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Saturday, July 20

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Bears in Five

Wobbling Toward the Playoffs
by the Bearscast.com Staff

One: Overtime?!
Did anyone actually think that Sunday's game between the Bears and the Buccaneers was going to be close? We didn't at all. It's hard to imagine, but the offense really won this game. The first half was played beautifully on both sides of the ball. And in the second half, instead of icing the game as they normally do, the defense stopped playing. OK, they didn't actually stop playing. But letting Tampa back into that game is not something a championship defense would do. The Buccaneers scored three fourth quarter touchdowns through the air. We're definitely upset about Tim Rattay lighting it up. But the Bears won the game and all is well. No worries.

Two: Hopefully, This Is the Real One
Rex Grossman played his second consecutive game without a turnover. Rex Grossman will not be the subject of a quarterback controversy for the second week in a row. What part of the game is this? Overtime. Time to prove it and be perfect. Sexy Rexy — or as we shall call him now, Touchdownasaurus Rex — can make no more mistakes for the rest of the season. Because it's not "Playa Hating" in the '07, cousins, it's PI — Pass Interference, Automatic First Down. To quote one of the Greatest Of All Time 20-word definition of a player hater: "The reason why you hate me so bad is because you love me too much, or don't love yourself enough." And all you Chicago sportswriters, that's sick.

Three: The Tight End Position is a Thing
Desmond Clark, tight end, Chicago Bears.

Who was the last tight end to have over 100 yards receiving in a game until Mr. Clark accomplished the feat on Sunday? Emory Moorehead. In 1986. That was actually quite a while ago, when you think about it. For example, nobody who writes this column was old enough to be capable of fathering a child the last time a Bears tight end had over 100 yard receiving in a game. So if we had been so happy about it that we wanted to procreate, we would have been unable to. Creepy, isn't it.

Four: Homebodies
The Bears will play their last road game of the season on Sunday in Detroit against the Lions. Their last road game until the Super Bowl, that is. For the first time since the advent of the six-team playoffs, the Bears have clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. So as they say, "the road goes through Chicago," except, you know, they've never said "Chicago," they've said other cities like Philadelphia or St. Louis or Phoenix. Wait, no, never Phoenix either. So there's another reason Chicago is better than Phoenix. See? This column provides you with mad knowledge.

Five: Tank Johnson and the Tower of Terror
We hope everything works out well for you and we are sorry to hear about the loss of one of your close friends. But, c'mon, what were you thinking? You absolutely do not need to own a Desert Eagle in Lake County. You know where you need to own a Desert Eagle? Kandahar. The Green Zone. Youngstown, Ohio. But not Lake County. We feel for the cat, though — the bodyguard that got wet up at Ice Bar was also his best friend. So in the span of a few days, Tank Johnson was raided by the cops, faces jail time, likely will lose his job (which means a whole lot of lost money) and also lost his best friend. Past the whole "This is really bad for the Bears because losing Tank Johnson and Tommie Harris radically alters their defensive schemes," Tank is a man and as men ourselves we can't imagine have your boy get wet at a club at the time you likely need him most.

Pucks in Five

The Injury Bug Flies Away
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Making Strides
Although Thursday's loss to the rival Detroit Red Wings snapped the Hawks point streak under coach Denis Savard, the week that was can be chalked up as another positive one with victories over St. Louis, Columbus and Colorado. Particularly strong was the win over the Avalanche Sunday, who were four points ahead of the Blackhawks in the conference standings. With six teams within five points of each other jockeying for position for the seventh and eighth seeds, wins over these opponents in December could pay major dividends in March. Even in the loss to the Red Wings, the Blackhawks were making shots on net and creating opportunities, but were unable to net a win, due in equal parts to the still stuck-in-neutral powerplay and the goaltending of Wings goalie Dominick Hasek.

Savard is now 7-1-3 as coach, and the results of the past week have shown the team getting consistently stronger in both the offensive and defensive zones under Savvy's system. With upcoming games this week against division-leading Nashville and a return engagement at Colorado, the Hawks will need to keep playing the caliber of hockey they have been to continue to gain ground in the standings.

Two: Full Health
With the return this week of captain Adrian Aucoin from a groin injury and winger Rene Bourque from a laceration to his throat, the once-depleted Hawks lineup is now nearly back at full-strength. Only center Michael Handzus, who is out for the year, and backup goaltender Patrick Lalime are still off the ice. This bodes well for the Blackhawks, as the lineup that was envisioned at the beginning of the year is now coming to fruition, along with additions like recent free-agent acquisition Peter Bondra. Likewise, as other teams begin to break apart from the physical toll of the game, the Hawks may have the opportunity to pick up extra points with their rested players, so long as the injury bug doesn't strike again.

Three: Wisniewski
One of the strongest players on the ice the past few weeks has been defenseman James Wisniewski, a call-up from Norfolk after the injury to Adrian Aucoin. Wiz has made a solid case for a full-time promotion with his physical play and defensive positioning. In Thursday's game, Wisniewski logged the most minutes of any Hawks player and was consistently in the middle of the action. He was still able to play a large amount of minutes during Aucoin's return on Sunday due to Brent Seabrook being scratched with back spasms, but there will be a glut of defensemen once all are healthy, leaving someone with the short end of the stick. The entire defense has stepped up their play in recent weeks, but given Wisniewski's level of play, a spot should be found for him.

Four: Bondra Banging on the Door
In his first game as a Hawk Tuesday, Peter Bondra showed what he is capable of with a blistering slap shot from the point to spark the team's comeback from a 2-0 deficit. Although still getting his legs and a new system under him, Bondra's powerplay goal was his 499th career tally. With his next goal, Bondra will become only the 35th player in NHL history to notch 500 career goals. Although a new member of the team, 500 goals is a milestone that deserves commendation, and with five of their next six games at the United Center, it's probable that the goal will come on home ice. Here's hoping that when the day comes, the Hawks and the fans honor Bondra with the accolade it deserves.

Five: Happy Holidays
With the Christmas and New Years holidays falling directly on our deadline day, this will most likely be the final Pucks in Five for 2006, barring any major developments. We'll be back ready to start fresh in 2007, and will continue to bring you detailed analysis and up-to-date news on hockey happenings in Chicagoland. Until then, Pucks in Five wishes all its readers, and the Gaper's Block population at large, a safe and happy holiday and New Year.

Bulls in Five

Best of the (L)East?
by Jason Maslanka

One: Eastern Conference Woes
The joke in the title of this week's article has been used a million times recently. The Least-ern Conference references the realization that the West is where all the powerhouse teams play this year... and last year... and the year before that. Come to think of it, despite some championships from Eastern Conference teams recently, the regular season has been dominated by the West in recent years. The start of the '06-'07 NBA season is no different. The Suns, Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks and Jazz are all at least eight games over .500. No Eastern Conference team is that many games over .500 and only five are over the line of mediocrity at all.

Two: To Be the Best
Playoff seedings are all conference based, so beyond bragging rights, only the records of their Eastern peers actually matter for the Bulls. Despite early season circus-based troubles, the current Bulls sit only 1.5 games behind Detroit for the best record in the Eastern Conference. In a year where Miami is scuffling, the Pistons lost their best player to the Bulls, a young Orlando team is leading the Southwest Division, and the Atlantic Division is the biggest joke this side of hockey, the number one record in the East is there for the taking. Whether the Bulls can take it or not has a lot to do with turning around their dismal 4-8 road record.

Threeeeee: Comeback's A Stitch
Saturday night's contest against the incredibly young Atlanta Hawks featured two clutch comebacks for the once-again streaking Bulls. With less than five minutes left in regulation, they were down upwards of nine points. Behind solid free-throw shooting from Andres Nocioni and Ben Wallace, the Bulls tied the game and even had a chance to win in regulation. In overtime, the tired Bulls (on the second night of a back-to-back) fell behind by five, but stormed ahead to stay and won 106-104.

Four: The Death of a Legend
Lamar Hunt, most recently the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, passed away last Wednesday at the age of 74. Hunt was one of the most influential sports owners of all time, influencing the ALF-NFL merger and subsequently being the driving force behind the creation of the Super Bowl. Less known was Hunt's role in bringing Chicago the expansion Bulls in 1966. The inaugural season of the Bulls found the team at 33-48, a decent record for an expansion team. Hunt was the last living original owner of the team. He will be missed by many in the sports world.

Five: Bulls in Retro
Look out next week for a special holiday-themed retro Bulls in Five. In two weeks, I'll return with the regular column.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon, Craig Aichele and Fitz are the hosts of Bearscast.com, the best and brightest Bears podcasts, part of the Chicago Sportscast Network. Now with 60 percent more non-football talk, bringing the football talk to 10 percent. Go listen. Send comments to hosts@bearscast.com.

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@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 executes 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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