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The NBA's most surprising team is the...

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The NBA's most surprising team is the...

From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Mark Jackson received a congratulatory text message from Hall of Famer Reggie Miller that might have seemed a bit strange after his Golden State Warriors grinded out a win against the Western Conference's worst team.Big or small, no Warriors win goes unnoticed or is insignificant these days.David Lee had 26 points and nine rebounds, Klay Thompson scored 19 points and Golden State brought its surprising road run home with a 103-96 victory over the struggling New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night."He congratulated us on the win, but he also said how impressive it was because of the first game being back at home after success for a young team," Jackson said of Miller, a longtime NBA friend and former broadcasting colleague. "For us, it could've been a setup game. But I've got a different group in there. They deserve a whole lot of credit."After going 6-1 on the season's longest road stretch, the Warriors built a 14-point lead in the second quarter and held off the Hornets late. Golden State (17-8) is off to its best start since the 1991-92 season, when the team began 21-8.A franchise that has missed the playoffs 17 of the last 18 seasons is suddenly starting returning to its winning ways."One of the hardest games in the NBA to play is your first game back at home after a road trip," Lee said. "I've been through too much losing to be disappointed in a win."Ryan Anderson scored 28 points off the bench and Anthony Davis had 15 points and 16 rebounds in his first start in a month for the Hornets, who lost their eighth straight to fall to 5-19 this season.Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack each scored 16 points to help Golden State hold off their former team, with each making a pair of free throws in the final minutes. New Orleans sent Jack to Golden State as part of a three-team deal with Philadelphia, and Laundry signed a free-agent deal with the Warriors.While Jack called facing the Hornets "just another game," Landry laughed off that notion."Not for me. And I don't think it was for him. Not at all, man," said Landry, who added nine rebounds. "Jarrett was extra amped-up and I was too, man. We didn't need a 5-hour (energy drink), we didn't need a speech, we didn't need nothing like that. We were ready to play yesterday."The Warriors hadn't played at Oracle Arena since Dec. 3 and treated fans to a video montage of the road trip during pregame introductions. They controlled the pace for most of the game, but the Hornets almost erased all the good vibes with a frantic fourth quarter rally.Davis caught a half-court pass from Greivis Vasquez and converted a layup over Landry for a three-point play that capped a 14-4 Hornets run to tie the game at 92. Landry answered with two free throws, Stephen Curry made a pull-up jumper and Jack added another pair from the line to put the Warriors ahead 98-92 with 1:24 remaining."It's just a tough loss for us, especially when you tie it up, you have a chance to win. All you need is a couple stops and a couple of buckets," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "We just haven't found that closing mentality, a couple guys who can knock down a shot or even get to the free throw line."The Warriors extended the momentum from their East Coast trip -- which included a win at defending champion Miami -- and added some style points, too.Curry's left-handed pass off the dribble split two defenders en route to rookie Festus Ezeli, who tapped the ball to Lee for a dunk. And on the last play of the first quarter, Charles Jenkins brought an announced sellout crowd of 19,596 roaring to its feet with a buzzer-beating baseline jumper.Landry kept the surge going in the second quarter when he started a three-point play with a reverse layup over Roger Mason. He flexed his biceps in celebration and made the free to give Golden State a 38-24 lead.Williams had restructured the Hornets' starting lineup in hopes of shaking the losing streak. Anderson came off the bench and Robin Lopez moved from center to power forward to make room for Davis.Davis, the top pick out of Kentucky in June's draft, started for the first time since Nov. 17 at Milwaukee. He had come off the bench the previous four games after sitting out 11 games with a left ankle injury.The result remained the same."They just had some great plays at the stretch," Anderson said. "We were getting stops but we made some mistakes down the stretch, and we weren't running the plays right at the end. Just little things, a little slippage."NOTES:Lee's streak of consecutive double-doubles ended at seven games. ... Williams said he's still not sure when PG Eric Gordon will return from a right knee injury that has sidelined him all season. For now, he's trying to stay patient. "My pastor taught me something a long time ago called present discomfort for future gains," Williams said. "And that's what we're kind of going through as a team." ... A moment of silence was held before the game for the victims of the Connecticut elementary school shooting last week.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.