Cubs

Without forward(s), Bulls face Hawks on CSN

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Without forward(s), Bulls face Hawks on CSN

Friday, March 11, 2011
Posted: 2:52 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After waiting until the season's stretch run for a fully-intact roster, Carlos Boozer's sprained left ankle put a slight damper on the increasingly optimistic Bulls' title hopes. Boozer's injury is similar to sprain the power forward suffered Jan. 15 against Miami, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Additionally, the Bulls' other starting small forward, Luol Deng, may not suit up Friday, due to a bruised left thigh. Deng's injury also happened against the Bobcats, when fellow Duke product Gerald Henderson caught him while making a wild circus shot underneath the basket.

The difference between Boozer's previous injury--after which Boozer missed Chicago's next three games--and this one is that not only is the national spotlight aimed directly at the surging Bulls, but in the midst of late-season jockeying for playoff position, the team simply cannot afford to lose their best low-post scoring option for an extended period of time. On the heels of the Celtics and just ahead of the Heat, Chicago is striving to overtake Boston and garner the Eastern Conference's top seed, but also has to be cautious of slipping to the third, which would pit them against a dangerous, new-look Knicks team in the first round of the playoffs if the postseason were to begin today.

That means they can't afford any hiccups along the way--such as the one they had last week in Atlanta against Friday's visitor to the United Center, the Hawks--and despite Boozer's recent offensive struggles, the mere scoring presence of the two-time All-Star at least gives opponents pause and consideration to double-teaming, something that can't be said about the Bulls' other post players. Although the Bulls' late-season slate isn't the most challenging, this time of the year is when teams with slim playoff hopes pull off upsets and lottery-bound squads play loose and turn to the future, with young players that haven't been extensively scouted getting the opportunity to showcase their games and perhaps surprise a contender.

As for Deng, after a career that's been marred by injuries, he's been a iron man all season. The native of Sudan is the team's leader in minutes--and among the league's leaders--and hasn't missed a game the entire campaign, prompting Thibodeau to alternately call him the team's "glue" and joke with reporters about Deng's usage, something of a sore spot for the coach earlier this season.

While Deng would never admit it, he's motivated by past criticism of his health and playing all 82 games was a goal coming into the season, especially with the more versatile role he's played for this year's Bulls team. Under Thibodeau, the eighth-year pro's versatility has been maximized, as he's guarded power forwards in Boozer's absence, been given defensive-stopper responsibilities, served as the go-to scorer when paired with the team's underrated second unit and with his extended shooting range, has thrived in as a third scoring option and has been particularly valuable to All-Star point guard Derrick Rose's drive-and-kick game, but also to the entire squad, in all facets of the game.

That being said, the tough-minded Bulls have been through this before and are unlikely to fold just because they're a man (or two) down, an occurrence they've obviously experienced before. With a game-changer like league MVP favorite Rose, a no-excuses coach like Thibodeau and a focused supporting cast always eager to prove their worth when they have an opportunity to shine, a letdown due to any absence from Boozer is something that should be counted on.

Never have two three-word phrases--"day-to-day" and "game-time decision"--meant so much and so little. Here's banking on the Bulls, with revenge on their minds, using the adversity to their advantage.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: