Monday, March 21, 2011

"As I See It": On Ice

  If there really is no gain with no pain, then the Blackhawks have absolutely nothing to worry about. But on the surface it appears that injuries ( C Dave Bolland, D Brian Campbell, LW Patrick Sharp ) are the Hawks' biggest obstacle in defending the 2010 Stanley Cup.

  With leading scorer Patrick Sharp ( X-Factor ), and C Dave Bolland out with injuries, the Blackhawks are missing a combined total of 49 goals on the season. Although it goes without saying what the Hawks miss without D Brian Campbell, but for merits sake I must state: 2nd in the NHL in plus/minus ( 28,) also the key defenseman in the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup campaign. Since the last half of last season, into the playoffs, and this season, Campbell has been firing the puck more, something that will be missed in his absence.

  Wingman and X-Factor Patrick Sharp is playing at minimum Blackhawks MVP hockey, leading the team in goals and offensive point shares, he is in the top 3 in most scoring categories. Since losing both Sharp and Campbell, the Hawks have gone 1-1, tallying only two goals total. With Coach Quinneville still figuring out which goalie out of the combination of Crawford/Turco works heading into the final eighth of the season, giving up 6 goals and only scoring two isn't going to aid the injury woes the Blackhawks now face heading into playoff positioning.

  Other significant injuries that will have an effect on this season is:

  • D Duncan Keith - hand/finger injury, hit with a shot during the 3rd period of the Hawks win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Mar. 7 in Toronto. He missed the rest of the game and the next practice, but appeared to be fine the next game. It should also be noted that in the last 10 games, Duncan Keith has a plus/minus of -2, going -5 in the games since the injury. He also appeared to favor his shin/ankle a few games prior against the Phoenix Coyotes. 

Jordan Hendry
  •  Blackhawk staple defenseman Jordan Hendry went down with a season ending knee surgery in February. Ultimately, leaving Stan Bowman and front office officials scrambling to seamlessly insert a compatible piece to the championship defense. Eventually acquiring D Chris Campoli from the Ottawa Senators. It should be noted that according to, that Jordan Hendry successfully underwent surgery to repair his ACL tear. Grave thanks to Blackhawks Head Team Physician Dr. Michael Terry.

  "As I See It," the recent injuries to the Blackhawks aren't anything of immediate concern. I still believe that the goalie position is in need of some attention. Corey Crawford would be the best pick going into the playoffs. Giving the Blackhawks the youthfulness that helped propel them through the playoffs, Turco could always be available to stop bleeds.Bottom line, with Kaner and Toews on the ice, I'll put my money on the Hawks.....again!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

As I See It: Bears Lockout "Uncaged" - Da' Line

  If the Mayans were football fans, then they were right on the money when they predicted that the world would end in 2012. They just forgot a minor detail. They meant that there would be no NFL football. At least for golf that is a good thing. But for the millions of people that are willing to skip a days work, mortgage their homes for tickets, and fire people for wearing team ties at work, this is epic.

  For Bears fans coming off a NFC Championship high, it's downright confusing. If there isn't any football next season, how can we set our expectations unreasonably high and declare this Jay Cutler's hot seat season prematurely. How can we prepare to criticize the finale of the "Decade of Lovie?" To be honest, NFL and Bears fans alike have no clue what is in store for the next couple of months in the NFL.

  Recently, the Bears took out an ad in the local papers assuring the fans and the city that despite the labor disputes, they are working steadfast in preparing for another Super Bowl run in 2011-12 season. This starts with the current focus being on the only thing still recognized under the last CBA. The NFL Rookie Draft. For Bears fans this should be a reason to celebrate. Throughout GM Jerry Angelo's tenure with the Chicago Bears, his mantra has remained the same, get stronger and add depth through the draft. Draft, draft, draft...

  Some skeptics would point out that there have been significant hits and misses in Angelo's recent history. Most of which would be the dumping of almost an entire draft class of 2009 and 2007. Angelo has however undoubtedly made some splashes that have contributed significantly to the Bears organization in late rounds. Most notably being Devin Hester, Lance Briggs, and Daneial Manning with picks in the second round or later. That is some pretty big splashes. To the contrary, 35% of Angelos's picks are still on the roster, that's 25 players out of 77 that Angelo has drafted not counting the recently departed Tommie Harris (1st round).

No More Drama...

  For those who read my "Top 5 Chicago Positions That Need Change", you know the extent of my dismay for the Bears unstable offensive play, and what may have cost them to lose the NFC Championship game. The O-Line and their ability to protect Jay Cutler, if they could have protected him 10% more than they did in the NFC Champ. game than maybe the windfall of criticism that swirled following would have never existed. Imagine that. But what can happen will happen and in the case of the Bears and Jay Cutler did by way of controversy after the season.

  Questions to Jay Cutler's toughness and loyalty surfaced after he was knocked out of the second half with what appeared to be at the time a sprain of a ligament in his leg. It would later discovered that Cutler tried to reenter the game early in the 3rd, but could not apply significant enough pressure to play on competitively. So he sat in the corner with a look of neither disappointment nor dejection. To his defense, he couldn't possibly withstand much more of the punishment he suffered during the regular season carried into the postseason, when issues such as protection should be corrected before entry.

  So as we look forward to this season's upcoming NFL Draft, we focus on the O-Line, Wide Reciever, and Secondary positions assuming the roster stays as it stands..

  • Mike Tice recently made a trip to the University of Florida to sample the latest crop of O-Linemen. Angelo has typically favored U of F players in the draft, making such picks as Alex Brown, Rex Grossman, and Major Wright to name a few. The current object of his affection is 6'5'', 303lb center Mike Pouncey, the twin brother of Maurkice Pouncey of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the future of Bear's vet and O-Line staple Olin Kruetz in limbo, Pouncey could potentially fill the void at center left by Kruetz. Roles in all other line spots could be up for grabs depending on what Tice and Co. see in Pouncey in upcoming workouts.
  • Some of the other linemen that could be available to Chicago are Marcus Gilbert, a more realistic option to obtain. Gilbert is a natural guard, with the versatility to play tackle or guard. Also on the boards to go is Carl Johnson, who played multiple positions on the O-Line at UF.

  So according to the front office officials at Halas Hall, the primary focus during the lockout is to stregthen through the draft. Hopefully players and ownership can come together before the start of the season so we can get a chance to see how the rookies work out. But you can wish in one hand....

   More lockout information coming soon....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As I See It: No More Mr. Nice Guy ( Western Conference Playoff Outlook )

Still the Champs....

  In the last edition of "As I See It", we broke down the playoffs picture as it is concerned in the Eastern Conference. Today we will look at the Western Conference as it stands for the playoffs, and what that means for the Chicago Bulls.

  The Chicago Bulls have fared well in the West this season. Posting an 18-7 record against the Western Conference teams. They have not only dominated, but also beat the teams that matter the most. Having at least one win against the top three teams in the west. Playing a more uptempo style against Western Conference teams, the Bulls are shooting a higher field goal percentage (46), despite taking more shots in fewer games compared to the East.

  To the contrary, the Bulls have suffered a significant drop in defense against the west. In every statistical category the Bulls have a drop in production against teams in the west coast. Mostly, due to the up and down style of play. Which in part strays from the hardnosed halfcourt defense that Coach Thib's loves.

  All in all, I feel confident in saying that I believe the Bulls could best any team in the West, except the Lakers and Spurs currently.

With that being said, let's break down the Western Conference playoff situation. Of course, if the playoffs were to start today ( I know, I know.....)

  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Dallas Mavericks
  3. Los Angeles Lakers
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder
  5. Denver Nuggets
  6. New Orleans Hornets
  7. Portland Blazers
  8. Memphis Grizzlies

  To speak bluntly, anything after Oklahoma City is a Cinderella. After this recent summer's changing of the guard, as it concerns to matching up with L.A., players abandoned ship and headed East to build a new super conference. Leaving Denver, Phoenix, and Utah looking to rebuild to contend the bottom half or the seating.

  Let's break down each team as they stand up to the rest of the NBA realistically to win the NBA Championship:

San Antonio Spurs

  The San Antonio Spurs have proved that old dogs not only learn new tricks, but they teach the young dogs how it's done along the way. Sitting at an NBA best 54-12 and dominating against all divisions. Adapting a more uptempo style of play and decreasing veteran and future HOF'er Tim Duncan's minutes subtly and effectively have made them the most dangerous team to upset L.A.'s throne. Only leading the NBA in one category ( 3-point percentage - .401, ) the Spurs are still using what made them great by when slowing down to a half court set, they make other teams make the mistakes and capitalize.

  San Antonio without a doubt is the most playoff tested team in the NBA. Approaching their 14th straight playoff appearance and seeking a 5th NBA Championship in 12 season, Vegas and the NBA alike can't overlook the Spurs.

Dallas Mavericks

Last chance for Dirk?
  The Dallas Mavericks are a complicated team. With age and window of opportunity appearing to close, this seems to be the "all in" season for Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and even enigmatic owner Mark Cuban. Continuing to shoot at high percentages ( T-3rd in NBA - .475 ), the Mavericks can score with any team in the NBA, the Achilles for years past has been the lack of defensive intensity. They rank at the bottom of the league in steals (24), and blocks (22), while fairing to make the top part of the league in rebounding (17). The acquisition of Brandon Haywood and Tyson Chandler, the Mavs have made their best efforts to deepen the frontcourt for a matchup with L.A.

  I wouldn't be surprised if they made the Western Conference Finals depending on the seating breakdown. If they have to play L.A. or San Antonio to get there, then I see another great season down the tubes in an early round again for Dallas.

Los Angeles Lakers

  The 2-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers. Are a 3 seed. Seems on the surface that they do not appear to have the same caliber of hunger that propelled them past Oklahoma City, when it seemed as if their chips were down. And even more the perseverance that outlasted a gritty Boston in seven games for it's second back-to-back NBA title.

  You could also chalk it up to boredom, looking at the fact that they went 57-25 en route to title #2, going 12-10 in the final two months leading into the playoffs. With a rejuvenated Andrew Bynum, a consistent domination on both sides of the ball from Pau Gasol ( 18pts, 10reb, 1.6bpg, ) the length and versatility of X-Factor Lamar Odom, Zen-Master and Daniel-son puppeteering from Phil and Kobe, and trying to get Ron Artest to do his best on court Dennis Rodman impersonation, the Lakers can make the regular season an afterthought with another championship. Much like last season.

  As I See It, the Lakers are still the team to be beat in the NBA. Period.

Oklahoma City Thunder

  Which makes the next team, Oklahoma City Thunder, a difficult case in the way things shake down in the west. With the undoubted best scorer in the league in forward Kevin Durant ( 28ppg ) and easily argued top 5 point guard in Russel Westbrook ( 22ppg, 8.2apg, ) the Thunder bode to be the biggest pest for the big 3 teams in the West. Trading Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, OKC has now added depth in the backcourt and beefed up the frontcourt

Denver Nuggets

  Which segway's nicely into the 5th seed, the Denver Nuggets. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard at least a aesthetics of the Melo' drama that stunk up the NBA until after the all star break when he was traded to New York for Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Timofev Mozgov. Losing their perennial scorer and the most underrated point guard in the NBA, Denver to the outside seemed to be doomed to slide out of playoff contention and into rebuilding oblivion. Not the case, the Nuggets have gone 7-2 since trading Melo away and are the scariest team for anyone to face in both the first and second rounds.

  P.S. Do you think that Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson aren't getting a kick out of playing with each other? And George Karl HATES superstars, this might just be a blessing in disguise...

Bottom of the Heap...

  •   The New Orleans Hornets would be the most scrutinized team in the NBA if they win past the second round. Partially because they have no team, and the other is they are owned by the NBA. Point Guard Chris Paul is undoubtedly on his way out of N.O. in this upcoming free agency period and the status of the franchise in general could quite likely be in jeopardy. But a miraculous playoff could change all that. 

  • The Portland Trailblazers have been the most heartbreaking story in the NBA for the past decade. Seeming to be annually plagues by injury and  missing expectations, doubled by busted draft picks and being burned by the picks they missed. But for some reason throughout all it's adversity they seem to be somewhere around the helms of playoff contention consistently. The declining physical health of All-Star guard Brandon Roy, with the burst onto the spotlight of replacement Wesley Matthews, plus the acquisition of double/double machine Gerald Wallace, makes the Blazers the most confusing team in this playoff race. As I See It, the Blazers should comfortably assume the 7th seed in the West and exhaust either the Lakers or Mavericks before making an early exit.
  • The Memphis Grizzlies are young and talented. They are not a complete basketball team however, depending on 1-on-1 play and hoping Z-Bo picks up the garbage. They will more than likely play the Spurs in the 1st round. So the story for the Grizzlies pretty much ends there.

  As I See It, the west will shake down traditionally. The Spurs will play the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers will win in 7. Come in an emotionally and physically drained team against a young and hungry Chicago Bulls team. They take it to six games, and Phil Jackson will be hoisted by his own petard when the team he won his first six titles with ( Chicago ) takes his second sixth away.

  All in all, greatness is made in the postseason. The Bulls have yet to prove worthiness of beating L.A., not even San Antonio. But by the way they have played both teams this season and the way the seating seems to be playing out in the NBA, it's not a far fetch to say this might be the series that gets dealt. You might say it's a dream, but it's the most realistic dream that has yet to end. Keep holding good teams to low scoring and that's all the recipe you need to win in April.

  As Charles Barkley said best.. " I may be wrong, but I doubt it!"

Thursday, March 3, 2011

As I See It: No More Mr. Nice Guy ( Bulls Eastern Conference Playoff Outlook )

  It is that time of year ladies and gentlemen, the time where the line in the sand gets drawn. Seeds are planted and champions are grown. Playoff positioning. None other like that in the National Basketball Association. Undoubtedly no other league has a better postseason. In each series teams that fans salivate over meeting in the regular season battle it out to a maximum total of 7 games and at least 4 games. I'm getting goosebumps writing about it!

  So let's take a look at this year's Chicago Bulls playoff situation. It can be comfortably assumed, that given their current Conference standings that they will make the playoffs. As reported, the Bulls have found their missing link for depth at the shooting guard position with signing 6'7'' SG Rasual Butler, bought out by the Los Angeles Clippers after the trade deadline.

  Rasual Butler has scored 44% of his points against Eastern Conference teams at .333 from the 3-pt line. In his last two games he's averaged 16 minutes and 5.5 points per game. A significant added bonus, given that the Bulls are currently a top-tier defense with a middle-of-the-road offense (20th overall scoring.) Butler's last game played for the Clippers against the defending NBA Champion Lakers, he was 2-4 from the 3-pt range for 6 points, a rebound and an assist. This all in 18 minutes played.

  If he shoots at anything near the same percentage as he has in seasons past, than the addition of Butler to the Bulls roster instantly makes them Finals contenders. Coach Tom Thibideau has already expressed to Butler what his intentions are for him on the team-- wait for your opportunity and seize it. With Thib's emphasis on defense, the added length at the 2 spot with flexibility to play the 3/4, and the Bull's opportunistic position in the Eastern Conference standings, Butlers role could pay huge dividends in the push for playoff seeding. Matching up with the long Lakers and big Celtics

  If the playoffs were to start today (a reference I usually care not to address..) this is how the matchups would look:

  Eastern Conference
  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Miami Heat
  3. Chicago Bulls
  4. Orlando Magic
  5. Atlanta Hawks
  6. Philadelphia 76'ers
  7. New York Knicks
  8. Indiana Pacers

  The Boston Celtics have traded away their junk-yard dog post presence in Kendrick Perkins, and sparky Nate Robinson, for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Looking to get bigger for a potential matchup against Orlando ( Dwight Howard, Brandon Bass, ) or a rematch against the Lakers ( Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom.) It has yet to be written if that move strengthened the No. 1 defense in the NBA, but essentially the move was made primarily for the playoffs and secondarily for playoff seeding. They currently hold the series advantage against the Bulls at 2-1. In the entirety of those games there is only a 6 point differential between the scores. With both teams the top 1 and 2 defenses in the NBA, the Boston Celtics are undoubtedly the Chicago Bulls biggest foe in the playoffs besides the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference.

  The Miami Heat are the brightest dark horse in dark horse history. Assembled this recent summer of future Hall of Famers and NBA Champions, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh all signed contracts this summer to form a "Super Friends Championship Factory" in South Beach. Things thus far have gone according to plan, with a few bumps in the road along the way. In a 3-way race with Boston and Chicago for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the Heat are learning to play as a team as the season unfolds. I have them locked for a championship. Just not this season. They will either see New York or Orlando in the 2nd round and that is all she wrote...

  The Orlando Magic have been there, done that. They have been to the NBA Finals, only to lose to Lakers for their first taste of post-Shaq championship blood. They have done the playoff fight, only to fail at the grail. They are without a doubt all in this season with Dwight Howard on the tail end of his contract and observing the current climate of the NBA, with CBA's looming and stars teaming up. To win now is an understatement, so the Magic have rebuilt. Unlike the Celtics the Orlando Magic went for perimeter scoring, bringing in former Magic F Hedo Turkoglu, and swingmen G Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas. Making the Eastern Conference one of the deepest its been in recent years.

  Exit Philadelphia and Atlanta, enter The New York Knicks. That's right, the New York Knicks are playoff contenders. It almost sounds naughty coming off the tongue. Feels like you should wash your mouth out with soap. But with Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire headlining the Big Applegangers at Madison Square, it will be the hardest three games a team will have to win away in the second round.

  If the Knicks get anything resembling Galinari and Felton as a supporting cast in Landry Fields and Anthony Carter, then they will definitely be on upset alert when teams like Miami, Orlando, and Boston come up in the first or second round. New York should settle in nicely at the fifth seed, playing the likely loser of the first seed battle between Boston, Miami, and Chicago.
 The NEW York Knicks

  This is looking to shape up to be one of the greatest NBA playoffs in history. And looks to create future rivalries for years to come. The Beasts in the East vs The Black Mamba's quest for 6 kills. The newly built Knicks and the quest for a reemergence of the Garden, the ageless Spurs and their modernized uptempo system, the new playoff look Thunder and Kevin Durant's catalyst into NBA supremacy.

  Through all this pressure the Bulls have remained unaltered. Beating the NBA's best and proving that they should be feared in the postseason. But at the end of the day we all know what talks, and what walks. So stay tuned to see how this one shapes up!