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Wednesday, November 14

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Bulls in Five - Defying Logic
by Jason Maslanka

Any chance I had of understanding this Bulls team went out the window during the March Madness respite. The last Bulls in Five, dated March 7th, had the Bulls at 26-33, sitting 3 games out of the final playoff spot. Since then, they've gone 5-6, sit at 31-39 and are only 1.5 games out of that eighth spot. I could probably make a logical argument for losing, but I won't do that. I'll make it this simple: there are 12 games left. Maybe they'll make the playoffs. They also might not.

One: Shake It Up, Baby
After last week's four game losing streak, Scott Skiles decided to try one last thing before giving up on the playoffs. He removed Ben Gordon and Tyson Chandler from the starting lineup. He inserted second-half bench staple Michael Sweetney into the lineup, and replaced Malik Allen with Andres Nocioni. Amazingly enough, it worked. Gordon, who had scored in single digits multiple times in the past weeks, scored 25 and they defeated Oklahoma City 96-82. On Sunday, Gordon scored 13 in the fourth quarter, off the bench, and they defeated Boston 101-97.

Two: Speaking of Logic
It would seem, based on this small sample, that Ben Gordon is best suited to come off the bench. You'll hear that argument over and over again as the season comes to a close, and it makes perfect sense. But is it true? No one talked about Gordon as a bench player when he was throwing up 30 points a night in February. It's more reasonable to consider that Gordon expends so much energy every night to make up for his lack of size that he's just tired. It's the time of the year when no one gets a break, but Big Shot Ben needs one. If he doesn't pull it together, he'll get that rest on April 19th, the last day of the regular season.

Threeeeee: Now's Your Chance
These Bulls couldn't ask for a better week than this one upcoming. If they want to partake in the playoffs, they'll need to beat the awful teams. This week has them lined up. Any team that can't beat Charlotte, Boston and Orlando doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs, and while these Bulls have shown they're undeserving more than enough times this year, they still have a shot. Even one loss this week could make things difficult. Despite whatever they do this week, the season may come down to next week when they play the 76ers, the team they're chasing, twice. It's a race of who loses less, folks. It doesn't get much better than that.

Four: March Draft Camp
No matter what goes on with the end of the season, I always keep one eye on the Knicks' miserable record and the possible number one draft pick the Bulls will be taking from them this June. The NCAA tournament featured a sneak peak at some of the possible top picks you could see in red next year. The most obvious high pick is Adam Morrison, Gonzaga Junior, who certainly knows how to cry. Morrison's sour face at the end of UCLA's unbelievable comeback soured me on him as a pro. Now I know a few tears shouldn't make a difference in his game, but his soft defense, lack of killer instinct and ridiculous mustache could make him only a mediocre NBA player. The Bulls need impact. J.J. Reddick, of Duke, is another top college player who won't be an impact pro. He'll be good, a terrific shooter and a tough all-around player, but he lacks the quickness to do the things he does at Duke against NBA guards. You look fast when you play Southern University. You look slow when you chase Sebastian Telfair around. It'll be an interesting draft, probably the worst in years, which is just the Bulls' luck, but a high pick is a high pick... even Morrison would help this Bulls team be squarely in the playoff picture, not eight games under .500.

Five: March in One
The Chicago connections are long gone, Bradley's dance ended last week, and we're left with only four teams in the NCAA tournament. Florida started the season amazingly and has seemingly pulled that early season success back together. LSU has a monster patrolling the middle for them, and UCLA sure knows how to win ugly. The fourth team, the Cinderella of all Cinderellas, George Mason has surprised everyone for weeks. Who really knows what they can do? I didn't think they'd get out of the first round. Others didn't even think they'd make the tournament after losing to Hofstra twice in the last weeks of the regular season. I was impressed with their Elite Eight run but knew there was no way they could beat Uconn. I then was amazed at the tie score at the end of regulation but figured they couldn't beat Uconn in overtime. Well, they did all those things, and who's to say they won't win the National Championship? It's an amazing story, really, so enjoy it. My pick: still UCLA, who I took before the whole thing started.

Standings Update: The Bulls (31-39) sit 1.5 games behind Philadelphia (32-37) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

 

Cubs in Five - Glimmers of Hope, Part 1: Pitchers
by Jeff Webber

Last time we did a Cubs in Five, I was unable to resist the urge to pee all over optimistic playoff hopes like so many Addison alleyways after gametime. And yeah, I am still going on record, even before the first game is played: this probably isn't our year. That said, there are some reasons for optimism on the North Side. And since it's pitching that's already breaking our hearts, we'll spend this week looking past the big names on the marquee to the lesser-known pitchers who have a chance to make a big impact on the 2006 Cubs.

And now, the good news.

One: Angel Guzman's Arm Is Still Attached to His Body
Furthermore, Guzman's shoulder is intact, his wrist is still functional, and his forearm, as best we know, has yet to explode and fly off of his body. Guzman, who missed nearly all of the 2005 season, and half of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, finally looks healthy. This isn't to say he's all that impressive — yet. Matter of fact, in 11 innings of spring work so far, he has struck out only four and walked an appalling seven. But if Guzman can avoid injury, and if he can regain control of his four — count 'em, four — strike-out quality major league pitches, we may be too busy watching the emergence of a superstar to look in on the hospital reports of some surly cracker from Texas.

Two: That Jerkoff Kid Who Killed the Bird Is All Grown Up and Quietly Earning a Bullpen Spot
Once best known as for intentionally hitting an endangered osprey with a baseball, Ryu has spent the last three years keeping his head down, his mouth shut, and his head in the game. These days, he's on the verge of becoming better-known as "power-pitching Cubs reliever Jae Kuk Ryu." After striking out 12 and walking only two in 11 innings of work this spring, the 22 year-old is a leading contender for the back end of the Cubs' bullpen. Expect his debut to spark at least one hatchet-job article in the back of the Sun Times (I'm looking at you, Jay Mariotti) and some scattered boos. But once fans get a load of the wicked sink on his fastball and his hard-won new maturity, those "Ryu" jerseys are going to stop popping up around the bleachers shortly afterward.

Three: Meet Your 2006 Cubs Broken-Down Pitcher Reclamation Project: Wade Miller
Onetime Astros stud Wade Miller quietly signed with the Cubs this offseason for a modest $1 million. (Only in professional sports is $1 million modest.) The Cubs see it as extra depth for their beleaguered starting rotation. Miller sees it as a chance to make a high profile sales pitch for his next big money free agent contract. In any case, Miller is coming off of significant shoulder surgery and is actually about 10 days behind Kerry Wood in his injury rehab, according to the latest reports. Still, rooting for a once-successful twentysomething to recapture his former consistency and success (Miller won 45 games between '01 and '03) should be a nice switch from hoping that our erratic would-be aces escape their crazy voodoo bad luck. Miller was once seen as a serious threat to win 20 games. He won't do it this year, but he might rack up seven to 10 impressive wins in the second half.

Four: 2005 Cubs Broken-Down Pitcher Reclamation Project: Scott Williamson
For several years, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry has made a habit of sifting through the free agent scrap heap and giving a chance to a once-successful pitcher coming off major surgery. The most famous of these is Cubs closer Ryan Dempster, signed to such a deal before the 2004 season. This year's project is the aforementioned Wade Miller. Last year's project, Scott Williamson, is finally ready to pay dividends. Once the premier setup man in baseball, Williamson has quietly worked his way back to health as a Cub, notching eight strikeouts in just over eight innings of work this spring. If Williamson — still only 30 — can prove to be the late inning rock for Chicago that he once was for Cincinnati, then that big money deal for Bobby Howry to pitch the 8th inning is going to look even more ridiculous.

Five: Learn This Name: Sean Marshall
Angel Guzman and 2005 #1 pick Mark Pawelek might be the most talented arms in the Cubs farm system, but it's more likely that Sean Marshall will be the next Cubs pitcher to make a splash. At a lanky 6'6", Marshall might have the look of a power pitcher, but he's actually more of a control artist, impressive enough that one scout reportedly remarked, "This kid could hit a dime from 60 feet away." Although he's been deadly in spring training, allowing not one single run in 10 innings of work and striking out eight, that heralded control of his has been MIA. He's walked six. Even so, the Cubs are high on Marshall. He'll start the year in AAA Iowa, but you can expect him to see him within the first half, filling in for whichever Cub starter is suddenly injured, aching or stricken with a flesh-eating virus.

Next week, potential surprise position players for the 2006 Cubs.

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Comments

Ralph / March 28, 2006 8:38 AM

Big Shot Ben? Please. You need to hit big shots in MULITPLE playoff series to qualify for a name like that.

Jason / March 28, 2006 1:15 PM

That nickname comes from last year's regular season, where, if you recall, Ben helped this team get to the playoffs.

In the context of this article, it was tongue in cheek.

 

About the Author(s)

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.

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to cubs@gapersblock.com.

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