Blackhawks

Time for Some Bull?

Time for Some Bull?

Friday, Jan. 29, 2010
1:35 AM

Having a sports addiction is never an easy thing, but at least it doesnt require me to have to apologize to my wife and take a trip to Hatiesburg. Well, make that I dont have to go Mississippi, the basement maybe, and on second thought, Im always apologizing to the wife, so I guess I have more in common with Tiger than I thought. What it means is, as one door closes, another opens, and it never stops! For me, with the Super Bowl coming up, football is over, and baseball is not here yet, so I need something to fill the void. My primary focus has been on football, followed by hockey. Now hockey is going to be the focus, followed by? I have three options: pro basketball, college basketball or golf. Golf and college basketball still have a little time before they will become national obsessions (hoops for a month, golf for a week) so I guess Ill try pro basketball.

Ive been a pro basketball fan all of my life, but sometimes its a hard road. Either the teams I root for are bad, or the style of ball being played is not to my liking. I cant count how many times I talk to guys at the bar who say that theyre not fans of the NBA, but prefer college hoops instead. I almost never hear that about football. (Then again, I dont live in the south.) But pro basketball is always there, so I always watch. It just takes until now for me to really pay attention. Just like a game. The old saying is that you dont have to watch a game until the final two minutes. The season is the same way. Pick it up at the halfway point and ride it home. Once again, its a league of have and have nots. Unlike football, where most fans can watch any two teams play, and watch a bad home team religiously, thats not the case with basketball. The only Nets action being watched is on a cable highlights show. Who cares? There are 8 teams that people watch, and the rest. Actually, that might be a high number: Celtics, Cavs, Lakers, thats more like it. Memphis is a nice story? Where? 10 games over .500 would put you on a pace to win 50 games, the usual barometer of a good team. 7 do right now. Out of 30.

That being said its now the NBAs time to try to take some spotlight. And, it shouldnt be for Gilbert Arenas gun show. Here in Chicago, the Bulls have been greatly overshadowed by the resurgent Hawks. In this town, right now, the Hawks are a runaway freight train. Ask any bar owner. My observation of the mood of the town towards any of its teams is part of my job everyday. Do people want to talk about them? Do conversations about them get eye rolls? (Like the Bears dual coordinator searches!) Do people want to watch them on TV? (Thus staying at the bar, eating and drinking!) The Hawks are that team in town right now. I know the Bulls attendance is leading the league again, but I dont see that kind of devout following at the bar. Going to a Bulls game is a lot of fun, I can attest to that, but sometimes watching a game on TV can take some effort.

Well, guess whos watch-a-bull again? Thats right, your Chicago Bulls! After another slow start and the yearly will they or wont they fire the coach on a holiday, the Bulls are back. This even though they never left, go figure. There are two main themes to this 2009-10 season. The Bulls are positioning themselves for the big free-agent market after this season to add a marquee player and the development of last years 1 draft pick Derrick Rose, who will combine with said player to re-lead the Bulls to greatness. As always, Ill believe the free-agent part when I see it. There will be serious competition for the free-agents and having the money to pay them wont guarantee their arrival. But this Derrick Rose thing? I think they might have something there. He started the year injured and tentative, but for over a month now, hes been out of his mind. So much so that he was named a reserve on this years all-star team. The 1st Bulls All-Star since M.J.!

This is the time to get on-board and find out where the Bulls are headed. With the lack of good teams in general and the East specifically, I dont think its out of question for the Bulls to make a run to the 5th seed. This only happens with Rose continuing to assert his game, that and a few others making shots. Rose is averaging 23.3 points a game this month to go along with 6.5 assists. But numbers in any sport dont tell the whole story and neither do these. He is taking over games and is the best athlete on the floor. If you need convincing go to YouTube, and watch his dunk over Goran Dragic last Friday in Phoenix. Are you kidding me? (As an aside: if you listen to the CSN feed, I thought Stacey Kings head was going to explode!)

So as the thermometer continues to plummet, and baseball seems, and is, far away, tune in the Bulls, if for no other reason to watch a local who is turning into a superstar before our very eyes.

Take it from your friendly bartender, its safe to watch again, preferably @ 33 W Kinzie.

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.