Bulls

Frankie O's blog: Happy New Cheer!

Frankie O's blog: Happy New Cheer!

As a life-long restaurant employee, I think I have a different view of New Years Eve and New Years Day than most. For me, theyve always meant one thing- work. That its a different kind of work, Ill give you. The two-day ritual of celebration lends itself to no end of amusing situations and, of course, most have to do with the level of beverage consumption. For those in my business, this weekend will be the end of our silly season. Next week will bring the turn of the calendar and the reality of another long winter will be in front of us.

Its what the holiday signifies that is the cool thing. Its our reset button. The angst that many feel during the holidays should be gone, at least until the credit card bills come in, and its time to go a little crazy. Of course, as always for me, there are also sporting ramifications.

I cant remember a college bowl season that I have had as little interest in. Admittedly Im still in a funk over the happenings at Penn State, but for most of my life Ive been a bowl fanatic. I think that had to do with the two-week frenzy of activity leading up to the smorgasbord of games on Jan. 1. Now we have a bloated, irrelevant slate of 35 games spread out over a mind-numbing 23 days, which includes 6 after New Years. Thats 70 bowl teams, out of 120! What is this the NHL? I guess the NCAA wants to put the bowl in the Football Bowl Subdivision! (Can we just go back to Division I, please?)Included this year are 15 teams that went 7-5, 13 that went 6-6 and, ridiculously, one that went 6-7. Nothing like rewarding mediocrity. Whats next, everyone gets a trophy? Lets call it what it is: a cash grab! Are any of the stadiums for half of these games even half full? No! The people where these games are played are as apathetic as I am. What the games really are is ESPN holiday programming. AGAIN, what we need is a playoff: 16 teams, using 15 of the existing bowls, over 21 days. Everyone else can go back to class, since thats what the NCAA cares about, right? The student athlete? I wont hold my breath. But thats what the spirit of the New Year is about: All that can be better in the future.

This year, the New Year will bring an NFL Sunday. I can live with that. Theres plenty of playoff intrigue, plus the Bears are a car wreck that you cant take your eyes off of! Then during the evening, The Bulls open the home portion of their championship schedule. Say what you want about the NBA, but any game with Derrick Rose, is one worth watching. Fortunately with the ultra-condensed schedule, he can be in your living room every other night for the 4 months. Then he will be in the NBA playoffs, where the first round takes three weeks to complete a seven game series. (Dont get me started!)

College Bowl Day will be on Monday. Ill watch the Rose Bowl, because no matter who is playing, I enjoy watching the game. Theres always perfect weather, the field is pristine and its cool that the game starts in bright sunshine and ends in the dark of night. Not to mention, besides the National Title Game, it also has the best football matchup: The finesse and explosiveness of the Oregon Ducks versus the bulk and power of the Wisconsin Badgers. Its a shame this game wasnt a national semifinal, but Ill stop beating that horse.(At least here anyway, come into the bar if you want it uncensored!)

The other game on Monday that Im looking forward to is not even a football game. Its the NHL Winter Classic featuring the Flyers against the New York Rangers in Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. I think the NHL playing outside is cool, especially if theyre fortunate enough to get a little snow. The game isnt always the best, as the ice condition can vary wildly, but the scenery is always surreal. I always think back to skating on the ice at Wrigley Field before the game here 3 years ago. It was very exciting for me, but even more so was watching how excited the Hawks alumni and national hockey press were. It was like a bunch of kids playing hooky. I remember the look in former Hawk Brian Noonans eyes when he told me he was more than a little jealous of the guys that were getting a chance to live a dream and play outside as pros with the hockey world watching.

The added intrigue of the game is due to the 247 series for the game on HBO. The four episodes for the game last year between the Penguins and Capitals was as good as any sports program I have ever watched. For a fan, getting behind the scenes access is something we all crave. With the constant presence of the cameras, they are able to catch a lot of real moments. This year has lived up to the hype as it follows the bitter rivals non-stop leading up to the big game.

Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is everything you would expect of a person who stops frozen rubber disks for a living. Honestly? The universe? Dogs as blonde women? Yikes! And Scottie Hartnell off the ice is not quite what you would expect. (Makes me wish they had done this before the Hawks-Wings game.)

But in both last year and this years episodes, its the coaches who steal the show. There is a reason these guys are responsible for leading men into battle. The force of their will is undeniable when you see it in so many instances. Much unlike what we are used to when we watch certain coaches during their news conferences. So many times, you just want to say: Why cant you just show a little emotion and say something more than a clich? Well, these guys take it to another level. When I talk about last years show, I tell people that it got me to like (former) Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who until that point, I had despised. This years show features Rangers coach John Tortorella and my guy Peter Laviolette. Its easy to see why both have their names etched on Lord Stanleys Cup, although I still have a little of my disdain towards Tortorella. What can I say? I mean, he is coaching the Rangers! (One word of warning: The language these guys use would make Rex Bleeping Ryan blush!)

But most of all, what the new year will bring, is hope. I know we learned in Shawshank that hope can be a dangerous thing, but for those of us who have been involved in long-time unrequited relationships with our beloved teams, its about all we have to hold on to. This has to be the year! Doesnt it?

The best part is that the slate has been wiped clean, in some cases 103 times! (Im sorry, had to take it. We only tease the ones we love!) The changing of the calendar is like Opening Day for our lives, rooting or otherwise. Instead of dwelling on the past, we can celebrate the fact that it is the past.

So come on in, pull up a stool, and entertain me this weekend. We can laugh as we look back at how our teams imploded last year and point out how thing will be different this year. Hopefully, this is the year we get it right.

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live.

1. Anthony Davis

The five-time All-Star just continues to improve. While he's not averaging career-highs in any major category, no one's going to scoff at his 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and is on pace for a career-best in 3-pointers made, which is a pretty impressive statistic. Lauri Markkanen will have his hands full, and it may be in the Bulls' best interest to get Nikola Mirotic some early minutes to try and get physical with Davis. There's no real way to slow him down.

2. DeMarcus Cousins

And if the Bulls should so happen to get lucky and slow down Davis, there's another All-Star starter waiting alongside him. Boogie Cousins has been every bit as good as Davis this season, averaging 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 36 minutes. He's certainly not as efficient as Davis (47 percent from the field, 5.0 turnovers) but is deadly inside. He's shooting a career-best 52.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, and his 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks make him a serviceable defender (although the Bulls could certainly stretch their offense to make him work more).

3. Rajon Rondo

Rondo hasn't been great in his first season with the Pellies, but perhaps he's turning things around. Beginning with his absurd 25-assist game just after Christmas, Rondo is averaging 7.4 points, 8.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He's allowed Jrue Holiday to play more off the ball, and while his defense is nothing to write home about he's logging solid minutes for a Pelicans team woefully short in the backcourt.