Blackhawks

Illini's Leonard should be lottery pick on Thursday

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Illini's Leonard should be lottery pick on Thursday

With just three days until the NBA Draft, former Illinois center Meyers Leonard is still among one of the fastest risers among team's big boards. The 7-footer has seen his stock rise into the lottery, and the consensus is that Leonard will be drafted anywhere from the No. 7 to the No. 16 pick. Leonard brings great size, sneaky athleticism and plenty of upside to the table, and an impressive showing at the combine in Chicago has him in good position come Thursday. Leonard was invited today to the draft, which means there is a good chance he will be drafted within the first 15 picks.
Here is a look at some potential landing spots for Leonard.
7. Golden State Warriors: As is the case with most teams that pick in the top-7, the Warriors have plenty of needs. Both centers Andris Biedrins are signed for two more years, and that could be just the amount of time the 20-year-old Leonard needs to be a significant contributor.
9. Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe flourished in his sophomore season with the Pistons, but Detroit has little else in the front court to go with the Georgetown product. Last year's first round draft choice Brandon Knight has given Detroit a foundation, and Leonard would do well alongside Monroe. The Pistons aren't in win-now mode, so allowing Leonard to develop for a year or two is doable.
10. New Orleans Hornets: What better way to complement surefire No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis than with a 7-foot-1 center? The Hornets are interested in North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, but if he is gone then Leonard may be the next best available option.
11. Portland Trail Blazers: The last time the Trail Blazers drafted a 7-footer in the first round, it was Greg Oden. With Oden off the books and Joel Pryzbilla a free agent, Portland has a real need inside. If the Trail Blazers go with Weber State point guard Damian Lillard with the No. 6 pick, going big with No. 11 seems the way to go.
12. Milwaukee Bucks: The mid-season acquisition of Monta Ellis saw former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut depart, leaving the Bucks shallow at the center position. Furthermore, starting power forward Ersan Ilyosova is a free agent, so it's almost a certainty the Bucks will look to the front court. Leonard has the athleticism and the size, much like a young Bogut.
14.16. Houston Rockets: The Rockets may not keep both these picks, or stay at both spots in the first round, but Leonard would make sense if they did. Marcus Camby is a free agent, and Sam Dalembert (6.7 million), Patrick Patterson (2.1 million) and Greg Smith (762k) all have team options this summer. There will be plenty of turnover in Houston this year, and Leonard would pair nicely with another athletic forward in Luis Scola.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: Spencer Hawes is a free agent this season, and his status as a 76er could hinge on where the Sixers draft in the first round. A replacement for Elton Brand could be in order at power forward, but if Leonard were on the board at this point he would be hard to pass up.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks blank Blues to end losing skid, give Jeremy Colliton first win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Jeremy Colliton's first NHL win

For the first time since Oct. 25, the Blackhawks are back in the win column. A weight has been lifted off their shoulders after going winless in their previous eight games (0-6-2).

But it was an extra special night for the Blackhawks, who helped Colliton earn his first victory as an NHL head coach and celebrated by giving him the game puck.

"I’m just here to help them," Colliton said. "So it's kind of awkward, actually. But I do appreciate the gesture and for me, it’s just, hopefully we can get some momentum going and build on it."

2. Corey Crawford puts up a goose egg

Going into the game, Crawford had a 3.07 goals against average and .901 save percentage, which are below average numbers. But he certainly hasn't played that way. He was often the Blackhawks' best player during their losing streak and has deserved better fate than he's gotten.

By stopping all 28 shots he faced, Crawford earned his first shutout since Nov. 4, 2017 when he made 24 saves in a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild.

"It's nice," Crawford said. "That's the goal, not let any in. But I thought everyone contributed to that. ... We've been waiting a while, kind of forgot what it was like to win there for a bit."

3. Power play breaks through

Finally. After an 0-for-10 drought, the Blackhawks scored a power play goal on their first try of the night and didn't need much time to do it.

Just 35 seconds into a Vladimir Tarasenko hooking penalty, Brent Seabrook cashed in after his shot trickled past Jake Allen and went in off a Blues defenseman's skate to make it 1-0 at 4:05 of the second period. It was the only goal of the game, proving to be the game-winner. 

The Blackhawks finished 1-for-2 in that department against a Blues team that came into the game with a 27.6 percent success rate, which ranked fifth in the NHL.

"It's a good feeling," Seabrook said. "It was nice to hear some music when they came in here after the game tonight. The boys are all fired up. The way we played going into the second period, being able to score a goal, hold onto the lead I think the way everybody played. Everybody stuck with it. Everybody stuck with the game plan. Everybody worked hard. It was a real team effort. ... It took all 20 guys out there tonight to get the job done."

4. Playing the right way leads to results

For six periods in a row, the Blackhawks have been either the better team or it was evenly matched. Giving up two power-play goals in 66 seconds to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday was basically the difference in that game and special teams played a major role in this one as well. 

Colliton felt like the Blackhawks were, overall, trending in the right direction despite not getting the end results over the previous three games. He got both against the Blues, which was fitting considering the losing streak started vs. St. Louis.

"That was the part of the package that was missing," Colliton said. "Happy for the guys to get rewarded. It’s not a lot of fun to see the results add up. Very happy for the group, they battled really hard, especially in the third when the game was on the line. We found a way to get some pucks out and win some 50-50s and got a couple saves and hopefully that relieves a little bit of the tension in the team and they can play a little more free. Because we’ve been talking about it, but it’s easier said than done."

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

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USA TODAY

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

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If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

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So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly phased by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."