From Comcast SportsNetGREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Charles Woodson has been cleared to play again, and the Green Bay Packers are counting on the defensive back to provide a lift in Saturday night's playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings.Woodson deferred to team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and gave his broken collarbone as much time to heal as possible, sitting out Sunday's regular-season finale at Minnesota. He was injured on Oct. 21 and has missed nine consecutive games.But now that the Packers are in win-or-go-home mode, Woodson is back."Charles has been a stud in this league for 15 years, so whenever he's on the field with us, he's always a huge threat," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said after practice Tuesday evening. "Not only is he a threat to make huge plays throughout the game, but quarterbacks, I think they know where he's at every single play. He seems to know what receivers are running before they do. And I think he has an intimidation factor as well."Every team we play has to respect him."Playing without Woodson each time, Green Bay split its two regular-season games against Minnesota. But Vikings star Adrian Peterson had two strong performances against the Packers, rushing for 210 yards in Green Bay's 23-14 victory on Dec. 2 and gaining 199 yards on the ground in Minnesota's 37-34 win on Sunday at the Metrodome."I just think having Charles Woodson back on the field helps our football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in announcing that Woodson had been cleared. "I mean, just what he's meant to our defense, his playmaking ability, his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage. He's extremely productive, so I'm just glad to have him back on the field."The 36-year-old Woodson was not in the Packers' locker room during the media access period on Tuesday night. But when he last spoke at length with reporters on Dec. 21, he acknowledged that he hasn't always agreed with McKenzie or McCarthy's recommendations. But if waiting allows him to make it through an entire playoff run - right through Super Bowl XLVII - without reinjuring his collarbone, he will be grateful, he said.Before his injury at St. Louis, Woodson was playing strong safety in the Packers' base defense, then playing the nickel and dime slot positions in sub packages. After he went down, M.D. Jennings was his primary replacement at safety in the base defense, while rookies Casey Hayward (nickel) and Jerron McMillian (dime) covered opposing slot receivers.It's unclear where Woodson will line up this weekend, but his defensive teammates believe he'll help against Peterson and Christian Ponder, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday."(Woodson) helps us in every aspect of the game, just his experience," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "No doubt about it, obviously he's a great player from the start, but with that experience, we know he's going to be in the position he's supposed to be in, we know he's going to be looking to make a play. You can be aggressive yourself because you know you have a guy back there you can trust."Williams said Woodson also makes a difference because, while some of the team's young players have done well in his absence, his knowledge of the game allows him to do things that younger players aren't able to do, aren't comfortable doing or can't do as well as he does them."This defense is based off disguising and things like that, so Charles has been so experienced so he knows how long to hold a disguise, and he's not scared to do it," Williams said. "It's definitely going to help us in the long run."
Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.
Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.
Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.
“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”
He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.
“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.
He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.
With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.
“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”
He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.
No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.
There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.
It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.
“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”
He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.
Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.
So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.
“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”
Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.
“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”
And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.
“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”