Bulls

Competition vs. friendship on the O-line: Bears aim to stay close

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Competition vs. friendship on the O-line: Bears aim to stay close

Because it pushes already competitive individuals sometimes even more, competition for positions is a good thing.

Dont necessarily tell that to the players with jobs at risk, particularly along the offensive line, traditionally the closest-knit group on any football team.

Long-time Bears center Olin Kreutz always maintained that the most unpleasant time in his distinguished career was the 1999 training camp and preseason competition he went through vs. Casey Wiegmann.

The reason had nothing to do with acrimony or bad feelings between the two. It was that each knew that the loser was someone who deserved to be an NFL starter.

Kreutz went on to become a six-time Pro Bowl center and started 183 games for the Bears. Wiegmann was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl as a member of the Denver Broncos and at one point had a 127-game streak of consecutive starts.

Then 2012 training camp has been the proving ground for JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams at left tackle. Both have started at the position; both have started at right tackle as well.

Unless a calamity befalls Gabe Carimi at right tackle, either Webb or Williams will no longer be a starter.

In a meeting room and position group built on closeness, a measure of strain among friends would be understandable.

Not at all, insisted center and Bears co-captain Roberto Garza. Both guys are true professionals and weve spent a lot of time together, but this obviously has nothing to do with the friendships.

Its got everything to do with them just showing the coaches that they deserve to be the starting left tackle. Nothing gets in between us.

Competitions are going on elsewhere. Chilo Rachal and Ricky Henry are challenging guards Chris Spencer and Lance Louis. But the starters in each case are established rather than in the kind of competition involving Webb and Williams.

And much of the upheaval along the offensive line over the past couple of seasons has been the result of injury rather than straightforward Player A beating out Player B.

The one with arguably the most to lose right now is Williams, who becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. But Webb is desperately in quest of establishing that he was not the pass-protection disaster that he became in 2011.

Its a big position to be in for both guys, Garza said. Its Chris contract year and JMarcus is trying to establish himself as well. So its going to be very competitive and important for our team.

Both know the stakes and the terms of the competition.

It doesnt affect me too much, Webb said. You just got to come out here and do your job, get better every day and help your team out.

For Williams, who has lost tackle jobs before, theres always pressure, he said. Everyone has a job to do the whole team and we just got to come out and do our best to be explosive and take care of our part of the bargain.

Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses

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USA TODAY

Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses

The Bulls came out on fire against the Bucks, putting up 40 points in an explosive first quarter. Unfortunately they followed that up by scoring 41 points in the second half. But the offense of Jabari Parker and Justin Holiday was pretty much the only thing working for Chicago on Friday night.


Holiday’s effectiveness as an aggressive, dependable floor-spacer continues to showcase what makes him such a valuable NBA player. Unfortunately, that value has been mostly squandered on a Bulls team that lacks a diverse offensive attack.

Holiday contributed 9 points on 3-3 shooting from the 3-point line in the first quarter. He kept this momentum rolling in the second, and ended up not missing a single shot in the first half. Holiday ended the first half 6-6 from the 3-point line but went on to only score once more in the second half. He ended the game with 20 points, the second-leading scorer on the night for Chicago.


On a night where Zach LaVine was clearly gassed from the burden of carrying the offense all season (6-20 from the field), only Parker could provide a solid secondary option. Parker’s effectiveness also tapered off dramatically in the second half, as he stopped taking 3-pointers and didn’t get to the free throw line at all. Early season struggles were to be expected from Parker, as he is on a new team with a roster full of young players. But his shot selection is what has been so frustrating to watch. 

Results do not have to be immediate, but seeing as Parker is taking a greater percentage of his shots from long 2-point range than last season, it is clear he hasn’t fully bought in to the idea of getting all the way to the basket or shooting the 3-pointer without hesitation. And that is why players like Holiday—one of Hoiberg’s loyal soldiers from his first year as Bulls coach—are so crucial.

It is clear that Hoiberg’s preferred playing style has stuck with Holiday and hopefully, that it can rub off on the other players.

We have discussed before how his 3-point attempt rate (72 percent) is the perfect indicator of how often he is hunting the 3-point shot. But the problem is that this current Bulls roster needs more players who create 3-point looks for others, rather than knock them down.

Heading into Friday night’s game, Holiday had been assisted on 72 percent of his 2-point shots and 95 percent of his 3-point shots. This season, he has been assisted on 57 percent of his 2-point shots and 90 percent of his 3-point shots. This is an alarming sign for the Holiday, as he has never been a player known for creating his own shot and the decline in assisted baskets means he is being forced outside of his comfort zone on offense.

It is no coincidence that Holiday’s 3-point percentage in November (35 percent) is lower than his 3-point percentage in October (40 percent). He played 34 minutes per game in October before that number got increased to 37 minutes per game in November. Holiday has been in the top 10 in minutes all year and there is no end in sight for his tremendous minutes load with the Bulls being so thin on the wing.

The 2019 NBA offseason for Chicago will likely be about finding players they can comfortably play at the small forward spot. But Bulls fans should appreciate Holiday’s play while he’s here, as he has been one of the team’s more consistent players. Holiday has done a decent amount of leading by example—especially when it comes to playing the way Hoiberg wants to—and continues to show why he can continue to be a valuable piece on this Bulls team.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks can't solve rookie Cal Petersen in shootout loss

Four takeaways: Blackhawks can't solve rookie Cal Petersen in shootout loss

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center on Friday:

1. Blackhawks can't solve Cal Petersen

With Jonathan Quick (knee), Jack Campbell (knee) and Peter Budaj (sick) out, the Kings trotted out former Notre Dame standout Petersen to make his first career NHL start between the pipes. And he didn't disappoint.

The 24-year-old stopped 34 of 35 shots (.971 save percentage) in 65 minutes of play and denied Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the shootout to earn his first victory in the big leagues.

"He was good, yeah," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "The third period was more like it. If we’d had 60 minutes [like that] maybe we break him down eventually. He did well, he did a good job. I thought we had a little more traffic, got some more pucks to the net. That was better. But you can’t help but think if we’d have had that push earlier, then we’d get paid off for it."

2. Line changes serve as third-period spark

After failing to generate many scoring chances in the first two periods, Jeremy Colliton spruced up his top-six by putting Brandon Saad with Kane and Toews and Nick Schmaltz with Alex DeBrincat and Artem Anisimov. They saw the benefits almost immediately.

Saad scored 2:39 into the final frame after burying a feed at the doorstep by Toews for his third goal in six games, tying the game at 1-1.

'We showed some resiliency battling in the third," Saad said. "It was definitely a slow start. We've got to play a full 60 minutes to win hockey games, but I think it shows some character how we can battle back in the third. And then overtime we had some chances and some puck possession, and when it comes down to a shootout it can be anyone's game. But the message for us is to play a full 60, because when we play well you can see that we have opportunities and a better chance to win the hockey game."

3. Power play comes up empty

Special teams was the deciding factor in the Blackhawks' last two games. They gave up two power-play goals in 66 seconds against Carolina on Monday and then beat St. Louis 1-0 on Wednesday thanks to a power-play goal of their own.

The Blackhawks had three power-play opportunities against the Kings, and all three of them came in the second period. They recorded a combined six shots on goal during them, but reverted back to some old habits by waiting for the open shot and lacking net-front presence.

"You get three in the second, it would be nice to get one," Kane said. "Even if you're not getting anything on it, it's nice to get momentum off of it. I thought we did a decent job of getting momentum, getting some chances and some looks. Sometimes you've just got to converge on the net and hopefully get those rebounds and try to find a way to get one a little bit dirtier."

The Blackhawks also allowed a breakaway chance towards the end of the third power play, but Corey Crawford saved the day. Tyler Toffoli scored 19 seconds after the Blackhawks' first power play to make it 1-0 Kings.

4. Meet your newest Blackhawk

The Blackhawks had a visitor at morning skate in Carter Holmes, an 11-year-old from Wisconsin, who is battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma. As part of the Make-A-Wish Experience, Holmes became a Blackhawk for a day and practiced with the team, including his favorite player Patrick Kane.

"I might have to change my number," Kane joked about Holmes, who wears No. 88 because of Kane. "I think he was a little bit better than me out there today."

It was the first time Holmes skated since being diagnosed on June 30, four days after his team took first place at a tournament. Holmes feared that he would never be able to play hockey again, but that won't be the close. He's expected to re-join his teammates soon, even if it may take a while to get back into game shape.

"It's pretty special," Kane said of Holmes, who will drop the ceremonial first puck on Sunday for "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night at the United Center. "Sometimes you're just playing hockey and worried about the business aspect of it, but days like today you can take a step back and realize there's more important things out there."