Without forward(s), Bulls face Hawks on CSN

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Without forward(s), Bulls face Hawks on CSN

Friday, March 11, 2011
Posted: 2:52 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After waiting until the season's stretch run for a fully-intact roster, Carlos Boozer's sprained left ankle put a slight damper on the increasingly optimistic Bulls' title hopes. Boozer's injury is similar to sprain the power forward suffered Jan. 15 against Miami, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Additionally, the Bulls' other starting small forward, Luol Deng, may not suit up Friday, due to a bruised left thigh. Deng's injury also happened against the Bobcats, when fellow Duke product Gerald Henderson caught him while making a wild circus shot underneath the basket.

The difference between Boozer's previous injury--after which Boozer missed Chicago's next three games--and this one is that not only is the national spotlight aimed directly at the surging Bulls, but in the midst of late-season jockeying for playoff position, the team simply cannot afford to lose their best low-post scoring option for an extended period of time. On the heels of the Celtics and just ahead of the Heat, Chicago is striving to overtake Boston and garner the Eastern Conference's top seed, but also has to be cautious of slipping to the third, which would pit them against a dangerous, new-look Knicks team in the first round of the playoffs if the postseason were to begin today.

That means they can't afford any hiccups along the way--such as the one they had last week in Atlanta against Friday's visitor to the United Center, the Hawks--and despite Boozer's recent offensive struggles, the mere scoring presence of the two-time All-Star at least gives opponents pause and consideration to double-teaming, something that can't be said about the Bulls' other post players. Although the Bulls' late-season slate isn't the most challenging, this time of the year is when teams with slim playoff hopes pull off upsets and lottery-bound squads play loose and turn to the future, with young players that haven't been extensively scouted getting the opportunity to showcase their games and perhaps surprise a contender.

As for Deng, after a career that's been marred by injuries, he's been a iron man all season. The native of Sudan is the team's leader in minutes--and among the league's leaders--and hasn't missed a game the entire campaign, prompting Thibodeau to alternately call him the team's "glue" and joke with reporters about Deng's usage, something of a sore spot for the coach earlier this season.

While Deng would never admit it, he's motivated by past criticism of his health and playing all 82 games was a goal coming into the season, especially with the more versatile role he's played for this year's Bulls team. Under Thibodeau, the eighth-year pro's versatility has been maximized, as he's guarded power forwards in Boozer's absence, been given defensive-stopper responsibilities, served as the go-to scorer when paired with the team's underrated second unit and with his extended shooting range, has thrived in as a third scoring option and has been particularly valuable to All-Star point guard Derrick Rose's drive-and-kick game, but also to the entire squad, in all facets of the game.

That being said, the tough-minded Bulls have been through this before and are unlikely to fold just because they're a man (or two) down, an occurrence they've obviously experienced before. With a game-changer like league MVP favorite Rose, a no-excuses coach like Thibodeau and a focused supporting cast always eager to prove their worth when they have an opportunity to shine, a letdown due to any absence from Boozer is something that should be counted on.

Never have two three-word phrases--"day-to-day" and "game-time decision"--meant so much and so little. Here's banking on the Bulls, with revenge on their minds, using the adversity to their advantage.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Sunday on CSN: UIC travels to Valparaiso

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Sunday on CSN: UIC travels to Valparaiso

Horizon League basketball returns to CSN on Sunday as UIC travels to Valparaiso. This game tips at 2:00 p.m. live on CSN.

The Flames (11-8, 4-2) have won three straight games and have played pretty good ball after the loss of Dikembe Dixson to a torn ACL. Junior big man Tai Odiase, a Homewood-Flossmoor graduate, is playing well along with former St. Rita product Dominique Matthews.

Valparaiso (15-4, 5-1) is hoping to maintain its conference lead behind senior All-American candidate Alec Peters. The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 23.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game on the season.

The Crusaders won the first time these two teams played at UIC on Dec. 30 as Tevonn Walker had 23 points.

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

See the Blackhawks get off to a slow start. See the Blackhawks get outshot. See the Blackhawks lean on their goaltending. See the Blackhawks find some offense in the third period. See the Blackhawks win.

This is a story the Blackhawks have written and played out plenty this season. Despite all evidence that it should work out to the contrary, the Blackhawks continue to pull out victories. But as we're well into the second half of the season, how much longer can they win with this formula? And is this, more than anything, a testament to how much they need to acquire someone (or plural) at the deadline to bolster their forward lineup?

Entering Sunday night's game against Vancouver the Blackhawks remain second in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota. Not surprisingly, they enter Sunday coming off another one-goal victory, a 1-0 decision over Boston on Friday night. Friday's game was cut from the same cloth as so many other one-goal games this season (please see above for the script). 

Here's how the Blackhawks are doing in one-goal games (through 48 games played this season) and how they've done in previous seasons:

Year Record
2016-17 18-7-5
2015-16 17-7-9
2014-15 22-13-6
2013-14 17-8-15
2012-13 19-3-5 (lockout yr.)
2011-12 22-6-11
2010-11 16-13-9
2009-10 23-9-8

The Blackhawks played 41 one-goal games (half of their regular-season games) in the 2014-15 season. Thirty of their 48 games this season have been one-goal games. But again, it comes down to how you're winning those games, and the Blackhawks are winning just about all of them in the same way: deal with a slow start and come back in the third period, relying on goaltending the entire time.

Being outshot the amount of times the Blackhawks have this season remains alarming. Sure, sometimes a lot of shots don't mean a lot of quality chances. But it's still better than minimal shots, and any shot can be an opportunity for a rebound, a deflection, something. From our stats guru Chris Kamka, here's a breakdown of the Blackhawks' shots per game vs. opponents, dating back to 2008-09:

Year Shots/Gm Opp. Shots/Gm Diff.
2008-09 32.7 28.6 +4.2
2009-10 34.1 25.1 +9.1
2010-11 32.2 28.7 +3.6
2011-12 31.5 28.6 +3.0
2012-13 31.1 26.2 +4.9
2013-14 33.1 27.2 +6.0
2014-15 33.9 30.2 +3.8
2015-16 30.5 30.8 -0.3
2016-17 29.3 31.1 -1.7

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

It's no surprise that the Blackhawks' differential was especially good in their Stanley Cup-winning seasons (and even 2013-14, when they went to the Western Conference Final). Those Blackhawks teams were deep, especially at forward. They weren't waiting for the perfect shooting opportunities as much as just firing. They had great four-line rotations, something they've sorely been lacking the past two seasons, which makes a difference with puck possession.

The Blackhawks will see what's available at the trade deadline. As I wrote a few days ago, there will be names out there but, considering some teams are still hoping for playoff spots, you take mentions for what they are right now. Over the next few weeks the picture will become clearer, and adding the right depth could rekindle that four-line rotation.

We've said throughout this season that the Blackhawks can't keep this up. We said it in November, and December, and now. Understand where we're coming from here; the Blackhawks can absolutely keep winning one-goal games. They've shown that in recent seasons and in the postseason, when the ability to do that is critical. But it's doubtful they can keep doing it the way they have most this season.