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Jumping On The Bandwagon

OK, it's a very small bandwagon and it's not going very fast -- yet -- but as in recent weeks, the Chicago Bulls, after six years of playing like a not-very-good high school team, have started playing both good and exciting basketball, my son Mark and I hied ourselves down to the United Center to see them play the Charlotte Bobcats last night.

Why the Bobcats? Because Mark asked to see the Bobcats, to see highly-touted rookie Emeka Okafor play. (He didn't, much. He scored only four points.)

And before I tell you about the Bulls' exciting 101-93 win over Charlotte, I have a rant.

What's with these nicknames? Charlotte had a team, the Hornets, which left and moved to New Orleans. New Orleans had a team, the Jazz, which up and moved to Utah. Therefore, we are left with "New Orleans Hornets".

We all know that "Utah Jazz" is one of the most illogical team names ever. Well, at least since "Los Angeles Lakers", who started in Minneapolis, a place where they actually have lakes.

And then the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis, a place where the only "grizzlies" are at the zoo.

So here's my suggestion: Give the New Orleans team back its original nickname, which fits. Give Charlotte's team back its original "Hornets", call the team in Utah the Grizzlies (at least they have some there), and Memphis can be the Bobcats, which is where this discussion began.

Sure, that's silly, but no more silly than "Utah Jazz".

Sticker shock: it now costs $20 to park at the United Center. Of course, you pretty much have to, because parking on the street there is not advised -- though I did see a couple of people walking from the game to street-parked cars.

When the Bulls were introduced, it was a flashback to the championship era, because they use exactly the same video on the scoreboard, and the same music, and call Eddy Curry "The Man In The Middle", which he sometimes even is, and then you expect the last announcement to be "From NORTH Carolina..." but no, it's "From Kansas, Kirk Hinrich."

I shouldn't disparage Hinrich, because he is clearly the leader of this young team, but he didn't do much in last night's game, scoring only six points and shooting 2-for-11.

And therein lies the lesson of last night's game for Dusty Baker and the Cubs.

What has been working of late for the Bulls (and if they win their game on Saturday, they'll wind up January 14-2, which would be the third-best month in club history), using guys like Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon to balance their scoring, didn't work last night. Those three were cold in the first half and didn't play at all in the fourth quarter.

Instead, coach Scott Skiles benched all his starters and played Othella Harrington, Tyson Chandler, Eric Piatkowski, Adrian Griffin and the charmingly-named Jannero Pargo, who had played in only four previous games all season.

Pargo was "en fuego", as they say. He shot 7-for-10 for 14 points, all in the fourth quarter, and pretty much singlehandedly won the game.

I was also impressed by Argentine import Andres Nocioni, who led the Bulls with 17 points and plays with intensity and energy that seemed to rub off on the team and the crowd.

Naturally, though, what was the loudest cheer of the night? After the game was won, when the Bulls crossed over 100 points, thus winning Big Macs for everyone in attendance.

So -- what's the lesson for the Cubs? That you can't put yourself in a mindset that only one way works. If Dusty Baker establishes someone as a closer and he doesn't work out, don't keep sending him out there to get pounded! Are you listening, LaTroy Hawkins?

Last night's attendance, announced as 19,439, is about 4,000 short of United Center capacity -- we had decent seats about 20 rows behind the west basket -- but there seemed to be a brisk business at a concourse table selling season and group tickets. In the NBA's weak Eastern Conference, the Bulls ought to make the playoffs -- they currently hold the sixth seed -- and frankly, there is only one team in the conference, the Heat, that is clearly superior to the Bulls.

So, suddenly, winter sports are interesting again in Chicago. Go out there and see a game, if you're in town. It's entertaining and these guys are fun too root for, and for a change, they're winners.