Butler, Bulls battle to continue their success against Detroit

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Butler, Bulls battle to continue their success against Detroit

Fresh off an impressive win Monday night against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, the Bulls will look to keep up their success at home with a matchup against the Detroit Pistons. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill

Jimmy Butler may not want to label himself as the "Kobe Bryant Stopper" -- though he did limit the future Hall of Famer to 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting in Monday night's 95-83 win over the Lakers -- but the second-year swingman out of Marquette has been everything the Bulls needed when Luol Deng aggravated a hamstring injury last Friday in Boston.

Over the last three games -- the latter two of which were his first and second career starts -- Butler is averaging 13.6 points 6.6 rebounds and may draw yet another start tonight against the Pistons. Deng did not practice Tuesday and, with Butler playing as well as he has been, there's no need for Tom Thibodeau to rush back his leading scorer given how often a hamstring injury can linger all season if not treated properly.

The numbers do tell part of the story of Butler's resurgence, but the Bulls' 2011 first-round draft pick has played just as well defensively -- taking after Thibodeau's team model -- in that span. Guarding the likes of Boston's Paul Pierce, Memphis' Rudy Gay and Bryant mirror the traits that moved Butler into the first round of the draft two years ago. His versatility allowed Marquette coach Buzz Williams to utilize his swing man on defense against four different positions, and Butler -- who was rarely used as a rookie -- has proved his worth in the past three games, if not the entire season.

Overlooked as a junior college athlete before arriving at Marquette as a junior, Butler waited until the end of the first round to hear his name called despite leading the Golden Eagles to their first Sweet 16 in 2011 for the first time since the days of Dwyane Wade. Butler has played with a chip on his shoulder his entire playing career and has never been one for the spotlight.

The three key Pistons that Butler and the Bulls will face tonight, however, have been in the spotlight ever since high school, and are now making names for themselves at the NBA level.

Point guard Brandon Knight, power forward Greg Monroe and center Andre Drummond have helped the Pistons rebound from a horrid start to the 2012-'13 season and are playing some of their best basketball as they head to the United Center tonight. They've won five of eight contests since the calendar flipped to 2013, and have tallied a 9-4 record since Dec. 21. Wins in that span have included Miami, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Boston, all playoff teams as of today.

Like Derrick Rose, who began contact practice with the Bulls earlier this week, Knight is one of a handful of players on the list of Kentucky head coach John Calipari's point guard "dynasty." Ranked as the No. 6 high school player in the 2010 class, Knight spent one season with the Wildcats before the Pistons selected him No. 8 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. He has regressed slightly in his second season, but has the athleticism and talent to make Kirk Hinrich's job a tough one. Knight scored 21 points in the Pistons' 108-104 home loss to Chicago in December.

Monroe was ranked as the No. 8 high school player in the 2008 class, and declared for the draft after two successful seasons with the Georgetown Hoyas. The Pistons used their seventh overall pick in the 2010 Draft to select Monroe, and after an up-and-down rookie season the 6-foot-9 forward has become a key cog inside for Lawrence Frank's group. Monroe squared off against Butler three times in college, with his Hoyas holding a 2-1 advantage over Butler's Golden Eagles.

One of the reasons Monroe has improved has been the shift to move him to his more natural power forward position. That was made possible, in part, by management selecting Drummond with the No. 9 pick in last year's draft. After reclassifying to the 2011 high school class, Drummond was ranked No. 2 in the country, behind only Anthony Davis. Davis would go on to Kentucky, win a national championship, be named the AP Player of the Year, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the NCAA Tournament's MOP. Things weren't as smooth for Drummond, who struggled at Connecticut under Jim Calhoun and entered the draft after his freshman season. But the raw talent the Pistons saw in the 6-foot-10 center was legitimate, and he's averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds for Detroit in his rookie season.

Veterans Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince have also helped the Pistons rebound from an 0-8 start to begin the season, but the young guns deployed by Frank -- who replaced Thibodeau as an assistant in Boston after Thibodeau accepted the Bulls' head coaching gig -- are the players to watch for in tonight's matchup. If the last week is any indication, Butler will have his sights set again on locking down defensively and acting as a role player in the offense. Tune in tonight to catch all the action.

Sunday on CSN: UIC travels to Valparaiso

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Sunday on CSN: UIC travels to Valparaiso

Horizon League basketball returns to CSN on Sunday as UIC travels to Valparaiso. This game tips at 2:00 p.m. live on CSN.

The Flames (11-8, 4-2) have won three straight games and have played pretty good ball after the loss of Dikembe Dixson to a torn ACL. Junior big man Tai Odiase, a Homewood-Flossmoor graduate, is playing well along with former St. Rita product Dominique Matthews.

Valparaiso (15-4, 5-1) is hoping to maintain its conference lead behind senior All-American candidate Alec Peters. The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 23.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game on the season.

The Crusaders won the first time these two teams played at UIC on Dec. 30 as Tevonn Walker had 23 points.

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

One-goal victories are great but Blackhawks’ method has to change

See the Blackhawks get off to a slow start. See the Blackhawks get outshot. See the Blackhawks lean on their goaltending. See the Blackhawks find some offense in the third period. See the Blackhawks win.

This is a story the Blackhawks have written and played out plenty this season. Despite all evidence that it should work out to the contrary, the Blackhawks continue to pull out victories. But as we're well into the second half of the season, how much longer can they win with this formula? And is this, more than anything, a testament to how much they need to acquire someone (or plural) at the deadline to bolster their forward lineup?

Entering Sunday night's game against Vancouver the Blackhawks remain second in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota. Not surprisingly, they enter Sunday coming off another one-goal victory, a 1-0 decision over Boston on Friday night. Friday's game was cut from the same cloth as so many other one-goal games this season (please see above for the script). 

Here's how the Blackhawks are doing in one-goal games (through 48 games played this season) and how they've done in previous seasons:

Year Record
2016-17 18-7-5
2015-16 17-7-9
2014-15 22-13-6
2013-14 17-8-15
2012-13 19-3-5 (lockout yr.)
2011-12 22-6-11
2010-11 16-13-9
2009-10 23-9-8

The Blackhawks played 41 one-goal games (half of their regular-season games) in the 2014-15 season. Thirty of their 48 games this season have been one-goal games. But again, it comes down to how you're winning those games, and the Blackhawks are winning just about all of them in the same way: deal with a slow start and come back in the third period, relying on goaltending the entire time.

Being outshot the amount of times the Blackhawks have this season remains alarming. Sure, sometimes a lot of shots don't mean a lot of quality chances. But it's still better than minimal shots, and any shot can be an opportunity for a rebound, a deflection, something. From our stats guru Chris Kamka, here's a breakdown of the Blackhawks' shots per game vs. opponents, dating back to 2008-09:

Year Shots/Gm Opp. Shots/Gm Diff.
2008-09 32.7 28.6 +4.2
2009-10 34.1 25.1 +9.1
2010-11 32.2 28.7 +3.6
2011-12 31.5 28.6 +3.0
2012-13 31.1 26.2 +4.9
2013-14 33.1 27.2 +6.0
2014-15 33.9 30.2 +3.8
2015-16 30.5 30.8 -0.3
2016-17 29.3 31.1 -1.7

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

It's no surprise that the Blackhawks' differential was especially good in their Stanley Cup-winning seasons (and even 2013-14, when they went to the Western Conference Final). Those Blackhawks teams were deep, especially at forward. They weren't waiting for the perfect shooting opportunities as much as just firing. They had great four-line rotations, something they've sorely been lacking the past two seasons, which makes a difference with puck possession.

The Blackhawks will see what's available at the trade deadline. As I wrote a few days ago, there will be names out there but, considering some teams are still hoping for playoff spots, you take mentions for what they are right now. Over the next few weeks the picture will become clearer, and adding the right depth could rekindle that four-line rotation.

We've said throughout this season that the Blackhawks can't keep this up. We said it in November, and December, and now. Understand where we're coming from here; the Blackhawks can absolutely keep winning one-goal games. They've shown that in recent seasons and in the postseason, when the ability to do that is critical. But it's doubtful they can keep doing it the way they have most this season.