Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day!

Thursday, March 25, 2010
11:59 PM

For the last 9 days I swear every time I woke up, I heard I Got You Babe playing on my radio alarm clock. Then it was time to get behind the bar. (That the alarm was set for 2 in the afternoon is a different story!) Nine straight days would make many a mortal crack, but not This Guy! Luckily, I was entertained by the masses, as always, and fascinated how everyday could be different, and just the same. Some observations from your bleary-eyed barkeep from a week (plus) of walking the planks:
MUCH MORE THAN MADNESS: I never fail to be amused by how wrong I can be, or how I can twist myself into a pretzel getting there. While admitting that I havent watched as much college b-ball as in usual years, I did hear all of those who said that the playing field was so even this year that there would be a lot of upsets. Dont we hear that every year? Add to it everybody I talked to at the bar was buying that notion and I came up with the novel idea of playing the chalk. Ka-BOOM! That was the sound of my bracket blowing up in my face. Funny thing though, most of the time, I was rooting against myself. My intense following of the tournament is not based on how I do, but rather on the fact that any team can be gone at any time. While this isnt the case every year, every game, it happens enough to keep us mesmerized, never more so than on Saturday night when Northern Iowa beat Kansas. While the game was being played, people kept on coming and coming into the bar. No one expecting the prohibitive favorite to lose, it would be fun to see how the squirmed out of the mess that they had created for themselves. Up by double-digits for what seemed like the entire game, the N. Iowa lead had been cut to just 1 with 42.8 seconds left. Then a series of passes against a desperate full-court press found their way to senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, alone, at the three-point line. Now most coaches would tell Ali, no make that, scream at the top of their lungs until all of the veins in their heads popped, to hold the ball as long as possible, by dribbling away from defenders, then settle for the eventual foul, sending Ali, an 87 free-throw shooter to the line for two shots. This would give his team a 3 point lead and at worst would mean that the game would possibly go to overtime. Well, Ali had other voices that he listened to, since in a cold-blooded manner, he calmly jacked-up a 3-ball that put a dagger in the K.U. national title hopes. I remember Dr. J. answering reporters after he had made an ill-advised jumper in Game 4 of the NBA Finals that had sealed the championship for his(and my) 76ers, Sometimes, you have to dare to be great. Indeed. The bar was just mayhem. Forget the fact that this kid had just blown-up 75 of the brackets in the country with one shot, we had just watched someone, with everything on the line, achieve greatness. To do it as an underdog is the stuff of legend, a shot that every fan that watched, will remember where they were when they watched it. Its been THE talk of the bar ever since.

BRACKETS? WE DONT NEED NO STINKING BRACKETS!: One saving grace for the guy-in-a-red-bow-tie is that I had Kentucky winning it all, so while Im on life support, I still have a chance. A Lloyd Christmas chance, but Im still alive, because for all of the upsets, two 1s and three 2s are still alive and can give me five of the Elite 8. CHALK BOY never says die!

HAWKYTOWN!: After Saturdays mesmerizing college hoops it was time for some hockey. The Hawks were in Phoenix and ready to take on the streaking Coyotes. After gagging two 2-goal leads and losing the game in a shoot-out, there was wide spread panic in the bar. The goalies are considered average, teams are taking runs at them and they keep blowing late leads, makes you wonder how they have the best record in the West. Coach Q gave the team a verbal beat-down after the game and it seemed to work since they won a re-match 3 days later here at home 2-0. But then, Huet gets a start and they get pounded by Columbus 8-3. (I guess we know who the game 1 starter of the playoffs is!) That gives them a 5-5-2 record since the Olympic break. Whether their indifferent play of late is just due to the long season and they know they need to save something for the playoff grind or if its a harbinger of whats to come is creating a lot of angst in the faithful at the bar. One thing is for sure: The playoffs will answer every question that you have about a team. It would be nice if they went in with some momentum. Any one else notice who their last regular season game is against? (It rhymes with Dead-wings.) It could be a first round playoff preview. Dont know about you, but that is the one team I would not like to see in the 1st round.

TIGER TALK?: The Tiger stuff is well past over-done at the bar. Any analysis or opinions are left to the media types, here in the real world hes become a punch-line. I had the shows on in the bar where he was interviewed, but never was inclined to put the sound on, nor was I asked to do so. We all knew that he would not say anything that wasnt scripted or rehearsed. Im interested to see the reaction to Tiger the golfer since the other one is a waste of time, unless that is, he takes Arnies advice and meets the media head-onto get it over with. I think most of us would like to see that. I find it hard to believe that he can win people back with golf alone.

BASEBALL 102: I know Im just a bartender, but the Cubs always seem to do something that makes me scratch me head. Take the new lead-off hitter. Ill first say that thank god that Soriano is not in the lead-off discussion any more, that makes my head explode. Second, I do understand that they really dont have a lot of options. Really it comes down to 2 guys. One of those guys, Ryan Theriot, could be one of the best 2-hole hitters in baseball. He has a natural inside-out swing, has speed and can bunt. He also can take pitches and doesnt pout when he has to hit a grounder to move a runner. Hes a gamer. The other, Koske Fukudome, has shown that he is only comfortable when hitting in certain spots, like say lead-off, where last year when hitting there, he had close to a .400 on base percentage. Thats very good. When batting second last year he hit .215. Thats very bad. So where will they be batting this year? Of course Theriot will lead-off while Fukudome will be in the 2-hole. The rationale being that there are only 2 left-handed bats in the line-up and they want to use them to break up the right-handers. Wasnt this the same line of thinking that lead to Milton Bradley? When you have only two lefties and one is going to hit 8th, does it really matter if the other hits 1st or 2nd? 5 consecutive righties is better than 6? Ill go back to making drinks now.

THE 60 SOLUTION: The NFL decided that with the fact that over 60 of the over-time games since 1994 being won by the team that won the coin flip that they would change the over-time rules. Great! Finally they would listen to the fans and adopt the college OT rules? Not so fast. No the decision was to institute change for playoff games only. And it would only change so that a 1st possession field goal would not be enough to win the game on its own. If a team kicks a field goal on the 1st possession, the other team would get the opportunity to tie or win the game. Whos running this sport, NASCAR?

The problem that fans have with the current system is that a game can be decided by the flip of a coin. Thats it. What they want is a system where both teams are guaranteed at least one possession to see who can do more with it. You know, like in college football.

I know that no system is perfect, or is going to appease both purists and novices alike, but this, while moving forward is like saying, I want to go into the pool, but let me just dip my toe in first. Jump in!

If a team wins the coin flip and scores on the 1st drive: game over. Is that any less painful than a field goal? Its still a loss without the chance to offer a rebuttal. This argument reminds me of the one about a college football playoff. Fans want one thing, the powers to be another. We now have the chance that both teams will get the ball in overtime, only it depends on the situation, and when the game is played. Other than that, it makes sense.

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.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

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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