Bulls

How did Crosby fare in his return to the ice?

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How did Crosby fare in his return to the ice?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- The questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins are quickly being answered. Questions such as: How good would the Penguins be if Sidney Crosby and the rest of their injured players were healthy in time for the NHL playoffs? Will the return of Crosby to a club surging without him disrupt the mojo that had the Penguins storming toward the top of the Eastern Conference? On Thursday, under the glare of intense media attention in the heart of New York, Crosby returned from a three-month absence caused by recurring concussion symptoms and helped the Penguins thoroughly beat the New York Rangers 5-2 for Pittsburgh's 10th straight victory. Not only didn't the Penguins skip a beat as they welcomed their captain back into the lineup, they thrived. Crosby earned only one assist on the score sheet, but he was on the ice for three of Pittsburgh's goals. Now the questions gaining lots of steam throughout the NHL: Are the Penguins the new threat to come out of the East, and can anyone stop them? "I don't like to say stuff like that," said Marc-Andre Fleury, who was overshadowed despite making 29 saves in his 38th win of the season, and ninth in the streak. "We're playing pretty solid hockey these days. It's a long season and nothing is over. We have to keep going, trying to get points, trying to catch the Rangers. Everybody feels pretty confident." The Penguins are suddenly the picture of health, and the NHL's hottest team is making the playoff race a fight to the finish. Crosby returned from a 40-game absence along with defenseman Kris Letang, who missed the past five because of concussion issues. That gave the Penguins their most complete lineup in months, and Pittsburgh responded by thumping the slumping and beat-up Rangers. The Penguins have beaten the Rangers twice during their spurt and now trail them by four points. Pittsburgh has 13 games left, compared to 12 for New York. Crosby was hoping he wouldn't mess up any chemistry created by his teammates while he was out. "I didn't want to be that guy," said the center, who got rare playing time at wing. "I obviously knew we were playing really well. There was a little bit of adjustment, playing wing, things like that. I thought everyone played great, and I'm happy we got the win." Crosby played for the first time since he was forced to the sidelines on Dec. 5. His presence was felt way beyond what can be analyzed by numbers. He took 18 shifts, and the Penguins scored on three without allowing any. "I think he played a great game," said Matt Cooke, who scored twice while playing on a new third line with Crosby. "He draws so much attention when he is on the ice. People are worried about how good he is. That makes the players on the ice with him that much better." That showed throughout as the Penguins became the first team this season to score five goals against the Rangers. Crosby joined Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on a line. Kennedy had two assists, and NHL points leader Evgeni Malkin added a goal for the Penguins, who haven't lost since Feb. 19 at Buffalo. Pittsburgh's winning streak started two days later with a 2-0 home victory against the Rangers. "That was the only way we could catch them, by beating them because they were winning a lot," Fleury said. Crosby is expected to play in each of Pittsburgh's remaining games -- including two this weekend at New Jersey and Philadelphia to complete a span of three games in four days against divisional foes.

The Bulls offense goes as Zach LaVine goes, and right now Zach LaVine is tired

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USA TODAY

The Bulls offense goes as Zach LaVine goes, and right now Zach LaVine is tired

He’s far too competitive a player and far too patient a teammate to use it as any sort of excuse, but if the past six games are any indication it’s not something he had to admit to be seen: Zach LaVine is tired.

The Bulls shooting guard had another high-volume performance in their Monday night loss to the Dallas Mavericks. And in another 41 minutes LaVine once again struggled with his shot and made a handful of careless turnovers that doomed a Bulls offense that’s asking as much as they can from him.

Facing a Mavericks team ranked 24th in defensive efficiency and missing perhaps its best perimeter defender in Wesley Matthews, LaVine shot 8 of 23 and missed all six 3-point attempts, finishing with 26 points and the seven turnovers. With his most recent inefficient outing, LaVine is now shooting 44.8 percent from the field.

“I’m tired, I’m alright. Doing everything I can,” he said. “I’m making mistakes, missing shots that are real easy. Didn’t hit any threes today. I’ve got easy things I can do better at. I always ask more of myself but I’m doing everything I can.”

LaVine’s streak of scoring 20 or more points reached 14 games, the second longest Bulls streak behind Michael Jordan, but it came in far different fashion from earlier in the season. LaVine, clearly the focal point of a Mavericks defense that rushed him, blitzed him and pushed him out on the perimeter whenever possible, missed his first five shots, threw up two uncharacteristic air balls and was just 2 of 14 outside the painted area.

True, he went to the free throw line 11 more times and made 10 to help offset the ugly shooting. But it wasn’t enough on a Bulls team that simply can’t find a consistent second scorer and seems to feed off both LaVine’s prowess and his struggles. The Bulls struggled on Monday as LaVine did, shooting below 40 percent, making just eight 3-pointers and finishing with more turnovers (17) than assists (16).

It was yet another performance to add to a troubling trend for both LaVine and the Bulls. In his last six games LaVine is shooting 50 for 134 (37.3 percent) and that includes a 13-for-25 outing against the Knicks. Take out that performance and he’s shooting 33 percent. He also has 27 turnovers and 27 assists and is shooting 25.6 percent from beyond the arc.

The Bulls, not coincidentally, haven’t fared much better. They ranked 16th in the NBA in offensive efficiency through eight games (108.3), but since the Golden State debacle have plummeted to 29th (100.3), and their last three games have come against bottom-six defenses (New Orleans, 25th; Cleveland, 29th; Dallas, 24th). The Bulls are 2-4 during this stretch, winning games in which LaVine shot well in New York and the one-point win over a 1-10 Cavaliers team.

Though LaVine has had eight- and seven-turnover nights during the stretch, he also had two combined turnovers in 77 minutes against the Pelicans and Cavaliers. LaVine needs to shoot through his slump because the Bulls offense requires it, but he’s also making the right play more often than not. He had three first-quarter assists on Monday when the Bulls offense looked its sharpest.

“I give Zach a lot of credit for as much volume as he has on the offensive end right now, as much as we’re playing through him, he is growing on making the simple play and getting better with that. It needs to continue. He needs to make the right play.”

It’s a tall order to ask of him. Off nights from LaVine, and even slumps like the one he’s in now, would be fine if issue if Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis or any combination of the three were available. But he’s averaging more than 40 minutes per game in that stretch and continues to rank among the NBA’s highest usage rates.

Regression from his early-season performances when he shot 51 percent from the field in eight games to begin the year was expected. That early stretch was a healthy, rested LaVine, not an aberration. What we’re in the middle of is a tired LaVine taking on a ridiculous burden for an offense that needs all of him every night. When he doesn’t perform, so too does a Bulls offense that got 6 of 17 shooting from Jabari Parker and seven points from Wendell Carter Jr.

Reinforcements are still weeks away. For now, LaVine will need to pick and choose his spots, make the right play and yet still find a way to score near 30 points each night. It’s a lot to ask, but he’s ready for the challenge.

“It’s a tough situation,” LaVine said of the defensive attention he’s receiving, “but I still have to be aggressive. It’s more me figuring out when’s the right time to attack and when’s the right time to just get off the ball.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: The Blackhawks losing streak extends to 8

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: The Blackhawks losing streak extends to 8

The Blackhawks losing streak extended to eight games with an overtime loss in Carolina, but there were some signs of improvement with the team. Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss Jeremy Colliton going to the “nuclear option,” pairing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the same line. It seemed to work, but how did the other lines fare?

Plus, how close are we to seeing some calls made to Rockford and how important are the next two “winnable” games?

0:45 - Mindset of the team after their 8th straight loss

2:00 - Opposition getting quality chances against hawks goalies

4:00 - Toews and Kane playing on the same line

5:00 - Nick Schmaltz needs to take more shots

5:45 - Colliton's lines during overtime

8:00 - DeBrincat playing on a line with Kampf and Kahun

9:45 - Debrincat with more goals than Kane or Roenick through 100 career games

11:45 -  How close are the Blackhawks to making some callups from Rockford to give the team a boost?

14:00 - Hawks get a chance against 2 other struggling teams in Blues and Knights

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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