O'Donnell: No Bull, but Chicago can still find a reason to cheer in NBA playoffs

  • Jeff Bzdelik, shown here in 2013, is associate head coach of the Houston Rockets and preparing the team for another playoff run.

    Jeff Bzdelik, shown here in 2013, is associate head coach of the Houston Rockets and preparing the team for another playoff run. Associated Press

 
Updated 4/12/2019 2:49 PM

Well, at least part of Chicago has a rooting interest in the NBA playoffs.

On his final day of rest before the Houston Rockets begin their possible dream of a new-mill championship, associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik -- Prospect High, Class of '71 -- had two things on his mind.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

No. 1 was taking wife Nina to breakfast. No. 2 was trying to recall the rhyme on the menu board at the old Sammy Skobel's Hot Dogs Plus in downtown Mount Prospect.

But first, about the Rockets:

Last spring, top-seeded in the West following a 65-17 season with MVP James Harden, Houston was on the verge of going up 3-2 on Golden State in the conferences finals when Chris Paul jugged a hamstring.

Suddenly, the Rockets were reeling. The Warriors closed, 4-3, and moved on to their third title since 2015.

"With Chris, we beat Golden State and then finish LeBron and Cleveland in no more than five games," Bzdelik said.

This year, the Houston launchpad has been much stickier. That's in part because Bzdelik retired in September, "unretired" in November thanks to the gilded luring of billionaire owner Tilman Fertitta and helped Harden, Mike D'Antoni and group rebound from an 11-14 start.

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The Rockets (53-29) have been 20-5 since the All-Star break, first or second in almost all significant defensive categories -- Bzdelik's specialty -- and will open the playoffs as the West's No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 Utah Sunday (TNT, 7:30 p.m.)

Says Bzdelik: "Forget about the No. 4. Ours has been a tale of three seasons. And we need three things to get to the Finals -- stay healthy, timely shots and timely stops and defense and defensive rebounding at an elite status."

Oh yeah. And about that menu board:

"Now I remember," Bzdelik said: "Have a party, be a smarty, don't you fuss, just call us … Sammy Skobel's Hot Dogs Plus."

That will be a dandy banner to unfurl if Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek and citizenry get a chance to host "Jeff Bzdelik Day" with his new NBA championship ring this summer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

PICKING A MASTER'S CHAMPION is like trying to select next year's Kentucky Derby winner in August. Good luck.

The only bet-against this weekend seems to be the scalpeled-out Tiger Woods. Still, one Vegas house reports a patron has risked $85,000 at 14-1 on Woods to win it all. Another V-book is offering a "Will Tiger win all four majors this year?" at 100,000-1.

Whatever the niblick, no major American sporting event has stayed truer to its roots and original intent than this weekend's grand golfing rite of the azalea spring (Friday, ESPN, 2 p.m.; Saturday, CBS-2, 2 p.m.; Sunday, CBS-2, 1 p.m.).

In truth, barring a proven winner in a hot prime like Woods or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, the players are mere props. Augusta wants restrained appreciation and civility. CBS wants a heated match to develop on Saturday, ideally between a top name or two and a newcomer or other improbable and then a dramatic climax on Sunday.

Deepest students of "South's Gonna Do It Again" have long wondered: Was it mere coincidence that Bobby Jones and benevolent despot Clifford Roberts presented the first "Augusta National Invitational Tournament" a mere two years before Margaret Mitchell released "Gone With The Wind"?

Or was it harmonic convergence?

Maybe the ghosts of gray could tell. In the meantime, the champion will still wear green.

STREET-BEATIN': Free consult to CBS: There may be a more lifeless "championship" song than "One Shining Moment," but unless Nine Inch Nails has recorded "Seasons in the Sun," a bigger slab of sonic swill is awfully hard to find. A brilliant model to build something more compelling would be the Brian McKnight-Diana King classic "When We Were Kings" from the Oscar-winning documentary about Muhammad Ali . … Those rumors about David Kaplan moving to another sports talk opportunity continue to microwave. He's wasting time, Malnati's gift certificates and image in the midday static of WMVP-AM (1000), ESPN's listener-free Chicago brain wreck. … A game time temperature of 40 degrees with wind gusts of 25 mph turned Pittsburgh's 5-2 win over the Cubs Wednesday night into yet another Sucker's Iditarod Special. Frost-framing stats that included 22 strikeouts and seven pitching changes made rumors believable that there was a freezing exhibitionist out on North Clark Street who was only describing himself. … With Tony Romo's reported request of $10 million per-season from CBS the NFL's new golden goal, attendance at the league's recent Broadcast Boot Camp was at a record high. Attendees included former Bear Earl Bennett and Scott Tolzien, the Fremd High grad who had just returned from Andrew Luck's wedding in Prague. … No tumbleweed tears in Texas despite Texas Tech's OT loss to Virginia in the NCAA men's finale: That's because the "Welcome Mr. Kennedy" State could claim three other titles this week including Baylor in the women's NCAA basketball, Texas in the men's NIT and Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the College Chess Final Four over Harvard. … And, yes, Naperville native James Holzhauer has been knocking 'em dead on "Jeopardy!" But if the show's clue clan really wanted to stump the Ultra Brite professional gambler, under "Lost in Chicago," they'd write: "After Mark Giangreco and Dan Roan, any of the city's three other lead nightly sportscasters."

jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com

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