Archive for the ‘NBA’ Category

Rivalries are one of the greatest things about sports. Well, they used to be. Nowadays, the friendliness and fist bumping tends to override the competitive spirit that fuels a classic rivalry. Super teams are being formed by friends. Free agents are signing with teams that should forever hate each other. Sadly, it comes down to loyalty and pride being thrown out the window. This will ultimately be the downfall of sports, and I’ll be forced to explain all this to my grand kids someday. I can hear my future self now: “…Kids, back in my day there was this fellow named Michael Jordan…”

We, as fans, pledge allegiance to our teams’ flags, but the problem seems to be that the players don’t feel the same hometown connection to the cities and its inhabitants that root them on day in and night out.

Ever since the anticlimactic conclusion of Super Bowl XLVI between the Patriots and Giants, there has been some speculation swirling as to who are the greatest sports rivalries of the here and now. There are, of course, certain prerequisites for a matchup of two teams to be allowed to consider itself an actual rivalry. Both teams must establish a certain level of success. They must have regularly scheduled matchups as well as postseason series spliced in to spice it up a bit, because rivalries become such in the playoffs. There must be some level of legitimate hatred in their somewhere, too. At the collegiate level, the rivalry is somewhat easier to establish, but in the professional realm with ever-prevalent free agency always just lingering there and friends plotting fucking super teams with each other, rivalries come and go, no real chance for lasting effect and historical significance.

Since we just exited the midst of rivalry week in college hoops, let’s talk Duke/North Carolina. No matchup in NCAA Basketball has the tradition and folklore of the Duke Blue Devils versus the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tobacco Road geographical proximity adds to the intrigue. The NBA has seen more impactful alumni from these two schools than any other. First and foremost, the G.O.A.T, the best player in the history of the game, the one and only, Mr. Michael Jordan. Then you’ve got two of the greatest coaches ever to assemble Xs and Os, Dean Smith and Coach K Mike Krzyzewski. James Worthy. Grant Hill. Larry Brown. Luol Deng. Rasheed Wallace. Elton Brand. Sam Perkins. Carlos Boozer. Vince Carter. Shane Battier. Antawn Jamison. Johnny Dawkins. Tyler Hansbrough. Kenny “The Jet” Smith. Mitch Kupchak. Jerry Stackhouse. Kyrie Irving. Ty Lawson. Stuart Scott, even. “Holla at a playa when you see him in the street!” What? You thought this all started with a buzzer beater from freshman sensation, diaper dandy, Doc’s kid, Austin Rivers?

Without a solid understanding of rivalries from the past and those which have withstood the test of time, we can’t speculate on our teams’ current and future nemeses. With that in mind, let’s look at our city’s teams and the foes they’ll face in significant situations over the next few seasons.

Bulls/Heat and Bulls/Pacers: Outside of my man, Jeremy Lin, the Knicks suck really bad, so that’s why they failed to make this list. The Pacers truly believe they could’ve and should’ve beaten the Bulls in last year’s playoff series. Bulls fans definitely believe we should’ve represented the Eastern Conference in last year’s NBA Finals. The Bulls might have to beat both of these teams come April to make The Finals for the next decade or so. The Pacers are sort of built the same way as us: reliant on team defense, not a lot of flash on offense outside of their leading scorer, a free agent power forward in the twilight of his career, and knowledgeable Midwestern basketball fans filling the seats. The Heat are sort of the anti-Bulls team. They play hard D…when they feel compelled to kick it into high gear. So, so, so much flash on offense…for crying out loud, DWade’s nickname is Flash. As much as I hate the guy and hate to admit it (because I actually preferred Booze to Bosh when this South Beach Superteam nonsense went down), Chris Bosh is a better power forward than Booze right now. As for the fans: I’m not sure most of them even knew Miami had a basketball team before LeBron came to town. Chi Town stand up!

White Sox/Twins: I was raised a Chicago sports fan, so you’re not going to hear any Cubs/Sox-as-an-actual-rivalry-gobbledygook from me. Instead, the South Siders’ main rival resides in their own division. You know them as The Twinkies, and they’ve been a thorn in our side with their little farm system, which is a respectable way to build a team, if you ask me. The Minnesota Twins are the closest thing we’ve got to a true rivalry. C’mon, Sox. Not much to lose this year. Go start some shit with a club, and get a real rival.

Cubs/Cardinals: The Cubs have just sucked for the better part of the last century with glimpses of greatness peppered in once every ten to twelve years, so why would the pattern stop now? With the departure of the best player in baseball to DisneyLand and the American League, the Cardinals don’t look to defend their World Series with much confidence this year, either. With Prince Fielder also swapping Centrals, the Cubs’ division actually seems wide open in 2012. I mean, when the Pirates have a chance, anyone’s got just as good a shot. This one could be on the list of all-timers with the two teams separated by Illinois/Missouri state lines, the rights to Harry Caray’s immortality and Central Illinois at stake, and inspiration to spawn books about their intense rivalry whenever they take the field.

Bears/Packers: This one doesn’t even need a description. Only thing I’m going to say is this: if you hated Brett Favre growing up for beating up on the Bears, prepare your suicide notes from what Aaron Rodgers will inflict on your football psyche.

Blackhawks/Canucks: These guys have legitimate hatred for each other, reducing the rest of these rivalries to mere matchups of friends who play the games as a matter of happenstance. Shit talking. Goalie mind games (LOLuongo). Fights. Like, real fights. I’ll put it this way. Actually, I’ll let Hawks Center Dave Bolland, who referred to Canucks stars Henrik and Daniel Sedin as “sisters” he wouldn’t want on his team and saying there are “weirdos” in the city of Vancouver, put it his way. Let’s have a chant, shall we: USA! USA!

These rivalries have become embedded into the national psyche, but on a world stage, shit gets waaaaaaaay out of control with soccer riots, national pride-filled cricket matches, sports with not only in-game rivalries but religious implications as well. Let’s realize that we live in a country where sports do not dictate what happens politically, socially or religiously. We live in a country where freedom of choice still exists, and that’s a beautiful thing.

I, for one, cling to the old school rivalries of yesteryear, the ones with real history, so here are my Top 5 American Sports Rivalries of All-Time.

Honorable Mention: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Michael Jordan vs. The Bad Boys, Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage, Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Football

5. Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball

4. New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

3. Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers

2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

1. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York/San Francisco Giants

Sportsmanship, yes. But, seriously, leave the peace loving, hand shaking, friend making and hugging for the real world. Lord knows it needs it.

Dictum Meum Pactum…

Record for the week: 4-1
Overall record: 23-7

Did you know the Bulls went 6-3 on their road trip? It doesn’t seem like it, given the panic surrounding the team and the MVP. Back spasms have been bothering Rose and preventing him from hitting the court.

The Nets are awful

DWill wants out of New Jersey. He’s said this multiple times, he won’t sign an extension to stay in the garden state, and mentally it looks like he checked out. The Bulls light it up, shooting 55% from the field and coasting to an easy victory over a shitty team that Dwight Howard wants to play for. Because Dwight Howard is an idiot.

Seriously though, what the fuck is up with that Dude. “I wanna play in LA, I wanna play for the Nets, I wanna play anywhere I don’t have pressure to win.” The man sounds like he wants to be famous instead of being a great basketball player. Chicago is a great choice for him, if he desires to win. The Nets don’t have a roster, and the team he would end up being on would be an exact clone of Howard’s Orlando team. Bottom line, if Howard wants to win, he can win in Chicago. It would be a dynasty. I’d trade Deng to get Howard, it’s a no brainer.

The Hornets are awful too

I can’t think of many teams worse than the Hornets. Most of their team was hurt for this game, but mercy, they don’t hit open shots, they can’t defend, and they don’t rebound. It’s awful. This was one of the worst basketball games I’ve ever seen. The Bulls looked hungover, Chicago’s finest Brew was flat, and they still won by 30. The NBA needs to be fired for putting together this outfit, it makes me question whether Stern actually knows basketball at all.

Oh, this was the last game Rose played before back spasms flared up. This was after the turf toe issue. Rose is a tough kid, but this schedule is a killer.


This is only tangentially related. Charlotte is in North Carolina

Charlotte sucks ass.

I can’t think of many teams worse than the Bobcats. Most of their team was healthy for this game, but mercy, they don’t hit open shots, they can’t defend, and they don’t rebound. It’s awful. This was one of the worst basketball games I’ve ever seen. The Bulls looked tired and they still won by 30.

There are a few lessons I’ve learned from North Carolina.

  • Never trust a big butt and a cute smile. A big legged woman ain’t got no soul kids. Also, the beach is wonderful out there, but if you happen to have the misfortune of traveling down there with a girl you know isn’t worth the time, you may want to reconsider going. Emerald Isle is cool and all, but nothing puts a damper on your time like a spoiled rich chick.
  • Never date a Yankee fan, first sign of trouble that you have in life and they’ll start bitching at you for not being perfect.
  • Austin Rivers is gonna be a great pro. Dude has all the tricks in his bag, he knows how to draw a foul, he will be an All-Star 3 years into the league.
  • EmJeff has no clue how to pick talent. This is a trap that many greats fall into. Being a GM is hard, you can’t will your team to win from the GM’s box. You also can’t punch Steve Kerr to prove a point. Well, you can, but it might not get across the right way.
  • With all the commercials banning the word “gay” and it’s unfortunate cousin, we’ll call him Frankie, from NBA courts, when will the NBA push to ban the N word? Trust me, that’s the most used slur in the history of sports, but the NBA keeps mum on it. You hear it a lot at the NBA level, but no one has an issue with it. I’m curious, is that ok because they’re black? Or is there just an extreme level of hypocrisy going on here? Look, I’m all for gay rights (usual caveat), but athletes are dumb. And they say dumb things. All the time. Just because there’s a commercial out there telling you not to use gay as a slur, doesn’t mean it’ll stop. It won’t. And if the NBA really wanted to go after slurs in basketball, the N word would be first on the list. I don’t like pandering, and that’s what this seems like.
  • No really, stay away from spoiled rich chicks, it’s just a bad idea if you’re from a working class background. Different values and such. It gets annoying and then you have to do drastic things like make them hate you.

Oh Boston, you do wish he was white, don't you.

Ok, ok, Rondo is pretty good.

But fuck that guy. This one still hurts to talk about, I don’t like Rajon Rondo. I thought he got really overrated by ESPN, just like they overrate all PG’s not named Derrick Rose. Lin is next on this list, and trust me, you’ll have some saying he’s the best PG in the league by season’s end. Or second to Chris Paul. They’ll spout off something about being a true point, and that he plays like Nash or some bullshit.

Let’s clear this up right now, he’s getting major pub because he’s playing well, and he’s doing it in New York. The Knicks are still bad at basketball related things. Lin turns the ball over a lot, you can defend him, and his scoring impact will be deadened when Melo and Amare return.

Back to Rondo, seriously, fuck that alien.

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 the next five in my list of ten sports games that have made a huge impact on the video game world.

# 6 Madden NFL ’94 

From it’s roots, Madden NFL was created to be a realistic sports simulation. Since most sports titles at the time of its first release were of the arcade variety, Madden made an impact for being a true simulation. Once gamers got a taste of that level of detail, every company making sports games had to take notice and compete. Yeah NBA Jam was a break out hit, and NFL Blitz made a splash a few years later, but who plays those games now? Sports gamers want realism these days and there’s no room for an arcade football game in the eyes of the industry thanks to Madden NFL Football.

I know. Madden NFL ’94 is a simple little child’s toy compared to the complexity of current entries in the series but ’94 was the first in the series to bear its current nomenclature as well as several other features that made it stand out from other arcade style football games of the day (I’m talking about you Tecmo Super Bowl!). It was the first in the series to have the NFL teams license. ’94 was the first in the series to include Flip Plays, which let you to mirror your selected play to throw off your opponent, making multi-player games more fun, and the first entry to allow full season play, albeit, through means of a password system. Upwards of 80 teams (including all NFL teams that existed at the time, 30 years of Super Bowl teams, and several all star versions of various teams) gave the title great replay value and even though the players on those teams weren’t included in the game, their stats were accurately recreated. Even with the accidental switching of the entire Jets and Giants rosters (Hey! They’re both New York teams so who cares right?) it shined as a modern example of what a great sports simulation could be. We all know the rest of this story and are more than likely playing Madden NFL 12 right now, but this was the one that paved the way for the extensive simulation we now know and love. Oh yeah, this was also the first EA sports game to have the, now iconic, “It’s in the game” voice at the beginning. Neat huh?

# 5 Gran Turismo

I’m a huge fan of arcade racing games. I would give my nuts and future life savings for a Rad Mobile arcade machine, but there is a place in my heart for games like Gran Turismo. It took a lot of guts for Sony to release this title. At the time, people like me were either drifting through whole tracks in Ridge Racer or pretending that Cruisin’ USA was a good game. There was no place in video games for a true racing simulation. License tests? Who do they think they are? Braking, gear ratios, and proper cornering? What the hell are they talking about? Who are they to tell me how to play my racing game? Fortunately the visual presentation hooked a lot of early adopters and many more fell into the groove of actually driving well in a video game not to mention racking up wins and cash to upgrade their 92 Mitsubishi GTO Twin Turbo. This is another case of one title changing the industry. Before Gran Tourismo, the racing simulation was the oddity. Now, it’s pretty difficult to find a true arcade racing game that isn’t some Mario Kart clone or doesn’t include crashing to score points. Every developer that wanted to get into the video game racing business suddenly had to compete with a deep, engrossing, visual powerhouse that presented a challenge and feeling of victory no other racing title could provide. Without the original Gran Turismo, there would be no Project Gotham Racing, no Need for Speed in it’s current iterations, and probably no Drag Racing on your iPhone. Respect.

#4 NHL ’94

Damn 1993 was a good year for EA sports! (Both Madden NFL ’94 and NHL ’94 were actually released in 1993.) While this entry in the series has been made famous for basically allowing its players to kill Wayne Gretzky (and who wouldn’t have wanted to back then?)there is another reason the ’94 iteration was the one that made hockey games popular. What could EA have added to such a great series to make it better and take it head and shoulders above every other hockey game that existed at that point? The answer is devastatingly simple.

One Timers.

NHL ’94 was the first hockey title to include one timers. Sure, it didn’t have fights, but now you could actually execute plays in a hockey game! Sure, the sprites skated around like crap but now you could actually execute plays in a hockey game! 1993 was, and will remain the year that the simulated hockey experience got real and it never looked back. EA was the first company to take hockey seriously and try to make their game as realistic as possible and  NHL ’94 was their first real success as far as I’m concerned. Hockey fans, be grateful.

Oh Chelios...

#3 MLB ’09: The Show

The Show franchise has been top notch since its early days in ought-6 but 2009 was the year they really got it right. The series’ “Road to the Show” mode is still the best career mode in all of video game history in the eyes of this writer and much of what the past 3 years’ entries have built upon first took shape in ’09. It introduced “Road to the Show 2.0” to the series which included better base running and stealing mechanics as well as more in-depth coach and management interaction with your created star. Fielding mechanics were improved, catcher AI was beefed up to react to each pitcher and hitter’s strengths, and so many other tweaks were implemented that strengthened overall game play that it felt like a new game over 2008’s entry.

I’ve heard people say that year over year improvement in the series since is too minimal for their tastes, and I tend to agree, but the lack of change begs a question. Is there a need to improve such a fine system?

If it ain’t broke…

Seriously, The Show has been the best baseball game available for 7 years running and it shows no sign of breaking that streak. If you haven’t played any of the entries in the series, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend grabbing the ’09 entry simply for the fact that the rosters are old old old and, as far as I know, you can no longer update them. It is, however, important to know where the greatness began and 2009 was the year baseball video games finally got the champion they deserved.

#2 NFL 2K1

This is going to seem like the “game nerd/fanboy” entry on the list but trust me, NFL 2K1 is number 2 for a reason. Allow me to give some detail.

Madden NFL 2001 did not appear on the Dreamcast. This was due to EA’s decision to not support the system, for better or worse. This move ended up being great for EA but absolutely devastating to SEGA as many developers followed suit, siting the Playstation 2 as the better option for monetary gain. So what do you do when one of the largest game publishers in existence pulls support of your console, thus depriving your user base of some of the most robust sports franchises that tend to sell systems? You hire the guys who made Madden NFL ’94 to make some completely new games, that’s what! With its superb football mechanics and a polished presentation, NFL 2K1 was the first real competition the Madden franchise had seen since NFL Gameday ’98. 2K1 took a great step forward from the previous year’s version by tweaking the gameplay and really stuck it to EA. Check out this video comparison of NFL 2K1 and Madden NFL 2001 if you want proof of how close they were in quality.

That’s all fine and good, but the icing on the cake was the inclusion of a feature that changed the nature of console sports forever.

Online Multi-player

That’s right NFL 2K1 was the first console sports game to feature online multi-player capabilities. Can you imagine playing Madden today without the option to school some jerk from New England and hate on Tom Brady while sitting on your couch in Pilsen? Be honest. No! You can’t! It’s become such a huge part of sports games, and so many people have never even played the game that started it all. The wildly successful NBA 2K series being the exception, all of the meaningful 2K Sports titles are either gone or on their way to their respective graves.  At least this one will live on in spirit, even if it’s just because of a brave new feature implemented by a desperate company that was on its way out of the console market.

That wraps up part 2. You know you want to check back next week to see which game is number one. It’s going to be a huge surprise!

Don’t panic, Bulls are slowly righting the ship.

This play is ridiculous. Derrick Rose is used to playing against men taller and bigger than he is, this is a playground layup, crafted on concrete courts, perfected against men whose defense was to hit hard and often, and finally being showcased on the big stage in the NBA.

Rose has playground game infused with collegiate fundamentals. He isn’t out of control, even if it looks like that often. He’s fucking fast, and that’s probably the best way to describe the 6’4 demon in sneakers. I can’t fathom what it must feel like to have total command of the court like Rose does. He seemingly gets to the rack at will, imposing NBA trees be damned.

His back spasms flared up again, and that will be an issue for the next couple of days, but the Bulls will be fine. This is about a deep playoff run, not a few regular season victories to pad the victory total. It’s not even really about home court advantage either, the Bulls had that last year and it didn’t help them much againss the Heat. No, it’s about avoiding the Heat as long as possible.

The Heat are kind of a bitch. They’re playing an oddly poetic brand of violent, aggressive, rim rattling basketball, the likes of which have never been seen. This isn’t Showtime, this is Showtime’s evil, ‘roided up cousin who drives the black camaro and listens to Sabbath.

Deng is pretty awesome, and you should start to appreciate him more.

I'm putting you on noitce, asshole.

The team looks completely different when Deng is out there, the rotations are different, the defense is different, the offense is different, Deng makes everything better.

I mean, it is a small sample size, but the Bulls looked lost on offense without him. Derrick went into “I’m going to do everything now.” mode as the rest of the team looked on in awe and forgot they had to contribute on the offensive end. They’ve blown out two opponents since Deng has returned, and it’s passed the eye test as well.

Fuck the Knicks

Overrated pieces of shit

Truth.

They were supposed to be Miami Heat pt. 2. fuck em, the Mecca of basketball hasn’t won shit since 1973, and they aren’t going to win it this year. Coach Pringles is fired, and I’m glad the Bulls didn’t hire him when they were looking for a coach. I mean, it lead to a few years of Vinny, but I’ll take the hair over the ‘stache any day.

Besides, the important part here is that the Knicks suck after trying to copy another business model. ‘Melo is an enigma, and I’m glad D’Antoni hasn’t solved it.

Stop pissing Derrick off. He doesn’t like it.


Man, the United Center was loud that night.

When he was a rookie, Brandon Jennings scored 50 pts. in a game once. Did you know that? I remember it because people started asking if Jennings was better than Rose. It was stupid then, and it’s stupid now, and Rose will always take the opportunity to show you exactly why. He doesn’t forget. If you disrespect him, he’s coming after you. Rose is a silent assassin. I would stop pissing him off. Immediately.

Gimme dat Jo!

Yeah, you jelly.

As Terry wrote, Jo is back! He’s been more active lately and his defense has been outstanding over this recent run of success. Jo is important, he can’t be tired and lazy if he’s going to have any worth to this team. His passing from the top of the key is a big part of the Bulls offense.

Moving forward, if the Bulls are going to beat the Heat, they need all their parts running at as close to full capacity as the season will allow. Their best player is 6’4, the Heat’s best player is 6’8. That’s a problem, because LeBron can guard Derrick and shut his ass down. Teams are starting to trap Derrick when he brings the ball up the court, it’s a pain in the ass mainly, but for the Heat, it’ll be a useful weapon.

 

Coach Thibs is Inspector Gadget, and Joakim Noah is his not so secret commodity, somewhat of an oddity in today’s NBA, his (as much as I don’t like the term) X-Factor, his man in the middle who makes it all go.

Joakim Noah is our engine. Without his constant energy, the Bulls do not go. Period. For us to continue to compete for a ‘Chip, he needs to provide that spark, that extra oomph, that intangible, unmatchable, contagious bounce that feeds the rest of Chicago a proverbial full plate and seconds. In this ridiculous shortened season, we need all the food we can get, and Noah, infamous for his slow starts in regular regular seasons, got off to a slow start in the 2011-12 campaign, leading some to question his conditioning once again. But believe me, Joakim is hungry, and that hunger for a title is the common denominator in the Bulls’ locker room.
Joakim reported for training camp in shape. By NBA center standards, he was 100%. The issue here has become that we expect 110+% from a guy who brings as much energy as we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him. He expects even more from himself. We know he’s capable of 20+ rebounds a night. We know he can spark our team with timely blocks and charges taken on any given possession. Sometimes that spark takes awhile to light. Over the last 5 games though, Noah has averaged a healthy double-double: 13.2 points, 12.6 rebounds while shooting 64.1% from the floor. This is the Joakim Noah we’ll need to thrive deep into the playoffs and to push past the “Hollywood as hell” Heat into the NBA Finals (I’m assuming, along with everyone else, barring any major injuries/freak accidents/breakdowns that we’ll have a rematch from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals).

Joakim Noah is a character, but high character. Opinionated quotes and funky draft day suits aside, he is a defensive machine, capable of guarding any five positions any time he’s called upon to do so. His offensive rebounding is unparalleled in today’s game. I’m okay with slow starts, as long as strong finishes are looming in our April, May and June future, which recent efforts have indicated they will.

This NBA season is obviously not your typical one. Guys are getting hurt at an alarming rate, coaches are openly criticizing the way the season lends itself to injury, not to mention training camps were shortened and accelerated, causing conditioning to take a back seat to, well, just getting on the damn floor.

Still, Joakim’s ability to stay conditioned and bring his intensity night in, night out is crucial if we are to contend for real. The Joakim switch needs to always be turned to “high energy.”

“I think his conditioning and timing are coming around,” Coach Thibs said. “He’s putting in a lot of extra work.”

That’s what we like to hear. That extra work could land our big man a spot as a reserve to D12 in this year’s All Star Game in Orlando. As I write this, Joakim leads former Bull Tyson Chandler by 30,000+ votes after second ballots returned. However, not too much stock can be put into how fans vote considering DeAndre Jordan is in second place out west behind Andrew Bynum. What the fuck has happened to the center position?!? If I’m building a franchise (which I’m not) and I need a center, a well-conditioned Joakim is a top  2 pick at his position.

He is sort of a hybrid between a throwback center and a modern day Dennis Rodman. If his energy stays at a high level, the wins will keep piling up. If he can master the art of the mind game and neutralize LeBron during the ECF this year (he’s attempted with fail), something no amount of hard core Luol Deng defense can physically overcome, the Bulls are in business. The moment Jo’s energy dips, the rest of the team sometimes succumbs as well. In a shortened season like this, the margin for error is even smaller than usual. You’ve got to bring it every single night, while still keeping just enough and more in the reserve tank for that playoff push. Joakim’s energy is exciting, and the level he brings this team up to when that energy is at its highest is something very few teams can deal with, especially in a seven game series.

We, as Chicagoans, have chips on our broad shoulders, and we identify with a guy like Joakim accentuating those chips with his intensity on the hardwood every night, long ass strides, 4th grade “jumper” and all.

Dude just needs to clean the glass and keep it half full until it overflows with championship rings…

…Go go gadget Noah!

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.

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.

 

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.

5 games in one week? Bulls survive and win all 5.

To survive is to prosper, and the Bulls certainly did that coming off a bad loss against an enigmatic Atlanta Hawks team. The Chicago Bulls are a difficult team to score against when they play at the United Center. They are giving up 66.8 ppg at home this year.

A modern NBA team is giving up 66.8 points per game at home in 5 games.

They kicked off the week by holding a bad Detroit team to 68 points. Then they gave up 64 to the John Wall led Wizards. The Bulls finished up by choking Toronto out and allowing 64 points. Oh, there was also a Derrick Rose injury mixed in there, allowing John Lucas III to  chuck up a bunch of shots and score 25 points. Good for him, I don’t know if he’ll ever get that shot again. Take it if you have it.

Damn I love this image.

There are of course the concerns of Boozer and Noah playing together. It seems that they’ve recently gotten in sync over the past few games, but that’s a lot of money in the front court that’s been sitting late in games. The take away I have is that the Bulls have quality depth in the frontcourt, so why not utilize it? It’s a luxury that probably won’t survive much beyond this season. They should use it.

Boston has officially been relegated to “everyone else” status in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls put them away in the 4th quarter behind a strong crunch time performance by the reigning MVP. It’s become clear that it’s the Heat vs. the Bulls with everyone else hoping to play spoiler. Boston just had no answer for the Bulls.

This was awesome.

By the way…

What to watch for when watching Bulls games.

I know it won’t always be pretty, but the second star of this Bulls team is the defense. Rose is sublime, he has the best layup package in the NBA right now. He can do things with layups I didn’t know were possible in all honesty. When you watch Rose, understand where he came from, that he was always playing against taller, bigger kids that wanted to punish him on his way to the bucket. That’s why he has that football carry move on drives to the paint. He ducks his head, protects the ball, then explodes out of that position with acrobatic flair. The man is a basketball ninja.

However, what you need to start watching is the Bulls defense. The Bulls do a tremendous job of keeping dribble penetration out of the painted area down low. They have active bigs and their on the ball defense is one of the best in basketball. Defense is a team concept, everyone needs to play it or it just breaks down. The Bulls play premium team defense. There is a shape to it, and it is constantly snapping back into form when the offense tests it. Their defense on pick and roll is the best in the league. The bigs show hard on the dribbler and allow the picked defender to recover before they snap back and cover their man.

What you need to watch is the feet positioning of the on ball defender. The feet are always in a position to deny entry to the lane, cutting the ball handler off from the painted area. The off ball defense is also impressive. The Bulls are active off the ball as they cut the passing lanes and force players down towards the baseline. The Bulls play a suffocating brand of defense. They are constantly contesting shots, hands are up and active, the ball is denied to soft spots in the defense, it’s truly a thing of beauty.

Start watching how the Bulls play defense and appreciate it. It’s the best D in the league.