Blackhawks

Bulls trio embracing new identities?

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Bulls trio embracing new identities?

On the one hand, the Bulls season-opening win Wednesday night over the Sacramento Kings at the United Center was very similar to a lot of the teams victories since Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm. It wasnt very high-scoring, it wasnt very pretty, it was perhaps closer than necessary and defense played a big part of it.

But aside from the absence of Derrick Rose and the Bench Mobthe newly-extended Taj Gibson is the lone remaining memberthe teams holdovers were featured in different roles than usual. All-Star Luol Deng struggled offensively, but made up for it with his rebounding, while Kirk Hinrich showed off his playmaking ability, something fans might not remember, since when he was last in Chicago, he often played off the ball to make room for the development of a younger Rose.

Instead, three playersRip Hamilton, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozerfunctioned in roles that fans might not used to be seeing them in: Hamilton healthy and reminiscent of his heyday in Detroit; Noah a newfound offensive force; and Boozer the teams de facto closer.

Hamilton, who has formed great chemistry with former rival and current starting backcourt partner Kirk Hinrich, ran the floor in transition and had his patented mid-range game working against the Kings. In short, he looked nothing like the player Chicago fans never got a chance to know a season ago.

I was hurt. Thats in the past, Hamilton said, weary about questions about his injury-plagued debut campaign in a Bulls uniform. Man, its whatever with me. With me, its whatever Coach needs me to do, thats what Im going to be here to do. Ive been playing a long time, so its not a thing where I say, Ive got to go out there and average 20. I dont do that, never did. Its all about wins and losses.

Concurred Thibodeau: The big thing for Rip is his health and he put a lot of work into getting his body healthy this summer, and I think it paid off for him. Whenever he plays, hes always effective. The problem was missing 38 games, so he never really got into a rhythm. The first time he played an extended stretch for us last year was the month of April, so it was a tough year and I think that got his attention, and I thought that he did a great job this summer.

Noahs work over the summer with NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been much ballyhooed, but while he didnt unveil the leagues all-time leading scorer trademark sky hook, he did appear much more comfortable in both the low post and high post, with his back to the basket and off the dribble.

Ill take it. Hes played very well in the preseason. Hes put a lot of work in. Hes playing with a lot of confidence right now, Thibodeau said of Noah, who also came up big at the free-throw line in the games closing moments. His defense was good, energy was good. He just does so many different things. He can pass the ball, he can score the ball, he can rebound the ball. His conditioning is significantly better, so I think thats a big plus.

Added longtime teammate Deng: Jo has been working hard. If he keeps that up, well be a great team.

In Boozers case, the much-maligned power forwards play down the stretch was also huge. Disparaged for coming up short in the last two playoffseither disappearing, but on the court or simply on the benchBoozer isnt regarded as a clutch player in the Windy City, but took a step in the right direction with his assertive play in the opener.

We have to continue to search him out, Thibodeau said. There are so many good things that happen for us when we throw the ball into him.

Boozer himself almost outright refuses to praise his own play these days, perhaps tired from the constant media backlash when he has a rough outing. But just like his two aforementioned teammates, hes started the season on a high note and if the trio continues to embrace their new responsibilities, the Bulls could end up surprising the naysayers, injured superstar or not.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What does Corey Crawford's future look like?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What does Corey Crawford's future look like?

SportsTalk Live is on location at the United Center for Blackhawks Authentic Fan Night. Charlie Roumeliotis and Jay Cohen join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Michelle McMahon joins the guys to discuss what Corey Crawford's latest concussion means for his future and the Blackhawks future.

13:30- Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy joins Kap to talk about his return from injury, how the Blackhawks will cope without Crow and get the U.S.-born kids' thoughts on the greatest American players in the game's history.

20:30- Pat Boyle joins the guys to talk about the future of the Blackhawks. What veteran players does the team need to think about moving to continue their rebuild?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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NBA Power Rankings: NBA Trade season heating up

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: NBA Trade season heating up

 

As the February 7 NBA Trade deadline approaches, front offices are starting to seriously discuss in-season changes they can make to improve their rosters as goals become clearer for teams throughout the league.

We already saw the funniest trade mishap in quite some time, as the Suns, Grizzlies and Wizards had a three-team deal dissolve amid confusion over which “Brooks” was in the trade--MarShon or Dillon.

The trade that ended up going down was the Wizards sending Austin Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr. to the Suns for Trevor Ariza. Phoenix promptly waived Rivers and the Grizzlies re-entered the fray, picking up Rivers off of waivers.

The Lakers are reportedly still looking for floor-spacing to help out their (already) strong defensive squad. Ariza was linked to them because of his Los Angeles roots but ultimately the Lakers didn’t have enough to entice the Suns. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been linked to the Houston Rockets as they continued their eternal quest to find more 3-and-D wings.

All of the league is keeping an eye on the Warriors and Raptors, teams that are unlikely to make any roster moves but have dominated as of late, and seem destined to meet up in the 2019 NBA Finals. The Nuggets and Bucks are the other teams that has been strong enough to belong in the top tier of the league, with the Sixers being right behind them.

Both Denver and Philadelphia will need to let their rosters get familiar with each other. The Nuggets have important pieces in Isaiah Thomas and rookie Michael Porter Jr. on the shelf, while the Sixers are still building chemistry in their Simmons-Butler-Embiid lineups.

The league is heading for an intriguing week 10, with Celtics-Bucks, Pelicans-Lakers and Raptors-Sixers all being very important matchups.
Check out our latest NBA Power Rankings here.