Monthly Archives: April 2011

Bulls: Cliches For All!

“This is what championship basketball teams do.”

“The bottom line is the better team won.”

“This is why he’s the MVP.”

“A win is a win.”

Wow. What a finish to the first NBA Playoffs game of the year, and the first playoff game in what is expected to be the anointment of Derrick Rose as a championship-caliber closer.

It’s games like this that bring out cliches from fans like you read above. It also brings out quotes like “That would’ve been impressive if it weren’t the Pacers,” and “Congrats, Bulls. It took you until the last minute to beat a sub-.500 team.” (Both quotes I read from non-Bulls fans immediately after the game finished.

The crazy thing? Both lines of thinking are absolutely correct. The cliches, as bland and uninventive as they may be, completely fit the situation. The Bulls are young, unproven and still getting their feet wet as playoff favorites. In many ways, squeaking out a win against a clearly inferior team playing its best basketball imaginable will be great in the long run.

Games like this will be popping up all playoffs long, and will happen more frequently the farther the Bulls make it.

So experiencing a test like this, where the Bulls are playing as poorly as we’ve seen practically all season, is great for the future. The Bulls got a crash course in playoff basketball and came up aces.

The flip side is correct as well. It is absolutely worrisome that Carlos Boozer was a liability not just in the fourth quarter, but throughout the entire game. He had more fouls than rebounds and continuously let Tyler Hansbrough knock down open jumpers.

Quick side tangent: More than any other college basketball player in my lifetime, I HATED Hansbrough when he was at North Carolina. More than ANYONE. I can’t really explain irrational sports hatred, but I couldn’t stand him. When he left North Carolina and was drafted by the Pacers, I was pleased because I was fairly confident that Hansbrough would never be relevant in my life again.

So thank you, Carlos Boozer, for bringing back haunting memories of “Psycho T.”

Anyway, Boozer’s lack of rebounding and defense is absolutely room for concern. Not that it’s anything new. Fans have known all season that he’s a putrid defensive player and streaky rebounder, but we can live with it when he’s scoring, which is something he wasn’t doing Saturday.

Likewise, Rose shouldn’t have to score nearly 40 points every game for the Bulls to win. Luol Deng and others absolutely have to show up. Deng was having troubles all game, and everyone on the second unit, particularly Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson, seemed terrified to take a shot.

That. Can’t. Happen.

I’m also wondering where Omer Asik went. Maybe I missed something and he got hurt or something, but he played three early minutes and than his second unit spot was filled by Kurt Thomas. Now, I have no problem with Thomas, but Tom Thibodeau said all season that he didn’t want to mess with his second unit of Watson-Korver-Gibson-Asik, yet when they entered the game, he was nowhere to be found. There has to be something more to that.

In the end, it didn’t matter, nor did any of the Bulls’ deficiencies. The bottom line is they won the game (yes, another cliche), and protected home-court advantage.

Is there reason to worry? Absolutely.

Should we expect things to get better?

Absolutely.

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Blackhawks: Dealing With Frustration, Not Quite Panicking

Last night’s 2-0 loss to Vancouver in Game 1 brought a small look at what this series could turn out to be.

Look, the Canucks are really, really good. Everybody knew that coming in. It’s also possible that this Canucks team is more confident than the team the Blackhawks dismantled the past two seasons. That factor is what should be terrifying to Hawks fans, given that there is no question the Canucks are the more talented team this season.

The frustrating aspect of last night’s game is that the Hawks had an abundance of chances. It seemed like the Hawks ran their offense quite well, giving themselves opportunity after opportunity to sneak one past Bob Luongo. But each occasion either resulted in a near-miss – a puck just out of the reach of someone’s stick like with Marian Hossa on the breakaway – or Luongo standing on his head to make a great save.

Defensively, the Canucks showed that speed kills. Duncan Keith had a mediocre regular season by most accounts and the Canuck forwards were just flat out faster than him, as well as the rest of the Hawks’ defenders. Too many times did we see the Canucks dump the puck into the Hawks zone only to outhustle Keith & Co. and regain control. It was yet another frustrating sight.

However, what makes the offensive missed chances and the defensive frustration easier to take is the fact that those factors mean Game 2 can’t possibly go the same way. (At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself).

I’m not going to sit here and say that Luongo can’t possibly be as good in Game 2 as he was in Game 1. The fact of the matter is that he can. Luongo is one of the best goaltenders in the league and we see ALL THE TIME goalies put together spectacular runs in the playoffs. How many times last year do you think opposing team’s fans said there is no way Antti Niemi can play that good again? Probably a lot. Luongo could easily just go nuts this series and completely shut down the Hawks.

The optimism I still have stems from the offensive chances. While Luongo was good, there were opportunities where he was either A) Out of position or B) The Hawks had a really good sequence that left the goal open. Those opportunities will present themselves a couple of times every game and I find it hard to believe the Hawks will continue to miss them game after game.

Game 1 was basically a worst-case scenario for the Hawks. The Canucks totally outplayed them, gained momentum and it gave the Sedin twins and Luongo confidence that they can beat this Hawks team. But remember, the Canucks took Game 1 last year, too.

So maybe my optimism is ridiculous, biased fan talk, and there’s still a good chance the Canucks just continue skating circles around the Hawks and win the series in 4 or 5 games. But one game is a small sample, and the series isn’t even close to over yet. I’m not giving up yet, but talk to me after Game 2.

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Blackhawks: Looking at Expert Predictions

By now you probably know that everyone and their brother is talking about how an 8 seed can very well beat a 1 seed in the NHL Playoffs. If you didn’t read what I had to say about it, you’ve likely read it somewhere. It happens semi-often in hockey, and a dangerous, defending championship team like the Blackhawks could become a trendy upset pick, given their playoff experience and recent domination of the Canucks.

But while a lot of people are talking the talk about the fact that the Blackhawks stand more than a chance, as I learned, very few are actually walking the walk. I searched around the internet a bit to look at how the many hockey experts around a variety of outlets are predictions the Vancouver-Chicago series to play out.

But first, a rant about my annoyance with the combination is sports, the internet and writing.

While doing research for this post, I did a simple Google search of “Stanley Cup playoff predictions.” Tons of articles came up and I scrolled through the first few pages, noticing a certain trend. At LEAST 75 percent of the articles that came up were written for the ever-popular sports writing fan outlet Bleacher Report.

You may or may not know this, but Bleacher Report is a site that allows anybody and their brother to sign up, write their sports writing “articles” and have them pimped out to the rest of the cyberverse. I had an account once upon a time, when I was in junior college looking to get my feet wet. But what bugs me about Bleacher Report is that it presents its articles like they are written by established professionals. You can achieve titles like “Featured Columnist” by getting so many article views, and somehow the numerous “articles” written by the random fans who sign up for the site show up at the forefront of Google searches. They even go so far as to post “job openings” on sites like JournalismJobs.com looking for “sports writing interns,” which basically just means they’re asking you to come to their site and sign up for an account.

My problems with Bleacher Report are well-documented on many levels, but what really bugs me is that, if I didn’t know what Bleacher Report was before my search, I very well could have clicked on any number of those links and taken what I read as being written by a real, established professional. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be able to use outlets such as Bleacher Report to express their opinions. That’s great, and it’s a nice way for young writers to get their feet wet and hone their writing skills. It’s the presentation of being professional that bugs me. That’s all I’m saying. And no, this rant had nothing to do with my predictions. I just had to get it off of my chest. Thank you.

Here’s a rundown of some of the predictions I found throughout my search. (Note: The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times have not had its writers make predictions yet. As least not ones that I could find.

Over at the worldwide leader, I found three of its most-read pundits make predictions. Barry Melrose, who is their senior analyst and appears solely in front of the camera, picked the Canucks to win the series, stating: “I don’t think they have much of a chance” when asked about the Blackhawks. He did not say how many games he thought the series would go, but also predicted in the same segment that the Canucks would come out of the Western Conference. It should be noted that before last year’s playoffs began, Melrose predicted Chicago over Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Finals.

E.J. Hradek, ESPN.com’s hockey insider, also predicted Vancouver in 6, stating: “Right now, the Hawks seem like a tired, banged-up group. The Canucks, on the other hand, seem fresh and ready for the Cup challenge.”

John Buccigross, a Sportscenter anchor who writes about hockey for ESPN.com, made it a perfect 3-for-3 from the worldwide leader, picking the Canucks in 6, stating that the Blackhawks have been “the shopping cart with that one wobbly wheel all year long.”

One interesting take I read was over at Hockey Prospectus. They calculate odds “based on teams’ records and goal differential – excluding shootout results – factoring in the difficulty of opponents they faced over the regular season and giving an increased weight to more recent results, which better reflect a teams’ current strengths.”

The Prospectus didn’t make any specific predictions on the series, but gave percentage odds for each round. They gave the Blackhawks a 36 percent chance of winning their first round series. They went further, saying the Blackhawks had a 17.7 percent chance of winning in the second round, a 9.4 percent chance to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and a 4.9 percent chance to win the whole thing.

Surprisingly, out of the 16 playoff teams the Blackhawks had the eighth best chance of winning the Stanley Cup (Vancouver was No. 1), and they wrote that the winner of the Vancouver-Chicago series has a 37.6 percent chance to win the title.

I don’t know anything about those calculations other than that they probably use a crazy amount of math and I semi-trust them solely because I’ve read a lot of Baseball Prospectus’ stuff and it’s pretty good. It’s just an interesting way to look at things.

Some other random predictions I found:

Dan Di Sciullo, a hockey columnist for The Sports Network writing in the Toronto Sun, predicted Vancouver in 6. Mark Whicker, a hockey columnist for The Orange County Register, predicted Vancouver in 5, and Cam Cole, the Vancouver Sun’s hockey columnist, said Vancouver in 7.

Over at NHL.com a staff of 7 made their first round predictions. Of the 7, three of them (Mike G. Morreale, Corey Masisak and Shawn P. Roarke) picked the Blackhawks to upset the Canucks.

What does all of this mean? Why, nothing, of course. It’s just interesting to look at predictions from people who clearly work in and cover hockey for a living. It’s also interesting to see that, while many are saying they wouldn’t be surprised to see a Blackhawks upset, few are actually predicting it to happen.

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The Best Sports Time Ever?

I don’t consider myself a “Chicago sports fan” it just so happens that a majority of my favorite teams play in Chicago.

That’s a fact not a lot of people understand. Even in Rockford, where I grew up (which is NOT a suburb of Chicago), the general population of sports fans considered themselves to be fans of Chicago sports and that was basically it. There’s even a restaurant in the city named “Old Chicago” that is decked out in Chicago sports memorabilia.

So most of the people I grew up around were Chicago sports fans. It was either Bears-Cubs-Bulls-Blackhawks, Bears-White Sox-Bulls-Blackhawks, or Bears-Cubs-Bulls-Idontcare (not a lot of hockey fans in the area until recently).

But, as I said before, I’m not a Chicago sports fan. I realized this even more a few months ago when I argued with one of the aforementioned Chicago sports fans over whether it was OK or not for Jack Skille to announce he was rooting for the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.

Skille was more in Madison, Wis., and naturally grew up a Packers fan. The fan I argued with said that Skille should want the Bears to win because “the city” was behind the Blackhawks during their Stanley Cup run so he should do the same for the Bears’ Super Bowl run. I thought that was silly because A) It would make him a bad fan for neglecting the team he grew up rooting for and B) Who cares if he lives and works in Chicago? (People forget that what he does is a job).

The points ended up becoming moot. The Bears lost the game and Skille got traded (For reasons other than the fact that he liked the Packers, one would assume. Namely, he wasn’t very good at hockey).

But that disagreement made me realize I think quite a bit differently than city fans. There are quite a few people who think you should root for Chicago sports to win regardless, even some who think Cubs fans should root for the White Sox in the World Series and vice-versa. The idea of that seems unfathomable to me.

The reason I’m bringing all of this up is because, growing up and living around Chicago sports fans, I can’t imagine the excitement that is being felt right now. Let’s break things down:

1. The Chicago Bears just completed an incredible season in which they came within one game of reaching the Super Bowl.

2. The Chicago Blackhawks are (barely) back in the playoffs just 10 months after setting the city on fire by winning the Stanley Cup.

3. The Chicago Bulls are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, have the presumptive NBA MVP and have suddenly become a heavy favorite to at LEAST make it to the NBA Finals.

4. The Cubs and White Sox, regardless of expectations, are playing at the beginning of the season with hope of making the playoffs.

OK, that last one wasn’t as exciting, but you get my point.

As I said before, I’m not a Chicago sports fan. The reason is because I’m a Green Bay Packers fan and I hate the Cubs with every fiber of my being. But I’m pretty darn close to one, and I can sense that the excitement level that city and its fans are feeling right now might be at an all-time high, or at least as high as it’s been in the past 20 years.

Of course, most of this excitement is because of the Bulls and Blackhawks, and upon doing some actual research, I was surprised to see that over the past 20 years, the two teams have actually been in the playoffs together twice, including the past two years.

However, a closer look shows that there was not a single time in those nine instances where BOTH teams had a ton of optimism. The 1991-92 season probably came the closest since the ‘Hawks made a surprising run to the NBA Finals while Jordan & Co., were tearing things up, but from what I understand, there was little optimism the ‘Hawks would stand a chance against Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So why am I bringing this all up? Isn’t this year basically the same as those other nine instances. We have the favorite (Bulls), and the team that stumbled into the playoffs and many people expect to get bounced early (Blackhawks). Last year, those roles were reversed.

But don’t let seedings fool you. The Blackhawks may have snuck in and face a tough challenge with Vancouver, but there’s plenty of optimism, based around last year’s run and general playoff dominance against the Canucks, that another long run could be had.

Likewise, hockey is the one sport where seedings are basically irrelevant. Eight seeds beat one seeds WAY more often than in basketball. In fact, since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994, nine 8 seeds have won in the first round, that’s basically one-third of the time.

It happened last year, and last season’s Eastern Conference Finals even featured the 8 seed (Montreal) vs. the 7 seed (Philadelphia).

Chicago fans know this and they’re perhaps more confident than any 8 seed’s fans have ever been. But it’s with good reason. They know the history.

The Madhouse on Madison is going to be absolutely rocking over the next two months, as both teams can hopefully make long runs. It’s one of those rare instances I’ve written about so many times that we need to enjoy. Optimism in Chicago is unthinkably high, and we may be experiencing a sports high in this city that will never happen again.

Can you imagine what the United Center will be like if it’s hosting NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals games around virtually the same time?

I can. And I can’t wait to see if it happens.

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