Archive for January, 2012

In lieu of a Bulls Week in Review, here is a recap of the very entertaining Bulls-Heat matchup.

It was an expected outcome. The Heat are better than the Bulls right now, and with Deng sitting on the sidelines the 97-93 final score was pretty indicative of how the game felt. It was extremely close, but always out of reach for the Bulls, until the 4th quarter. A myth is building in Chicago, centered around #1. Rose is certainly more than willing to carry a team to victory, and he’s put together an impressive body of work showcasing the ability to will a team to victory. On Sunday, however, his two costly misses at the free throw stripe erased all of his hard work. The Bulls were kept at an arm’s length, but Rose’s ability to split double teams, penetrate the lane, hit layups and get to the free throw line were the grand equalizer.

Rose scored 34 points for the Bulls. Chicago’s next highest scorer was Rip Hamilton with 11. That is an issue. While Miami was showcasing it’s high flying offensive style the Bulls were once again grinding possessions and exerting maximum effort on offense to get a shot off. Those possessions usually ended in Rose driving the lane and forcing contact before getting a shot off. Rose was 12-14 from the charity stripe, Noah shot the second most free throws on the team with 6.

This style of offensive play will suck the energy out of the defensive side of the ball. Miami didn’t shoot a great percentage but they got to the FT line 40 times (compared to 28 for the Bulls) as tired legs tend to commit tired fouls. The Bulls did a great job on the isolation offense the Heat run out there in crunch time, but the Bulls supposed advantage in rebounding wasn’t there, they were actually out-rebounded by Miami 48-47. This is an issue. The Bulls did a good job on the first shot, but failed to limit the offensive rebounds, the Heat pulled in 12 of those. Miami will make you pay for giving them the second shot.

As for the free throws, those two misses were reminiscent of Derrick Rose in a Memphis Uniform. Rose has worked on his free throws since coming into the league. He was a 75-76% foul shooter his first two years in the league, he’s increased that number to 86%.

College basketball is only good when it's future pro vs. future pro.

Those two misses were killer. The Bulls had the chance to tie or take the lead with under a minute left in the game and Rose bricked both free throws. Now, LeBron then missed two of his own in the following possession, doing nothing to assuage the belief that he is not a clutch player, but Mario Chalmers put the Bulls away with two made foul shots. It was reminiscent of 2007 when Chalmers hit a clutch shot and Rose bricked some free throws. This is something that will eat at Rose for awhile, he enjoys taking the challenge up. He also has a long memory and will not be forgetting this loss for awhile.

The Dengless Bulls did prove something in defeat, and that’s the ability to beat the Heat. With Deng the Bulls would have a good jump shooter out there to stretch the floor, taking pressure off Rose/Hamilton to score, and one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. The open looks in the lane for LeBron would be tougher to get, and the job Rip’s length did on Wade defensively was something to be optimistic about. Bosh is still a problem, but ideally with Deng out there you can rotate Noah on Bosh and let Boozer handle Anthony/Haslem. Perhaps the Bulls have the blueprint, when they were down 11 the Bulls switched to a zone defense for the first time that I can remember and reeled the Heat back in. Miami’s isolation game was ineffective late in the 4th quarter as well.

Moving forward the Bulls and the Heat will have 3 more regular season showdown before they meet in the Playoffs. And they will be in the ECF pending a major miracle/tragedy for either team. The Bulls lost the game, but it’s not hopeless anymore. They can hang with the Heat without their second best player. With Deng, they can possibly even beat them.

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Video games and sports have been close partners since their inception. Throughout the turbulent 80’s and the death of the arcade, the grand times and great triumphs of the game industry, sports games have been there. They entertain the wishes of would be NBA stars who can’t play at a professional level. They fill the void for baseball fans during the off-season who itch for the first pitch thrown in April. Most importantly, they offer hours of entertainment for gamers and casual players alike, and every so often change the nature of the industry. There has not been one single home video game console released that did not have at least one sports title in it’s library of games, if not in it’s launch lineup. Sports games have proven time after time that they can both sell systems and destroy them, introduce new heroes to gamers and bring new markets to the gaming industry, and if not for one specific sports title and the man who created it, video games as we know them may never have existed at all.

These are ten sports games that have made a huge impact on the video game world.

#10: NBA 2K11

Finally! Michael Jordan in a game worth playing.

Micheal Jordan. You see that period at the end of “Jordan?” That makes his name a sentence. That’s how important he is as an American icon. It may not seem like a big deal to some people, but ol’ MJ is almost certainly the greatest player the NBA has ever seen. NBA 2K11, while being a great game even without Jordan, goes all out in it’s attempt to place you in his shoes. The Jordan Challenge mode is by far the most accurate and engrossing mode in any video game I’ve played in the last few years and tells a great story even without using any real narrative. In the ten challenges you are tasked to match or beat Jordan’s statistics for a specific game or series. Should you complete them, you are given the opportunity to see how a rookie MJ would stack up against today’s players by taking him into a new career mode. No sports title before has ever placed so much emphasis on the emotion and stories behind the game it is emulating and I doubt a better attempt will come along any time soon. Unless you count NBA 2K12…

#9: Wii Sports

My dad loves this game. He's 63. That makes me happier than I can adequately explain.

What? Wii Sports? Yeah. For serious. Wii Sports sold millions of Wii consoles alone and proved that a small, if gimmicky, innovation like functioning motion controls can bring a whole new perspective to the video game industry. Sure the games included were very simplified versions of their real life counterparts, but they were fun and accessible to pretty much anyone who can move their wrist. If you want a testament to how groundbreaking and important Wii Sports is, just ask anyone who owns a Wii. I bet you they will say they still play it from time to time if not that they play it regularly. For a game going on 6 years old, that’s pretty impressive. Not to mention my Dad loves it. Any video game that gets his endorsement is a winner in my book.

#8: Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!

This was so god damn hard. I've never done it without using the code to get straight to him.

It’s here. On the list. And I’m never going to just call it Punch Out! I like it better with Tyson’s gap toothed grin on the splash screen. Boxing will probably never again be as popular with non-gambling white America as it was when this little arcade gem was released, but 2 million copies were sold, mostly due to Tyson’s name. It was my first experience with boxing at all, and my first time ever seeing Iron Mike in any medium. That’s right. I knew who Mike Tyson was and that he was the “baddest man on the planet” before I ever even knew he was a real professional boxer. I’m sure I’m not alone in this and that’s why this game is on the list. As one of the first quality, mainstream, licensed games, it shows the power that a well developed game can have on a property and the power of a good property to sell a game. This is a mixture and lesson that most game developers still have not learned.

#7: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

Most likely the best level in the entire series. The school.

Skate boarding and board sports in general are sports in the same sense that gymnastics and figure skating are sports. They are a venue for their respective athletes to show off talent and physical skill while, hopefully, looking awesome at the same time. If making video games was a sport in the same sense, THPS2 would be pulling high 9’s all day. The first game in the series set the bar and created a genre of game that had basically never existed before. It’s sequel smashed that bar and made the extreme sports game a major player in not just the sports video game world, but also the gaming world in general. It was the first in the series to have a career mode, which is still a solid and deep attempt by today’s standards. It had a soundtrack that was both accessible and fun to just listen to, a feat that the series pioneered and many other games have tried to emulate since. It made Tony Hawk a household name among those who would never have known him, and much like the previous entry in this list, had an air of credibility with his fans just because his name was on the disk. Still, it’s largest contribution may have been making Activision, the game’s publisher, a very very rich company and Tony Hawk is arguably the reason they are such a large player in the industry today.

With that, I leave you. Check back next week, or sooner if I get off my ass (then back on it in front of my computer), for part two where I’ll rattle off the next 5 games in the list. I know that’s only 9. I got something special planned for number 1.

CLICK ME TO GO TO PART 2. DO IT!

2012 is clearly the year that everyone gets hurt in the NBA. Stern can only blame himself and the player’s union for the rash of injuries that is currently overtaking the league. This is a funky NBA season, and nothing really shows that more than legit concerns in Golden State over the Kwame Brown injury.

So it would fit to form that our own Bullies would run into a rash of injuries that would severely cripple the team and flush them out of first place in the conference. Except that it didn’t…because the Bulls are very deep.

Think about it, Scal is getting meaningful burn, Asik started and played 39 minutes in a game, Rose missed 5 games in a row, Luol Deng went down with an injury, Korver was asked to play serious defense on players faster than he is, Boozer was playing center, half the frontcourt twisted their ankle, seemingly on the same play, and through it all the Bulls collectively shrugged and won 4 out of 5 games.

That’s not normal. You aren’t supposed to lose half your team and thrive. The schedule definitely helped, the Bulls ran through Charlotte, Cleveland and Phoenix before getting Rose back for the recent Nets game. It also was a relaxed schedule, or as relaxed as this NBA season will allow. There was only one back to back thrown in there.

Yet, there the Bulls sit, atop the conference and undefeated at home, poised to once again snatch that one seed. Honestly, it all hinges on the Luol Deng injury. #9 is the best defender the Bulls have, he is a perfect cog in the Thibs defensive machine. Deng is also a reliable 3rd scoring option, and his jumpshot does have the tendency of loosening up the defense in the paint allowing Rose to drive in and play 21 with the opposing team. Deng has a wrist injury, he doesn’t expect to miss any significant time unless he opts for surgery, and that should concern Bulls fans. If this guy is out for a few months, the Bulls are in a tough spot.

The MVP is already playing through turf toe (that they won’t ever say is turf toe), and you’ll be taking away Thib’s blankie. Carlos Boozer can make all the sweet love to undersized PF’s that he wants, his offense will not be covering for the loss of Deng’s defense. It will manifest itself in very subtle ways. Brewer does a good job at the 3, but he’s not 6’9 like Deng is. The Bulls have thrived so far, and they are an elite NBA team, but the Deng/Rose combo is important in Chicago, and the injury to Deng hurts. It’s a rough season, and our iron man is finally missing time. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bulls respond to his absence.

In this week’s episode we decide to hate on everything. We introduce our Michael Jordan event, we talk Tebow, Packer hate, some amazing NFL games, the term “Try-hard,” we review Pegasus IPA, introduce our new “Where are they now?” segment with Jon Garland, Tim Duncan, Cub culture, Kerry Wood vs. Paul Konerko, Barry Larkin and the baseball HOF, and we roll out our Top Ten Superbowl Memories.

“Joe Paterno, who racked up more wins than anyone else in major college football but was fired from Penn State amid a child sex abuse scandal has died.”

-AP

Architect of the “Grand Experiment,” coach with the most wins in FBS history, figurehead at Penn State University, an inspiration to many, and forever an enabler to arguably the most horrific figure in sports history. Joe Paterno died sometime between Jan. 21-22 after being diagnosed with lung cancer, he was surrounded by his family, he was allowed to say goodbye to his loved ones. He more than likely died in peace, a silent goodbye to those closest to him.

This is unfortunate not because I mourn his passing, it is unfortunate because he will never face any real justice for what he allowed to happen under his watch at Penn State. There are many fans and PSU alumni who wanted to see Joe Paterno reinstated and honored at the disgraced university as a measure of justice to the man that they claim was a noble man.

This notion is silly. A noble man does more than what’s expected of him, a noble man goes above ad beyond what is asked of him in dire situations. Valor is not defined by simply doing what the rulebook dictates you do. Valor is having the courage to stand up for those who cannot. To have honor is to seek out injustice when it’s close to you and weed it out. To be a noble man is to act nobly, and to act nobly is to ensure the safety of those that need it most.

Joe Paterno did what was legally required of him by law, and that’s it. The noble man did not kick out a sexual predator from his institution. He did not ensure the safety of young boys that were being preyed upon by a despicable man. He did not bring Sandusky to justice, he did not pursue any other actions besides those which were legally required of him, and for someone who has been called “Noble,” that is simply not enough. It’s not even enough for a decent man.

Paterno held the power at PSU, he was the face of the college. His word was law there. He could have done more, he should have done more, and while I will not celebrate his passing, I will not mourn it either. Paterno fell victim to an illness, but it does not make him the victim. I am well prepared for what’s to follow, the demands for another Joe Paterno memorial, a Joe Paterno remembrance day, things like that.

He doesn’t deserve that. What he deserved was to face the victims of what he enabled to truly see the damage he helped happen.

He didn’t get that either.

College football has never been my sport of choice (I mean, one foot in bounds for a catch? C’mon), but the defensive battles between Alabama and LSU got me excited for the defensive renaissance that took place in their matchups. Shouldn’t they just have played another game, a rubber match, to determine the BCS champ? Yet I digress, and this weekend is all about the NFL, a reward for us diehard fans who want to see the game played the right way, defenses winning games, a return to football in its pure form and superstars being born on both sides of the ball.

As I write this, NFL Championship Sunday is tomorrow. Four teams remain in the quest to be crowned Super Bowl Champion. Beyond the intrigue of a potential Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh showdown in Indianapolis, there lies a possible matchup of one of the NFL’s greatest defenses of the last decade+ vs. the San Francisco 49ers whose defense belongs in its own category.

San Francisco hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in its past 36 games, a streak that dates to Nov. 22, 2009, and eclipses the league’s second-longest streak (Miami, 12). That, along with the feat that the 49ers hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown in 15 straight games, matching the 1985-86 Bears for the longest streak since 1970. It took until very late this season for that TD streak to end, but it will be vital if the Niners are to move past Eli and the Giants. A dominant performance in the NFC Championship will put them in a class with the ’01 Ravens, a number of the Steel Curtain defenses from the ’70s and yes, our ’85 Bears.

That’s right, Bears fans, the current Niners defense is drawing comparisons to our beloved ’85 Bears. They’re that good. I was two years old in 1985, so all I have to go on is word of mouth and highlights, but hot damn if San Francisco isn’t the best group of run-stoppers I’ve ever seen.

They’ll need every ounce of defense if they are to overcome the suddenly hot New York Giants. That’s the story in professional sports though. Get hot at the right time, and the sky’s the limit.

Over in the AFC, Baltimore has a formidable foe to overcome in the still dominant New England Patriots. Tom Brady continues to tear shit up, shredding so-called top defenses, spreading the ball and cementing his legacy as one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game.

New England’s defense has been their Achilles heel all year, but the offense more than makes up for its deficiencies, something of which few teams have the luxury. Even with Ed Reed (and his motivational tactics to fire up goofball QB Joe Flacco) and Ray Lewis anchoring The D and performing at a high level, The Pats are too good to lose this late in the season.

Any sports fan has heard the phrase, “Defense wins championships” or some variation of the phrase. If that is an absolute truth, then wouldn’t the Bears have won at least a few more in between 1985 and now? Our current, yet aging defensive core has definitely had some championship-caliber seasons, but we’ve only managed to appear in one Super Bowl since our illustrious victory in SBXX. If defense wins championships, wouldn’t the Ravens have been back to at least another Super Bowl since their victory in SBXXXV?

San Francisco was able to match Drew Brees and New Orleans’ high-octane offense, a rare offensive shootout by a team known for its stifling D. I still have yet to hear a fitting name for Vernon Davis’ game-winning TD catch. Anyone?

New England beat the shit out of a very good Denver defense last week, and showed anyone watching that they can and shall impose their championship will on any given opponent on any given Sunday.

That being said, I’m splitting the difference between defense and offense, so to speak: San Francisco will torch New York 30-10, and New England will beat Baltimore 31-17.  The Harbaugh sibling rivalry will have to wait at least one more year. But, hey! At least we can root for a Chicago QB in the Super Bowl, right?

Snow : precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals formed directly from the water vapor of the air at a temperature of less than 32°F (0°C) – Merriam-Webster.

Snow last year.

It comes every year, sometimes sooner and sometimes later, but every year many denizens of this city react to a “minor” snowfall as if they’ve just found out Vader was Luke’s father. Mom drops a pan of casserole on the kitchen floor, dad almost chokes on his beer, sister decides to make the weekend out of it with her boyfriend, a car screeches to a halt in the middle of traffic in the distance and a fairy falls dead when they all hear the news about the inches of snow that are scheduled to fall down on the city.

“Six to eight inches!? Holly fuck! What will we do?” someone will say. What indeed? Ya know, six to eight inches is not that impressive. In fact it’s about average. Just ask any woman about six inches and see what they have to say about that. Shit, ask a man if that’s your thing. Or if you’re brave enough, ask a black guy.

Man, that ain't shit.

Me, I don’t deal with the Chicago winter the way some people do out there. I don’t get frightened. I don’t panic. I don’t make it ruin my day. I listen to the news and I accept the fact that snow will fall and then I go on about my day.

Sure, I participate in the whole ordeal like I’ve done every winter. I’m careful on the road, I take it slow and easy and I do not hurry. I obey the rules of the road, I give the other drivers the benefit of the doubt, and certainly, I do not make hasty decisions. I let it be and I let the usual winter mode of driving carry me home safely.

However, I always hope that that ONE prick driver, be it male or female, who is doing 35 miles per hour or more next to me in the snowstorm finds a ditch somewhere soon just because they are proud that they have an all-wheel drive.

And they usually do find a ditch or a problem of some kind a few streets down the road. You slowly get to the stop light that they were rushing to and you find the same car spun out of control with the emergency lights on and the driver outside in the snow is talking on the phone. I’d like to be the witness to that conversation.

“What happened?”

“I was doing 40 miles per hour and then my car slid and I hit this fire hydrant.”

“In the snowstorm?”

“Yeah.”

“Why were you driving so fast and rushing in the snowstorm? Didn’t you listen to the news?”

“I wanted to selfishly skip ahead in front of ALL of these people who were essentially feeling the same way I was, except that they didn’t act on it like I did. Plus the ‘Bachelor’ was on at 7 p.m. I can’t miss the ‘Bachelor.’”

Here’s what you do in a snowstorm.

After you brush off the snow, warm up your car and get near the vicinity of your home, find a liquor store, stop there and buy what you need for the night. When I was a teenager I would make stupid decisions during a snowstorm. I always wanted to drive somewhere with my friend, like an idiot, to make money shoveling other people’s driveways. Yeah that was the 1990s.  You could make some cool money back then working your ass off in the worst weather.

And you know what we replaced those poor door-to-door kids with shovels with? Those industrial snow throwing machines that always come out when one inch of snow falls on the ground and some dude wants to get the most bang out of it because he paid $500 for it 10 years ago. He needs to fucking use it. And you see those guys out there and they will do the whole block if they have to. “Just being a good neighbor.” “Don’t worry Sam, I got it.” Granted, this year’s storm is nothing compared to last year because those throwers were really useful. But still. “I had some gas left in it and I thought I would use it.”

So find your liquor store, dig out that parking spot and shut the door. Things will all be better in the morning.

Here’s what you should be drinking during a snowstorm, but feel free to improvise. Who am I to tell you what to drink?

  1. Not Beer. I know that some men entertain some fantasy that colder is better and that the Coors Light Silver Bullet train rolls into town when there is a snowstorm, but it doesn’t. In fact, getting a buzz of beer during a snowstorm is like getting a hand job during an orgy where EVERYBODY is fucking except you.
  2. Alright, you can’t let the beer thing go and I get it. So try what the Germans do. Warm up some brew in a pot to desired warmth, put some sugar in it and enjoy. It tastes wonderful. It’s great for colds too. But yeah, warm beer is un-American so forget I mentioned it.
  3. Not hot chocolate. This is Chicago, A Drinking Town with a Sports Problem. And in some instances drinking is a sport. So put your tampons away.
  4. Brandy. Some people can’t handle it, some don’t like the taste of it or some have nightmare experiences after it. I like to look at it like Samuel Johnson did. “Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” Also, it warms you up. What do you think those giant St. Bernard dogs have in those barrels around their collar in the cold countries? (For the record, I’m skeptical if actual St. Bernard rescue dogs ever carried barrels of brandy to warm up skiers who were dug up in the snow, but let’s just live in the fantasy that they do or did.) And it’s cheap. Christian Brothers can’t run you more than $12 if you get lucky.
  5. Not rum. I don’t care how much you mix it to make it look like a naval officer’s drink, it shouldn’t be done during a Chicago snowstorm. Rum can be used during a Chicago heat wave if you want to feel like a true pirate who is sailing the high seas, but we’re not there yet skipper.
  6. Definitely not Everclear. I know the Bears didn’t make the post-season and there is no opportunity to paint your chest with a giant “C” on it and go howling in the wind in sub-zero temperatures at Soldier Field, but it just shouldn’t be done. Listen if you have succumbed to drinking grain alcohol, then you don’t have a sports problem, or even a drinking problem. You have a death wish. Go get help. As Mr. Raul Parra of Omegawatt Studios said on here, “Quit drinking like you’re 18.”
  7. Bourbon. Bourbon is good for any occasion. It makes and destroys lives. So it doesn’t really fucking matter when you drink it. Drink it if you want to. Preferably on ice or in shots. And lots of it.
  8. No gin. Ever. Not for me anyway. But yeah, I had some bad experiences with gin. But if you didn’t, then go for it. Gin and tonics are great when done right. Hospital trips if done wrong.
  9. Wine. Wine can be good if you live with a woman and you just got done shoveling the snow and are about to enjoy a nice dinner with the wifey or girlie. Then you can cuddle by the fire or a warm space heater, watch some romantic comedy, stare into each other’s eyes and watch the snow fall, open another bottle of fine wine or two and talk about what you will name your kids one day. I guess that’s okay. Don’t drink a jug of Carlo Rossi Sangria by yourself. You will wake up stupid and won’t be able to read. If you’ve gotten to the point in your sport drinking career that you are drinking MD 20/20 out of the bottle then you’re probably not reading this because you are homeless. And none of this shit about “what a great wine” or “great value” it is. That’s just bullshit.
  10. Scotch. Drink as much as you want. Scotch can be replaced with tequila because tequila is fucking awesome. Drink as much as you want.

Well we’ve come to the end of the list. And I know what you will say. “Hey listen jerk off, I like drinking beer in the winter and fuck you and your list. What are you drinking you faggot?”

Vodka. Ice cold vodka. Shots and many of them. Many Europeans drink this instead of water, I know. But vodka is the perfect drink sometimes when you have a giant driveway to shovel and you don’t have those fancy snow blowers or throwers and your neighbor is a dick and won’t let you borrow it for a bit. Even after you offered to pay him $10. Okay $5. The economy is tough.

Vodka is a winter’s drink. It comes from Europe. Many theories have been floated around as to who actually invented it. Was it the Russians, or the Poles or the Swedes, or some people in Finland? But where ever its true origin is, you know it has been made with winter in mind. How do you think the fucking Russians outlasted the Germans during WWII? Vodka. My dad actually told me that they would feed the Russian soldiers a few shots of the stuff before going into battle. The Polaks swear by it. It kills germs in your body.

In Chicago, the snobs will tell you to drink the most expensive shit which I won’t name here. But what I will name is a good Polish vodka that has been making the rounds in the United States. Bruce Willis is the face behind the vodka when it comes to marketing. But fuck Bruce Willis. He might be a face to sell the product, but guess what, the price sells itself. Sobieski Vodka is $9.99 for 750 ml. and $15 for a liter. If you see other prices you are getting fucked there. And it’s good. Svedka Vodka used to be $9.99 but they got too big and decided to charge $12.99. Get your hands on Sobieski before even those Poles raise their prices. Word from the grape-vine is that things will be changing in March with Sobieski so stock up while the prices are low. Some changes in the company are coming.

I am the face of Sobieski Vodka

But I raise my shot glass to all Chicagoans who don’t bitch about the snow falling, to the ones who get through it like they do every year with their balls in their hands and the shovels in their teeth, and to those who are proud that winter doesn’t mean shit to us. It’s Chicago. This is what it is. That’s the main reason most of those California fucks don’t live here “because the winters are so bad.” Good. Fuck ‘em.

And Fuck Bruce Willis too. (I don’t even know why I say that, I like Bruce Willis.)

"Whatchu talking about Willis?"

Listen I don’t care what your drink is. You know what your drink is. I don’t care how you drive in the snow. You know how you drive in the snow. I just want to get home in one piece, shovel the fucking parking spot and drink my drink in peace and watch the Wheel of Fortune. Maybe a Bulls game. It’s just snow.

If you got a better list, feel free to share.

Even though the Blackhawks have suffered a few injuries to key players (Car bomb and most importantly Patrick Sharp) and have had less than stellar play from my favorite “Cabbie Punching Player” Patrick Kane, they still find themselves in the top portion of NHL teams.  Why is that you may be asking yourself?  Well brace yourself Hawk fans because another surge of young talent has arrived to the Madhouse on Madison Street!

Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes have just been the recent talk of the town.  However, don’t forget about young Ben Smith.  Who single handedly kept the Blackhawks alive and forced a game seven in the first round of the playoffs last year.  These young Hawks have helped ease the pressure that one Patrick Kane is currently feeling.

Andrew Shaw not afraid to drop the gloves……..or take a beating.

Andrew Shaw has been the most impressive as of late, netting 5 goals and 1 assist in his first 9 games.  The United Center crowd has also taken a liking to the 20 year old Canadian who was drafted last year in the 5th round.  Shaw has shown incredible net presence and has works really hard along the boards in his first 9 games.  This lunch pail mentality comes with little surprise as Shaw was voted as the hardest working player in the OHL last season.

Kevin Hayes (left) & Jimmy Hayes (right). Pretty certain they will not play like the Sedin Twins.

Another pleasant surprise for the Blackhawks has been 22 year old RW Jimmy Hayes.  In 10 games the 6’6” Hayes scored 4goals and had 3 assist.  Hayes size is something the Blackhawks have lacked ever since trading away fan favorite Dustin Byfuglien.  Hayes has very good hands and plays well both offensively and defensively.

Ben Smith, 23, has also logged minutes this year for the Blackhawks.  He’s has yet to put up the stats many had hoped for after his short stint last year.  This may be attributed to the awful hit Smith took before the season started by Detroit Redwings Brendan Smith.  Ben Smith who is currently up with the team,  has split time in Rockford with the Blackhawks minor league affiliate Ice Hogs, and has put up impressive numbers.  Smith will need to find the back of the net if he wants to stay up after Sharp returns.

Even with slow starting Smith, Blackhawk fans have to be excited with the prospect of these up and coming players.  Not to mention the Blackhawks are littered with young stars already at the top of the league in captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.  Brace yourselves Blackhawk fans the funs just getting started!

-Andrew Welebir

Catchers are a funny beast. It’s rare to have the Carlton Fisk model of consistency. More common is the Roy Campanella model which truly displays the volatility of the position that is arguably the most physically demanding in baseball (perhaps starting pitcher is more taxing, but that’s really only one body part that gets damaged).

Victor Martinez is of course now a DH and the Tigers are not hurting behind the dish with Alex Avilla handling the catching duties. Yet even while playing a significantly less stressful position Martinez has managed to put most of his 2012 season in jeopardy, and that only means great things for the White Sox. Martinez was a cog in the Tiger lineup. He provided some gap power (40 doubles last year) and a tremendous control of the bat (.330 avg. in 2011). Replacing that production in the DH spot will be something the Tigers struggle with all year.

A torn ACL is no joke, athletes are never the same after an ACL injury. It robs your athleticism. It’s a good thing Martinez was already relegated to the DH role because his catching career is all but over at this point, and it’s questionable if he can take 1B duties anymore. His talent with the bat, however, was clear last year. He had an increase in his Line-Drive Ratio, he cut his strike out percentage, he had a slight uptick in his walk percentage, he had the highest batting average of his career, by many metrics it was his best year at the plate (largely thanks to no longer being behind it). He was an extremely productive player for the Tigers and one of the reasons they one the division.

The Tigers will struggle to replace that production. Their options on the bench are limited, you can theoretically slot Magglio Ordonez in the DH slot and play Ryan Raburn out in the outfield, but it’s still clear that there will be a dip in production next year.

Take a look at these graphs. It compares Martinez to the league average (where blue is league average and Martinez is green).

Mags is still a great hitter, but he’s not replacing that.

What does it mean for the White Sox? It means that they can pretend to contend for another year. We’ve seen this song and dance from Kenny Williams before. He pays the lip service to the fan, “All In” being a prime example of this. The teams he assembles, however, were always a potpourri of what he wanted and what Ozzie demanded. This year, however, it’s all on Kenny. The rebuilding word has been thrown around in the offseason, but I’m not one to believe that Kenny will remain patient, especially now that this little speck of blood hit the AL Central waters.

Kenny has balls, I’ll give him that much. A lot would have to go right for the White Sox for them to be serious contenders, Dunn and Rios would have to hit just a little bit, ditto with Beckham. Peavy would have to actually contribute something, Danks needs to replace the Golden Redneck, Floyd would have to find some consistency. It’s not impossible that the Sox are contenders for the AL Central crown early in the 2012 season. It wouldn’t fit into the rebuilding plan, however. Do you believe that Kenny would stick to the plan and let a gettable division pass him by?

I don’t. He’ll go for it if it’s there, and it might cost him his job.

 

Remember that pinnacle moment in Mad Men where Don Draper takes out a full page ad to bid good riddance to Lucky Strike in an effort to save face in the public eye? This is going to come off a bit like that, but every word is true in the case of disgruntled Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard: we don’t need you in a Bulls uniform to win a championship. This year. What we need is a healthy Derrick Rose leading the stampede and keeping the other eleven guys involved as he’s gotten us accustomed to seeing. He is a once-in-a-generation leader, a scoring point guard with jump-out-of-the-gym hops who still distributes the ball evenly and efficiently, keeping the guys involved and ultimately creating an on-floor chemistry that leaks into the locker room and permeates their personal lives. These guys are in it to win it. Together. And Derrick is our leader, our most valuable, our hometown hero.

So, why has the topic of trading for the best center in the league become more than just hypothetical hyperbole? Why would we want a player so arrogantly naive he thinks he’s allowed to make lists of teams he’d like to play for? I was happy to see that we were not on his list of potential suitors. We don’t need him. Seriously. No you guys, I’m serious.

In Bill Simmons’ seminal The Book of Basketball, Isiah Thomas reveals that the most important element of winning in basketball is that “it’s not about basketball.” Sounds ridiculous, right? I mean, of course it’s about basketball. The most talented roster wins, right? The team with the best players will win the most championships, right? Wrong. I suppose if that were true, even though his Heat trumped team defense with superstar prowess last summer, LeBron would have at least ring by now, wouldn’t he? The point Chicago’s own Zeke (and Rick Barry of all people, among others) goes on to make through his stories in The Book of Basketball is that championships are won by teams with the best…wait for it…team chemistry. The San Antonio dynasty that is somehow still intact 13 years after their first championship run together thrives on this very principle: high character guys sacrificing their ego for the sake of winning. Because, despite what you’ve heard, let’s face it:  winning is everything.

High character winners are exactly what the Bulls brass has assembled mostly through the draft but also key free agent acquisitions from Jerry Sloan’s Utah Jazz. MVP Derrick Rose won multiple state championships at Simeon and played in the NCAA Championship in his lone season at Memphis. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng played under legendary (and Chicagoan) Coach K at Duke. Joakim Noah won unheard-of-nowadays-back-to-back ‘chips at Florida. Rip Hamilton won it all at UConn and got a ring in Detroit. What did Dwight Howard accomplish in college? Oh wait, that’s right…

The point I’m getting at and one that all Bulls fans should embrace is that we don’t need Dwight Howard or any other big name malcontent coming to town and screwing up the fragile chemistry that has powered us to the best record in all of basketball land in this shortened season. We have all the pieces in place to win–now.

Dwight Howard will never be an NBA Champion. We’ve built something the old fashioned way here, and he thinks he’s Superman. Hey Dwight: Shaquille O’Neal already took that nickname! And copycat bullshit is something we don’t, and will never, welcome here in Chicago.

It’s not just about basketball. It never is. It’s bigger than that. Bigger than Superman.