Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls


Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls

DEERFIELD, ILL. The Bulls next opponent is a familiar foe, Philadelphia, the team that ousted them in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring.

Like the Bulls, the 76ers experienced an offseason of change, losing All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, leading scorer Louis Williams, veteran power forward Elton Brand and shooting guard Jodie Meeks.

The circumstances of each departure was different Iguodala was traded to Denver in a blockbuster deal, Williams and Meeks each left via free agency (Williams, regarded as one of the leagues top sixth men, signed with his hometown Hawks, while Meeks reached an agreement with the Lakers) and Brand, the former Bull, was amnestied and subsequently acquired by the Mavericks but based on the organizations busy summer, this season was supposed to bring new hope.

Along with short-term deals given to free-agent acquisitions Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Kwame Brown, as well as retaining big men Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, the Sixers received All-Star center Andrew Bynum, in addition to veteran Jason Richardson, in the Iguodala deal.

However, while Bynum hasnt suited up in Philadelphia due to ongoing knee problems, the Sixers are making the best of it, as former Bulls head coach Doug Collins continues to get the most out of a gritty defensive-oriented team with no superstar scoring threat, but a lot of heart.

Those attributes have earned the respect of the Bulls current head coach, Tom Thibodeau.

Theyre good, hard-playing, different. Added a lot of shooting. Kwame Brown is an underrated addition. Jrue Holidays playing great, Evan Turners playing great for them. Theyre playing well, Thibodeau said Friday, following the teams afternoon practice session at the Berto Center.

Thibodeau isnt dwelling on the Bulls series loss to Philadelphia, which saw Derrick Rose suffer a devastating ACL injury and Joakim Noah severely sprain his ankle en route to losing in six games. But the coach is conscious of the fact that players like Holiday, who signed a four-year, 41-million contract extension on the opening day of the NBA season, and Turner, a Chicago native and former No. 2 overall draft pick, have improved.

Its in the past. You learn from every situation, we move on. Theyre our next opponent, so we have to know them well. Theyre different in terms of some of their personnel, but philosophically, theyre the same. Dougs their coach -- a great coach -- he always gets his teams to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses, so we have to be ready, he explained. I think Turner and Holiday continue to improve each year, significantly, and then when you add in some of their additions Nick Young, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright theyve added a lot of three-point shooting to their team.

Then, Kwame Brown gives them a lot of toughness up front. Hes a guy thats sort of under the radar, but hes a good defensive player. Spencer Hawes is a guy who can spread you out, great touch. Lavoy Allen, great touch. Their bigs are skilled. Thaddeus Young is a tough matchup, he can out-quick you at the four, can overpower threes, hes tough in transition. So, I think they put pressure on you, they play together and defensively, theyve always been tough.

After a resounding victory Wednesday over Dallas at the United Center, Thibodeau wants the Bulls to keep building on the positive momentum. As solid as the Bulls were from top to bottom in that game, the detail-oriented coach still found some areas the team needs to address.

Just continue to improve every aspect of your defense, from defensive transition to challenging shots, to finishing with the rebound to your pick-and-roll defense, catch-and-shoot defense, low-post defense, help defense, so you never have it fully solved and you can always do better. So, thats the mindset that we want to have. We want to be moving in the right direction, Thibodeau said.

We have to be a 48-minute team. There were stretches where I thought we probably didnt play as well as I would have liked. The thing I did like was offensively, getting to the free-throw line, which allowed us to get our defense set. We have to continue to cut down our turnovers. Thats critical for us, but regardless of what happens on offense, youve got to make sure youre taking care of all your responsibilities defensively and then, the offensive end, I want us to continue to play the way we did the other night. I thought we had a lot of very unselfish plays and the ball was moving, bodies were moving and we got into the paint.

2010 Blackhawks can relate to Cubs’ quest for elusive title

2010 Blackhawks can relate to Cubs’ quest for elusive title

A young team sits on the cusp of achieving something great. If it’s done, it will erase years of angst, erase decades of frustration and futility.

Six years ago, that was the 2010 Blackhawks with their Stanley Cup triumph. Now it’s the Cubs, who could snap a century-plus long World Series drought. Those who were on that 2010 Blackhawks team can relate to what the Cubs are going through right now: an entire city watching, waiting and hoping for that elusive title. For them, staying loose was the best way to deal with the pressures that come with it.

That Blackhawks squad was a young-up-and-coming group. Ditto for this year’s Cubs. From all outward appearances these Cubs look like a loose bunch. The Blackhawks were the same in 2010, when they were helping the franchise rebuild after a lot of lean years.

“I think there are a lot of similarities,” Brian Campbell said. “I’m not in the [Cubs’] room, but we had a lot of fun in the room with guys who supported each other and had a lot of fun and enjoyed it. It seems like they have a good time over there and they go to work hard every day but enjoy themselves and have some good events. That’s the only way to kind of keep it relaxed.

“There’s pressure in the situation and it had been a while for us. And it’s been a long time for them,” Campbell added. “So I think it’s a good job by a lot of the guys in the clubhouse just keeping it relaxed.”

Jonathan Toews said the Blackhawks that year knew what they could do, but they tried to focus on each game instead of the big picture.

“I wouldn’t say we went in blindly but it was relatively unknown for us. We were just playing and I think we were clicking at the right time. Obviously we had a lot of firepower,” Toews said. “We didn’t really realize how tough it is to get there and we just kind of knew that was our potential and we just kept playing, kept winning. And before we knew it, we were on top.”

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Maintaining that composure and relaxed atmosphere was key. But with young teams, coaches can also help in that regard. Coach Joel Quenneville gauged where his 2010 Blackhawks were and didn’t do anything to shake the players’ demeanor.

“We didn’t change our approach as we went along,” Quenneville said. “Guys were always together. They were very loose going into games and together between games and I think it was just a continuation from momentum that was gained as we progressed in the playoffs. As we went deeper and deeper it seemed like it was more enjoyable and the guys continued to have more fun.”

A postseason taste the previous season didn’t hurt. In the spring of 2009 the Blackhawks made their first postseason appearance since 2001-02, advancing to the Western Conference final. They lost to the defending Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in five games but the young Blackhawks took a lot out of getting that far. The next season, they were brimming with confidence.

“We were almost naïve enough to not know how well we were doing at the time and what we were setting up. The next season we had such confidence in ourselves that we knew nobody was going to beat us in the playoffs if we didn’t want them to,” said Troy Brouwer, who’s now with the Calgary Flames. “You go into every game with the mentality that you know you’re going to win and good things can happen.”

Certainly the Cubs have been waiting longer to end their World Series drought (108 years) compared to the Blackhawks (49 years). But a wait’s a wait, expectations are expectations, and pressure is pressure. The Blackhawks dealt with it all beautifully en route to that Cup six seasons ago, and they think the Cubs will do the same.

“They’re going to get more cracks at it, too. So obviously in the future that experience will be great, but it seems like they’re just going into it and playing well at the right time,” Toews said. “It’s a lot of fun to watch and great to see the buzz and excitement. Those guys are just focusing on the job. That’s the No. 1 thing.”

CSN's Top 25 players in the NBA

CSN's Top 25 players in the NBA

No matter how much you rely on analytics and logarithms in determining who are the best players, ultimately it becomes about judgment.

Should win shares have a greater value than a player’s winning percentage in the playoffs? Is defensive rating a better barometer about a defender’s ability than say, defensive field goal percentage differential? And how much do you weigh how they fare versus playoff teams and non-playoff teams? A legitimate case can be made for all those numbers and many, many more, being used to rank the top 25 players.

Realizing such an endeavor should not be a one-person job, I enlisted the help of my fellow CSN Insiders, compiled our rankings and voila! We made a beautiful, bouncing list of more than two dozen players.

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The scoring for this is pretty simple: Each Insider picked 25 players, ranking them from No. 1 through 25. Their number one pick received 25 points, No. 2 got 24, No. 3 got 23 and … you get the picture.

Without any further delay, here is the first annual CSN Top 25 NBA Players list in addition to our "others receiving votes" group.