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TODAY

Thursday, November 23

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Bears in Five - Black Monday
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends

Man. What a terrible day. You slowly realize, the morning after a Bears playoff loss, that that's it. No more meaningful football. None. Six months until training camp. Which means nine months until the next game. That's practically a year. That's it. Nothing to look forward to. No more excuses not to go to church with the family on Sunday, no more reasons to force yourself to sober up before 3pm after a rough Saturday night, no more Bears. NO MORE BEARS! It's almost too much to take. But we can at least be heartened by the fact that the Bears made great strides this year, and almost every starter is returning next year, battle-hardened and (hopefully) wiser. That doesn't make today hurt any less, but unlike Cubs fans, we can say, "Next year," and that actually means something.

One: Who Are Those 11 Other Guys? Oh Yeah, "De-fense."
What the heck, man. Where was the defense? Where oh where? Giving up about 500 yards against a good but not amazing offense is absolutely inexcusable when your entire team is designed to capitalize on turnovers, good field positions and low scoring affairs. The defense basically forced the offense to play a game they hadn't played all year, setting the Bears up to fail. We could go point-by-point through the defense to discuss where they failed, but we're in too much pain. So let's leave it at this: they didn't tackle, they didn't cover, they didn't pressure, they didn't get their hands up, they weren't disciplined, and they utterly failed to dominate. Bad, bad, bad all around. Their offense gave them 21 points, and that should have been more than enough in a game where the oddsmakers had the Over/Under at 30.

Two: Paging Mr. Peanut
The Bears' number one corner, Charles "Peanut" Tillman played a more or less disastrous game. He made some good plays and had some bad calls go against him, but really, he could not match up against Panthers superstar receiver Steve Smith. He also absolutely blew his coverage of Panthers tight end Kris Mangum on a touchdown pass, a blown assignment that was completely his fault. A few costly penalties and a botched interception added to Peanut's woes. He's been somewhat inconsistent all year, but we still think he'll make a fine corner next year as he grows. This was only his third year, after all. But in a game when he needed to step up, he didn't. Some of that falls to Ron Rivera, the Bears' defensive coordinator, for not calling for switch-ups by Peanut and Nate Vasher, who should have been shifting to cover Smith, who was playing the 1, the 2 and the slots. We needed Mr. Peanut, and he didn't deliver. Ouch.

Three: Don't Sell Wolf Tickets
Adewale Ogunleye made a sort of nonsensical comment about the Panthers not deserving their preseason praise, and half-predicted (kind of) a repeat of the dominating D-line performance when the Bears and Panthers met the first time this year. He was selling wolf tickets and then tried to backtrack on it, and the Bears D-line barely registered on Sunday, stuffing the run and failing completely to put real pressure on Jake DelHomme, which subsequently allowed Smith to run complete routes and get open deep in the secondary. It was a good, but not great, effort, and definitely not anything upon which wolf tickets should be sold.

Four: Believe It Or Not, Thank Goodness For Jerry Angelo
Bears GM Jerry Angelo has gotten a lot of guff for his job performance, especially through the draft, but the Noble Street Headquarters are big fans. The entire starting defense, which is quite young, is signed at least through the end of the 2006 season, and most of them are signed through 2007; furthermore, most of the offensive starters are coming back, too, and the offensive line should have at least another year together to grow. So given these factors, there's no reason not to expect a repeat performance by the Bears next year, but better. That, of course, assumes no major injuries. If there was an award for "Best GM of the Last Two Years, Relative To Contract Length While Staying Under the Salary Cap," we'd award it to Angelo.

Five: That's Right, It's His Era
The Bears defense put a lot of pressure on the offense — unfortunately, it was their own offense. God bless 'em, they really stepped up and showed something. Against the third best defense in the league they put up 21 points, through the air and on the ground, and kept the ball moving. Rex Grossman showed immense maturity for somebody who has only played in eight NFL games, and only six quarters in about 400 days. He avoided the rush well, escaping defenders and getting rid of the ball without making stupid errors that would have resulted in turnovers. The Bears rushing game was decent, generating almost 100 yards against a good front four in a game where the Bears were behind from start of finish. The offensive line provided pretty good pass protection, and when they didn't, Rex was poised. His one interception was a stupid mistake, but not a hanging offense and nothing that shouldn't be expected in the course of a playoff game. Rather than excoriating him, as many are doing on this Black Monday after the Bears loss, fans should be quite hopeful after what he showed, especially if he can stay healthy all next year. Sexy Rexy could be the real thing, and there will be no end to listening to the Noble Street Guys saying, "We Told Ya So."

We'll be back occasionally in the off-season when its relevant, and we will be doing semi-regular podcasts over at Bearscast.com. Until then, Bears Fans, cheer for the Steelers: because Pittsburgh is a good blue-collar town with Chicago-esque fans. Don't be down: we can only get better with this squad.

 

Bulls in Five - Our Narrator Returns
by Jason Maslanka

I've learned my lesson, and I'm sorry. I know that My vacation ruined the Bulls. When I left you last, the Bulls were 8-8 on the young season, with ups and downs abound, but plenty to be hopeful for. During my absence we saw an extended losing streak, strange lineups, no exciting trades and a tumble to deep last place. As every good sports fan knows, the actions of individual fans do affect the team's performance. Whether it be my mistake of not wearing my lucky Bears' hat with fuzzy ball on top on Sunday or the hiatus from this column, I apologize, Chicago. Luckily for the superstitious ones, I'm here to stay. Here we go, Bulls... get back on track.

One: How Bad Is It?
Oh, it's bad, but in terms of the playoff hunt, it's surprisingly fine. After the heart-wrenching loss to Indiana with Ben Gordon's winner coming 0.1 seconds too late, the Bulls sat at 15-21, a frightening 15 games behind Detroit and last place in the Central Division by 4.5 games. Luckily, the Eastern Conference is incredibly mediocre from the middle down and the quickly descending Bulls find themselves only 1.5 games behind Washington for the 8th playoff spot. Summarily, the Bulls just need to win games and they'll still make the NBA Playoffs. The trouble may be the winning games part.

Two: At Small Forward... Kirk Hinrich?
Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Scott Skiles. I think he is the main reason the Bulls turned around last year and will continue to for years to come. I also understand that desperate times call for desperate messures. I just can't understand what would cause someone to play your point guard of the present and future, Hinrich, at small forward. Not only is Hinrich listed at 6'3", way too short for an NBA forward, but he's one of the better point guards in the league. I understand that Chris Duhon is a terrific point guard. I understand that Ben Gordon is an explosive scorer. But I also understand that Kirk Hinrich must be the starting point guard for this team to win.

Threeeeee: Recent Wins
It's no surprise to me, then, that the recent three-game winning streak was fostered by great games from Hinrich. Leading the team in scoring each game, he had more than five assists as well. When he's comfortable, he runs the team with few flaws, getting the best out of what is realistically a short team with less talent than everyone else in their division. There's no room for error with a team like this. They have to minimize turnovers, take good shots and box out. If this mantra sounds like something your 7th grade coach taught you, that's because it is. Hinrich is the only player who can make that happen consistently as the floor general.

Four: Letdown Quarter
In Saturday's one-point loss to Indiana, the Bulls' other most glaring problem came to light again. It seems as though every loss offers one terrible quarter of basketball. On Saturday it was the third. Up eight at halftime, they scored only 17 points in the third quarter. In this case, it forced the less talented team (Chicago) to play catch-up in the fourth quarter against the more talented team (Indiana). This is a recipe for disaster that has been cooked up one too many times this season.

Five: Live-Blogging the Denver Game
Trying something a little different today, in honor of me not having to work and getting to watch the afternoon Bulls-Denver game, I'll post my comments at the end of each quarter.

End of the 1st — It's an ugly start with a 7-0 Denver run, but followed with a 10-0 Bulls' run. The defense looks great and Michael Sweetney has 6 rebounds. I like this rotation right now: Gordon starting, Duhon backing up Hinrich, Songaila offering scoring from the bench, Chandler as a 10th man until he starts playing well. I just don't believe that Chandler should be handed the center role because he makes a large paycheck. He needs to play better, consistently. Other than the two fouls on Hinrich, this was a perfect quarter. Bulls lead 31-22. Random game note: Andres Nocioni leads the NBA in three point percentage.

End of the 2nd — Carmello Anthony isn't a superstar. He's a crybaby. Kenyon Martin cannot shoot the ball. If you haven't seen 5'5" Earl Boykins play, however, it's a wonder. How someone that short can be this good is impressive. That's enough about the Nuggets, though. The Bulls just seem to have a terrific flow today. The Bulls' bench is back to its terrific play, outscoring Denver's 23-4 with 8:15 left. Hinrich is on fire. He's making my notes above look genius. This quarter started even better than the first; the biggest lead was 18, but ends at 10, 53-43. Random game note: The NBA has been playing Martin Luther King Day matinees for a few years now as a tribute. Many NBA teams have activities associated with the day honoring the tremendous doctor.

End of the 3rd — The dreaded third quarter starts with a 5-0 Denver run. How typical. If the Bulls can make it out of the third alive, this team is very beatable. It's the Othella Harrington show, scoring the first 7 points. Michael Sweetney still has 6 rebounds (not good). Andre Miller just reminded me that I always wonder if the NBA will ever adopt traveling as being against the rules. Songaila missed a shot. It's rare these days and a testament to how well he's been playing. Not only were the Bulls outscored in the third quarter, they lost their 10 point lead and trail 77-76. It's amazing how predictable this has become. Random game note: You can get kicked out of the United Center if you're caught smoking anywhere inside.

End of the 4th — Oh, it's the 4th Quarter, we can play well again. I swear that's how the Bulls think. They start the quarter with an 8-0 run. Hinrich has had three terrific out-of-bounds saves in this game. You cannot question his try. This is one of those NBA quarters where no one scores. Well, a few clutch shots by Denver, missed calls by the referees and an Earl Watson three make for another heartbreaker. Bulls lose 97-94. Random game note: From the seemingly never-changing department, the Bulls get no respect from officials again. In this game, Carmello Anthony made more free throws than the Bulls attempted. Maybe his crybaby act worked. He had 19 points on free throws alone. Ugh.

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About the Author(s)

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he plans to execute a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions, and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com

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