Bears

Lee's layup gives Pirates Western Suburban Gold title

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Lee's layup gives Pirates Western Suburban Gold title

By Matt Le Cren
YourSeason.com

Proviso East couldnt have scripted a more exciting ending to its Senior Night.The No. 2 Pirates captured the West Suburban Conference Gold Division championship Friday by edging defending champion Downers South 65-62 in Maywood.Guard Paris Lee scored the clinching layup with one second left in front of a host of alumni that included Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers.It feels real good, Lee said. Last year they beat us, so this year we had to come redeem ourselves.Lee scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, including seven of the Pirates last eight. His two free throws with 18.3 seconds left put Proviso East (23-0, 12-0) up 63-59.Jamall Millison then drilled a three-pointer from 25 feet with :09 remaining for Downers South (20-5, 10-2), which was out of timeouts. But before the Mustangs could foul, Proviso East forward Sterling Brown found Lee with a long pass and Lee beat the defense down the floor for his layup.I did a jab to the inbounder and I broke and Sterling threw a good baseball pass to me and I finished the layup, Lee said. Its an honor to score important points. I feel if I go play Division I basketball Im going to have a lot of games like this so this just prepares me.Proviso East hasnt been known for playing smart basketball in recent years, but Browns heads-up play was the difference.I looked for Lee, said Brown, whose offensive rebound of a missed free throw led to Lees last free throws. I see we was up by one but I still wanted to get the ball out because close to the basket they all had pressure defense.I saw Paris leak out so I just threw it. I had faith that he was going to get it and make the layup and I just threw it for him and he did it.The 6-4 Brown often gets overlooked by the media spotlight that gets trained on Lee and fellow guards Keith Carter and Paris Burns, but his play kept the Pirates in the game in the first half. Brown tallied nine of his 13 points in the opening half, including an inside hoop that pulled the hosts within 30-25 at intermission after the Mustangs had used a 9-0 run to take a 30-21 lead.They can have all the press, Brown said. I just want to win. Thats all I come out here to do is just win.The Pirates have done nothing but win this season and werent concerned about trailing the Mustangs, who had won seven straight.Coach Donnie Boyce didnt let us panic, Lee said. He told us to keep our heads and we live for games like that.Downers Grove South did a great job, Boyce said. I felt in the first half we gambled a little too much and we left ourselves vulnerable in the middle and they did a great job of attacking us.It was the first game all year where we had our backs against the wall the majority of the game and I liked the way our guys responded. They never panicked. They kept composure and part of that goes to the experience of Keith Carter.Carter had 15 points, including a pair of foul shots that put the Pirates ahead to stay, 53-51, with 3:19 left, and added five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Burns tallied 10 points and Treshaun Carroll had nine points and 11 rebounds for Proviso East, which hosts Oak Park on Wednesday in the inaugural WSC championship game.Theyre a really tough team, said senior guard Jerron Wilbut, who led Downers South with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Theyve got so many weapons on offense. I think that whats good about them is the really just dont give up. They play hard all the way down the stretch. They dont care who you are.Millison finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Danny Spinuzza chipped in 13 points and Kevin Honn seven points and seven rebounds for the Mustangs, who could meet Proviso East again in the Class 4A Hinsdale Central Supersectional.We played hard. We just came up on the short end, Wilbut said. The emotions were flying in the locker room but we can only just look forward.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?