Bulls have slight edge in Game 6

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Bulls have slight edge in Game 6

It's no longer a stretch to think the Bulls can win Game 6 and go on to win this series even with Taj Gibson less than 100 percent and no Joakim Noah. Coach Tom Thibodeau wants to keep up guessing with Noah by calling him a game time decision, and Noah has indicated he's hopeful to return, but my sources say we won't be seeing Noah on the court again in this series.

Gibson said at Thursday's shoot around that he is definitely going to play. Now the question is whether his conviction is stronger than his sprained right ankle. Playing through pain and being productive through pain are two different things.

Still, there are five key factors in my mind that will determine who will win this Game 6. When I tally up the advantages, the Bulls come out ahead, but only slightly.

1. Luol Deng

Luol Deng has seen the light. Deng played with much more energy and aggressiveness in Game 5, freeing himself a bit from the shadow that has been Andre Iguodala's defense. Iguodala has been stuck to Deng like glue for much of this series. The two had been tied with 41 total points through the first four games, so the matchup has been a wash. But Game 5 changed things and Deng outscored Iguodala 19-11 by hitting four 3-pointers and shooting 10-19 from the field. Maybe Iguodala's sore anchilles tendon is slowing him down, or Deng has finally found a second gear. Whatever the reason, I'll trust that Deng, facing elimination again, can muster the same type of performance on Thursday.

Advantage: Bulls

2. Center court

Despite Coach Tom Thibodeau's 'game time decision' declaration on Joakim Noah, I don't expect to see the Bulls big man back on the court for Thursday's game, or the rest of the series for that matter. The Bulls will have to go without him again, which wasn't a problem in Game 5 given the play by Omar Asik and Taj Gibson. The problem is Gibson may be slowed down by that bum ankle and the Sixers' Spencer Hawes seems to be angry over the physical play from Tuesday night--Hawes got a gash across his face courtesy of Gibson and seems pretty miffed about it. He may be looking for revenge and wanting to redeem himself after scoring just 11 points in Game 5 after three straight 20-point performances. Only because of Asik's inconsistency and Gibson's compromised ankle will I give the edge to Philadelphia here.

Advantage: Sixers

3. Rip Hamilton

The fact that Rip Hamilton has played in more playoff games and has had more playoff success than anyone on the court in this series should give the Bulls a significant advantage, but instead, Rip looks completely lost and has been sitting on the bench during critical points in the game. He's averaging 11.8 points in just under 27 minutes while shooting 40 percent. The Bulls need more from him if they're going to win this series and be competitive in the second round. But it's not all Hamilton's fault, Philadelphia is playing great defense on him. Credit Jrue Holliday for sticking with Rip while he's running and cutting like crazy. There are also a timing issue between Rip and CJ Watson--Watson seems to deliver the ball a bit too late for the quick Hamilton. It's maddening how the Bulls haven't been able to figure this out and correct it. Instead, Thibodeau chooses to sit Hamilton for long stretches. To me this is the "X factor" of the series. I'll go out on a limb and say Hamilton will find a way to be more productive to help this team win. I'm putting faith in Thibodeau that he will use Rip the right way as well. I'm taking a deep breath on this one.

Advantage: Bulls

4. Charity Stripe

The trips to the free throw line have been a huge advantage for the Sixers. Philadelphia has a whopping 134-90 edge in free-throw attempts, good for a 45-point advantage. The disparity is no fluke. You can blame the referees all you want, and they deserve some flak, but the bottom line is the Sixers haven earned it. They've been more active and aggressive and the referees are rewarding them for it. Not only are the Sixers getting more free throws, but they are making more, shooting 75 percent from the line compared to 62 percent for Chicago. Free points will always give you an advantage over your opponent. I don't know if we can expect a fairly officiated game on Thursday, and if Marc Davis is on the crew, then I will definitely say no. Either way, trips to the line have been a major issue in this series and I don't think it's a trend that's going to change.

Advantage: Sixers
5. Mentality

The Bulls stopped the Sixers momentum with a victory in Game 5, but it did more than prolong the series--it cast doubt. The Bulls got in their opponent's head. Philadelphia is a young squad that isn't quite seasoned in handling big time pressure. Instead of being relaxed on their home court, the Sixers may treat Game 6 like it's a Game 7, making the rims at the Wells Fargo Center just a little bit smaller. Even their coach Doug Collins is thinking in a "don't lose way" instead of a going to "close it out way", saying after the loss Tuesday night, "I just don't want to come back to Chicago for a Game 7." Collins even told his team the cautionary tale of Rip Hamilton's '03 Pistons coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Orlando in the first round. Sounds like they're a team that is more concerned about losing than they are confident about knocking off the top seed. Don't get me wrong, the Bulls have plenty of pressure on them, having to win on the road just to get a chance to play one more game. A loss would be not only embarrassing for the Bulls but render the entire 2012 campaign a complete failure. But the Bulls are always up for a challenge and they proved that in Game 5. They don't want to go out like this and they will fight to stay alive. I like the Bulls resolve much more than what I've seen from Philadelphia so far.

Advantage: Bulls

Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’

Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Javier Baez plays the game on a higher plane and at such an instinctual level that he can point to the catcher and start celebrating before even catching the ball and dropping a no-look tag.

Baez believes it when he looks back on his World Baseball Classic experience and says: "We're not showing anybody up."

Because the adrenaline surged so quickly for Team Puerto Rico that Baez needed that play to go viral on Twitter to realize what actually happened. Even if elements of that style – and a preplanned win-or-lose parade through San Juan – may have bothered American players like Ian Kinsler and Adam Jones or anyone else with a hot take and a fun-police badge.   

"To be honest, I didn't know I did that until after the game," Baez said. "I got to my phone and I had so many messages and so many videos about it. I was like: 'Oh, whatever, I did it.'"

Baez skipped Thursday's parade after Team USA's 8-0 championship-game victory at Dodger Stadium, returning to Arizona and rejoining a Cubs team where he won't be an everyday player when everyone's healthy. Even after being a National League Championship Series co-MVP and the second baseman on the all-WBC team.

"I'm going to play a lot here," Baez said. "I'm just happy with that."

With a split squad in Las Vegas this weekend, Baez rolled into a quiet, mostly empty clubhouse on Saturday morning in Mesa and sat down in his chair to eat a McDonald's breakfast, a WBC equipment bag stashed in an extra locker. 

The Cubs made Baez their starting shortstop and cleanup hitter for that afternoon's Cactus League game against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Baez spoke with reporters for almost 10 minutes, explaining what it meant to unleash his emotions and represent his island during an economic crisis.

"We do a great job playing and having fun out there," Baez said. "That's what it's all about. This is a game. It's not as serious as a lot of people take it. But, you know, everybody's got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.

"It's their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it's really huge what we did, even though we didn't win. All of Puerto Rico got really together.

"We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that."

Baez appreciated the opportunity to play with Yadier Molina, the Puerto Rican captain and invaluable St. Louis Cardinals catcher. Before facing the Dominican Republic – and All-Star Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez – Baez said Molina joked to teammates: "I can't tell you many details, because then Javy will tell the Cubs."

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Baez confirmed the stories that Puerto Rican fans got so swept up in the tournament that the island ran out of blond hair dye: "Yeah, they really did."

Baez also said that he's not going to keep this look: "No, I'm going to cut it soon. Or dye it back black."

What will this do for Baez beyond his Q rating? Eh, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has already seen the swim moves and freaky tags and trusted Baez enough to start all 17 playoff games at second base last year.

"I don't know that there's going to be any greater impact than the World Series had on him," Maddon said. "There's a strong nationalistic component to this year's WBC. That was great. I think it was fueled by a lot of world events right now. I'm curious to see what's going to happen four years from now, if there's the same kind of interest or passion employed in the games.

"Hopefully, that's true. But it was almost like the perfect storm for the tournament this time around with world politics, national politics and the way everybody reacted to everything right now. I mean, you can't pick up a Twitter account without reading something volatile.

"I'd much prefer being fueled by a World Series than a WBC that happens every fourth year."

Over the years, instructors throughout the minor leagues, including Manny Ramirez, have tried to harness all this raw talent and help Baez develop a routine, make adjustments and play under control. But Baez said the Cubs haven't directly asked him to tone down the "Javy Being Javy" act.

"No, not really," Baez said. "Joe came to me last year about doing the routine plays and not (only) the great plays. That's about it.

"But in the Baseball Classic, I think everything counts. You can do a bat flip. You can pimp whatever you want, because it's the Baseball Classic. You don't know how many times you're going to do that in life. 

"I was really happy to be in it – and really happy that we enjoyed it."

Marian Hossa named Blackhawks' nominee for 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Marian Hossa named Blackhawks' nominee for 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The Chicago chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has selected Marian Hossa to be the Blackhawks' nominee for the 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which recognizes perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

The 38-year-old winger has bounced back in a huge way following a 2015-16 campaign where he had only 13 goals and 20 assists in 64 games. 

Hossa is tied for second on the team with 24 goals and ranks sixth on the club with 42 points in 66 contests this season. He ranks fourth among active players with 1,131 points, and recently surpassed Pat Verbeek to move into 35th all-time in goals scored with 523.

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Three finalists from the 30 NHL teams will be named at the end of the regular season.

Pit Martin (1969-70) and Bryan Berard (2003-04) are the only two players in Blackhawks history to win the honor.