Blackhawks

Rondo, Celtics down Bulls

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Rondo, Celtics down Bulls

Any game pitting teams coached by close friends Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers should be expected to be a barnburner and Monday nights showdown between the Bulls (4-3) vs. Celtics (4-3) was no exception.

After a disappointing initial three quarters, particularly on the defensive end, the Bulls stormed back in the final frame behind the inspired play of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, as well as the first primetime moment for rookie Marquis Teague, but ultimately fell short in a 101-95 defeat.

After recording his first game since 2003 without a field goal, Carlos Boozer (15 points) was aggressive from the outset, both in the post and shooting his mid-range jumper, helping the Bulls take a slight edge in the early going. On the other end, however, future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett (15 points) was just as assertive, and with All-Star floor general Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds) running the show, the Celtics quickly overtook their hosts.

While the Bulls also got contributions from the likes of Deng (26 points, 11 rebounds), a strong quarter from Paul Pierce (10 points) and a surprising lack of defensive resistance from the home team allowed the visitors to shoot a gaudy 63.6 percent from the field in the period. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed, 33-27.

Deng and the Bulls second unit opened the second period, but couldnt chip away at Bostons lead, despite reserve shooting guard Marco Belinelli matching the instant offense of Celtics counterpart Leandro Barbosa. The hosts combined one of their periodic offensive droughts, less-than-stellar defense and sporadic ball-security issues in a recipe that resulted in a double-digit deficit.

Two uncharacteristically loose periods defensively, compounded by the Celtics capitalizing on almost every lapse possible put the Bulls in a hole as halftime approached. At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 58-46.

After the break, the Bulls inability to deal with Rondos all-around game, ability to penetrate and finish, orchestration of the Celtics offense, and improved outside jumper permitted the visitors to maintain complete control of the game. While Deng and Boozer were still effective, the latters counterpart for Boston, Brandon Bass (16 points), also got his game going, giving the Bulls another headache to deal with.

Boston continued to get quality shot attempts and knock them down, hold a slight edge on the glass and on the other end of the floor, make the Bulls work extremely hard for every bucket they got. Following an improbable three-pointer by rookie power forward Jared Sullinger with 0.7 seconds left in the period, the Bulls trailed, 82-70, after three quarters of play.

At the outset of the final stanza, it appeared that the Bulls would continue their one step forward, two steps back strategy that put them in such a tenuous position to begin with. But a lineup featuring Teague, led by the play of Deng and Noah (17 points, 11 rebounds), quickly brought them back within striking distance, raising the spirits of a previously listless United Center crowd.

Down the stretch, Thibodeau surprisingly stuck with Teague who was as fearless as a 19-year-old facing an All-Star could be and as Deng and Noah took over, making plays on both ends of the floor, but especially carrying the offensive load, the Bulls further narrowed the gap. Deng was fouled with 54 seconds on the clock and shockingly missed both free throws, but after Taj Gibson secured the offensive rebound of his second miss, Deng made a tough layup to bring the score to 95-93, in favor of Boston, with 49.5 seconds remaining.

Out of a timeout, Rivers drew up a brilliant inbounds, resulting in an alley-oop from Rondo to Garnett, again making it a two-possession game with 41.9 seconds to go. Gibson stepped to the line with 40.2 seconds left and missed a pair of attempts at the charity stripe and on the other end, Bass slammed home a dunk to put the game out of reach, though the Bulls valiantly fought until the final buzzer sounded.

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Probably not the way the Blackhawks wanted to start their second half of the season.

After a five-day break, the Blackhawks suffered a brutal 7-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night at the United Center. This coming after a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice last Sunday.

"It was a game we had to win," Quenneville said after Saturday's loss. "Disappointing in a lot of ways."

The Blackhawks needed both goaltenders to get through 60 minutes. Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass combined for 39 saves on 46 shots.

On the offensive side of things, Patrick Kane hit a milestone.

The 29-year-old had two goals and an assist and recorded his 800th career point, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to reach 800 points.

The Blackhawks are now 22-18-6 on the season with 50 points and rank last in the Central Division, five points behind the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks' schedule doesn't get any easier when the Tampa Bay Lightning — the league-leader in points — come to town on Monday.

See what Quenneville and Kane had to say about Saturday's loss in the video above.

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.