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Giants, D'Backs to battle for first in NL West

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Giants, D'Backs to battle for first in NL West

August 1, 2011

ARIZONA (59-49) vs.
GIANTS (61-47)

Coverage begins at 6:30 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Seeing the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants atop the NL West shouldn't come as much of a shock.

After back-to-back last-place finishes, the Arizona Diamondbacks' opportunity to move into first place this late in the season is, in contrast, quite surprising.

With the top spot in the West ultimately up for grabs, the visiting Diamondbacks and Giants open a heavily-anticipated three-game set Monday night.

San Francisco (61-47) has led the division since overtaking Arizona on June 25, but now finds itself just two games ahead of the Diamondbacks following a three-game sweep at the hands of Cincinnati over the weekend. The Giants scored a combined five runs over the first two games before they were held to a season worst-tying three hits during Sunday's 9-0 defeat.

KILLION: A Giant wake-up call

"This club is resilient," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We've been through this before. It's not easy. There are always going to be bumps in the road, and this was a big one. It's up to us. We've got to go out there and play our best ball. We've got the talent. We've just got to do it."

San Francisco could have trouble snapping out of its funk with red-hot Arizona (59-49) coming to town. The Diamondbacks have outscored opponents 49-27 en route to taking six of eight - including Sunday's 6-3 road win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

While Arizona has dropped seven of nine meetings with the Giants this season, manager Kirk Gibson's club will look for its recent momentum to carry over into this series.

"I think we're a different team now and we've developed a lot of character," Gibson said. "This is what it's all about, and guys love it. It'll probably be pretty exhaustive. But it's not do-or-die, and I don't want guys to put pressure on themselves - just continue to grit and grind.

"We just have to keep an even keel, and however we come out of that series, we'll move on to the next one."

Much of the team's recent success at the plate can be attributed to Justin Upton, who's 22 for 46 (.478) with six homers and 19 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak. Upton's also hurt the Giants of late, going 22 for 55 (.400) with two homers over his last 13 games in the series.

Matt Cain (9-6, 2.91 ERA) is saddled with the tough task of slowing Upton down.

The right-hander has been very sharp of late, going 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA over his last four starts. He held Philadelphia to one unearned run and four hits over seven innings of Wednesday's 2-1 road win.

That same night, San Francisco acquired Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets in an attempt to boost its offense.

Beltran, however, is 2 for 17 (.118) in four games with his new club. He can't be happy about facing Ian Kennedy (12-3, 3.22), who's held him hitless in five career at-bats.

Kennedy is in the midst of a career-best four-start winning streak, during which he's compiled a 2.42 ERA. The right-hander gave up two runs, four hits, and fanned nine in six innings of Wednesday's 4-3 victory at San Diego.

"Fastball command wasn't as good as I wanted it to be but my changeup was probably the best it's been in a while," said Kennedy, 1-2 despite a 1.81 ERA lifetime against the Giants.

Cain, too, has experienced plenty of success in this series, especially at home, where he's 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his last six starts against Arizona - including a one-hitter on May 28, 2010.

Upton is 9 for 27 with seven strikeouts against Cain.

Despite another loss, young Kings taking baby steps towards goal

Despite another loss, young Kings taking baby steps towards goal

SACRAMENTO -- Going young. The Sacramento Kings put their core of 20-somethings to work Saturday night at Golden 1 Center. Five players with three years of experience or less played more than 25 minutes, with four of those players hitting the 30-minute mark.

This has been the plan since the start of the new year, but injuries have derailed coach Dave Joerger’s rotations. With seven healthy youngsters and a mystery man in Bruno Caboclo hiding on the end of the bench, it’s time to see what the Kings have.

“I want our team to go out and learn, I want our team to go out and play the right way and not just run up and down,” Dave Joerger said before the Kings faced off with the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday evening.

Wins are great, but learning experiences are just as valuable for the 2017-18 Kings. With the game in the balance in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, Joerger mostly went away from his veterans.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Mason and Skal Labissiere all played major minutes in fourth quarter as the Kings tried to pull out the win. They clawed to within one point with 12 seconds remaining and had the ball with an opportunity to tie moments later. These are the types of situations the Kings young players need to see and learn from.

“I think we’re improving a lot from early in the season,” Bogdanovic told NBC Sports California following the loss. “I can say, we don’t have those games where it’s 20-30 points and it’s already lost. I think we compete every single night.”

The Kings are taking baby steps. They took the Oklahoma City Thunder down to the wire on Thursday night, only to lose on a buzzer beater with one second on the clock. They stumbled in the final moments against the Lakers, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

“Sometimes it just comes with experience,” Fox said of the loss. “A lot of other teams, they’ve had the same core and they struggled early on, but with that experience, you get better. You start seeing what guys can do a few years into the league.”

Individually, the numbers are up for almost every one of the Kings’ young players since January 1st. The team is looking for signs of improvement and an outline of what the future may hold is taking form.

Fox and Bogdanovic are building chemistry as a starting backcourt. They combined to score 34 points, dish out 10 assists and grab seven rebounds against the Lakers on Saturday. It’s a one-game sample, but they compliment each other well as players.

Hield has become a valuable asset as a bench scorer and he’s starting to show he can do more than just shoot. After posting 19 points and nine rebounds against the Thunder on Thursday, he finished with 21 points and eight boards against the Lakers.

Cauley-Stein posted an 18-point, 15-rebounds double-double against LA. He is showing more consistency this season as a whole, but the Kings are still looking for nightly numbers they can start to pencil in for the 7-footer.

After a strong finish to the the 2016-17 season, Labissiere has struggled in Year Two, especially on the defensive end. He missed a few weeks of action due shoulder injury and he’s looked like a different player since returning action.

His offensive numbers might not jump off the page, but Labissiere put the clamps on Kyle Kuzma and his defense against Carmelo Anthony on Thursday was solid. If Labissiere can defend the perimeter against stretch fours, it changes his trajectory as a player.

Mason is on a minutes limit, but the team already knows that he brings a toughness to the court. Justin Jackson is still trying to find a niche, but he’s going to get an opportunity to start plenty of games as the season winds down.

This young group needs as much court time as possible, but that’s just the start. The coaching staff has worked to develop an offseason program for each of the group, they just need a fast forward button.

“This is an important summer for our young guys and probably a lot of them would like to start it right now,” Joerger said. “Because you’ve seen what you want to work on and you can’t really work on it while you’re competing for the next 24 games.”

“Some of them have got to work on the range of their shot, some of them need to work on consistency,” Joerger continued. “They’ve gotten a good bite of the apple, they’ve learned a lot and we’ve got to continue to go out there and teach and compete. I think that’s the way that you learn the best.”

The Kings are playing with effort and energy. They are competing. They are developing. Losing doesn’t feel good. But if losing now with young players means winning in a year or two when they mature, the Kings might be better for it.

Things could get bloody if Warriors, Thunder meet in playoffs

Things could get bloody if Warriors, Thunder meet in playoffs

OAKLAND -- The decline of the Lob City Clippers created a rivalry vacuum for the Warriors that the Oklahoma City Thunder seems determined to fill.

It’s an organic growth and not necessarily an extension of the since-thawed frost that existed between ex-OKC teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The signals of an altogether new and growing animosity were clearly visible Saturday at Oracle Arena.

They were on the court, where the teams split four technical fouls and two mini-beefs surfaced. They were in the locker rooms, where the Thunder made sharp accusations about dirty play as the Warriors defended a 112-80 rout of the team that took their lunches twice earlier this season.

“We just didn’t want to lose,” Durant said. “We know we can get beat by this team, obviously, if we don’t come and play with force. We did that on both ends of the court.”

There was, to be sure, a playoff-level atmosphere, with tensions and tempers running high. Carmelo Anthony and Durant confronted each other in the second quarter, and Draymond Green and Anthony got testy with each other in the third.

Asked what occurred with Green, Anthony took the neighborhood high ground: “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”

While Nick Young (16 points in 18 minutes) and Durant (28 in 32) were scorching the nets, bodies of both teams were thudding to the floor multiple times and big men JaVale McGee and Steven Adams were wrestling in the paint.

But if any single incident is at the heart of burgeoning conflict, it was that between Russell Westbrook and Pachulia late in the third quarter. Westbrook tumbled over Young, with Pachulia then tumbling onto Westbrook in the area of his knees.

Westbrook, who came up limping, took exception, as did his teammate, Paul George. Even Celtics star Kyrie Irving, via Instagram, expressed his disapproval of what he saw as an unforced fall with harmful intentions by Pachulia.

Here is Westbrook’s response when asked what happened: “Did you see it? What did it look like? What did it look like? Did anybody touch him? Yes or no? Obviously, it was intentional. So don’t ask me was it intentional. Nobody touched him and he fell over my leg, tried to hurt me.”

Westbrook believes that particularly incident will be reviewed by members of the NBA disciplinary crew.

“You know Zaza,” George said. “You know his history. And you know nobody pushed him. He aimed where he was going to fall. That’s Zaza making a Zaza play. He’s on the end of hurting a lot of guys.”

Pachulia-Westbrook has history, with the big man block-shoving Westbrook to the floor last season. Pachulia was assessed a Flagrant 1 for that transgression.

No foul was called this time, but this incident adds to the popular belief that Pachulia is a more a hatchet man than a basketball player.

Though Pachulia, for his part, denied any ill intent, this is certain to add fuel to the antipathy between the teams. The Warriors came into the game on alert, hoping to get a measure of revenge against the team that trounced them by 17 in Oklahoma City last November and by 17 in Oakland 18 days ago.

The Warriors were in control most of the night, going up five after a quarter and seven at the half. Then with afterburners kicking in, the Warriors outscored OKC 60-35 in the second half while holding the Thunder to 32.5-percent shooting.

The Warriors are now 1-2 this season against a team that plays defense at a level that makes it a legitimate threat in the postseason. Green was unwilling to deny the significance of this particular regular-season game, conceding that it had the feel of a postseason battle.

“It did and that was the way we approached it,” he said. “We approached it like we needed to win this game. We came out with a defensive mindset. Then we executed.”

Green picked up his 15th technical foul, leaving him one away from a one-game suspension. You may recall -- Green surely does - that he was suspended from Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals after an altercation with Cavaliers star LeBron James.

That suspension came as another incident involving Green was fresh in the minds of everyone in the league’s New York office.

An incident involving the Thunder, with Green’s foot making contact with Adams’ groin area during the Western Conference Finals that the Warriors won in seven games.

There is a reasonable chance the teams will meet again in the postseason. If they do, there could be blood on the floor, and maybe a few teeth.