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Thanks ever so much to Kurt Warner and the rest of the Cardinals for their stellar efforts against the Vikings on Sunday. I suppose there is cold comfort in the constants in life, and one of the constants is that the football Redbirds have sucked since they left Chicago almost 50 years ago and they still suck, despite clinching their pathetic division title last week. The Bears put themselves in this position (the one where they needed the Vikings to lose two of their final three games to have a chance to win the NFC North) with their loss to Minnesota a few weeks ago. But it was acceptable to expect a better effort than that turned in by the Vikings' foes on Sunday.
Arizona (8-6) found a way to trail by 21 before viewers had finished their first beer, and when it appeared the Cardinals might just make a game of it with a blocked field goal return touchdown (making it 28-14) in the third quarter, they quickly obliterated that misconception. Instead Minnesota marched right back down the field and scored on a hitch-and-go to noted speedster and deservedly former Bear Bobby Wade. The Vikings eventually prevailed 35-14.
Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson looked so good in place of injured Viking starter Gus Frerotte (four touchdown passes? Are you kidding me? The Cardinal defensive coordinator should have been fired before the team left the stadium after the game), maybe the Cards have started thinking about going to future Ryan Leaf-esque bust Matt Leinart either this coming Sunday or the next.
One other football note:
The wild card side of things heated up on Sunday. Tampa Bay (9-5) lost its second in a row and suddenly the first wild card is no longer a forgone conclusion. In fact, the Bears will head into next week only a game out of that spot (the Cowboys, Falcons and Eagles also only have five losses). Our Monsters still lose most tiebreakers but I'm guessing (crazy optimist that I am) 10 wins gets in even if it isn't enough to win the division.
And now, the winter sports:
* Blackhawk president John McDonough did a self-congratulatory interview with the Tribune a couple weeks ago. He did so around the same time that his team, which oh by the way is still the no-playoffs-in nine-of-the-last-10-years failure it was when McDonough took over, was actually releasing a book celebrating itself. At that time I began to think the bloom was off the "The Blackhawks Are Back" rose.
It is also reasonable to suggest the Blackhawks should actually qualify for the playoffs at the end of this season before they begin congratulating themselves. And though their record, especially a small number of regulation losses, was looking good a couple weeks ago, it was deceiving. After all, the last number in their mark (which heading into Monday is now 15-6-7), isn't ties. It is overtime or shootout losses. And too many of those were holding the Hawks back, even if a team earns a point (versus the opponents' two) when it loses after regulation.
But the beautiful uni's had a real good week last week. It was capped off first by a tough-as-nails road victory in Denver versus the Avalanche on Friday - welcome back Dustin Byfuglien, ye scorer of two goals in that contest after compiling a disappointing tally total during the season's first 26 games. And seconded by Sunday's 3-1 dispatching of the Columbus Blue Jackets. And I'm back on the bandwagon. The best thing about the Hawks is the fact that on the heels of their two great young forwards, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, bursting into the league last season, they've got two more exciting young front-liners introducing themselves this time around. Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd have all sorts of talent, just like their predecessors. You have to keep your eye on Versteeg in particular because he is capable of stick-handling moves that make the pulse race. It seems clear the Hawks aren't quite physical enough - and the jury is still out on the defense in general - but if the season ended today they'd be comfortably in the playoffs. More importantly for right now: they are seriously fun to watch.
* What will go down as Bulls General Manager John Paxson's biggest screw-up? The answer is coming into focus ever more clearly with every passing game this season. Worse even than the dim-witted draft day trade of LaMarcus Aldridge to Portland for Tyrus Thomas or the signing of Ben Wallace . . . worse even than the absolutely inexcusable failure to trade for Pau Gasol last year . . . worst of all was giving Luol Deng the big money and shutting the door on Ben Gordon.
During his team's most recent victory, Deng was again largely ineffective. The Bulls knocked off a surprising New Jersey team featuring an again-unstoppable Vince Carter (the massive talent who scandalously lost his competitive fire for a while - probably due to too much money, too fast - regained it this season and whose 39 points on Saturday could have easily been 50). Deng has been largely ineffective all this season and most of last (part of that could be attributed to injury but a lot could not). But Johnny P. gave the $70-million man the big contract before this season, in part because he believed Deng's qualities as a citizen justified a big expenditure. He had believed the same in recent years about Andres Nocioni and Kirk Hinrich and Wallace. But Wallace was such a disaster that Paxson had to trade for two shaky big-money contracts, Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes, just to dump him.
So the Bulls faced a dilemma last off-season. There was no way they could afford to take on two more 60-million-plus deals. They had to choose which of their restricted free agents they would focus on (and which they could sign for less), and they chose Deng. Gordon signed a one-year deal and unlike the previous season, when his contract status seemed to distract him, he came out firing this time around. And he played great again this past weekend. His scoring kept the Bulls in the game with Nets on Saturday until he and Rose went ahead and won it late with a series of big shots. I'm not sure anyone in the game puts up a more consistently beautiful jump shot than Gordon. His ball-handling and defensive deficiencies certainly gave everyone pause at the end of last season. And his agent's claim that his client should make considerably more than everyone on the team because he had led the team in scoring the last several years seemed shallow and almost ridiculous at the time. But this season Gordon is making it ever more clear that he is much, much better than Deng, let alone anyone else on the Bulls' roster other than Rose.
* A so-stupid-it-was-comical note ran in one of the dailies over the weekend saying that the Bulls are currently shopping Thomas or Joakim Noah (I can't remember which) along with Larry Hughes and Thabo Sefolosha in potential trade talks. No one is going to give the Bulls anything for Thomas or Noah, who coach Vinnie Del Negro barely tolerates all of 20 games into his first season with them. Sefolosha hasn't even proven he can be a reliable reserve in the NBA. And Hughes' contract is prohibitive (although he has been better than expected this season - flashing some of the great defense he played several years ago and improving his shot). Gordon is the only guy the Bulls have a shot at trading in order to finally address their never-ending lack of a reliable low-post contributor at both ends (Gooden has his moments on offense but the frequency of his mental lapses on defense boggles a basketball fan's mind).
In fact, the Bulls have to trade Gordon. Otherwise they'll lose him for nothing when he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. But it is almost impossible to trade a decent little (player, i.e. anyone under 6-6 or so) for a decent big in the NBA. I'm not terribly optimistic Mr. Paxson is going to be able to swing it. And if fans worry the Bulls are putting too much on Derrick Rose's plate at this point, just wait until they move Gordon.
Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday because he loves you. You can write to him personally! Please include a real name if you would like your comments to be considered for publication.
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