Knicks' Brewer has fond memories of time in Chicago

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Knicks' Brewer has fond memories of time in Chicago

Knicks swingman Ronnie Brewer's return to Chicago wasn't all positive, as his current team -- which leads the Eastern Conference -- dropped a 93-85 game to the Bulls at the United Center.

Still before Saturday night's contest, the ever-congenial veteran -- who starts for New York -- was in a good mood and reminisced about his two-year Bulls tenure. His time in Chicago ended after the organization declined to pick up his one-year team option over the summer, making him a free agent.

"It feels good. I stay in contact with the majority of the guys and some of the coaches," Brewer said. "We felt like we came up a little short my first year here with all the success we had and then coming into Year 2, we had so much high expectations and then D-Rose battling injuries throughout the year, we still had one of the best records in the league, and then with him going down in the playoffs, that was super tough.

"I know I don't miss Thibs' practices," he joked. "But the city was great, the fans were great, my teammates were amazing, so I can't really have any negative things to say about Chicago because my time here was great."

Brewer isn't bitter about how his stint in Chicago ended. Being the son of a former NBA player and having been traded from his original team, Utah, he understands the nature of the business.

"You get caught up in your feelings in the NBA, you're going to have an up-and-down life. You know what? It's part of the business, part of the game," Brewer said. "At the end of the day, it's still a blessing because you're still playing basketball. That's all you can ask of Chicago, New York, whatever team it is. It's still an opportunity to get out there every day and put your best foot forward, and play the game you love. I wish we could have kept it together. It was fun out there and great atmosphere here when we had the "Bench Mob" really going, but every good thing has to end."

"But it's a business at the end of the day, so that's kind of that point that you have to look at," he continued, detailing the process from his perspective when asked about whether factors like Derrick Rose's ACL injury and the luxury tax may have played into the organization's thinking. "Just like they did not sign us, they had the opportunity to pick up my option, keep Kyle and pick up C.J.'s option. They just didn't.

"I'm not the one signing the checks and spending the money, and going into the luxury tax. There's teams that are in the luxury tax that pay and win. It's a two-way street."

The Bulls' loss has been the Knicks' gain, as Brewer (who started in place of Rip Hamilton last season while the currently sidelined veteran was injured for the majority of his debut campaign in Chicago) starts for New York, a role he had with the Jazz earlier in his career. While the Knicks' three-point shooting has been a big part of their early-season success, so has a much-improved defense, an area Brewer saw where he could contribute.

"When I came to New York, I told Coach 'Woody' Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, whatever role he wants me to play on this team, like I was here, I'm open. I just want to play, be part of something special, so I think what I'm doing here, we have a lot of talented guys on this team and you've just got to fit in where you can. That's what I've been doing my whole career, so whatever's asked of me, I just try to do it to the best of my ability," Brewer said. "I remember playing against the Knicks, watching on film former Knicks swingman and current Toronto Raptor Landry Fields, injured second-year guard and Chicago-area native Iman Shumpert, different guys coming in, playing alongside Carmelo, Amar'e Stoudemire, the injured Knicks power forward, Tyson, former Knicks point guard and current Houston Rocket Jeremy Lin, how they cut to the basket, how they got shots. I felt like I could help the team out defensively and make plays offensively when it comes my way, and I feel like I had an opportunity to win.

Brewer's new teammates and coaches have already taken note of his impact on the floor, which isn't always reflected in statistics.

"Ronnie's big time," said Anthony, the team's superstar. "Defensively, he's just another smart player that we have on the court, another guy who knows how to play the game. He plays games within the game. A lot of times we're feeding off him out there on the defensive end, too."

Added Woodson: "Brewer adds some toughness, a guy that can defend. That was the whole idea for our organization this summer, to go out and find players that were willing to sacrifice some of their offense to defend the basketball and he's been one of those guys for us. That's why he starts for us. I like everything about what he's brought to our team."

Brewer said he sees some similarities between Thibodeau and Woodson, another defensive-minded coach, as well as the Bulls and Knicks as teams.

"They're different in a lot of ways, but they are similar by they're very into detail. Thibs is very particular of positioning defensively, Coach 'Woody' is the same way. They want excellence on defense and you can tell that since Coach Woodson's taken over, he's changed the mentality of the players on this team to defend and since Thibs has been the head coach, that's what he wants out of everybody on the team, from top to bottom. To me, defense wins championships and it gets you in a lot of games, so that's why I think both coaches have had a lot of success," he said.

"I've been fortunate enough to play with some really great guys here and the common denominator is Coach Thibs is a great coach, I think Coach 'Woody' is a great coach. You have an MVP candidate in D-Rose, Carmelo. Raymond Felton really re-established himself as one of the top-tier point guards. Tyson's playing really great defense, Joakim is playing great defense, Deng is playing great defense. So, it's a number of things that's similar on both teams, but it's the same solution. You defend, you rebound, low turnovers, you're going to be in a lot of NBA games."

Even with all of the attention the Knicks are receiving, Brewer is still keeping an eye on the Bulls, who are presently flying under the radar in Rose's absence.

"I don't think they had the start that they wanted, but that happens when you have a revamped roster. But with Thibs coaching the team, you know sooner or later, they're going to click, start defending like they need to, rebounding, just get the chemistry back going," he said. "I think injuries are part of the league, so it comes with the territory. Somebody's out, you've still got to play the game of basketball. I feel like teams have to step up and play beyond themselves whenever a superstar's out, so they're a still a dangerous team with or without him. I can't say you want to try to face them without Derrick Rose because they're still a dangerous team."

Scott Darling takes the reins for Blackhawks in Corey Crawford’s absence

Scott Darling takes the reins for Blackhawks in Corey Crawford’s absence

It’s an interesting working life, really, this backup goaltending gig.

Most of the time, you’re in hurry-up-and-wait mode. But now and then something bizarre happens – like the starting goaltender needing an appendectomy on the road – that thrusts you into the No. 1 spot for a time.

Scott Darling has been here, done this before, though, and he did it well. And considering how goaltending has been the backbone of this team’s performance this season, the Blackhawks are confident he can handle the job.

Darling gave the Blackhawks a chance again on Sunday night, his 30-stop performance keeping them within one goal in what was ultimately a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Darling started his second consecutive game – Crawford was diagnosed with appendicitis prior to the team’s game in Philadelphia, where he had his operation. An interesting turn of events, for sure, but Darling will do what’s necessary in Crawford’s absence.

“Obviously you don’t want it to happen this way. But there’s not too many other ways it can happen so it’s an exciting opportunity for me,” Darling said following Sunday’s game. “I mean I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how long Corey will be gone or what the game plan is. But I’m excited to get a few more starts than usual.”

Darling had a whole three games of NHL experience in December of 2014 when he subbed for Crawford, out with a lower-body injury at that time. That worked out just fine – he won three of his first four starts and came up even bigger in the Blackhawks’ first-round series against the Nashville Predators that postseason.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Coach Joel Quenneville said Darling has handled the extremes well.

“I think that’s what it’s all about in that role: you’re ready to play once every four or five games and then all of a sudden you’re playing every night and it’s a different job description, workload, pressure. But the expectations when you do get it can be different,” Quenneville said. “Some guys handle it the same way, going every fourth or fifth game and don’t change a beat. I think Darls did exactly that. He had a good demeanor, had a good approach, was patient as he always was. I think that helped a lot. He played some critical games for us in the playoffs, handled it the same way and that’s how you’re hoping they handle it.”

Darling is expected to get most, if not all, of the workload while Crawford’s out. Lars Johansson was recalled on Sunday and will serve as backup, but he has no NHL experience – then again, Darling didn’t have much a few years ago, either.

But Darling isn’t taking anything for granted during this stretch.

“I’ve gotta win some games to have the right to get those minutes,” he said.

Maybe, but the Blackhawks also have to give him some help. The goaltending hasn’t gotten a ton of that from the Blackhawks, who have sputtered offensively most of the season. No matter who’s in net, the Blackhawks need to start producing more.

For now, Darling is the man. He’s rolled with the backup-gig demands before and should be fine again. And if the Blackhawks can help him out some, they shouldn’t miss much of a beat without Crawford.

“He’s played great. I thought he played great again [Sunday],” Duncan Keith said. “He gave us a chance, and you know, more than a chance to win. He stopped breakaways and made big plays all night. We’re lucky to have him as a goalie we can look to when we’ve got a guy like Crow out.”

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

With less than 2 minutes to play in the first half the Bears had gained a total of 45 yards, and had zero pass completions (2 attempts) and zero points . By the end of the half they had 115 yards, Matt Barkley had completed 4 of his last 6 passes and the Bears adjourned for halftime with a 7-6 lead.

For the second straight week Barkley engineered a comeback, this time for a win, and running a two-minute offense that, curiously perhaps for an inexperienced quarterback, seems to suit Barkley even more than the offense run a normal speed. More than one player said that 70-yard drive to finish the first half was a tipping point, on all sides of the football.

The turning point “was that two-minute right before the half,” said right tackle Bobby Massie. “Everybody just executed, did what we needed to do and drove right down the field. Then we come out after the half and drove right down again. It was good.”

More than just good for the offense. “I think that really spurred both sides of the ball to be motivated to finish the game strong,” said Barkley, who got the Bears into the end zone twice in last Sunday’s Tennessee game, and nearly a third, within the final 10 minutes, running 35 plays over the span of those minutes.”

This time the result was the highest point total (26) this season and scores on four out of five possessions beginning with that hurry-up score to end the half.

Quarterback: A-

Once again Barkley was beset by dropped passes, although nowhere near the avalanche of them that defeated him against the Tennessee Titans. Barkley shook off the conditions and poor start to complete 4 of 6 passes on the final drive of the half, for 64 yards – the entire passing production for the half.

Barkley followed a shaky first half with a solid second, completing 7 of 10 passes for 128 yards and zero interceptions, a significant key with the 49ers unable to do much of anything against the Bears defense. Barkley effectively convinced coaches that he could operate in the adverse conditions with passing and not simply handing off to Jordan Howard.

“I thought [the way] he handled the two-minute drive before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball,” said coach John Fox. “I thought he executed outstanding.”

Barkley finished with 11-of-18 passing for 192 yards, no touchdowns but no interceptions and a passer rating of 97.5.

Running back: A+

In a game that demanded effective rushing, Jordan Howard delivered a statement game, his fifth in the last eight with 100 rushing yards and 115 total yards of offense.

Howard rushed for 3 touchdowns, giving him five on the year, and carried 32 times, an average of 3.7 that belies the overall, which involved the chemistry of the run game, now averaging 4.4 yards on the season . “He’s fun, man,” said guard Eric Kush. “We block our butts off to try to give him something. Even if it’s not the prettiest block, we try to finish our blocks and give him a chance.”

Howard displayed power inside as well as burst on the Bears’ outside-zone runs that exploited the San Francisco edges. He carried 10 times in the first half, then 22 in the second.

“I’m definitely ready to be that workhorse,” said Howard, who now has 883 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns despite not starting until game four. “Even though they might know the run is coming, they still have to stop it.”

Receivers: B+

Josh Bellamy, replaced in the starting lineup by Deonte Thompson after his drop-laced game against Tennessee, had perhaps one the streakiest game of the Bears year. Bellamy again suffered with drops that included lost TD catches, but Bellamy rebounded to match his career-best 4 catches against Tennessee but with 93 yards and a long of 31 and others of 24, 22 and 16 yards. Bellamy also was handed the ball on an end-around for 12 yards.

All of this despite two egregious drops, one of a potential TD ball with Bellamy two steps behind his defender. “He came up to me and said, ‘Keep feeding me,’” Barkley said. “I’m not going to stop giving those guys the ball… .I’m going to keep coming back to them for the rest of the year.”

Cam Meredith remained in the starting lineup and caught 3 of the 4 passes thrown to him, with Thompson and tight end Daniel Brown catching 2 each.

Offensive line: A

With the adverse weather conditions expected, coaches made a specific challenge to the offensive line to take over this game against a struggling San Francisco front. Guard Josh Sitton was active but still limited with an ankle injury, so coaches stayed with Eric Kush at left guard and were rewarded with some consistent blocking in the run game. Kush executed combination blocks and worked to the second level. Kush and Charles Leno repeatedly dominated the San Francisco left side as the Bears pounded with the run and never let up in the snowy conditions.

“With the conditions, you had to run the ball,” Leno said. “The O-line just tried to come together, not worry about the record and win one week at a time.”

The result was another 100-yard rushing day for Jordan Howard, with 3 touchdowns, and 142 rushing yards, high for the season. “Today the offensive line got great push like they always do,” Howard said.

Barkley was sacked once, in the fourth quarter, on a breakdown in one-on-one blocking by tight end Daniel Brown.

Cody Whitehair going down in the fourth quarter with a leg injury was a blow, but Whitehair was able to return later in the period. The Bears had Sitton dressed and part of field-goal unit, and Sitton came in at right guard and Ted Larsen moved over to center.

Coaching: A

The obvious overall effort and preparation of a 2-9 team for a game of virtually no import to the season was noteworthy, as the Bears again played with intensity and efficiency throughout, including recovering from first-half gaffes on special teams that put the Bears down 6-0.

The defense schemed for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by staying almost exclusively in a 3-4 front, utilizing three down-linemen and two outside linebackers to pressure Kaepernick and with the speed to thwart his runs. The result was the worst game of Kaepernick’s career, with 20 rushing yards and 4 passing, vs. 25 yards lost to sacks.

The offense held to a run-based mindset and plan, even when the 49ers turned two special-teams mistakes into field goals for the first two scores. The 49ers also relied primarily on man-to-man coverage, committing an extra defender to run defense, but the Bears were willing and able to challenge downfield knowing that the San Francisco pass rush was hampered by the field conditions.

“Props to Dowell[Loggains, offensive coordinator] and the whold coaching staff for getting us ready and making adjustments like that during the game,” Barkley said.

Special teams was again mistake-prone with mental breakdowns compounded by physical mistakes.