On April 7, 2008, our very own Niteowl began regaling us with tales of his grandson. Nothing wrong with that, grandparents are allowed and encouraged to do so. But, in keeping with the common sports theme up here, he limited himself to talking about his grandson’s experiences in baseball. His threads about his grandson have become very popular among our regulars and quite a few lurkers. It’s easy to see why. They are almost Garrison Kiellor-esque in their celebration of life’s simpler pleasures. No roids, no contract disputes, no meth head super-models; just a boy, his glove, a ball and a bat.
The game he, I and many others love distilled to its purest level.
Like any proud grandpa, he excitedly posted his first thread about his grandson when he won his first game as a pitcher.
Matthew my grandson won his first start in his first year of live arm pitching. He pitched 2 innings and struck out 6 batters while walking 9. He made a great play on the first pitch of the game when the batter hit a comebacker to him. He was falling away to the other side of the mound but recovered in time to retire the batter.
Matthew said he hit the other team’s pitcher and that same pitcher tried to hit Matthew when he batted. He may have been wild but by end of the season I hope the wildness has been corralled and he can pitch even better as the season goes on.
He even, thanks to modern technology, posted a video.
On June 17, 2008, Nite (as we affectionately call him) could have healed lepers, walked on air and turned Dr. Pepper into wine. His grandson made the All Star Team.
My grandson Matthew made the 9 year old All Stars in Dixie Youth baseball in Tioga, Louisiana. He played shortstop, third base, catcher and pitcher during the season but they used him in center field in a practice game as his All Star team gets ready for the tournament. He told me on phone last night that he is fielding well and throwing well in center field. He also said he hit a ball to where he stands in center field.
Earlier in the season he wasn’t hitting that well but right before All Stars were picked he started making contact consistently and he was hitting a lot of balls to the outfield. The sad part is that he probably won’t get much playing time since most of the team that went to second place in the state tournament is on this year’s team so he probably won’t get to play much if any.
Still it was a great accomplishment for him to make the team and there is still a small chance he will play so well in practice that he might get to play some in the tournament. The saddest thing is that I will miss all of his games since I am 673 miles away in Tennessee.
On July 9th, he got to talk to his grandson and family just before the All-Star game and you could feel the happiness in each syllable.
My grandson Matthew who is on the 9-10 year old All Stars recently helped his team win the regional tournament and now this Friday they go to the Louisiana state tournament.
Yesterday my son in law related to me that Matthew’s coach a former major leaguer Kevin McGehee who pitched for the Orioles told my son in law that Matthew has what it takes to get to the major leagues because he loves baseball and won’t get distracted like other players who didn’t want to put in the work it takes to make it to the majors.
Matthew who is very skinny has been playing in the outfield and the coach told him he had a great arm. Matthew told me on the phone last night that he threw the ball from center field to home plate in the air. Matthew normally plays shortstop, catcher, third base and pitcher but because most of these players were on the All Star team last year they are getting first chance at infield positions.
My daughter told me last night that all the time Matthew is on the field he is smiling. He just loves to play baseball and that love of baseball will make him work to become the best player he can be since he never tires of practicing. He told me the coach intentionally hit all the players while they were batting so they would not be afraid of being hit during the tournament.
While we were living in Louisiana Matthew and me practiced for hours and now that practice is paying off and he is missing not having his grandpa to practice with since we moved to Tennessee last August and vice versa.
His mom bought him an expensive bat since he was hitting the ball but not to the outfield and he immediately started hitting to the outfield so hopefully he will hit well in the state tournament.
Win or lose his grandpa in Tennessee will be proud of Matthew because he plays the game the way it is meant to be played.
Okay, so punctuation isn’t Nite’s strong suit. But that’s not the point. This is a glorious love letter to his grandson that he’s graciously sharing with his friends and us. And the love letter is ongoing. Nite’s love of his family, and baseball, comes through with each and every post.
In our days of raging cynicism and paranoia, a little love is a good thing to share.
Nite has posted several times about his grandson since the first time. Just use the “Advanced Search” function, select “General Sports Stuff” and then enter the word “grandson” into the engine. It will keep you reading for hours. You don’t need to be a member to read stuff, so enjoy no matter who you are.
Nite’s not some rich dude paying to keep his kid on the team. Nor is he the prototypical ‘psycho-dad’ starting fights in the bleachers. He’s a Viet Nam vet who lives a humble life and worries about the exact same stuff you and I do; how the bills are going to get paid and whose turn it is to wash the dishes.
There’s no hype, no vapid PR or anything else that would reek of hubris. Nothing but a guy who loves his grandson and enjoys seeing him succeed at the game of baseball.
And if the kid suddenly couldn’t find the plate with a seeing eye dog? He’d still love his grandson without question.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, should give hope to us all.
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Larry Bird: What’s the matter, Bill?
Bill Murray: [after seeing Michael’s fancy return to the NBA] Larry, that could have been me.
Larry Bird: Would you get over it? It’s over. It’s done with. You can’t play.
Bill Murray: Okay.
[voice breaking with emotion]
Bill Murray: Let’s go, Bulls!
I don’t have much time for this post today. Call this an act of desperation. An emergency per say. A cry for help and forgiveness.
Yup, I’m typing madly. As in fulfilling a request. Keeping a promise to a friend of mine.
How am I doing so far?
Not that great. I know. And understand.
But as lousy as this front page just maybe, keep in mind that a far more pressing and relevant event just transpired.
Hold your breath. Drum roll please.
Yes, it has happened. Justice has been delivered. And all is well and good in Chicago.
Lovie Smith’s contract has been extended.
Seriously, the Chicago Tribune must be hyperventilating. After all, the catatonic headset wearing eighth wonder of the world sits perched atop the Tribune’s sports web page.
Lovie Smith is our head coach.
At least until 2013. Assuming of course the impending lockout has ended by then.
And what recent sporting event fell below that particular heartfelt warmness of reassurance and message of good tidings?
Nothing that important. Unless of course you are exuberant that our Chicago Bulls conquered Queen LeBron’s Heat.
Somehow, David Haugh is now writing about the Bulls. Maybe he is a big fan of our new mayor and wanted an autograph. Haugh scribes:
This was an image worth remembering for the Bulls, a 93-89 victory over the Heat in which Rose showed why he is the true MVP in the league even if James still can lay claim as the NBA’s best player.
“We’re just letting people know we can compete against the top teams in the NBA,’’ Rose said.
Does anybody still doubt the Bulls are among them on their home floor? On a day circled on the league calendar for deal-making, the Bulls produced another moment they wouldn’t trade for anything. Mostly, a win that gave the Bulls the season series against the Heat made a good day better.
If I’m Chris Bosh last night, I grab my knee and pray for a MCL sprain. Ouch that was a putrid display of shooting.
Rick Morrissey, the guy that took his talents to the Sun-Times without announcing a career change during a live broadcast on Jay Mariotti’s former network, also showed up at the United Center. Rick noted the Bulls were pretty good. Well, damn good to be honest:
There wasn’t much pleasant about LeBron James’ prime-time kick to Cleveland’s nether region in July.
He wanted you to know, via the pixels on your TV screen, that he was taking his talents to South Beach, where he was going to rendezvous with Dwyane Wade’s talents and merge with Chris Bosh’s talents.
It seemed too easy, too convenient. In a snap, a dynasty stood where a palm tree and an umbrella drink had just been.
But it’s not such a bad thing, this collecting of stars, provided your city happens to be blessed with its own collection. Seven months of distance and an excellent Bulls team can change one’s mind on this topic.
And so it was that the Haves took on the Haves at the United Center on Thursday night, and it was good. Chicago’s stars beat Miami’s stars 93-89.
I’m running out of gas here. Literally, I just finished a meatball sub at Potbelly’s. So let’s take this front page down for a landing. The Bulls beat the Heat. Awesome. The Blackhawks got a shutout victory and are back in the playoff picture. Terrific. Lovie Smith is sticking around and Tommie Harris is on the verge of extinction. Uh, okie-dokie. Jake Peavy is not yet on the disabled list. Kudos. Cub$ fans* are buying tickets in the droves. Typical.
That should cover everything. No? One more news item worth mentioning?
Oh yeah. Last but not least.
Happy 26th Birthday to The Clown.
Over and out.
Yesterday, as I was walking to meet a buddy of mine, a pit bull got loose from its yard. It was a pretty good sized dog. It tore directly across the street and headed for me. Since I’ve been around animals all my life, I did the smart thing. I stopped and let the dog get close enough to smell me. Then, clearly out of my mind in terror, I knelt down, scruffed its head and petted it. The animal responded with an act of epic aggression by rolling onto its back and letting me pet its tummy.
Then it became a good thing that I’m a large man. Because, were I some puny dude, people would have beaten me with hammers as I said, in a manly way, ”Aww, whats a kewt puppy you is, yes you is, such a kewt puppy....”
The owner quickly came over, attached a leash to his dog, told me its name was Brutus and we went on our merry, respective, ways. But not before I reminded Brutus of what a kewt puppy he was.
I bring all of this up to fill some space at the top of the page before I get to the point.
It’s Spring Training and it’s that special time of the baseball year when fans start to get a feel for what their team will be like. PAUL SULLIVAN took a moment to take a look at the Cubs two big men, Zambrano and Quade.
Spring training usually settles into a groove after a couple of days of live batting practice, and this year’s Cubs camp is no different.
The veterans are getting acquainted with the new guys, the first-year participants are starting to get comfortable after feeling their way around and Mike Quade still is trying to get used to the fact he’s the manager as his coaches generally run the workouts.
All in all, Wednesday morning at Fitch Park was about as perfect as a day can get.
“What may have made the day monumental is that we got through pitchers sliding (drills) with only one cartwheel, and nobody got hurt,” Quade said. “That’s a good day.”
Here are a few snapshots from a typical spring training day:
Big Z’s new pitch: Pitchers like to monkey around to escape the monotony of throwing sessions. On one field, Carlos Zambrano threw what Marlon Byrd suspected was a knuckleball to Alfonso Soriano, knocking him back and smiling from the mound.
“Was that a knuckleball?” Byrd shouted out.
Zambrano nodded in agreement then went back to throwing an assortment of fastballs. Asked afterward if it really was a knuckleball, Zambrano declined comment and walked off to the parking lot without breaking stride. For one moment at least, the new Big Z was back to the old Big Z.
Fresh voice: Early in the workout, Carlos Pena stood in the middle of the infield, surrounded by teammates, and gave a short talk on who has priority when an infield popup comes into a particular area.
Usually it’s the manager or a coach who gives such instructions, but the Gold Glove-winning first baseman asked Quade if it was OK if he spoke. So Quade went to another field, leaving Pena in charge.
“I’m such a big lead-by-example guy,” Quade said.
Quade said not to make too much of it, but added, “I’m happy he felt comfortable making the point and coming to me and asking if it was OK. Absolutely it’s OK. People get tired of listening to me. Let Carlos talk. It’s great.”
Pay attention, please: After sitting down at a table for his post-workout press briefing, Quade noticed that everyone in the media room was ready with the exception of one reporter, who remained at his seat tweeting into his cell phone.
“Turn your back on me? Are you freaking kidding me?” Quade yelled in mock anger. “Even if you don’t give a darn, turn around.”
The reporter quickly spun in his chair and stopped tweeting, and the briefing began.
Like father, like son: During a break in batting practice, outfielder Reed Johnson stuck the handle of his bat through the chain-link fence where his young son, Tyce, was playing with a miniature bat.
Tyce eventually began straddling a wall near a fence, looking as though he was about to fall into it head-first. Reed made his reputation as someone who’s fearless when it comes to smashing into outfield fences. Apparently it’s hereditary.
Okay. Good. Things seem relatively sane in Ho Ho Kam. That’s always a good sign.
On the South Side, RICK TELANDER took some time off from writing about concussions to talk about big donkeys.
The Big Donkey walks to the waste can with the swinging top, the one not far from his locker, bends his great torso low, and unloads a gob of juice into the dumb thing’s heart.
“Red Man?” you ask.
He frowns as if a rotten egg has been unfurled.
‘‘Copenhagen,’’ he says.
You nod your head. Of course. Adam Dunn has a Texas Longhorn logo on his workout shirt, he’s from Houston, he’s got a three-day stubble on his face and his entire demeanor says fishin’, huntin’, good times, old-school chew.
That is, baseball, if Paul Bunyan played it.
The White Sox’ big, new slugger — we’re talking 6-6, 285 pounds of big — has played his entire 10-year career in the National League, and he just might chew his way to stardom in his first season in the American League.
Nobody seems to miss departed former closer Bobby Jenks, himself a big, if not overly sociable man, but this new big guy is pretty much a locker-room favorite.
He hopefully can be the new Jim Thome in the clubhouse, a calming, professional lumberjack, a fellow who hits long balls and mostly will play DH, but could also fill in at first base. And hopefully he can be a guy who gives the Sox a fearsome row of blasters along with Paul Konerko, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin.
‘‘I saw what the White Sox did last year, and I knew they were a good team,’’ says Dunn, the dip wad working under his lip. ‘‘We can be a really good team. Of course, that’s all on paper now.’’
On paper, the 31-year-old Dunn, who spent a year at the University of Texas before going pro, is strong and consistent. He has hit between 38 and 46 home runs in each of his last seven seasons, and he has had between 92 and 106 RBI in each of those seasons, too.
You mention to him that unlike apparent steroid monsters such as Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron never hit more than 45 home runs in a season. Yet he hit between 38 and 45 homers 11 times.
Dunn shakes his big head in acknowledgment and marvel.
‘‘Talk about being consistent,’’ he says.
That there are many ways to hit the ball out of the park is obvious when you consider Aaron went 6-foot, 180.
Dunn, who is holding a blond maple bat and periodically testing his grip on it, eyeing it closely, check-swinging it, ponders his own capabilities.
‘‘I have no idea how well I can do,’’ he says. ‘‘All I can attribute it to is staying healthy.’’
In eight of his 10 years — with the Reds and Nationals — Dunn has played in at least 152 games per season. That’s pretty healthy. And, as mentioned, there is a lot of stuff on him that he has to take care of.
‘‘I set goals, and I don’t want to reach them,’’ he says. ‘‘I know I’m capable of doing more things.’’
We discuss the fact that Aaron hit 39 home runs in 1959 and hit .355.
Dunn hit 38 homers last season for the Nats but batted only .260. His career average is .250.
‘‘I know I’m not a .260 hitter,’’ he says passionately. ‘‘I hit .350 in Triple-A, so I know I can do it. I mean, maybe not .350, but better. The trouble is sometimes I’ll try too much. I’ve had coaches who tried to change my swing, even if I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
‘‘A coach told me, ‘You’re walking too much.’ Then I got the, ‘You don’t pull the ball enough to be a power hitter.’ And that was the same person who told me I was walking too much!”
Who was it?
Dunn goes on to say that coaches don’t have to do anything if the ship ain’t sinkin’ and the door ain’t broke.
‘‘The best ones, you hardly know they’re there. They just watch carefully and adjust little things. That’s why I love coming here every day, to go working with ‘Walk’ [batting coach Greg Walker].’’
Dunn excuses himself to spit juice into the garbage can once more. Then he and Konerko and non-roster player Lastings Milledge are talking hitting, passing Dunn’s big stick back and forth. Shootin’ baseball.
‘‘He’s tall, and that can be a disadvantage,’’ Konerko says later. ‘‘But when a guy like that lines it up, all the angles come together.’’ And . . . kaboom.
Has Dunn ever been with a player as big as himself?
He thinks. He looks around. The locker next to his is Matt Thornton’s.
‘‘Well, there’s Thornton. He’s a big ol’ boy.’’
Yes, 6-6, but 50 pounds lighter than Dunn.
Plus, he’s a pitcher.
‘‘Yeah, pitchers don’t count,’’ acknowledges Dunn.
Then it’s time to leave. And Dunn departs in jeans and a T-shirt that says ‘‘BBQ’’ on the back. Perfect.
Let the Big Donkey Show begin.
You and I also know that Scott’s wandering the halls looking for these miscreants so he can beat them with a hammer.
On the other hand, I bet that tweeting reporter would pay attention if they did.
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I have a cat that’s kind of a hit on Facebook. Her name is, inexplicably, Ms. Constance Pumpkin Sunshine Pie. She eats hot peppers, will steal iced tea and is 19lbs and about 40 inches long, fully stretched. I should also note that she’s barely two years old so she likes to do things other kittens do at that age. It’s kind of like living with a Baby Huey covered in fur. As I’m typing this she’s eating a small piece of marinated skirt steak covered in jalapeños.
Okay, that was her message to the world as she walked across the keyboard to try and get the rest of the meat off my plate.
Anyway, as you may have gleaned, she’s a little different than other kitties.
That doesn’t make her bad, but it does mean that I have to pay a little extra attention to her or she’ll demolish the place.
It is with that thought in mind that I’m taking a look at two of Chicago baseball’s perennial head cases. We’ll start on the Northside with the Sun Times’ GORDON WITTENMYER, who’s discovered that Carlos Zambrano has declared himself cured.
Maybe all that anger-management counseling finally accomplished what the Cubs failed for years to achieve with their most expensive and talented pitcher.
Nobody can know for sure until Carlos Zambrano gets through a full season without a trademark outburst or meltdown, but the Cubs are betting another division race on it. And Zambrano at least seems to be buying into what he says he learned from a program he continued beyond last season.
‘‘It’s all done; I’m cured,’’ he said Tuesday, smiling and drawing laughs from assembled skeptics. ‘‘I got approval from the psychologist that I can be by myself.’’
The smiles and laughs continued, but the message was serious, Zambrano said.
‘‘It did work,’’ he said. ‘‘Believe me, that was an experience that I can take through the years.’’
If he can start by taking it through this one, he and the Cubs will consider it a success. Consider that even as he was in the midst of the counseling — and an 8-0 finish to his season — a glimpse of the old Zambrano came out in his final start when he showed up teammate Bobby Scales after a pair of fielding miscues.
‘‘My problem is not about being a good person,’’ he said. ‘‘The problem that I have to solve is when I get upset on the field. I think my problem is after I cross the [white] lines and whether somebody makes an error or if I make an error; that’s my problem. I have to focus on that this year. But off the field, I consider myself a nice guy.’’
That’s probably as close as Zambrano has come to addressing that issue publicly — at least during the first three disappointing years of his five-year, $91.5 million contract.
And if it leads to a productive season without the wild performance swings, well, the Cubs’ success in the National League Central largely could hinge on it. Because how Zambrano goes figures to have a disproportionate say in how the team goes.
So far, the signs point upward. Zambrano, who’s still more than three months shy of his 30th birthday as he enters his 10th season, made a point last week to sidestep any guarantees about staying out of trouble this season.
And when manager Mike Quade told Zambrano on Monday that his streak of six consecutive Opening Day starts would end because Ryan Dempster was getting the call this time, he congratulated Dempster.
‘‘I’ve had a chance to be the guy on Opening Day for six years in a row, and now it’s his turn; I’m happy for him,’’ Zambrano said. ‘‘Nothing lasts forever, you know. I wanted to be an Opening Day starter for all my years I’ll be with the Cubs. It’s just Dempster for Opening Day [now], and that’s OK with me. He’s been pitching good — much better than I the last two years — and he deserves it.’’
Said Quade of Zambrano’s reaction: ‘‘It’s a pretty good sign of maturity, and it’s a sign of a guy that is a good teammate.’’
Good luck finding the last time those words were used to describe Zambrano.
‘‘Maybe . . . I can be a pitching coach or whatever 20 years from now,’’ Zambrano said. ‘‘I can speak to the young kids about what I went through or what happened in my career, things that I have experienced.’’
Pitching coach? Zambrano?
‘‘I don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘I just said that.’’
Coach Z? Oh, who knows? Stranger things have happened. Just read the opening paragraphs for example “A.”
But, while more colorful, Zambrano’s not Chicago’s only head case. MARK GONZALES at the Tribune takes a look at Carlos Quentin. A man who, seemingly, could suck the fun out of Freebie Night at your local strip club.
For Carlos Quentin to enjoy a lengthy major league career, he will have to make the mental adjustments Paul Konerko said Tuesday helped him start his 13th spring training with the White Sox.
“It took me a lot longer than it should have, and hopefully with him it will take less time than that,” Konerko said before the Sox’s first full-squad workout. “Almost daily during the season we’re always talking and trying to sort things out.”
Quentin, 28, said he lost weight and gained “perspective” during the offseason, and he was smiling more than he usually does at the start of spring training. The tests will come during the regular season with internal scrimmages that he has addressed.
“Pressure is always something that has been self-inflicted by myself,” said Quentin, who still produced 26 home runs and 87 RBIs in 131 games last season despite left hamstring and left knee injuries.
“It’s something I’ve worked on this offseason to lighten up and enjoy this game. Definitely bringing in these enormous bats with Paulie, A.J. (Pierzynski) and Adam (Dunn), it will be fun to be on this field with these guys, like it always has been for me. And it will be even better.”
Dating to his days at Stanford 10 years ago, Quentin was known for being too intense and tinkering too much with his swing despite success. With the Diamondbacks, he received “mental coaching” to cope with the successes and failures.
“Let me ask you this,” Quentin said in direct reply to a reporter. “If someone asks you to do something over and over repeatedly, and you still seem not to be able to accomplish that, do you think the effort is not good? Of course, the effort is there.
“So in another year, it’s more experience. Just a good offseason to carry into the season. And when you work on things, you just never know. Always knowing every day is a grind, not just physically but mentally keeping myself in the right place.”
And the discussions with Konerko, 34, are ongoing.
“And it’s not just a one-way conversation,” Konerko said. “I’ve done it wrong a million times and the potential is always there to do it wrong again. It’s a day-in and day-out thing that you have to work on. Some guys have it naturally built in to do it the right way. I don’t. I don’t think Carlos does. You don’t get into habits.
“It starts now, it starts in the offseason, building habits that when those (hard) times come and the bullets start to fly, you make good decisions on how to process things when a bad game happens.”
The coaching staff plans to leave Quentin alone.
“Just go and play the way you think you can play best,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “It’s hard to change a guy in three years.”
If this kid ends up being the kind of player that Konerko is, I guess we’ll all learn to put up with his quirks. The couple people I know who know CQ say he’s a very intelligent, and nice, man. It may be that intelligence that causes him problems. The more possibilities you’re thinking of the less your focusing on the game at hand. Because, when he does just ‘see ball, hit ball, catch ball and throw ball,’ he’s a thing of beauty on the field. But, when he doesn’t ...... well, he isn’t.
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There’s been enough tragedy and heartbreak in the news lately. Even if you limit your reading to the sports pages you’ve been touched by it this week. If you look out the famous Kentucky Fried Movie (NSFW) weather window you’ll note that it’s crappy outside. In my case I see snow, ice and a stalled bus full of kids singing Kumbaya.
I’m not sure which is more depressing.
But today’s not a day for depressing thoughts. Today’s a day of joy and harmony. Very unlike the dissonant version of Kumbaya that’s wafting through my weather window.
The Hawks have finally won two in a row and may just be pulling their season out of the dumpster. The Cubs and Sox have already been feted on this page as they prepare for their seasons and the Fire have now gone 3 full weeks without doing anything really stupid.
So let’s turn our attention to the Bulls. Tomorrow night they are going to be able to so something they have not done all year. As HERB GOULD at the Sun Times reports, they will start a full team.
Derrick Rose wouldn’t even let me finish the question.
“He’s back,’’ the Bulls guard said moments after the NBA All-Star Game had concluded Sunday.
He, of course, is center Joakim Noah. Coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed in a radio interview Monday that Noah will return to action on Wednesday at Toronto, where he last played on Dec. 15.
Noah, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on Dec. 16, has been pushing himself, and his thumb, hard in practice to be ready.
The question was, will he have a long adjustment period?
“No,” said Rose, who expects Noah to have a relatively seamless return. “He’s catching the ball well. He’s dunking. His conditioning looked all right. It’s nothing like game conditioning, but we have a lot of confidence in him.’’
Noah may even add a new wrinkle to his game.
“When he comes back, he’ll probably shoot some jump shots, because he’s been working on it so much,’’ Rose said. “He’s shooting the ball well.’’
While excited about his return, Noah cautioned against setting high expectations from the get-go. He hopes to have a completely smooth transition, but stopped short of predicting that.
“I have no pain, but [the thumb] is still weak and stiff,’’ Noah said last week before the Bulls checked out for their All-Star break.
“We’ll see when I come back,’’ he said, his voice growing softer as the transition question was repeated in different ways. “I’m just excited to be out there again. We haven’t played as a healthy group all year yet. So it’s going to be exciting to see where we can take this.’’
There’s no question Noah has put in extra time at the Berto Center, trying to get back in game shape during rigorous post-practice matchups with physical reserve Brian Scalabrine. Though they looked like they could have used helmets and shoulder pads at times, Noah said he didn’t ask Scalabrine to go rough on him.
“Scal does that by himself,’’ Noah said. “You don’t have to tell him to do any of that.
“It feels good to get back on the court. It’s been a long six weeks. But we’re playing good basketball. I’m very excited about coming back.’’
The Bulls have weathered Noah’s 30-game absence quite well, going 22-8 without him and putting themselves in position to take a run at Boston and Miami for best record in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics and Heat are tied for the lead, two games ahead of the Bulls.
Give a lot of credit to veteran backup Kurt Thomas, who has been a rock in the post during Noah’s absence. That’s no surprise to Thibodeau, who has done a strong job of keeping the Bulls moving forward during injuries to Noah and, before Noah, Carlos Boozer.
“We brought [Thomas] in as an insurance policy,’’ Thibodeau said. “For a long time, he’s proved he’s more than capable. He stays ready. He’s a great pro. When he was called upon, he was ready to go. He saved the day for us.’’
While Rose also appreciates the quality work Thomas has done, he’s excited about the up-tempo possibilities Noah will bring.
“The energy he brings is amazing,’’ Rose said. “He always helps our team. Sometimes you see him pushing the break, handling the ball. And his passing is going to help our team.
“Kurt’s been doing a great job. But Joe can finish at the rim, too, if they’re playing his passing too well.’’
It’s also comforting to know that because Thomas has been so effective, there’s no need to rush. Led by Rose, key players such as Boozer and Luol Deng are having big years. Add in productive reserves like Thomas, and it’s apparent why the Bulls are making big strides.
Love him or hate him, Noah is the engine that drives this team. His energy rubs off on every player around him. All you have to do is watch the team when he’s on the court to see what I mean. They move a little faster, a little surer and a lot more aggressively.
Even so, as Herb noted, with the depth they have there’s no need to rush things. Being able to switch between Noah and Thomas gives Coach Thibodeau options other NBA managers can only dream of.
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