Bears

Hawks look to keep team-oriented mentality

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Hawks look to keep team-oriented mentality

It was game seven of that nine-game winless streak that the Blackhawks decided to change some things; namely, their system. It wasnt a drastic change; actually, it was just simplifying things.

It was just the way we looked at games and what we needed to do better. We kept it simple, forward Bryan Bickell said. Stick to the team game and dont get into individual style of play and such.

The Blackhawks kept that mentality through the rest of the skid, which lasted just two more games. They also followed that plan when captain Jonathan Toews missed 22 games with a concussion. And while the captain could be back on Thursday, the Blackhawks still need to play exactly how they did without him.

Toews is likely playing when the Blackhawks open their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday. His return is obviously a welcome one. But while lines and responsibilities will change, the Blackhawks play, the style that earned them a 13-5-4 record in Toews absence, cannot.

We dont have the luxury to say, Oh, Johnnys back. We can relax and Johnny can take over. Were not that kind of team, anyway, coach Joel Quenneville said. I just think everybody has to continue on with what got us here at the end of the year. We have to turn it up, too.

Indeed, this is the time of year for which each team plays. The pressure is on, and everyone has to be on board. For the Blackhawks, everyone has the past month and a half. When Toews first went down, the sky-is-falling mentality was running rampant on blogs and on Twitter. But the Blackhawks regrouped, got strong performances and faced the adversity fine. They were at their best during March, when they went 10-2-2 en route to solidifying their hold on the No. 6 seed.

When losing a guy like that other players have to step up and take on some responsibility, said Patrick Kane, who did that as well as anyone. But to be honest with you, we played a better team game. We just worried about the little things defensively. Even offensively, we were playing simpler, too. Sometimes when you play simple you get some confidence and it opens things up to be creative. That should be the mindset for all of us: work hard, play simple right away and let the game come to us instead of chasing it.

When he does play, Toews will be back on that top line with Kane and Hossa. He was also on the top power-play unit for the second straight day. Hes said hell just do whatever is necessary to fit back into things, and the Blackhawks hope to keep going the way they have.

I think we just need to stick to that, to the way weve been playing, Bickell said. When (Toews) comes in, hell adapt to the system that Q and the coaches want. Thats the most important part going into the playoffs.

The Blackhawks found success without Toews by simplifying things and spreading around the responsibilities. The duties and lines will change. The Blackhawks game cannot.

Things are going to get ratcheted up. Johnny has to be excited as well. But dont feel comfortable knowing Johnnys going to return, Quenneville said. There are going to be that many more demands on everyone. Were expecting more come playoff time.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

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USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.