Cubs

Boozer out, Noah game-time decision vs. Wizards

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Boozer out, Noah game-time decision vs. Wizards

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Posted: 2:09 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
As if playing without Carlos Boozer weren't enough for the Chicago Bulls, it looks like the Ides of March have wreaked havoc on Joakim Noah, too.

After Tuesday's shootaround, head coach Tom Thibodeau said that Boozer will miss tonight's game against the Washington Wizards due to his ankle injury and that Noah will be a game-time decision after he was sent home with an illness.

With the possibility of being without two key players and Derrick Rose having to pick up some of the scoring load, it could be an opportunity for C.J. Watson to step into the spotlight a bit.

Playing behind Rose, it's easy for Watson to go unnoticed. In the approximately 13 minutes he plays nightly, the soft-spoken point guard averages a modest 4.8 points and 2.1 assists.Tom Thibodeau to appear on "The Dan Patrick Show" Wednesday at 9:05 a.m.

By the numbers, this isn't the season he expect, nor did diligent Bulls fans expecting him to be more of a scoring threat, given his past two seasons in Golden State, when he averaged around 10 points per game. But don't lump Thibodeau into that category of observers.

"C.J.'s played very well all season," said Thibodeau. "Whenever C.J.'s gotten extended minutes, he's played even better. We felt good about him going into the season and I think he's exceeded all our expectations."

While Watson has occasionally shown some of the scoring ability he displayed more often with the Warriors--for example, his 16-point, eight-assist, five-rebound performance Saturday or his 33-point explosion in November against the Nuggets when Rose missed the game with a sore neck -- his role with the team's second unit as a ball-pressuring point guard, capable outside shooter, savvy penetrator and underrated playmaker have been more valuable to the Bulls.

"I'm just trying to go out there and make some plays, whether it's offensively or defensively. I'm just trying to play well, so he Thibodeau doesn't take me out," Watson told CSNChicago.com. "It takes a little time for me to get adjusted to the system and all the play calls. Everybody wants the ball and it's the first year with a lot of new players, so now I'm just a little more comfortable trying to get my shots and get others shots."

Added Thibodeau: "C.J. can get a lot going with his defense, too."

"C.J. can really shoot the ball, too. We're starting to see it more and more, but he's a great shooter, he's clever with the ball, he's very effective in the pick-and-roll and he's done a good job of getting Kyle shots, and now they're also starting to make plays for each other ... he's done a great job. You judge a point guard more by how the unit's playing when he's on the floor," he continued. "He's a very bright guy and he picks things up quickly. He played for Don Nelson, who's a great coach. That helped him in some ways; in a lot of ways. He picked things up very quickly here. That was the challenge for us right from the start of the season. With so many new guys, how quickly could we get all of them on to the same page? He made that adjustment very well. He got his unit playing great. They feed off of each other and they're bringing a lot of energy to the game each and every night."
READ: Bulls bench playing major role in recent success

Watson isn't much of a talker -- he doesn't say much to the media, although he's certainly not unfriendly and is clearly popular with his teammates -- and while he isn't as dynamic as Rose, he's become noticeably more vocal on the court.

"He's sort of quiet -- he's not quiet when he's around his teammates--but he's very confident and he's prepared himself," observed Thibodeau. "He's got that second team executing great right now."

Of course, Watson would love to see more minutes--his effectiveness with Rose when Thibodeau pairs them against smallish opposing backcourts may come into play in the postseason, depending on the Bulls' opponents -- but when you're backing up the likely league MVP, it's hard to see where the minutes would come from. At the same time, after toiling in the minor leagues and overseas, then playing for a less-than-competitive Warriors team, Watson is appreciative of his experience on a contender.

"It feels great," Watson told CSNChicago.com. "Going home at night, it's a lot better than losing and just thinking about the playoffs is a whole other feeling."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.

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

They began play Sunday night with a chance to sweep their division rivals in St. Louis and sitting in first place in the National League Central, percentage points up on the Milwaukee Brewers. A +100 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157) and Boston Red Sox (+102) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-12 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

Cubs optimistic Javy Baez avoided serious injury on hit-by-pitch

ST. LOUIS — Cubs nation can breathe a sigh of relief for now.

The team announced Javy Baez has a left elbow contusion after taking a 90 mph fastball off it in the third inning of Sunday night's game. Baez will still undergo X-rays to be sure there is nothing more sinister at play, but for now, it looks as if he has avoided serious injury.

Still, this is not what the Cubs wanted to see.

The Cubs entered play Sunday night having gone 24-12 since getting swept out of St. Louis in the first weekend of May. They were feeling good about themselves, starting to get their mojo back and playing more like the team everybody expected.

And then Baez took a fastball off the left elbow.

After a couple minute delay, Baez was led off the field and Addison Russell came in off the bench to replace him at first base.

The 25-year-old was in the midst of a breakout season for the Cubs, sitting 5th in the National League with 46 RBI and on pace for a near 30-30 seaosn (33 homers, 29 stolen bases). 

He had slowed a bit (.175 average, .502 OPS in June) but still gives the Cubs so much energy and versatility on a daily basis with his ability to move around the infield and lineup.

If the Cubs are going to be without Baez for any length of time, it could be a huge blow to a team that was just hitting its stride.