Despite slow start, Bulls won't underestimate Bucks

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Despite slow start, Bulls won't underestimate Bucks

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
1:01 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After their end to last years campaigna first-round playoff loss to Atlanta in seven games, despite star center Andrew Bogut out with a season-ending injurymany observers assumed the Bucks, along with the Bulls would be competing to be the class of the Central Division. After a productive, if not flashy, offseason, expectations were even more optimistic.

However, things havent gone as planned in Milwaukee, as Chicagos closest regional rival has struggled out of the gates, although their play has picked up as of late. Chief among the Bucks issues have been injuries, as Bogut still isnt completely healed from his gruesome fall last spring, young floor general Brandon Jennings is currently sidelined and swingmen John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Carlos Delfino have all battled a litany of ailments.

One Bulls player with insight into the Bucksregardless of the fact that he claims not to have watched them much this seasonis well-traveled veteran Kurt Thomas, who spent last season in Milwaukee. In fact, Thomas filled in for Bogut late in the year and did an admirable job, including a late-season road win over the Bulls at the United Center in the first game of Boguts absence.

The year before, we got off to a hot start in Milwaukee and there were a lot of new faces there and this year, again, there were a lot of new faces, but they got off to a slow start. It could be a lot of new faces or it could be the strength of the schedule, so you just never know and then sometimes it just takes guys the first 10 or 20 games before they really get into a rhythm. But I think theyve been playing a lot better lately. Theyve kind of been hit with the injury bug, but every team has to face that, Thomas said after the Bulls shootaround Tuesday morning. Theyre definitely going to play hard, theyre going to compete. Scott Skiles is a great coach and he doesnt accept anything less than them being very competitive.

Thomas spoke fondly of his time in Milwaukee.

Oh, it was great. A lot of fun. Fans in Milwaukee were insaneFear the Deer. It was just a great time. It was a great group of guys I was playing with last yearunfortunately, seeing that Bogut had a major injury thereyou never knowwe probably could have went deeper in the playoffs, said Thomas.

Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffinwho played under Skiles in Chicagowas also with the Bucks last year, serving as an assistant coach. Like Thomas, he believes Milwaukee will overcome their so-so start to the season.

Right now, I would say they miss Brandon. Hes a big piece of what theyre doing. I wouldnt worry about Milwaukee too much. Typically, Scotts teams start a little slow in the beginning of the year and mid-season, and toward the end, they start picking it up a lot. It just takes them a minute to play the type of style that Scott wants and thats hard-nosed defense, committing to the defensive end, playing hard and executing on offense. It looks like theyre moving in the right direction, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.

Griffin, who was still with the Bucks through the majority of the offseason, likes the moves Milwaukee made over the summer, though he highlighted some players one wouldnt immediately expect.

One particular player they got in Keyon DoolingI was there this summer when they brought him in for workoutsand he looked great. He plays hard, a professional and I think he plays the type of style that Scott likes. Obviously Earl Boykins, youve got to respect him. People see his size, but hes a threat out there on the floor. They got some nice piecesLarry Sanders, Maggettewhen they get all those guys healthy and if they can get Delfino back, theyll be a force in the East, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.

Of course, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, known for his preparedness, doesnt underestimate the Central Division foe.

Theyre a great defensive team, so you can start there. Theyve had a ton of injuries this year, said Thibodeau. Bogut inside, hes getting healthier. He poses a lot of problems with the post-up and of course, their backcourt.

Doolings playing really well for them and Boykins has played terrificat times, theyre playing them togetherand of course, Salmons, so you have three guys who can do damage off the dribble. Maggette, hes coming off a concussion and hes back. Hes a guy who can attack the basket and Ersan Ilyasovas a range-shooting four. Theyre a quality team. I think theyre playing very well right now.

Just how well Milwaukee is playing will be measured Tuesday night, as the Bullswho last faced their primary competitor in the division in the preseason opener at Milwaukeehost the Bucks at the United Center.

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.

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

The White Sox will battle the Oakland Athletics today, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:05 p.m.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Carlos Rodon vs. Kendall Graveman

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Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.