Good news for Packers fans

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Good news for Packers fans

From Comcast SportsNetGREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Charles Woodson has been cleared to play again, and the Green Bay Packers are counting on the defensive back to provide a lift in Saturday night's playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings.Woodson deferred to team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and gave his broken collarbone as much time to heal as possible, sitting out Sunday's regular-season finale at Minnesota. He was injured on Oct. 21 and has missed nine consecutive games.But now that the Packers are in win-or-go-home mode, Woodson is back."Charles has been a stud in this league for 15 years, so whenever he's on the field with us, he's always a huge threat," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said after practice Tuesday evening. "Not only is he a threat to make huge plays throughout the game, but quarterbacks, I think they know where he's at every single play. He seems to know what receivers are running before they do. And I think he has an intimidation factor as well."Every team we play has to respect him."Playing without Woodson each time, Green Bay split its two regular-season games against Minnesota. But Vikings star Adrian Peterson had two strong performances against the Packers, rushing for 210 yards in Green Bay's 23-14 victory on Dec. 2 and gaining 199 yards on the ground in Minnesota's 37-34 win on Sunday at the Metrodome."I just think having Charles Woodson back on the field helps our football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in announcing that Woodson had been cleared. "I mean, just what he's meant to our defense, his playmaking ability, his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage. He's extremely productive, so I'm just glad to have him back on the field."The 36-year-old Woodson was not in the Packers' locker room during the media access period on Tuesday night. But when he last spoke at length with reporters on Dec. 21, he acknowledged that he hasn't always agreed with McKenzie or McCarthy's recommendations. But if waiting allows him to make it through an entire playoff run - right through Super Bowl XLVII - without reinjuring his collarbone, he will be grateful, he said.Before his injury at St. Louis, Woodson was playing strong safety in the Packers' base defense, then playing the nickel and dime slot positions in sub packages. After he went down, M.D. Jennings was his primary replacement at safety in the base defense, while rookies Casey Hayward (nickel) and Jerron McMillian (dime) covered opposing slot receivers.It's unclear where Woodson will line up this weekend, but his defensive teammates believe he'll help against Peterson and Christian Ponder, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday."(Woodson) helps us in every aspect of the game, just his experience," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "No doubt about it, obviously he's a great player from the start, but with that experience, we know he's going to be in the position he's supposed to be in, we know he's going to be looking to make a play. You can be aggressive yourself because you know you have a guy back there you can trust."Williams said Woodson also makes a difference because, while some of the team's young players have done well in his absence, his knowledge of the game allows him to do things that younger players aren't able to do, aren't comfortable doing or can't do as well as he does them."This defense is based off disguising and things like that, so Charles has been so experienced so he knows how long to hold a disguise, and he's not scared to do it," Williams said. "It's definitely going to help us in the long run."

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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