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SportsMonday: Bulls, Hawks and Bill Simmons

Taking in the state of the Bulls, Hawks, Sherron Collins and his Jayhawks, plus a few words about sportswriting, including Rick Morrissey, Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons.

That was quite a comeback for the Bulls on Saturday. Down 17 with 5:51 to go, they eventually beat Houston 105-102. And so they saved themselves from what would have been, even for this team, an unbelievably galling collapse after they started the week with one of their best wins of the season. That convincing Tuesday triumph over the very good Orlando Magic was followed by lousy efforts against the not-so-hot New Jersey Nets the next night and the woeful Washington Wizards on Friday. When the Bulls fell behind early against the Rockets, and then couldn't seem too muster any kind of difference-making defense as the deficit stretched out early in the fourth quarter, a three-game losing streak loomed. But then Brad Miller found a way to consistently front Yao Ming in the final half-dozen minutes at one end, throwing a wrench into the Houston offense, and Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon heated up at the other.

As for the big picture, well, one is reminded again that there is clearly a very good chance the Bulls will let Gordon walk as a free agent at the end of the season. Before they do we sure would appreciate someone filling in fans on who will score the clutch points besides Rose. John Salmons has proven he can score but he certainly hasn't proven he can score in the clutch. When Gordon scores, this Bulls team has a real good chance to win. When he doesn't, it doesn't.

The big news of the night appeared to be Luol Deng suffering a serious injury. That possibility caused one to consider near-future scenarios. On the bright side, Deng settling in on the sideline would simplify end games for the Bulls. It would mean they would almost be forced to wrap up competitive games with Derrick Rose at the point, Ben Gordon at shooting guard and Salmons at small forward (alternating with Joakim Noah as much as possible in an offense-defense pattern with Tyrus Thomas sliding from the 4 on offense to the 3 on defense). Whoops. Late Sunday the word is out that Deng's leg injury was not as serious as originally believed and that he could be back at practice Monday. I still say go with Salmons at the 3 as much as possible in crunch time.

On the Ice
How 'bout those Hawks! (I think I've used this line a few times now but if the alliteration fits . . . ) With the reassuring 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings early Sunday heading off a potential losing streak (0-2-1 in the previous three games) before it got any traction, they head into action this week seven points ahead of Vancouver in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They've also got a game in hand on the Canucks.

Defenseman Duncan Keith scored the second goal and was his usual stellar self. Keith does an amazing job of turning opposing threats into Hawk counter-attacks. He not only breaks up opposing rushes, he consistently either carries the puck out of harms way himself or makes just the right pass to send Hawk forwards back on their way to the other end. And Marty Havlat continued his recent run of excellence by first-assisting on the Hawks' final two goals, including a beautiful cross-slot pass in the final minute that Dave Bolland had only to flip into the net for the clincher.

Update: Sherron Collins
The budding best player ever from the North Side was his usual dominant self after Kirk Hinrich's number was retired in a pre-game ceremony in Lawrence, Kan. on Sunday. The junior point guard scored 25 points and added beautiful assists-plus during the critical run as the Jayhawks moved a step closer to a shocking Big 12 title (they won the national championship last year but lost all key contributors except Collins, a 5-11 former three-sport star at Crane High). I define an assist-plus as a pass that doesn't just lead to a basket, it leads to a layup or a dunk, and Collins had several of those as Kansas outscored Missouri 18-1 early in the first half of an eventual 30-point-plus thrashing. He had six assists overall. The Jayhawks win the Big 12 title outright over highly favored Oklahoma among others with two more victories.

About Sportswriting
Bill Simmons stands (or I suppose sits) alone. The Sports Guy on ESPN.com is the best American sportswriter and it isn't close (Michael Lewis might give him a run if he would stop being distracted by inconsequential things like America's economic crisis - come on Michael!). Simmons might even be the world's best sportswriter but there is a wee bit of the sporting world with which I am not terribly familiar (I hear they really love soccer everywhere else - I only like soccer; and here's another part of world sports I don't quite connect with - can you identify the second-most popular participatory sport in the world? You won't - don't waste time trying - it is badminton, slightly popular in Asia apparently and the latest estimates state that billions of people live there).

Let's clear up one thing right off the bat: Simmons is a sportswriter, not some other title some dimwitted print dinosaur might use to try to put him down. And the best thing about his work is that there is more information in a typical column written for ESPN.com - he writes two a week on average - than in all of the Trib's Rick Morrissey's columns put together so far this year. Actually it's more like 10 times as much. And while I'm here, hey Rick, either stop mailing it in, get your ass out there and report on columns - like, say, attending a Public League boys basketball game rather than sitting there in your ivory Tribune tower and opining ignorantly about whether draconian limits on who is allowed to spectate is a good idea or not - or quit. You disrespect the job you're so lucky to have (jealous? Me? Au contraire mon frere) with that sort of substandard effort. You could also maybe make a phone call or two at least once in a while to perhaps back up some of the assertions in other columns with, I don't know, maybe the opinion of a few sources on the inside? Morrissey has made the trip to spring training week and weighed in with a timely piece about Milton Bradley's hot temper on Sunday. OK, so maybe that story had already been done, last weekend, but . . . at least there were lots of self-serving, selfish quotes from Bradley.

I will acknowledge I sing Simmons' praises in part because my primary sports passions synch up nicely with his, especially this time of year. I love well-played basketball and so does he (they play the best basketball in the NBA by the way, as opposed to major college basketball, where the Illini, to just name one grim slog of a team, have totaled 33 and 36 points in losses in the last month and yet stand second in their conference even after Sunday's loss). Simmons writes passionately and almost endlessly at times about the National Basketball Association, including his most recent piece in which he breaks down the game's shaky finances (strangely enough not a word about this in either Chicago sports section; of course, they'd have to cover the NBA in order to write stories about what's going on there).

It has been fascinating to look at Simmons paired up with Rick Reilly on ESPN.com. Reilly, who won a bunch of national Sportswriter of the Year awards before he bailed on Sports Illustrated to sign with ESPN, is overmatched despite Simmons having scaled back his writing pace a bit of late to finish a book. Reilly is still capable of greatness (like a column this week about a kid meeting John Elway), but he's no Simmons.

And Reilly's been involved in an absolute fiasco of late. Folks at ESPN "stole" Simmons' idea about a Mt. Rushmore of sports (you don't really steal an idea from a guy who works at the same media outlet do you? Still, Simmons has acknowledged irritation felt at the lack of at least an acknowledgement from the guys who put together a recent run of SportsCenter bits focused on this idea that was clearly Simmons' first). Reilly looked like a dope as he went on SportsCenter time and again leading up to the finale last week. Oh by the way, the sports Mt. Rushmore ended up being all about Chicago, "memorializing" Walter Payton, Michael Jordan, Ernie Banks and Mike Ditka. If those were the four guys most deserving of memorializing this way, you'd have thought we'd have won more championships.

Simmons' work is also chock full of humor. The latest column is certainly a classic as far as that goes. He also breaks down baseball in the summer and football in the winter, and while his stuff is a little heavy on the Red Sox and the Patriots at times, it isn't like those teams haven't been worth of attention the last half-dozen years-plus.

Simmons' report from the NBA All-Star weekend is full of great stuff about the state of the league, and big-time pro sports in general. And if you hang in there long enough (i.e. read the whole thing), you'll find a bit of information about the future off the NHL that is absolutely unbelievable. Enjoy.

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See also: Milton Bradley Madness.

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Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday. Comments are welcome.

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