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Tuesday, May 21

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Bears in Five - "For Real"
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends

So at the end of every game, the pundits and geniuses at the Noble Street League Headquarters guess what the buzzphrase of the footballiterati is going to be about the Bears. Our guess: "These Bears are for real." Within thirty minutes of the Bears victory, we heard that phrase, or some variation thereof, 12 times. Within 24 hours, we heard it an aggregate of 40 times. Guess what? This Bears team is for real. The defense is not just good — it's dominating, basically choosing to do what it wants. In order to cope with the Panthers' big-play capability and great-in-streaks quarterback Jake DelHomme, the Bears knew they'd have to get an impressive pass rush from their front four. So defensive coordinator Ron "Chico" Rivera waved his magic headset and voila! Eight sacks, all from the Bears front four, which means they didn't have to blitz, which means they could keep seven players in some kind of coverage. The running game did what it had to do. Orton gets better each week. Only one question remains: whose going to do the Gary Fencik dance in "Superbowl Shuffle '06"?

One: A whole sack full of pain.
If you honestly thought that the Bear's defensive line would record eight sacks against the Carolina Panthers, you knew something no one else did. Especially when you factor in that the Panthers had only allowed 12 sacks going into Sunday's contest. This wasn't just any eight-sack performance either; this was an eight-sack performance by the line. Everyone contributed, from Ogunleye's three sacks to Michael Haynes and Alfonso Boone. This group dominated the Panthers' offensive line. And what about Alex "Pro Bowl" Brown? He played his typical game, but managed to make it onto the stat sheet for once. Maybe now he'll start to get the recognition he deserves.

Two: Did you know that Justin Gage played wide receiver?
Apparently Justin Gage is a wide receiver. A seven-catch performance on Sunday reminded many of that. It seemed as if he caught every ball thrown his way. It appears that he might be the answer to the nagging question of who should line up opposite Muhsin Muhammad. Long term he is not, but Gage definitely proved his worth against the Panthers. Given that Kyle Orton didn't appear too willing to spread the ball around — only three different receivers recorded receptions — the value of Justin Gage is at an all time high.

Three. The forecast is calling for clearing skies and a 100% chance of playoffs.
After lining up against one of the so-called elite teams in the NFC and effectively handing their asses to them, the Bears are starting to raise a lot of eyebrows. We're already sick of hearing about how this team "is for real" and other tired clichés. There is seemingly only one, maybe two, test(s) remaining this season: the Pittsburgh Steelers and perhaps the Atlanta Falcons. Combine this with the fact that three of the remaining six games are against the Packers and Vikings and it could be smooth sailing to a first round bye in the playoffs.

Four: Whatever happened to the good old days, or, "You think you so tough... put a jersey on!"
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense isn't what it used to be. True, the next Bear opponent still has a very imposing group and poses a challenge for almost every offense. But this is not the dominant force that it was in the late '90s and early part of this decade. And far less entertaining. The Buccaneers are missing one key ingredient: Warren Sapp and his mouth. While they still have an impressive defensive tackle (and incredible name) in Booger McFarland they don't have a showman like they did in Sapp. That man's mouth was the heart of their defense and gave them the swagger that all good defense's need.

Five. You guys are cutting it kind of close.
We're getting a little worried. The Bears are going to the Super Bowl and we haven't received any of the information we're going to need to cover it properly. Information, you ask? You know, our press credentials for the Super Bowl. Flight plans, hotel reservations, an itinerary for media days. You figure that a well run, organized publication like Gapers Block would have secured all of this and gotten us our information months ago. Unless Gapers Block is too cheap to send us to the Super Bowl. And doesn't have that kind of clout. Maybe we're just dreamers. Never mind.

Bulls in Five - I Hate the Circus
by Jason Maslanka

I'll start by saying that circuses are great for kids. The clowns, elephants and trapeze artists amaze the children, and even some adults. Circuses, however, are not great for Chicago's NBA team. Last year, the Bulls defeated Utah to finally get a win on the so-called "circus trip," the Bulls' annual six-game West Coast road trip while the circus is at the United Center. This year's trip started just as poorly, getting destroyed by Golden State before losing a tough one to Portland and choking away the fourth quarter against Seattle on Friday. This team doesn't look good yet, but it certainly doesn't look bad.

One: Beating Kobe is Fun
It may only have been one win on a miserable road trip, but the 96-93 win over the Lakers Sunday night was more fulfilling than beating the Warriors, Blazers or Sonics anyway. The combination of watching Phil Jackson lose and Kobe Bryant try to carry a team of 10 men is terrific. It's not that I don't like Phil Jackson; I just feel that he doesn't deserve all the credit he gets. I'll be amazed if he can drag this crew into the playoffs. Bryant did everything in his power, scoring 43 to more than double the Bulls' leading scorer, Chris Duhon. Duhon showed a shooting stroke we haven't seen all year, however, hitting seven of 12 shots, including five threes. He needs to continue to shoot well as the Bulls' offense allows him more open shots than anyone else on the floor.

Two: Slow Starts or Finishes
It seems like this team can't put together a full 48 minutes. The beginning of the year featured slow starts. Now, they seem to want to finish slow. The Sonics outscored the Bulls 65-40 en route to their 98-84 win on Friday in ugly fashion. If this continues, it could be the result of this team lacking star power. In the NBA, crunch time is for the All-Stars. The Nets go to Vince Carter. The Celtics go to Paul Pierce. The Bulls can go to an inconsistent Ben Gordon, a streaky Kirk Kinrich or an undersized Michael Sweetney. Finishing a game is the one place that star power is a glaring weakness for the Bulls. With six players averaging double figures scoring, however, someone needs to step up and solidify the final quarter.

Threeeeee: The Three Spot
The small forward position, or 3 in technical terms, continues to be a blessing many didn't see coming for the Bulls. Between Andres Nocioni, the current starter, and Luol Deng, the positions account for an average of nearly 25 points and 10 rebounds each game. Those numbers rival the best small forwards in the league, and while the two sometimes play concurrently, their different skill sets discussed last week make for an impressive tandem. Forget the dog house, unless Tim Thomas learns to play center, he won't play again. Oh, that's right, he has demanded to play or be traded. Here's my position on that: if you're good, you play. If you're slow, take stupid shots and play 5 inches smaller than you are, you don't. Tim Thomas reminds me of Eddie Robinson: well-paid and annoying.

Four: I Told You So
I don't like to say I told you so, but I did. In this case, it's best for all Bulls' fans that I was right. Michael Sweetney is better than Eddy Curry. Despite being probably 5 inches shorter than Curry, Sweetney has used his wide body to dominate the interior like Curry could only dream of. With three double-doubles (at least 10 points, 10 rebounds) in this last three games, Sweetney has moved into the starting lineup — probably to stay — and put himself in the company of very few power forwards in the NBA. One of those few has won a few championships lately in San Antonio. Now, I'm not comparing Sweetney to Duncan as they're very different players, but you can't argue statistical success. Sweetney uses his body as well as anyone I've seen in recent years and has a nice 15 foot jumper to complement the inside pounding. It's a good thing Isiah Thomas made a lot of money as a player. He won't last long as management. For reference, Curry has a total of 12 rebounds in his last three games.

Five: Weekly Preview
The Bulls have an empty week for Thanksgiving, but play back to back nights in Texas this weekend. They've taken San Antonio to overtime already this year but will be lucky to repeat that feat on the road against the World Champs. Houston, on Saturday, is a tough game to call. The Rockets have started horribly at 3-7. With the talent on the roster, it's been a terrible disappointment, and don't be surprised to hear the Jeff Van Gundy "bye-bye" rumors start up. Tracy McGrady might be the most talented player in the NBA; he might also be the least effective at helping his team win. Yao Ming has shown flashes of toughness, but still lacks the killer instinct to just dunk over everyone in the NBA at 7'6". If the Bulls finish their trip with a win and a loss, it's an accomplishment. They haven't won two games during the circus since 1970... or so it feels.

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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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