Bulls

Palandech wields sledgehammer at Plainfield North

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Palandech wields sledgehammer at Plainfield North

Plainfield North isn't old enough to have a football tradition. The eight-year-old school still seeking its first victory in the state playoff. So what do you do when you don't have a tradition? You make one up.

"Our first class started with a sledgehammer," said quarterback Kurt Palandech. "It was placed in the locker room and they would bring it onto the field for games. The motto was: 'Keep hammering.' It was our first tradition and we stuck with it. We don't bring it onto the field anymore for games but we keep it in the locker room."

Now Palandech, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior, and his teammates are eager to establish another tradition. The Tigers are looking ahead to becoming the first class to win a state playoff game. They will open against Southwest Prairie rival Oswego in Class 7A. They lost to Oswego 35-7 in Week 7.

"We want to be a consistent playoff team," Palandech said. "We want to let people know that we have a good program. We want to be remembered as the first team at our school to get to make a deep run in the playoff and get to the state title game. We have high expectations."

Coming off a 4-5 finish last year, coach Tim Kane also had high expectations for 2012. With 17 returning starters, he had every reason to believe his team should compete for the conference title and go deep into the playoff for the first time.

"Last year, we expected more," Kane said. "We were inconsistent. We were very young and had a lot of juniors playing key positions. We played well one week, not so well the next week. We were coming off two good years (7-3 in 2009 and 2010) and improving each year. To take a step back was disappointing."

This team has responded to adversity. After being stopped at the 10 in the closing seconds of a 27-22 opening loss to Bradley 27-22 in Week 1, the Tigers won five games in a row before losing to Oswego 35-7. Then they dispatched Minooka 28-20 last week.

"The loss to Oswego was a real setback," Palandech said. "We didn't perform well on offense. It was disappointing. But we can't do anything about it now. It was a learning experience. We looked at the film and saw our mental errors and breakdowns. We had chances to score but couldn't connect. But Oswego is a good team and they took advantage of our mistakes.

"We bounced back against Minooka. It was like a playoff game. It was a must win for them to qualify for the playoff and a must win for us coming off a loss. It was high intensity. We wanted to get the losing taste out of our mouths."

Against Minooka, Palandech completed 11 of 20 passes for 128 yards, including touchdown passes of 11 yards to Brett Fox and 14 yards to Brock Thomas. With leading rusher Jay Roberts sidelined with a thigh bruise, junior Robert Baker stepped up and rushed for 66 yards. Kendall Interial's 96-yard return of the second half kickoff gave Plainfield North a 20-10 lead.

In last Friday's 48-14 romp over Oswego East, Palandech rushed eight times for 181 yards and scored two touchdowns, including an 87-yarder, and threw a short touchdown pass. Roberts returned in style by rushing 15 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

"The strength of this team is its senior leadership, the overall attitude of the kids," Kane said. "They have responded to adversity. They put in a lot of time in the off-season and went into this season expecting to be good. It is important to them to be successful."

Palandech has rushed for 600 yards, passed for more than 600 and averages eight yards per carry in the Tigers' I formation. Roberts is a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior who has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Other mainstays are 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior tackle Zack Yost, 6-foot-7, 275-pound senior tackle Kiefer Ketelhut, 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior tight endlinebacker Brett Fox, 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior safety Collin Holt, 6-foot, 190-pound senior defensive end Ben Toledo and 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior defensive end Ben Meyers.

In the wake of last year's 4-5 finish, Palandech and his teammates re-dedicated themselves in the summer. They spent a lot of time lifting weights and running pass routes and participating in 7-on-7 competitions. They won the Bolingbrook tournament.

"I'm known for scrambling but I prefer to throw first," Palandech said. "We stick to what we are good at, running the ball and not making mistakes. Physically, we think we can compete with anyone. This team never quits. We always think we are in the game even when we are down."

Palandech wants to play quarterback in college. He has a 4.9 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale and scored 26 on his ACT. He wants to study engineering at an Ivy League school. Last summer, he visited Cornell, Columbia, Penn and Princeton. He also visited Illinois State and Northern Illinois. Illinois, Vanderbilt and Wyoming are evaluating him as an athlete, maybe a wide receiver or defensive back.

"But my goal is to play quarterback in college," he said, noting that he is a three-sport athlete who attended summer camps and was timed in 4.5 for 40 yards and also impressed in agility drills. "I hope some school likes me. I don't have any offers. There is something about being a quarterback in football that is special."

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

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USA TODAY

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

ATLANTA — Here are the observations from the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena Saturday afternoon.

Not a shooter, but a scorer: The Atlanta Hawks’ gameplan was clear on Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen: Do anything but let him shoot.

They succeeded at that objective but in the words of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, they “won the battle but lost the war” as Markkanen missed all four of his 3-pointers and didn’t hit a jump shot.

But he scored 19 including six dunks—after coming in with 28 dunks in the first 42 games. The Hawks kept putting smaller players on him after switching pick and rolls and the Bulls smartly and patiently went to Markkanen inside after ball movement.

Shooting over 6-foot-10 guys who aren’t as agile is certainly satisfying for the rookie but as Markkanen said, “dunking is fun.”

“Trying to be a complete player,” Markkanen said. “If that was their game plan, I don’t know. I can do much more than shoot. I missed how many three’s today? But that wasn’t going for me tonight so I went to something else.”

Clearly while Markkanen’s game is growing the easiest thing for opposing teams to do is to see how he’ll perform against smaller players, but as the season has gone on he’s shown more comfort with his back to the basket and being two passes away, ready to step into the lane when defenses collapse.

“I know I can’t just shoot threes, I gotta get to the rim,” Markkanen said. “Eventually it’ll open more space for 3-pointers and stuff like that. Trying to mix it up.”

Dead legs or settling in for Zach LaVine: It was tailor made for Zach LaVine to get his second slam of the season, getting the ball on a breakaway with only Taurean Prince trailing him.

Whether LaVine heard footsteps or knew he didn’t have the full lift to get there, Prince caught up with him to foul from behind as LaVine tripped before liftoff, missing a layup.

It was indicative of his early showing, as the adrenaline from the first two games has worn off and LaVine is having to get used to his body’s limitations in the moment—especially as his minute restriction was raised to 24 minutes for the next three games before he’ll be re-evaluated again.

He was 0-for-4 in the first half before catching a bit of a rhythm in the second half, finishing two-for-nine with eight points in 18 minutes, adding nine rebounds. His explosion isn’t there yet, going to the rim. And his legs on his jumper feels a little flat, too.

“I don’t have all of it (legs),” LaVine said. “A couple possessions down the floor, I get tired. Get fouled and have to walk it off. I have to get the game legs back and I can’t practice it, it comes with playing.”

In two months, one would think he’ll finish that with little issues but he admitted fatigue caught up with him more than anything.

“My first two (games) I was extremely excited, energized,” LaVine said. “I just feel like it’s something I gotta get used to playing NBA games again. I feel it a little bit.”

Especially in watching Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas go through a similar up-and-down period with his return, nobody should’ve expected LaVine’s performances to just keep rising and rising without dropoff.

This is part of the rehab, and the Bulls feel as if they’re prepared for it. Their reasoning for only marginally increasing LaVine’s workload from 20 to 24 minutes is simple: They want him to have off-days to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired knee, not just having him take the practice days as recovery from playing heavy minutes.

“You can’t anticipate any of it,” LaVine said. “I felt good the first two, I feel good now. No injury, no knick-knacks or anything. Just energy-wise and your legs, making sure you’re getting up and down the floor, making sure you’re getting elevation on your jumper and in the lane, I gotta get better at it.”

As self-aware as anyone considering what he’s been through over the past year, he offered an assurance to any who may be concerned.

“I gotta play through it, find ways around it,” LaVine said. “Regardless I’m not scared or anything. I feel fine.”

Dunn out vs. New Orleans: Kris Dunn will be out against the New Orleans Pelicans and it appears more likely he’ll miss Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia as well as he recovers from the concussion he suffered in a scary fall against Golden State earlier this week.

“He has no change in his symptoms,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll know more tomorrow but his symptoms haven’t changed.”

Initially the Bulls didn’t believe Dunn had a concussion but the symptoms emerged early the next morning.

“From what I understand with concussion symptoms, they can take up to 24 hours to develop. It sounds like the initial tests, he passed,” Hoiberg said. “Then he woke up the morning, had a headache, had some dizziness, was re-checked and that’s when they put him in concussion protocol. There’s been very little change since. He’s still having trouble with sleeping. The biggest thing is making sure he’s getting rest and he stays hydrated.”

The tank: One team successfully executed how to tank, and that was the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the Bulls forced them into missing 37 of 48 3-point attempts, and the Bulls jumped on them early and never allowed the Hawks to take a lead, much less get too close.

“We opened with a double-digit lead right out the gate,” Hoiberg said. “Overall, really complete performance for our guys.”

“We knew we had to come out the gate with great effort.”

Robin Lopez continued his impressive play with 20 points and Justin Holiday hit a few shots late to score 13, while Bobby Portis scored 14 in 18 minutes.

But pretty, it was not.

The Bulls haven’t completely abandoned their plans for the season, as they’ll field calls for Holiday, Lopez and of course, have Nikola Mirotic’s exit being first on their docket.

But while this team is relatively whole, this is a game they should win handily.

And they did.

Yet and still, though, this applies to the 13-32 Hawks:

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.