Against all odds, Bulls must make this personal

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Against all odds, Bulls must make this personal

Carlos Boozer brought it up after Sunday's Game 4 loss. Richard Hamilton was asked about it at Bulls practice Monday. The time Rip's Detroit Pistons rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the 2003 playoffs to beat the Orlando Magic in the first round. It's worth mentioning. It gives you hope. It can be done.

But then you look a little closer and you realize it's not done very often. Only eight teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a NBA playoff series. The last team to do it was the Phoenix Suns, who beat the Los Angels Lakers in a Western Conference first-round series in 2006. In case you're wondering, only three of those teams went on to win it all. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We just need to concentrate on the Bulls fighting off elimination in Game 5 Tuesday.

I have no idea if the Bulls are going to win this game and live to play another. For the first time all season, I truly have no feel for this game. As soon as I think we can stick a fork in this tattered bunch, another part of me thinks they're going to come out guns-a-blazing in front of the home crowd and reclaim their faded glory.

In franchise history, the Bulls have never rallied from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series, failing in all five previous attempts. Let's face it, the odds are against them.

Call me crazy, but I still believe if the Bulls can just make a few adjustments and play like their lives depend on it, they may be able to not only win Game 5 but win the necessary three straight and advance.

The most encouraging thing I heard at Bulls practice Monday was when Rip Hamilton said, "Right now, it's personal. We can't just go out there as professional basketball players, we have to make it personal."

Yes, take it personally. Bulls players should be personally offended that a No. 8 seed is about to knock off a No. 1 seed for only the fifth time since 1984. Not in our house!

It's time to pull out all the stops. Use Mike James if you have to -- he's bigger, more physical (to help counter Evan Turner) and plays better defense than C.J. Watson and John Lucas III. He'll be more proficient at running the offense since he's not a scoring point guard and he might distribute the ball better to get Luol Deng and Hamilton more shot opportunities. And, for Pete's sake, maybe he can stop Jrue Holiday during the critical 4th quarter?

I'm not saying James is the answer by any means, I'm simply suggesting that coach Tom Thibodeau needs to throw out the playbook at this point because whatever the Bulls have been doing hasn't been working. They've been sticking to a failed plan and it's time to make adjustments.

Play with a sense of urgency, make it personal and the Bulls can win this thing. Of those eight previous teams I mentioned that came back down 3-1 to win the series, six of them played Game 5 at home. The Bulls have as good a shot as any to make history here.

Even if it is against all odds.

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz figured it would be different at this level.

Yes, Schmaltz had played against some of college’s best en route to that national title with the University of North Dakota. But the pro level is the pro level for a reason.

“It’s a big transition from the college level. Guys are faster, more skilled, and you have less time and space,” he said. “But as camp’s gone on everyone’s gotten a little more comfortable and making more plays and I think we’ll continue that into tonight.”

Schmaltz looked pretty comfortable on Wednesday night, when the Blackhawks lost their preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0. Schmaltz logged 18 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time, including 2:53 on the power play. For the Madison, Wisc., kid who used to come to Blackhawks playoff games, playing that first game at the United Center was “surreal.”

“It was good,” he said after the game. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we had some good opportunities. We can get more pucks on net. We let the goalie off a little easy, but hopefully just keep building and keep getting better every day.”

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Schmaltz has practiced some on the left wing, and that’s where he was in Wednesday night’s scrimmage (with Vinnie Hinostroza centering and Richard Panik on right wing). The Blackhawks always love versatility, but Schmaltz going on the wing is more of a need than an option right now.

“Most of the openings in the organization are on the wing. We’re pretty full down the middle. It’s something we’re trying to see if he can fit in there and play well there,” assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “And he’s got a nice set of hands, a nice skill set, so hopefully he’ll be comfortable on the wing there.”

Schmaltz has played more right wing than left, but he said the adjustments aren’t so bad.

“Just wall work. Might have to make some backhand plays off the wall but other than that, nothing, really,” Schmaltz said. “Since me and Panik are playing off wing, we’ll get across the blue line, cut across and make plays to each other. It’ll be fun out there.”

Schmaltz held his own in his first game in a Blackhawks uniform. There are high expectations for him entering this season, but he’ll let his game dictate where he ends up.

“If I play my game, play hard, I should put myself in a pretty good spot,” he said. “But I can’t control what decisions they make, so I’ll compete as hard as I can every night and show them what I can do.”

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

That the Dallas Cowboys were able to put 447 yards, almost 200 of them running the football, and 31 points on the Bears was concerning in itself. The way much of it happened, however, was perhaps more concerning, even if not completely surprising.

And the issues were in more than one area.

The rushing yards, of which 140 were provided on 30 carries by rookie Ezekiel Elliott, were largely gained by simply pounding away on an undermanned Bears front seven. The Bears have allowed 10 runs of 10 yards or more; five of those came in Dallas.

The problem was an alarmingly simple one. Not scheme, not missed assignments.

“We were getting blocked and not getting off blocks well enough,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said on Wednesday. “But basically getting blocked most of the time, a guy or two every time was just getting blocked.”

The defense was without linchpin and nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) as well as inside linebacker and co-captain Danny Trevathan. In Trevathan’s spot, rookie Nick Kwiatkoski started and played on 18 of Dallas’ snaps (26 percent).

He did OK,” Fangio said. “Again, he was part of those guys that got blocked some. Had some good plays, some not so good. The first play of the game that popped out of there for 21 yards, he was at the point of attack on that one. It was OK, hope for better, expect better moving forward.”

The Bears use something of a hybrid form of gap control, not strictly two-gap with linemen responsible for gaps on either side of the blocker in front of them, and not strictly one-gap, with a tighter responsibility but with expectations that the defender get more penetration and disruption.

The system is what one lineman described as “gap-and-a-half,” playing their assigned gap but also with responsibility to help out with one other assigned gap. They are not head-up on offensive linemen, being slightly shaded toward a gap a’la one-gap schemes most of the time.

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The Bears generally were unable to control either their assigned or their secondary gaps.

The issues were not confined to the run defense. The Bears’ pass rush was virtually non-existent (zero sacks, one hit on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott) and yet it allowed Prescott to scramble free three times, converting first downs on all three.

“Our rush wasn’t good enough when they weren’t throwing it quick,” Fangio said, “and it was evident by the times [Prescott] scrambled. He scrambled three times for first downs and they hurt us.

“Our rush wasn’t good enough. There are a lot of passes that the rush won’t be a factor because it is coming out fast. But we have to get better coverage to make them hold the ball longer, too.”