all part of the game.

“It just stinks. You want to go out there and perform right now, because if you perform now, you’re winning. But you can’t force it.”