White Sox

Turner thriving under the bright lights

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Turner thriving under the bright lights

Evan Turner does not have a problem with his confidence.

The Chicago product stirred the pot prior to the start of the playoffs when he said the Sixers were "dodging a bullet" to draw the Bulls instead of the Heat.

He has been rewarded handsomely for those comments with a downpour of boos every time he has touched the ball in the first two games of the series in Chicago.

After Saturday's contest, Turner said the fans weren't getting to him and he proved it with a big game Tuesday night to help lead the Sixers to victory. His knack for playing the best in the biggest games has endeared him to his teammates and coaches.

"That's what I love about Evan," Sixers head coach Doug Collins said. "He feels like he's the best player in the gym. And I love that. I know he made some ill-timed comments and he gets booed every time he touched the ball. He's using that in a very positive way. A lot of guys would maybe cower away from that, but Evan has risen to the challenge."

With the Sixers down 1-0 in the series, the pressure was on, but Turner was up to the task.

"People always talk about guys disappearing in big moments," he said. "I never wanted to be that type of guy. When it comes to big games, I just want to play well, be there and help my teammates.

"It's the playoffs. Everything is intensified. You have to play with an edge...You have to raise the level of play."

Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday understands the magnitude of each game in this best-of-seven series.

"This is the stage you dream to be on," he said. "Playing against the best team in the East, someone has to step up. It makes it a lot easier when we have guys who have big games."

While Holiday stepped up in his own right, Turner was almost as impressive, scoring 19 points with seven rebounds and six assists.

"Evan played great," Sixers power forward Elton Brand said. "He's a great all-around player. He can rebound for us, score the ball for us, pass the ball, distribute the ball and play defense. He did it all tonight. That's what we need out of him."

After coming off the bench in Game 1, Turner got the start Tuesday night and played almost 42 minutes. Collins designed some plays to get Turner involved in the offense and the young guard said after the game that he was confident he would make the shot when it was given to him.

"Evan had to be out there," Collins said. "He had been playing great. We needed another playmaker.

"I thought Evan hit a couple really big baskets for us when we needed it. They made a little run and I thought he made a couple nice plays that gave us a nice cushion."

White Sox free-agent focus: Nathan Eovaldi

White Sox free-agent focus: Nathan Eovaldi

This week, we’re profiling some of the biggest names on the free-agent market and taking a look at what kind of fits they are for the White Sox.

Few free agents to-be made their mark on the postseason like Nathan Eovaldi. A starting pitcher by trade, he stepped into a relief role for the Boston Red Sox in each of the first three games of the World Series, highlighted by his six innings of one-run ball in that marathon Game 3, the longest game in the history of the Fall Classic.

That was the exclamation point on a great run since the Red Sox acquired him from the Tampa Bay Rays in a midseason trade. His numbers after arriving in Boston were very good: a 3.33 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 12 walks in 12 appearances, 11 of which were starts. That solid performance for the World Series champs earned him what’s expected to be a large number of suitors this winter.

It’s hard to argue that the White Sox wouldn’t be a nice fit. They’re in the market for starting pitching, needing to fill a pair of holes in their starting rotation due to Michael Kopech’s recovery from Tommy John surgery and James Shields’ departure. Eovaldi’s just 28, lining him up nicely with the team’s long-term plans. And as an added bonus, he’s a Tommy John success story, throwing harder now than at any other point in his seven-year big league career. Kopech likely doesn’t need a confidence boost, but Eovaldi could be a nice guiding hand in the battle back from the surgery.

There are a few flags — they're not bad enough to be red flags, though I’m not sure what color they’d be; pink, maybe? — with Eovaldi, chiefly the fact that his career numbers weren’t that great prior to the second half of 2018. He missed the entire 2017 campaign while in recovery mode, and from 2014 to 2016 with the Miami Marlins and New York Yankees, he turned in a 4.42 ERA in 84 appearances, 81 of those starts. His 8.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 were good showings in 2018, but during that aforementioned three-season stretch, those numbers were 6.8 and 2.5, respectively.

Those numbers alone shouldn't stop Eovaldi from getting a deserved payday. But they’re worth noting to some White Sox fans who might want the South Siders to make a run at him.

Chris Kunitz on in-season coaching change experience with Penguins that led to Stanley Cup

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USA TODAY

Chris Kunitz on in-season coaching change experience with Penguins that led to Stanley Cup

In-season coaching changes are hard to predict in the NHL. There were zero of them last season, which was a rarity. This year, there have already been two so far (Joel Quenneville and John Stevens) and they're usually done for a similar reason: the group is underperforming and teams want to salvage whatever is left of the season.

Chris Kunitz was part of a mid-season coaching change as an alternate captain with Pittsburgh in 2015-16 when Mike Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston on Dec. 12 after the Penguins went 6-6-3 following a 9-4-0 start. It was probably time for a new voice there anyways, but the Penguins lost four straight games in regulation to start Sullivan’s tenure as coach. Things didn’t look great.

But it wasn’t because players weren’t responding. It was more-so the challenge of getting acclimated to a new system and unlearning old habits on the fly. That’s what the Blackhawks are going through right now with Jeremy Colliton.

“Some of the guys have played a different system and haven't played anything like this,” Kunitz said. “Being around the league, I've played in a system like this, I feel comfortable with the changes on the fly. But for some guys, it's not that natural instinct to do something different than they've been doing for 8-10 years."

In many ways, Sullivan and Colliton have a similar coaching style: play with pace, be aggressive on the forecheck, quick and clean zone exits. It helps having a guy like Kunitz in the locker room to help with that transition, for both the younger players and veterans.

Once the Penguins did get accustomed to the new system, they never looked back. They snapped that four-game losing streak on Dec. 21 and didn't lose back-to-back games in regulation the rest of the season. It was exactly what they needed. They went into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams — winning 13 of their final 14 games — and eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup, the first of their back-to-back.

Obviously, the 2018-19 Blackhawks are not the 2015-16 Penguins. But it provides a glimpse into how it takes time to adjust to a different system mid-season while also offering hope that it's not too late for a struggling team going through a coaching change to turn around their season.

"Any time there's something changing, guys want that 'why' or 'how does this affect what's going on out there?' Kunitz said. "It's easier if we talk through it as a group or with coaches to better understand why we're doing it and how we're trying to accomplish it and where the puck is supposed to be at certain times. Whenever we can just have that natural instinct to transition from watching it to doing it on the ice, that's when we'll have more success."

After going winless (0-2-1) in Colliton's first three games as an NHL head coach, the Blackhawks got back in the win column with a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night. They had been making progress, but weren't seeing the end result reflect that.

The Blackhawks got reinforcement that what they're doing is working so far, as long as they stick with it. If they continue to do that, the points will follow. And that's all they can control right now.

"It's starting to believe in yourself," Kunitz said. "... It's a process of understanding the system and getting to the right level of comfort with each other, but also going out there and outworking the other team. That's what it boils down to.

"With changing the systems, it's more learning and trying to educate yourself. Go out and practice, coach says keep it clean, have good passes and the results will come. When we go out there and we keep it clean in the D-zone, when we've come up the ice we've had good things, we've had success. Probably haven't scored as many goals as we should have, but in the end we have to work harder in our D-zone and when we do all that and put a complete game together, I know the end result will be there."