Fire

Hawks won't relax with playoff spot nearly clinched

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Hawks won't relax with playoff spot nearly clinched

Last April, the Blackhawks walked out of the United Center after their regular-season finale loss to Detroit, figuring their playoff hopes were dashed.

A few hours later, a spoiler-playing Minnesota Wild squad rekindled those hopes. But for those few anxious hours and the days leading up to that final regular-season game the Blackhawks were sweating things.

Fast forward to the present. Its a much different season for the Blackhawks and, conversely, a different playoff situation. Thanks to the Blackhawks recent surge, theres not much doubt theyll make the postseason. Its just a matter of when. If the Edmonton Oilers had managed to beat the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night, the Blackhawks would be in. But the wait goes on at least one more day courtesy of LA's 4-1 victory.

But considering there are still points to be gathered and playoff placement to be decided, the Blackhawks are treating these final few regular-season games like they are fighting to make it.

The Blackhawks play the Nashville Predators on Saturday, as they look to assure themselves a fourth playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. With the points race as tight as it is, the Blackhawks arent just planning on an easy-breezy finish to this regular season, even if theyre qualified for the playoffs.

I dont think it matters. We still want to be playing good hockey, not to coast through the end here, goaltender Corey Crawford said. We want to finish strong and go into the playoffs playing well.

The Blackhawks are making that push right now, finding ways to get points and victories despite missing starters Jonathan Toews (concussion), Steve Montador (suspected concussion) and Duncan Keith (suspension). Sans Toews, theyve now gone 11-5-2. But there are many Blackhawks who remember last season, last years angst, all too well. So taking it easy is not acceptable.

I think I was out eating; you dont want to watch the game but you do to see what happened, said Dave Bolland, referring to that Minnesota victory over Dallas that got the Blackhawks in last season. Wait and see; its never fun to see if youre in or out. We have to be ready for Nashville (tomorrow) and we have to be ready for any (playoff) matchup.

If the Blackhawks end up in sixth theyll face the winner of the Pacific Division, whose race may not be decided until this seasons final day. If they move up to fifth, it could be Detroit or Nashville. And so on. Thats how the Blackhawks are looking at their top-eight position right now: theyre happy to be in, but theyre vying for the best spot in it.

We want to keep moving ahead, keep pushing forward, coach Joel Quenneville said. Were still not comfortable with where were at.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

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USA TODAY

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

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AP

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.