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Frankie O's Blog: A lazy, hazy shade of winter

Frankie O's Blog: A lazy, hazy shade of winter

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com
As I continue to awaken from my tryptophan induced haze, I find that my new-found clarity enables me to see sports, and life, in a different light. The scandal at Penn State has definitely been a burden and has prompted a lot of soul-searching. It makes me wonder about a priority system gone made. While I think I have mine in order, most times, the combination of the scandal, fighting through an illness during a holiday weekend and a fast approaching milestone birthday have wreaked havoc on my mental well-being. That being said, one must fight on and move forward, hoping that eventually what is right will be done. One good thing about getting older though, I think the filter that should exist in all of our heads, is staring to disappear! OMG!

The talk of the bar, obviously, is about the Bears. The Jay Cutler injury has put a huge damper on the Koo-Aid drinking. As far as his coming back, who knows? But the team cant get lost in waiting for him. This is a time when the defense needs to step up. Lost in the furor over the awful tight-end screen call at the end of the first half that led to an interception that completely changed the game was the fact that the defense didnt do their new QB any favors. I know that they had to defend some short fields(2), but they didnt look up to championship caliber at any time. Oakland scored on 7 of 13 possessions. The 10 play 61-yard drive to open the second half continued the lost momentum of the end of the first half and furthered the uphill nature of the game. Then in the fourth quarter, with Oaklands lead cut to 5 and needing a big stop with 7 minutes left, they instead gave up an 8-play 74-yard touchdown drive that effectively put the game away. This team is going to go as far as the defense will take it. Fortunately, their remaining schedule does them some favors. Up next is an offensively anemic Kansas City team that has scored one touchdown in their last 4 games. The defense shouldnt allow this to change even if KC decides to let a QB with a neck-beard lead the charge. Then they go to play Denver, led by Football Bieber and his college offense. Enough said. After which is Seattle at home. Can you name anyone on that team? The defense needs to win these next 3 no matter who the QB is.

As far as Hanie, I think he showed the inexperience that goes along with having attempted 14 regular season passes at the NFL level. Practice doesnt move as fast as an NFL defense on game day. Besides the ill-fated Martz brain-fart, his 2 other picks were awful throws: A ball that should have been thrown out of bounds and an over-throw trying to do too much on a 3rd and 13. He looked much better in a turnover free second half. The old adage is that you show the most improvement from your first to second game. Lets hope so. I personally think the kid will step up. I especially like the fact that he takes advantage of Johnny Knoxs speed by actually throwing to him. Knox is never going to be a guy who fights for the ball in tight spaces and he can make his QB look bad and has, A LOT, but his speed is the real-deal and is a legitimate threat on an offense that needs to exploit any advantage it has.

As one who is suffering due to the NBA lockout, at the bar and on TV, Im glad the NBA is coming back. In fact, much like the NFL benefited from the frenzy following their labor woes, the NBA might find this whole mess works to their advantage. My reasoning here is that less is more. The NBA season is waaaaaay too long. Now, we can avoid the dog-days and needless visits by Sacramento and Minnesota! (I like pounding crap teams as much as the next guy, but there are still plenty to go around: Ladies and gentleman, your 2011-12 Detroit Pistons!) It might also keep Carlos Boozer healthy which would be a huge boost. (Hide the gym bags!) The main question for the Bulls, as always, will be the 2-guard dilemma. I hate to say it but, they might be better off with the status quo as opposed to bringing in someone elses problem. Food for thought: After the leagues last labor stoppage, teams suffered(or should I say fans?) through the worst shooting percentages in 30 years and the Knicks (!) reached the Finals. Give me defense and D-Rose! More food: (And why not more?) The Mavs won last year because they had more guys that could create shots and shoot. You can only prevent so much and the Bulls inability to score was beaten over fans heads like the many bricks they shot at the rim. The Bulls need a perimeter compliment to Rose and the name everyone is talking about is Jason Richardson. He would be the 66 shooting guard weve been talking about here since you-know-who won 6 and was asked not to return. The question is going to have to be answered eventually. Is Richardson the answer? If they do sign him, he better be since they wont be able to afford anything else.

Not a day passes without me being asked about the new Cubs regime, or them having a press conference! But I, like everyone else, am fascinated with what approach they will take and what their signature move of this off-season will be. The signing of David DeJesus brings in a competent, professional hitter. Only a cynic like me would point out that last year he had the lowest OBS and struck out the most times in his career. Moneyball? What Moneyball? More pressing are the fates of Big Z (He HAS to go!) and Matt Garza. Garza was a very expensive, if you like young prospects, addition last year, but he is a very talented (near the) top-of-the-rotation starter. His departure would signal the team is hell-bent on developing their own talent and its going to take a few years for the master-plan to bear fruit. It might be a little tough to sell that to folks that have to pay for season tickets this year, but this group will be measured for what they achieve in the future, not this year. They have a honeymoon period where they cant do wrong, so they better take advantage of it to get their house in order, because we all know honeymoons dont last!! Remember the Summer of Jay? (You thought I was talking about something else?)

So Im pouring drinks at a furious pace during a busy convention week and I happen to glance up at one of the TVs in the bar to see if I can get a score from one of the various Big TenACC Challenge games on a cable network and I saw a commercial that made me stop in my tracks.(Cable TV has the best commercials ever!) And once again Ive been beaten to the punch! Ive always envisioned myself coming up with the next big thing, you know, like a Gates, Jobs or Zuckerberg, but maybe not to the same intellectual level. Being a bartender, I know that you dont have to be that bright to come up with an idea that will make you a ton of cash. I would go through the history, but Im too embarrassed. Embarrassed that I didnt think of it! A pet rock? A chia pet? Zubaz? Cmon!!

Well, just when we thought we saw it all with the snuggie, we now have reached a new low with the Forever Lazy. What is that, you may ask? After being made totally uncomfortable (irony?) by the commercial, I, of course, had to check out the website! Upon entering, I was asked the question: Have you ever wondered why no one makes a good pair of onesie pajamas for adults? Well, since Im an adult, no, I have NEVER wondered that! These guys are brilliant! Since THEY wondered, theyve come up with the one-piece lie around, lounge around, full body lazy wear that covers from head to toe. Well, not exactly, since you have to buy matching footies that theyll give you for free, plus 7.95 P&H. Honestly? And theyve really thought this out, since the Forever Lazy includes zippered hatches, front and back, for great escapes! What?! But really, who has time for that? If Im in full lazy mode, Im not moving for nothing, and I mean nothing! That got me thinking, what these things need is a friend, thats right, a pal: A Stadium Pal! How can you buy one without the other? If youre going to do it, go the distance! Now, if youll excuse me, I have to go. Go call my friends at Forever Lazy. Can you say the holiday gift-pack every fan wants to see under his tree? Bartender approved!!

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."