Bulls stout on D, improved on O in preseason

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Bulls stout on D, improved on O in preseason

The Bulls, with six newcomers and without Derrick Rose, will be different in 2012. But if the preseason is any indication, one area where Tom Thibodeau's group won't lose a step is on defense.
Chicago ended its preseason schedule yesterday with a 97-90 win over the Pacers in South Bend. It was the Bulls' fourth straight win, and third straight game holding their opponent to 90 points or less.
Chicago was second in the NBA in defense last year, and showed no signs of slowing down this preseason.
The Bulls allowed 87.1 points in six games, the second best mark in the league. Only the Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 16 topped 90 points, but did so in a 100-94 loss to Chicago.
Teams made less than 41 percent of their field goal attempts in seven preseason contests (40.8 percent), the fourth best mark in the league. The Bulls were stout, as always, on rebounding, averaging an NBA-best 48.4 per game.
The usual suspects led the way on the glass, with Joakim Noah (10.1), Taj Gibson (8.0) and Carlos Boozer (6.7) all putting up impressive numbers in limited minutes. Even 35-year-old Nazr Mohammed got into the action, grabbing 5.6 rebounds in seven games off the bench.
Chicago was pesky in the passing lanes as well, recording 11.0 steals per game, second in the league. Seven players averaged better than a steal per game, with Carlos Boozer (1.7) leading the way.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was a different story. In seven games, the Bulls averaged 90.4 points (26th in NBA), 3.3 3-pointers (30th), 19.6 assists (22nd) and shot 40.5 percent from the field (28th) and 25.8 percent from beyond the arc (30th).
The numbers leave plenty to be desired, but a closer look shows improvement as the preseason went along.

First three gamesLast four gamesPoints83.395.8FG percent35.744.0Assistsgame15.023.0Turnoversgame21.013.8Record1-24-0
In those four games, the Bulls showed more of a balanced scoring attack, too. Carlos Boozer led the team with 17.7 points per game during the win streak, Richard Hamilton was a nice surprise with 15.8 points, while Nate Robinson, who started twice in place of Kirk Hinrich, averaged 14.8 points in the final four wins. Luol Deng averaged 14.3 points, while Joakim Noah scored an efficient 11.3 points per game.
The improvement on offense may take a while as the newcomers adjust to each other and Thibodeau's style, but as long as the defense is playing as it did this preseason the Bulls may score just enough without Derrick Rose to stay in the win column.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

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USA TODAY

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 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. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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