Bulls

Cautiously optimistic, Danks takes a step in the right direction

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Cautiously optimistic, Danks takes a step in the right direction

They're baby steps, but the road back to a major-league mound has to start somewhere for injured White Sox starter John Danks. And his work Tuesday before the White Sox face the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field helped put at least a little smile on Danks' face in the clubhouse.

The left-hander hasn't pitched for the White Sox since his May 19 win over the Cubs and has pitched just four innings total -- on June 12, in a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte -- due to a Grade 1 tear in the subscapularis muscle in his throwing shoulder. But he was able to throw 20 pitches off the bullpen mound after completing his normal throwing session from 120-130 feet and working in.

"It was about as good as expected, maybe even better," Danks said. "All in all it was a good day. Am I ready to go pitch somewhere? No. But this is a necessary step and hopefully tomorrow it bounces back and that will tell us what we need to know.

"That's kind of been the biggest problem. Every time we've gotten to this point, it's taken me a day or two to be able to go do it again. We're working on strength. It's been a while since I've thrown and it's going to be a process but we're trying to speed it up the best we can."

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper concurred with Danks' good vibes from the pregame work.

"I'd have to agree with him. Listen, any time we go out there and we do something it's a positive step," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "He's been going through the throwing program and today we threw 20 on the mound. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. We're grading him on how he feels before, during and after -- and today went okay. We'll see tomorrow and go from there."

For Danks, who made at least 32 starts three seasons in a row before making 27 last season, the extent of his injury and length of his absence has given him an unusual feeling. But being back up on the mound helped him find a comfort zone he hasn't felt in quite a while.

"I think the most gratifying part was getting on the mound just because that's what we're working towards, but all of it's good," Danks said. "Being able to go out there and throw 120-130 feet and then work it back in and then to be able to get on the mound and throw from there, that's a big step. We'll see how it goes from here, but today's definitely been a good day so far.

"Heck, it's been so long since I put a pair of spikes on, that was a win in my book," Danks said. "I didn't spin any, or even really focus on throwing strikes. It was more just going through my motion and being able to get it to the plate and I was able to do that for 20."

"We're trying to get his arm strength up by throwing, playing catch, going through a good amount of throws from different distances and then today was the first time -- at the end of it -- we went to the mound and threw 20 fastballs," Cooper said. "He wasn't coming out of his shoes or anything like that but, again, for us to do what we did today, it's definitely a step."

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, rumors continue to swirl that White Sox general manager Kenny Williams is looking to add a significant pitcher to the starting rotation -- namely Milwaukee's Zack Greinke. Could Danks make Williams' decision to deal any easier by taking the mound in a Sox uniform sometime soon?

"I wish I had an answer for you. When it first happened, I didn't initially think I needed to go on the DL. Just miss a start, push me back a few days and go from there," Danks said. "This thing's kind of taken a lot longer than we expected.

"I hope late August, but this is uncharted territory for me. I've never dealt with a shoulder problem," Danks said "Certainly that's the hope, get back in time for the stretch run and hopefully be strong enough and good enough to help push us into the playoffs."

Even a return just weeks before the postseason begins would still be a welcome addition for Williams and the White Sox, especially if first-year starter Chris Sale or rookie Jose Quintana hit a wall as they continue to reach new career-highs in innings pitched. But first, Danks has to start feeling good again and how his shoulder reacts on Wednesday and Thursday will be key in determining the next steps in his rehab.

"I made a joke the other day: it's been so long since I felt good, I don't even know what it feels like anymore," Danks said. "Everything that I'm feeling now, from the training staff and doctors, is exactly what they want me to feel. So, I'm putting all my faith in that. They've dealt with this a lot more times than I have so they know where I should be and what I should be feeling and they're pleased with that."

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."