Bulls' defense not up to usual standards

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Bulls' defense not up to usual standards

As I wrote in a previous column, the Bulls offensive problems early in the season really should come as no surprise. Without Derrick Rose in the lineup, they dont have anyone to break down a defender off the dribble or command a double team. That leads to a jump shooting offense that will be susceptible to long cold stretches.

And, outside of Nate Robinson, there really isnt any firepower to bring off the bench. Marco Belinelli still looks lost and Nazr Mohammeds impressive offensive play during the pre-season was obviously a mirage built on feasting against guys who are no longer in the league.

Whats most troubling about the teams 5-5 start is their substandard play on the defensive end, which is supposed to be the strength of a Tom Thibodeau team. The Bulls got off to a good start defensively, holding their first three opponents under 90 points. But theyve been terrible since then, allowing their last four opponents to top the century mark, something thats never happened before in the Thibodeau era.

So, what is the problem? Thibodeau would probably give you a lengthy explanation based on playing the system, making the proper rotations and doing a better job of closing out on shooters while controlling the defensive boards. The reality is this, the Bulls are starting three players with below average quickness for their positions, a liability thats hard to cover, even in Thibodeaus proven system.

Have you noticed the trend developing of Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich sitting on the bench for most or all of 4th quarters? Those are the three players who struggle to stay with their man defensively, and Thibodeau clearly would rather have Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Robinson on the floor to create more ball pressure, and give the Bulls a chance to get some easy baskets in transition.

The problem is, Gibson is suffering through a terrible offensive slump, even after all the extra work he put in this summer at the Berto Center and with the U.S. Select team. Maybe its the pressure of trying to live up to that big money contract extension, but Taj is really struggling right now, and the Bulls need him to get back to his normal productive self. Butler is a max effort player who is strong on the defensive end, but still has a tough time knocking down open jumpers.

Hinrich looked good during the preseason after putting in extra conditioning work over the summer, but hes never been a high-percentage shooter, and right now hes having a tough time staying in front of quicker point guards. Maybe the strained right hip is giving him more trouble than hes willing to admit, but lets be honest, this is Hinrichs 10th year in the league, and its asking a lot for him to defend lightning quick players like Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo.

Same story with Rip, whos having a tough time defending most NBA shooting guards at the age of 34. Hamilton has shown flashes on the offensive end, but all too often, we see him sitting on the bench in the 4th quarter with the Bulls trying to get some stops to rally from behind. Watching Jamal Crawford light up the Bulls in L.A. made me wonder again why the Bulls didnt go with their former player when they were shopping for a shooting guard before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Crawford is only two years younger than Rip, but he has much more life in his legs, and is able to create a shot off the dribble, something this Bulls team is sorely lacking.

Its always dangerous to make conclusions off a 10-game sample size, and given the work ethic of this Bulls team and coaching staff, Im sure theyll come up with some answers as the season rolls on. But talent wins games in the NBA, and right now, the Bulls look a little short of that precious commodity on both ends of the floor.

Reports: Dolphins assistant Jeremiah Washburn to be Bears' new O-line coach

Reports: Dolphins assistant Jeremiah Washburn to be Bears' new O-line coach

The Bears have reportedly found a new offensive line coach.

According to multiple reports Monday, Jeremiah Washburn will become the team's new offensive line coach, replacing Dave Magazu.

Washburn worked as an assistant offensive line coach this past season with the Miami Dolphins under Adam Gase, the Bears' former offensive coordinator.

Prior to his season in South Florida, he spent seven seasons with the Detroit Lions, working three of them as the team's offensive line coach after three as an assistant offensive line coach.

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This past season, the Bears ranked 17th in the NFL in rushing with 1,735 yards as a team. Only eight teams allowed fewer sacks than the Bears, who saw quarterbacks dropped by opposing defenses just 28 times. Bears quarterbacks were hit 73 teams, also a top-10 mark in the league.

The Bears also committed a good number of holding penalties, 1.68 per game, which was only bested by seven teams.

Magazu was a longtime member of John Fox's staffs in Chicago, Denver and Carolina.

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

Patrick Kane was summing up the Blackhawks' weekend, one that didn't go well in terms of points.

"Good way to kind of judge ourselves, where we're at," he said Sunday night. "Might be a little bit of a wake-up call to see how good we really are."

Well, in a way, it is. You can't really compare Friday's loss to Washington and Sunday's loss to Minnesota on performance; the Blackhawks didn't show up for the first game and were much better in the second. Nevertheless, it was the same result in each. The Blackhawks' lengthy hold on first place in the Western Conference ended, with the Wild taking over following Sunday's 3-2 victory.

It's not a sound-the-alarm situation, but the Blackhawks are certainly cognizant of the missed opportunity last weekend and that they came up short against the league's best.

Artem Anisimov agreed with Kane's assessment.

"We just need to play better. All four lines need to play better in all areas of the ice. Just be better in the little things," Anisimov said. "Back check, put stick in the right position, box the guy out, short shifts. All little things need to be better."

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Many of the little things that were absent against the Capitals were back against the Wild. But coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with mistakes made on goals allowed, especially the first two. And while Kane and the second line were a consistent scoring threat against the Wild, the other three lines weren't. It's a problem that's plagued the Blackhawks a good deal this season, even when they were stringing together victories.

There is no reason to think that, because of this weekend's results, the Blackhawks are going to falter against strong teams. They've done well against others already this season. They beat Montreal earlier this season, when the Canadiens were healthy and steamrolling everyone. They beat the New York Rangers when the Rangers and former Blackhawks backup goaltender Antti Raanta were on their respective hot streaks.

Still, Kane's analysis is correct: This should get the Blackhawks' attention. The Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in eight consecutive regular-season games now and will face them three more times this season. They have two more meetings with the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them soundly in November.

The Blackhawks' long reign atop the Western Conference standings is over. They’re currently second in the Central Division, with an eight-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks have done fairly well this season. But this weekend was a reminder that they can be better.

"The game (on Friday) was kind of like a shock to the system thinking maybe you're one of the top teams in the league, or being able to compete with one of the top teams, and we obviously got thoroughly outplayed. We came back (Sunday night). It was pretty even in chances. We might've even had more so, just kind of didn't pull it out," Kane said. "But (when) you've played two of the better teams in the league and lose, there's got to be room for improvement, right?"