Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

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Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

If youve been reading some of the national magazines and websites, you already know there isnt a lot of optimism about this years Bulls team. Most of the so-called experts are picking Tom Thibodeaus squad to finish seventh or eighth in the East, and get drummed out of the playoffs in the opening round. While thats definitely within the realm of possibilities, I think they will do better.

Yes, we know Derrick Rose wont be back until mid-February or early March, and he probably wont return to his peak form until next season. But the Bulls have one big factor working in their favor over the course of the marathon 82 game seasonthey have the hardest-working and best-prepared coach in the league, and that, in itself, could be worth about a half dozen extra wins.

Thibodeau will make sure his team is thoroughly prepared for each team they face, and he wont accept any shortcuts.

Take a look at what happened to the Lakers on Opening Night. They thought they could just put on those gold uniforms and roll to an easy win over a depleted Dallas team playing without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Instead, one of the other top coaches in the league, Rick Carlisle, had his team ready to go, and the Mavs handed L.A.s super-team an embarrassing loss.

Thibs will catch any number of NBA teams napping during the regular season, and that will allow the Bulls to stay within striking distance of one of the middle seeds in the East. Seems like everyones conceding the Central Division title to Indiana, but Im not. The Pacers wont have their top scorer, Danny Granger, for an indefinite period while he seeks a second opinion for an ailing knee, and theyll miss departed point guard Darren Collison more than people realize. Im expecting the Bulls and Pacers to battle for first place all season long, and while I would give Indiana a slight edge, another division title is certainly a possibility for Chicago.

There has been a lot of concern about the Bulls' bench being a lot weaker than its been the last two seasons, and granted, the second unit certainly wont be as strong defensively. But Nate Robinson has the ability to score points in bunches, and Taj Gibson figures to increase his offensive production. Chicago native Nazr Mohammed had a good pre-season, and Jimmy Butler should be ready for regular rotation minutes after serving a rookie apprenticeship last season.

Of course, theres no way to replace Roses scoring, play-making ability and open court brilliance, but Kirk Hinrich will do a good job of running the half-court offense and playing solid defense. The frontline of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer is among the best in the league, and Rip Hamilton came to camp in great shape and figures to have a much better second season in Chicago.

Add it all up, and Im predicting a 47-35 finish, which should be good for the No. 6 seed in the East. And, if Rose starts building his confidence by playoff time, there isnt a team in the conference that will want to face the Bulls in Round 1.

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

John Fox and the Bears have added another assistant coach.

Zack Azzanni is leaving the University of Tennessee to become the Bears' new receivers coach.

Azzanni has been with Tennessee since 2013 as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Prior to that, he spent time at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan and six seasons at Bowling Green.

Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Bowling Green in 2001-02 and also coached Pittsburgh Steelers superstar receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. Under Azzanni's tutelage at CMU from 2007-09, Brown totaled 305 receptions for 3,199 yards and 22 TDs, earning a sixth-round draft selection in 2010.

Curtis Johnson spent 2016 as his first season in the role of Bears' wide receivers coach, but announced he was leaving after the Senior Bowl to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.

It's unknown if Azzanni will get a chance to coach Alshon Jeffery (who is currently a free agent) but the incoming coach will have an important job in molding young receivers like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Here are some of Tuesday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Wednesday on CSN: Illinois State and Loyola host in Valley doubleheader

Jonathan Toews has five-point night, including a hat trick, in Blackhawks' win over Wild

Report: Bears seeking trade partners for Jay Cutler

Bulls Talk Podcast: What is the Bulls' approach at the trade deadline?

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

White Sox Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with executive vice president Ken Williams

Northwestern's offense nowhere to be found as Illini complete sweep of season series

Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

Why Sammy Sosa compared himself to Jesus Christ in candid interview