Boozer out, Noah game-time decision vs. Wizards

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Boozer out, Noah game-time decision vs. Wizards

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Posted: 2:09 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
As if playing without Carlos Boozer weren't enough for the Chicago Bulls, it looks like the Ides of March have wreaked havoc on Joakim Noah, too.

After Tuesday's shootaround, head coach Tom Thibodeau said that Boozer will miss tonight's game against the Washington Wizards due to his ankle injury and that Noah will be a game-time decision after he was sent home with an illness.

With the possibility of being without two key players and Derrick Rose having to pick up some of the scoring load, it could be an opportunity for C.J. Watson to step into the spotlight a bit.

Playing behind Rose, it's easy for Watson to go unnoticed. In the approximately 13 minutes he plays nightly, the soft-spoken point guard averages a modest 4.8 points and 2.1 assists.Tom Thibodeau to appear on "The Dan Patrick Show" Wednesday at 9:05 a.m.

By the numbers, this isn't the season he expect, nor did diligent Bulls fans expecting him to be more of a scoring threat, given his past two seasons in Golden State, when he averaged around 10 points per game. But don't lump Thibodeau into that category of observers.

"C.J.'s played very well all season," said Thibodeau. "Whenever C.J.'s gotten extended minutes, he's played even better. We felt good about him going into the season and I think he's exceeded all our expectations."

While Watson has occasionally shown some of the scoring ability he displayed more often with the Warriors--for example, his 16-point, eight-assist, five-rebound performance Saturday or his 33-point explosion in November against the Nuggets when Rose missed the game with a sore neck -- his role with the team's second unit as a ball-pressuring point guard, capable outside shooter, savvy penetrator and underrated playmaker have been more valuable to the Bulls.

"I'm just trying to go out there and make some plays, whether it's offensively or defensively. I'm just trying to play well, so he Thibodeau doesn't take me out," Watson told CSNChicago.com. "It takes a little time for me to get adjusted to the system and all the play calls. Everybody wants the ball and it's the first year with a lot of new players, so now I'm just a little more comfortable trying to get my shots and get others shots."

Added Thibodeau: "C.J. can get a lot going with his defense, too."

"C.J. can really shoot the ball, too. We're starting to see it more and more, but he's a great shooter, he's clever with the ball, he's very effective in the pick-and-roll and he's done a good job of getting Kyle shots, and now they're also starting to make plays for each other ... he's done a great job. You judge a point guard more by how the unit's playing when he's on the floor," he continued. "He's a very bright guy and he picks things up quickly. He played for Don Nelson, who's a great coach. That helped him in some ways; in a lot of ways. He picked things up very quickly here. That was the challenge for us right from the start of the season. With so many new guys, how quickly could we get all of them on to the same page? He made that adjustment very well. He got his unit playing great. They feed off of each other and they're bringing a lot of energy to the game each and every night."
READ: Bulls bench playing major role in recent success

Watson isn't much of a talker -- he doesn't say much to the media, although he's certainly not unfriendly and is clearly popular with his teammates -- and while he isn't as dynamic as Rose, he's become noticeably more vocal on the court.

"He's sort of quiet -- he's not quiet when he's around his teammates--but he's very confident and he's prepared himself," observed Thibodeau. "He's got that second team executing great right now."

Of course, Watson would love to see more minutes--his effectiveness with Rose when Thibodeau pairs them against smallish opposing backcourts may come into play in the postseason, depending on the Bulls' opponents -- but when you're backing up the likely league MVP, it's hard to see where the minutes would come from. At the same time, after toiling in the minor leagues and overseas, then playing for a less-than-competitive Warriors team, Watson is appreciative of his experience on a contender.

"It feels great," Watson told CSNChicago.com. "Going home at night, it's a lot better than losing and just thinking about the playoffs is a whole other feeling."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.

Greg Hudson (and Brian Kelly) will tweak, streamline Notre Dame's defense

Greg Hudson (and Brian Kelly) will tweak, streamline Notre Dame's defense

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame didn’t blow up its defense when it fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on Sunday, but there will be a few changes to how this scheme operates going forward under Greg Hudson. 

The first, and most noticeable, change, is actually one fans won’t see on Saturdays. Coach Brian Kelly has spent far more time with the Irish defense during practice and meetings this week — he has almost exclusively worked with the offense while at Notre Dame — in an effort to put his stamp on a group that’s allowed on average 41.3 points in its three games against power five opponents. 

“You see him in a meeting, you’re like, ‘Aw snap,’” linebacker Nyles Morgan said. “It’s a new feel, but his inputs are very helpful. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Kelly won’t necessarily simplify the scheme itself, but he will train its focus in a more narrow manner. That means drawing from the same inventory that VanGorder & Co. installed during spring and preseason practice, but tailoring what’s used to help the bevy of underclassmen in this defense play smarter and faster. 

“It’s going to take a style of defense that I'm much more accustomed to, the way I want to play defensively, and we'll pull from the library which we already have,” Kelly said. 

Of course, nobody is giving away the exact plan of how Notre Dame will play on Saturday against Syracuse. But the ineffective 3-3-5 scheme Notre Dame deployed against Texas’ up-tempo offense won’t included in it, and part of Kelly’s goal is to simply get players lined up correctly. That would seem to indicate a lot more freshmen or sophomores could see the field, especially in the front seven — think Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones, Asmar Bilal and others — which should help avoid over-taxing some of the team’s veterans. 

And in the secondary, there will have to be more rotating of players, too, given Dino Babers’ Orange offense operates at ludicrous speed. The best way to successfully get guys like Jalen Elliott and Donte Vaughn on the field is to narrow the inventory and limit the checks they have to make, too.  

“I think with the youth that we have on our team, a lot of guys don’t necessarily have a ton of game experience — that can be kind of critical,” safety Drue Tranquill said. “I remember back in my freshman year, and things were spinning for me and the game is really, really fast. So when you have a huge inventory on your plate, a lot of checks to make, that can cloud your vision a little bit. So definitely with a lot of young guys it’s definitely something we have to take into consideration.” 

We’ll see exactly what the streamlined Irish defense looks like and who will play in it on Saturday (maybe it’ll include dropping defensive linemen into coverage with less frequency, a VanGorder staple that proved ineffective). As for Hudson, Kelly isn’t looking to him to necessarily make a major impact on how the defense looks. 

The hope is that Hudson, who previously was a defensive analyst for Notre Dame and held defensive coordinator positions at East Carolina, Minnesota and Purdue, can help inject some energy and life into this moribund defense. 

“He's always using different examples, different stories, a little bit of humor in his coaching,” linebacker James Onwualu said. “And an energy — there hasn't been a day he's been here that I've really seen him just walking around monotone. He's always got some energy and something to say.”

Whether that energy can actually make a tangible impact remains to be seen. But Notre Dame is in desperate need of answers on defense, and will face a Syracuse offense that’s good enough to be headache-inducing on Saturday. 

So the Greg Hudson era begins at MetLife Stadium this weekend. The energy may be better and the scheme may be streamlined. But will the results change?

“Greg has been empowered to bring the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion, the morale, the camaraderie. I need those things from Greg,” Kelly said. ‘That's what I need. I want our kids to be excited when they step on that field against Syracuse. I'll worry about the implementation, the scheme. I'll take care of that for him right now. As he gets more comfortable with what we have and what our system is about, then he will be much more involved in what we do.

“But right now, we'll write the music and he'll be the lead singer.”

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson knows landing roster spot with Blackhawks won’t be easy

Erik Gustafsson looked around the Blackhawks’ room at where fellow defensemen stalls would probably be as the season approached.

“You have Brian (Campbell) back, (Michal) Kempny here, obviously and all the other guys,” Gustafsson said. “It’s going to be tough, but I like it.”

The Blackhawks’ biggest Achilles heel last season was defense, especially after Trevor Daley was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That opened the door for young players, including Gustafsson, to get bigger opportunities. This year the defense should be stronger with Campbell’s return. So for guys like Gustafsson, cracking this lineup just got that much tougher.

During the summer, assistant coach Mike Kitchen talked potential pairings as Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Campbell-Brent Seabrook, Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk. As of now, the team is expecting Keith to be ready for the season opener. Keith has been participating in a practice a day but whether or not he plays in any preseason games is uncertain right now.

If it starts out that way, Gustafsson would be on the outside looking in.

But first things first: Gustafsson is focused on building off experience gained last season — he played 41 games, recording 14 assists — and cleaning up a few errors committed in training camp practices.

“You know all the guys on the team, you know how they want to play over here and in the NHL. Just go out and show them. I didn’t do that [Saturday] but this was the first game,” Gustafsson said. “I felt good with the puck but I have to play more defense in my own zone. Just a couple of small things I have to be better.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Nothing comes easy when you’re trying to make an NHL roster but it got that much tougher for a young defenseman with the Blackhawks this season. Hey, that’s the way it is, and players know it.

“Of course it’ll be tougher,” Gustafsson said. “It won’t be easy to take a spot. You just have to go out there, do your best and see what happens.”

BRIEFLY

- Patrick Kane could play in the Blackhawks’ game against St. Louis on Saturday. Assistant coach Kevin Dineen said, “don’t be surprised to see 88 politicking to get in the lineup. Pretty good chance we’ll see him on Saturday."

- The Blackhawks were off on Thursday. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger and Hjalmarsson were expected to join the team at Friday’s practice

- Alexandre Fortin, who signed a three-year contract on Sunday, played 12 1/2 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That included about two minutes of power-play time. Dineen wouldn’t mind seeing Fortin in another game. “He showed himself well all camp and I think [Wednesday] we saw some good spurts out there, and we’ll find that consistency in a young player as we move forward.”