Kings

The first two teams to clinch playoff berths...

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The first two teams to clinch playoff berths...

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- Dusty Baker was missing when the Cincinnati Reds became the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot. The main man in the dugout was sidelined Thursday for a second straight game after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat."Obviously we won the last two games for him. We have him in our thoughts, but we got good news on his update," reliever Sean Marshall said after a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs."Hopefully he'll be back with us tomorrow and when it really matters, when we clinch (the division). Hopefully we get to celebrate this weekend with him," he said.Ace Johnny Cueto and the NL Central leaders ensured themselves of at least a wild-card spot. Cincinnati cut its magic number to two for winning the division for the second time in three years.The Reds said Baker would remain in a Chicago hospital for an additional day so doctors could monitor his progress. The manager left Wrigley Field before Wednesday night's game and underwent another test Thursday.Baker is expected to return to Cincinnati on Friday. Bench coach Chris Speier ran the team for a second straight game."He looked good. Very good. He'll be there tomorrow," said general manager Walt Jocketty, who visited Baker on Thursday morning. Jocketty said he didn't know if Baker would be able to manage when the Reds open a series at home against the Dodgers.""Chris Speier did an excellent job, but I think he's (Dusty) missed and we're looking forward to having him back, and more importantly, we're hoping for the best with his health," star first baseman Joey Votto said."I know he's excited and happy, just wish that he was here to partake in it, but he'll be back soon," Speier said.Cueto (18-9) pitched six shutout innings as the Red completed a three-game sweep.The Reds broke a scoreless tie by getting five straight singles off reliever Manuel Corpas (0-2) in the seventh during a five-run rally capped by Henry Rodriguez's two-run double.Chicago starter Jason Berken allowed just two hits in six innings against a lineup missing most of the Reds' regulars."I was able to get a couple of jams, great defense behind me, stayed on the same page the whole game," Berken said.Cueto gave up five hits with four walks and broke a three-game losing streak."I don't think that was the best stuff he's ever had. You can tell he might be getting a little tired at the end of the year or whatever, but I've seen him with a lot better stuff," Chicago manager Dale Sveum said.The Cubs scored in the seventh on Anthony Rizzo's RBI single and in the eighth on Welington Castillo's fifth homer again. Rizzo had an RBI grounder in the ninth against Alfredo Simon, who pitched the final 1 1-3 innings for his first save in as many chances.The Reds secured their second playoff appearance in three years despite having the back of their bullpen wiped out by injuries during spring training and losing their best hitter -- 2010 National League MVP Votto -- for nearly two months.Baker did some of his best managing to pull them through.His first challenge was cobbling together a bullpen after closer Ryan Madson tore an elbow ligament in spring training, ending his season. Setup men Nick Masset and Bill Bray also got hurt before the season opened.Baker eased Aroldis Chapman into the closer's role, and the hard-throwing left-hander set a franchise record with 27 consecutive saves.Baker also had to juggle his batting order and lineup after Votto tore knee cartilage and was sidelined on July 16. The Reds went on their best tear of the season without their top hitter, going 32-16 and taking control of the NL Central.There was some good fortune, too. All five starters have made it through the season without injury, a franchise record. The Reds had to use a sixth starter only because of a doubleheader.By the time September started, the Reds were firmly in control and counting down the days until they'd clinch."This is the first step," Jocketty said.""We've played very successful baseball this year, and we've competed with the best teams at a very high level," Votto added."We've done a lot of winning this year, but I think anything but setting the World Series as our standard, I think anything less would be selling ourselves short. ... That's our goal."NOTES:Cueto's two strikeouts gave him a career-best 159. ... Reds 2B Rodriguez and CF Denis Phipps made their first career starts and SS Didi Gregorius started for just the fourth time. ... The Cubs stay home to play the wild card-contending Cardinals with Chris Carpenter (0-0) set to make his season debut against Chris Volstad (3-10). ... The Reds will start Bronson Arroyo (12-8) at home against the Dodgers' Joe Blanton (9-13) on Friday night. ... Berken, picked up on waivers from Baltimore earlier this month, struck out four batters in one inning -- the fifth Cubs pitcher to ever do that -- when Ryan Hanigan reached on a third strike wild pitch in the second.Nationals 4, Dodgers 1WASHINGTON (AP) -- As Davey Johnson walked into the interview room to talk about Washington's return to postseason baseball for the first time since 1933, fans gathered in an adjoining restaurant began to applaud."What's the big deal?" Johnson joked.The Nationals used Ross Detwiler's six strong innings and Ryan Zimmerman's RBI double to lock up a playoff spot Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers."Nats Clinch" flashed on the scoreboard as Washington ensured at least an NL wild-card spot, delighting the crowd of 30,359."That was fun, but it's not what I had my eye on," Johnson said. "I don't want this."The fans stood and cheered in the ninth inning, then got even louder when Drew Storen struck out Hanley Ramirez to end it. Johnson saluted the crowd as he left the field and the team wore caps and T-shirts acknowledging the playoff berth."I noticed like in the fifth or sixth, some signs, some different things that kind of keyed me into that this wasn't going to be an ordinary evening," Jayson Werth said."That was not an ordinary win."Nineteen-year-old center fielder Bryce Harper claimed ignorance of the team's situation."Everyone's going crazy. I looked at the fireworks and I go: I guess we just did something.' Then somebody handed me the playoff shirt and playoff hat and I said, Well, I guess we're going to the playoffs,'" Harper said.Washington's magic number to win the NL East was reduced to eight. The Nationals lead idle Atlanta by 5 games."We've been through a lot and a lot of us in here have been through a lot of not-good times and these are the beginning of hope for a lot of good times," Zimmerman said.Zimmerman is the only Nationals player to appear in each of the team's eight seasons."It's a first step, and it's a long ways to go," he said.The Nationals became the second team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this year. Cincinnati sealed its slot earlier in the day.They celebrated with a private champagne toast. No spraying and no protective plastic over their lockers."I think there was some talk about not celebrating at all, but I kind of talked them out of that," Werth said."The next one would not be as subdued, I would imagine," Zimmerman said.Washington was last in the postseason 79 years ago, when player-manager Joe Cronin and the Senators lost to the New York Giants in five games in the World Series."I can't remember that year," Johnson said with a laugh.Until this year, the Nationals had never had a winning season -- nor finished above third place -- since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season. It will be just the franchise's second postseason berth and its first since the Expos came within a game of the World Series in 1981.The Nationals lost more than 100 games in both 2008 and 2009, allowing them to draft pitcher Stephen Strasburg and Harper.The loss dropped the Dodgers three games behind St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card spot. Milwaukee moved ahead of Los Angeles with its win over Pittsburgh.Manager Don Mattingly agreed the team's playoff chances dimmed after the Dodgers' 10th loss in 14 games."You know, honestly, it does. It feels like it is a little bit, and I don't think there's any way for us to look at it other than that," he said. "I mean, it's, yeah, we're going the wrong direction."For us at this point, we're going to have to put a run together that's going to be more than just win a series."Detwiler (10-6) allowed just Mark Ellis' fourth-inning home run and two singles. Storen pitched the ninth for his third save.Zimmerman's third-inning double scored Harper with Washington's first run. Zimmerman then took third on an infield out and scored on a wild pitch by Chris Capuano (11-11).The Nationals added two runs in the fourth on a walk to Ian Desmond, an RBI double by Danny Espinosa and a sacrifice fly by Kurt Suzuki.Werth, who signed a 126 million, seven-year deal with the Nationals before the 2011 season, is most eager for the postseason to begin."I've got a lot to prove. I've got a lot of people to prove wrong, and I can't wait," Werth said.NOTES:Mattingly said that LHP Clayton Kershaw was continuing with his throwing program. Kershaw will have to demonstrate he's free from pain in his right hip before he'll be able to pitch again, the manager said. ... Johnson said RHP Chien-Ming Wang will start on Sunday. Wang hasn't started since June 19. He missed nearly two months with a right hip injury.

Gameday: Bring on Lonzo Ball vs De'Aaron Fox in the NBA

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Gameday: Bring on Lonzo Ball vs De'Aaron Fox in the NBA

SACRAMENTO -- The Kings were treated rudely by the Denver Nuggets to open their three-game homestand on Monday. They’ll get another shot to pick up a win Wednesday when the upstart Los Angeles Lakers swing into Golden 1 Center.

Sacramento has struggled to find consistency this season on the road, but they’ve been able to ride their home crowd to impressive wins over Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Portland. If they can knock off the Lakers, they improve to .500 at home on the season. 

The Lakers are coming off a come-from-behind win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and have to play Sacramento on the second night of a back-to-back. They are a young and exciting team, that present plenty of matchup issues for the Kings.

BETTING LINE 

Lakers by 1

MATCHUP TO WATCH

De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball -- Let the games begin! The drama surrounding these two dates back to college. Fox ran over Ball at the NCAA level, outscoring the former UCLA Bruin in both games last season, including a 39-point outburst during a tournament game. Ball missed the summer league matchup between the two, causing a bit of a stir on social media. Wednesday night is nothing more that a pair of 19-year-olds playing hoops against one another while hundreds of thousands of people watch intently. No pressure, kids.

WHERE THEY STAND 

Kings: 4-13, fifth place in Pacific

Lakers: 8-10, second place in Pacific

INJURY REPORT 

Kings: SG Buddy Hield (sprained ankle) probable, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January.

Lakers: PF Larry Nance Jr. (hand) out.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

BRIGHT LIGHTS -- The world is watching. Sacramento doesn’t draw the attention of the national media all that often, but plenty of eyes will be on the Kings/Lakers matchup on Wednesday. Will the Kings bring the defensive intensity that helped them knock off the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday or will they fade like they did against Denver last time out?   

REBOUND -- The Kings are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA and they’ll face a team that knows how to hit the glass. Dave Joerger needs his guards to get involved if they hope to avoid another lopsided rebounding deficit. 

CONTAIN KUZMA -- Ball gets all the pub, but it’s the late first rounder out of Utah that is turning heads. Fresh off a 22-point performance Tuesday against the Bulls, Kyle Kuzma is posting nearly 17 points per game while starting at power forward for the Lakers. He’s a player that plenty of teams are now regretting passing on in the 2017 NBA Draft. 

SERIES HISTORY 

These two teams split the season series 2-2 last season, with each team winning one at home and one on the road. Los Angeles owns a huge 270-153 lead in the all-time series and a 92-44 advantage during the Sacramento-era 88-47. 

QUOTE

“It’s fun. Sometimes there’s too many haters out there. It is what it is. Smile and enjoy it. I think it will be a great opportunity for those two guys to begin their careers.” Dave Joerger on the Fox/Ball matchup

Basketball junkie Vince Carter ecstatic to return from bout with kidney stones

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USATSI

Basketball junkie Vince Carter ecstatic to return from bout with kidney stones

SACRAMENTO -- In today's world, 40 is the new 30...until kidney stones hit. Vince Carter keeps himself in incredible shape. In his 20th season, he is a beacon of health and fitness. A marvel of an athlete that has retained plenty of the athleticism that earned him the moniker, “Half man, half amazing.”

Carter hasn’t felt amazing over the last few weeks. A nasty bout with kidney stones left the 40-year-old forward on the outside looking in. Seven games later, he’s ready to take the floor for the first time in over two weeks Wednesday evening against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I was just happy to sit on the court the other day, just to dress out in a suit and just to be around the guys again,” Carter told NBC Sports California following shootaround. “That’s what I do. I play the game of basketball. I love it. I love being around it. I can’t wait.”

Carter has missed the Kings’ seven games with calcium oxalate kidney stones. He needs to drink more water, but the biggest culprit in his diet has been a love of greens. 

“It comes from a lot of spinach and kale,” Carter said. “It forms from there.”

While sitting at home watching the team play from his couch, Carter said he was texting coaches and anyone else who would pick up during games. Being away from his teammates is the last thing a basketball lifer wants to do. 

This isn’t the first battle with stones for Carter, but it was by far the worst episode he’s had. It’s also not the first go around for the Kings medical staff, who helped former King Marcus Thornton work through a similar situation a few years back. 

Where Carter fits in on a young roster is still a question, but he’ll likely see court time against the Lakers Wednesday evening at Golden 1 Center.