May 27, 2022

For those who prefer hot sauce, NBC Sports Chicago provides a spicy option for Bulls fans – Young Gazzate

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The first-round series between the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks is just beginning, but it already seems like a must-win scenario for DeMar DeRozan and company Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum.

If the Bulls can squeak out a win in Game 2, they will head back to Chicago with the split they were seeking ahead of two games at the United Center. If not, they’ll be down 2-0 and face the gargantuan task of winning four of five games against the defending champions, who’ve beaten them five straight times this season.

After a couple of practices at the Advocate Center and two nights sleeping in their own beds, the Bulls should be refreshed and confident heading into Game 2.

“We let them know we were here,” Zach LaVine said after the Bulls’ comeback bid fell short in Game 1.

But the near-miss also could serve as a wake-up call for the Bucks, who played poorly Sunday but were OK with what coach Mike Budenholzer called an “ugly win.”

No matter what perspective you have on the opener, there’s no underplaying the importance of Game 2, and Bulls fans no doubt will be ready to stay up late for the 8:30 p.m. start. The game will serve as the second half of a TNT doubleheader, following Game 2 of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series.

TNT does a fine job with its NBA broadcasts, and Charles Barkley is the most entertaining studio analyst of his generation. But if you’d like a little hot sauce on your Bulls-Bucks matchup, remember that NBC Sports Chicago also will televise the game, with announcers Adam Amin and Stacey King on the call.

The local affiliate aired Game 1 and will carry Game 3 Friday at the United Center, the first home playoff game for the Bulls in five years. ABC will have exclusivity for Game 4 at noon Sunday.

Marc Brady, the veteran producer of Bulls games, said the league allows local affiliates to broadcast select first-round games before giving exclusivity to the national rightsholders — TNT, ESPN and ABC — the rest of the playoffs.

In some cities, having the hometown announcers might mean getting a one-sided view of the action. But Chicago is not just another sports town, and Brady said Bulls fans don’t expect their announcers to serve as cheerleaders.

“It’s a party,” Brady said of the telecasts. “But if you watch, it’s not a homer (telecast). There’s a very thin line between being informative and critical, and yet still be entertaining. You’d think Adam and Stacey have worked together forever.”

There’s no debating that Amin, who grew up a Bulls fan in Addison, and King, a former Bulls player, want their team to win. Just listen to King’s reaction to a driving dunk by LaVine or Amin’s calls on DeRozan’s buzzer-beaters against the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. They are an excitable duo, to say the least.

But they also don’t hesitate pointing out when the Bulls offense is stagnant or when players are rushing shots or not getting back on defense.

“It’s not lazy criticism,” Brady said. “It’s a measured criticism. But this is an exciting time for Bulls fans. No one expected them to get to where they got this year, so there was some disappointment (at the slump in the second half of the season). But let’s remember, for the last four years, it was tough.”

The Bulls are part-owners of NBC Sports Chicago, so Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf deserves credit for allowing the station to hire broadcasters and analysts who don’t always paint a rosy picture.

Reinsdorf grew up in Brooklyn listening to Red Barber and Mel Allen, who were known for being objective while still wanting their team to win. Reinsdorf has always said he didn’t like “homerism in the booth but allowed former White Sox broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson to do his thing because “that’s what the market wanted.”

You couldn’t sugarcoat the many issues the Bulls had during the rebuild. If you watched them through thick and thin since their last playoff season in 2016-17, congrats on your perseverance. I admit to turning the channel whenever they fell hopelessly behind and former coach Jim Boylen would call a meaningless timeout for a “teaching moment.” It was hard to stomach.

But the Bulls changed everything with their hot start in November, making them enjoyable to watch again. The opening highlights package before tipoff, produced by Brady and his crew, got the party started on the right note. When the Bulls were playing well and Amin and King were cooking, it was a delicious meal.

Naturally, not all fans are enamored with the local broadcasts, which comes with the territory. To each his own. Not everyone likes hot sauce, after all.

But if you like a bit of spice and some knowledgeable analysis from two local broadcasters who’ve been on the calls from the outset, it’s comforting to know Amin and King are there for the most important games of the season.

With success comes greater expectations, of course, and that’s where NBC Sports Chicago showed us this season how it’s done. Some teams treat their pre- and postgame shows as an extension of the marketing department. But the Bulls’ shows, with host Jason Goff and analysts Will Perdue and Kendall Gill, were anything but infomercials.

Perdue and Gill never held back while breaking down what went wrong during some of the Bulls’ performances down the stretch. NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson, an old friend and former Tribune colleague, provided tidbits and timely in-game analysis from press row while writing on deadline.

Johnson also subbed as play-by-play man during a New Year’s Eve game in Indianapolis when Amin had to take a COVID-19 test, proving he really is a renaissance man.

All in all, it was quite a run. The Bulls stepped up their game this season, and so did the station that carried their games.

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