Deep Celtics have Thibodeau's, Bulls' attention

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Deep Celtics have Thibodeau's, Bulls' attention

Tom Thibodeau will almost always wish Celtics coach Doc Rivers well. That's what happens when two people win a championship together.

Just not tonight.

Thibodeau will face his old mentor tonight at the United Center when the Bulls and Celtics meet up on Comcast SportsNet. And while Thibodeau recently spoke with one of his good friends in the business, things changed around game day.

"I think any time that you win a championship with somebody, that ties you together forever," Thibodeau said at this afternoon's shootaround.

The two spoke recently, but Thibodeau said the two don't talk basketball when they're about to play each other.

"He's been a good friend for a long time, so I know how competitive he is and the make-up of that team. So like I said yesterday, we wish him well but not tonight."

Part of that 2008 NBA Champion Celtics team with Rivers and Thibodeau, Ray Allen, won't be involved in tonight's matchup. The NBA's all-time leading 3-point shooter signed with Miami in the offseason, but Thibodeau said the Celtics' two additions -- starter Courtney Lee and sixth man Jason Terry -- as well as returning proven scorers, have made it a seamless transition from Allen.

"They planned extremely well. I think it didn't work out, they wanted to bring Ray back. They covered themselves by going out and getting Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. So they got highly skilled guys," Thibodeau said. "Their shooting component is still very strong. Their bigs, Garnett is as good a shooter as you're going to find for a big. A 17-foot open jump shot for him is a layup. You can't let him get to that, and power forward Brandon Bass is very good mid-range shooter, they've got a lot of weapons on that team."

While Boston's shooting hasn't dipped, their rebounding has. A frontline of Garnett, Bass, rookie Jared Sullinger and Chris Wilcox isn't the biggest in the league, and the lack of a true center has resulted in the Celtics' being out-rebounded by more than four rebounds per game. Opponents also are scoring 13 more points per game in the paint, an area Thibodeau said the Bulls must play better.

"I think we're capable of doing much more, so we can't rely on one or two guys. We have to be a team rebounding-type team, where we do it collectively," he said. "Our smalls have to get in there and battle, and I think that puts you in the open floor. The better you rebound the more you get into the open floor. So we want to try to get as many easy baskets as we can also."

If the Bulls can rebound and get out on the break, it likely will be led by Nate Robinson, not Kirk Hinrich.

Hinrich, who strained his right hip Saturday against the Timberwolves, is listed as doubtful and did not partake in this morning's shoot around.

Regardless of who starts at point guard, Thibodeau knows the Celtics will be ready.

"They play hard, they play unselfishly, they play together, they're well-coached and they execute," he said. "They keep pressure on you at all times, so we have to be ready."

Rose won't make circus road trip

Tom Thibodeau said Monday that Derrick Rose will not accompany the team on their upcoming six-game road trip.

Rose is rehabbing from surgery on a torn ACL, and Thibodeau prefers Rose not travel to different locations in a short period of time.

"We want him focusing in on his rehab right now," he said. "So sometimes jumping around city to city, I want him in one place so that's the big thing for him right now."

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."