Thibodeau bucks trend, leans on vets Boozer, Hamilton late

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Thibodeau bucks trend, leans on vets Boozer, Hamilton late

MILWAUKEEFollowing his 22-point, 19-rebound performance in the Bulls 93-86 win over the Bucks at the Bradley Center, Carlos Boozer didnt shy away from the question. Asked about playing in the fourth quarter Saturday night, Boozer sent a direct message about his feelings on the issue.

You never know how long youre going to be out there or if youre going to go back in the fourth quarter. Me and Rip talked about it before the game, just to be aggressive while youre out here, see what happens. Thats kind of been our mentality the last few games and it was going great tonight, he said. It was great. We want to be out there every fourth quarter, but thats Thibs decision.

This is his show. He runs it. He puts out there who he wants out there and we just go with the flow.

Since the much-maligned power forwards arrival in Chicago, going back to the 2011 playoffs, in which his backup, Taj Gibson finished games for him, seeing Boozer on the bench in crunch time has been a semi-regular occurrence. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus mantra about the group that functions best may pass muster when his team is cruising through the regular season and Derrick Rose is healthy, but now that the Bulls are not considered an NBA juggernautthough they did snap a three-game losing skid by beating their Central Division rival, the fact that they had the streak at all is a mild shocker itselfsitting two of the squads veterans and most talented offensive players has raised some eyebrows.

While Boozer finally opened his mouth about the pattern, Hamilton continues to stay mum. Whether or not he encouraged his teammate to speak for him or not, the shooting guard remained diplomatic after the win, in which he scored 22 points of his own.

I missed so many easy shots, but the thing about it, though, I felt comfortable because I was able to get to the spots that I wanted to get to. Thibs just rode me and the guys did a good job of trying to find me when I was out on the floor, he said. Just understanding time and situation. I thought that tonight, we really understood time and possession. We got away from the quick shots in the fourth quarter and we were able to get the ball in the paint.

Boozer chimed in, more pointedly: Same Rip Ive seen my whole career, watching him play in Detroit, just aggressive. Hes a hard cover, man. Thirty-five years old, still one of the fastest guys coming off picks. You guys see him every day. Made all his free throws. Had a tough shooting night, but he was so aggressive, they had to foul him. Then, he started making plays for everybody else.

As for the man making the decisions on the sidelines, Thibodeau praised both the play of both veterans afterwards, though hes gone to Gibson in Boozers stead and recently, has used second-year swingman Jimmy Butler in place of Hamilton.

I thought Boozer was terrific. He played hard. I thought he made great effort on the board and the rebounding was a huge key, the coach said of Boozer, before moving on to Hamiltons night. I thought Hamilton played a good game. He got it in the post. He had a good balance, ran the floor hard. I thought he made a great effort in defensive transition. I thought he did a really good job.

But when asked about his fourth-quarter lineups this season, Thibodeau essentially dismissed the question, as he did before the game and has done since the issue was first raised.

Thats the way it is, he said. All fourth quarters are going to be tough. Thats the NBA.

Perhaps Joakim Noah stated it best: Like Ive said for a long time, its a dictatorship out here.

Noah refused to outright criticize Thibodeau, but admitted that of course players would love to know if theyre going to be in the lineup to close game, particularly veterans who have been in the position before.

At the end of the day, thats not my decision. Sometimes I wish I could coach. No more player-coaches? But I always tell Thibs how I feel. Sometimes he listens to me, sometimes he doesnt, the center explained. "Sometimes he gives me that look like, Are you expletive kidding me? Are you really telling me what to do right now? Thibs is pretty stubborn and at the end of the day, hes a coach.

Noah knows both sides of the coin, having been subbed out of games late the past two seasons, in favor of his understudy, the departed Omer Asik, before joining teammate Luol Deng as one of the NBAs minutes-per-game leaders this season, a tribute to his hard work over the summer and Thibodeaus growing trust in him, as well as necessity. However, maybe remembering what it used to be like for him, while Noah refused to further elaborate on his view of Thibodeaus late-game substitution patterns, he concluded with an opinion that Boozer and Hamilton surely share.

Put it this way, he said. I want to be in there all the time.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

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Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."