Cubs

LeBron James is youngest player ever to...

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LeBron James is youngest player ever to...

From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- LeBron James has reached so many milestones in his NBA career it might be easy to lose track.He hasn't.Just a point shy of becoming the youngest player in league history to score 20,000 points, James knew exactly where he stood Wednesday night. He worked a switch off Draymond Green on the wing, dribbled past David Lee and pulled up in the lane from 12 feet to make an off-balance jumper with 2:45 remaining in the second quarter.Swish."The best part about it is I was in a rhythm, too, so it wasn't one of those forced shots," James said. "I was able to get the switch on David Lee and get to the elbow and make a shot. It's pretty cool."On a road trip that has had more bad news than good, James rewrote the headlines and the record books again.The three-time NBA MVP also surpassed 5,000 assists on a landmark night, leading the Miami Heat to a 92-75 victory over the undermanned Golden State Warriors. He finished with 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in just 30 minutes to grab his latest slice of history.In the locker room after the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley took a moment give James the game ball and recognize his latest record.Players shouted and huddled in the center of the room. Then, as Spoelstra said, "Everybody took a shot at him -- a punch, a jab, an elbow, whatever they could get in before he started hitting back.""That's a big-time moment," Spoelstra said. "He's a special guy. He's a special player. He's a once-in-a-generational type of player."James eclipsed both marks before halftime, helped Miami go ahead by 34 points in the third quarter and allowed Spoelstra to rest his starters -- without debate this time -- for the fourth. Dwyane Wade added 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Mario Chalmers scored 15 for the Heat, who had lost three of their last four away from home.James already had been the youngest player in NBA history to win rookie of the year, record a triple-double, score 1,000 points, score 10,000 points and win MVP honors at an All-Star game.Add another to the list."It means everything," James said. "It means a lot. First of all, like I continue to say, it means I've been able to be healthy. To be out on the floor and do what I love to do, I love the game of basketball and I try to give everything to the game. And hopefully it continues to give back to me."David Lee had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Jarrett Jack scored 16 in place of Stephen Curry, who sprained his twice surgically repaired right ankle during Golden State's morning practice. The team said X-rays were negative, and Warriors coach Mark Jackson said he doesn't expect Curry to be out long.The Warriors, who upset the Heat 97-95 in Miami on Dec. 12, lost consecutive games for only the third time this season. With center Andrew Bogut already out indefinitely recovering from left ankle surgery, Curry's absence turned out to be too much to overcome against the defending NBA champions."Disappointing, but we faced a team that remembered what took place in South Beach and came with a mindset to make a point, individually and collectively," Jackson said. "That's what great players do."James and Wade just overwhelmed the Warriors from the start.Wade lobbed an alley-oop from half court that James finished with two hands early in the first quarter. James hit Wade slicing down the lane for a dunk moments later for his 5,000th career assist, and James made a 3-pointer after falling hard on his right elbow a play earlier to give the Heat a 23-14 lead.James, who made 11 of 20 shots from the floor, needed 18 points entering the game to become the 38th NBA player to reach the milestone.Previously, the youngest player to score 20,000 points was Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who got there when he was 29 years, 122 days old. James was 28 years, 17 days on Wednesday."He probably would've had it sooner if he didn't decide to come down here to South Beach," Wade said. "It's just a testament to him as a player."Only Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain (29 years, 134 days) and Michael Jordan (29 years, 326 days) reached the latest milestone before turning 30.James also is the 13th player with 20,000 points and 5,000 assists. The only active players to reach both marks are Bryant and Boston's Kevin Garnett.With the long-awaited record out of the way, James and Wade switched roles and opened the second half almost the same way they began the first.Wade tossed an alley-oop just inside half court to James while two Warriors defenders watched the three-time NBA MVP soar for the slam, part of a scintillating 26-6 surge filled with highlights to open the third quarter and put the Heat ahead 78-44.In a 104-97 loss at Utah on Monday, Spoelstra sat Wade and played Chris Bosh for just 40 seconds in the fourth quarter in a decision that had been critiqued and questioned for the past two days by fans and national media. The Heat sliced a 19-point deficit to two without both before falling short.This time, the Big Three watched the final 12 minutes smiling from the bench."Hopefully," Spoelstra said, "we can put to rest everything that happened the other night."NOTES:In terms of games played, James is the seventh-fastest to join the 20,000 club. Wednesday was his 726th regular-season game. Chamberlain needed only 499 games to score 20,000 points. ... The Warriors are 13-3 against the Eastern Conference this season. The two other losses came against Orlando. ... Heat backup F Shane Battier returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury. He had two rebounds and finished 0 for 3 from 3-point range in 10 minutes.

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

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USA TODAY

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

The Washington Nationals must have been sitting at home, watching the National League Championship Series and wondering: How did we lose to this team?

The Cubs poured so much physical effort, mental focus and emotional energy into those five playoff games against the Nationals that they didn’t have much left in the tank for the bigger, better Los Angeles Dodgers team that dominated the defending World Series champs in every phase and captured the NL pennant on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

By midday Friday, the Nationals announced that manager Dusty Baker will not return for the 2018 season, while the contracts for the big-league coaching staff have also expired, leaving a franchise with chain-of-command issues in damage-control mode.

This is a bitter disappointment for Baker, who needs a World Series ring as a manager to put the final bullet point on a Hall of Fame resume and still grumbles about how things ended in 2006 after four up-and-down years managing the Cubs.

Baker, 68, a former Marine, All-Star player and all-around Renaissance man with a great feel for dealing with people and managing the clubhouse, apparently couldn’t overcome last week’s elimination-game meltdown at Nationals Park, where the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory and forced Washington into its fourth first-round playoff exit since 2012.

Baker’s in-game decision-making was already under the microscope and his teams have now lost 10 straight postseason close-out games, a major-league record, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Nationals also needlessly subjected Stephen Strasburg to withering criticism when Baker said the $175 million pitcher was feeling under the weather — maybe because of Chicago mold and hotel air-conditioning units — and being saved for Game 5. Only to flip-flop and watch Strasburg throw seven scoreless innings in a dominant Game 4 performance at Wrigley Field.

That unforced error and yet another manager search is not a good look for the Nationals, who made the announcement through the Lerner family ownership group after general manager Mike Rizzo repeatedly signaled that he expected to reach a new agreement with Baker after winning 192 games combined in two years and back-to-back division titles.

Since the franchise relocated from Montreal and abandoned the Expos logo in 2005, the Nationals have employed seven different managers and will be starting all over again in 2018, when Bryce Harper will be in his last season before becoming a free agent and probably wondering if Washington can finally get its act together.

What now for the Cubs?

What now for the Cubs?

OK, time to turn the page.

Nah, it doesn't have to be that sudden.

The 2017 Cubs season may not have resulted in a World Series, but it was absolutely a smashing success. There was a time not long ago that playing — and even losing — in the fifth game of the NLCS was a huge step.

But the Cubs now have a World-Series-or-bust mentality now and the 2017 season did not live up to those expectations.

"We're capable of more than we showed in the postseason," Ben Zobrist said.

So what now? What's next for these Cubs?

Well, quite literally: Rest. Rest is next.

"For those guys that are playing every day, they need to take the time that they need to take," Zobrist said. "Take the three weeks, month to let your body relax and heal up.

"I think from there, it's listening to your body for them. For me, I'm in a different place. I didn't play as many games as I normally play. I feel like my stamina, I have to work on my endurance and stamina to get back up to where it needs to get to where I'm capable of playing more games and not getting injuries and things like that like I had this year.

"...[Kris Bryant] and [Anthony] Rizzo, they were our horses and so they need to take more time than somebody like me does going into the offseason. They deserve to get some rest and relaxation. I think we're all very motivated going into the offseason to get back to where we're capable of playing as a team."

Other players have a different attitude as they approach the winter.

Albert Almora Jr., after his first full season in the big leagues, is anxious to get better. Immediately.

The young outfielder is planning on spending a lot of time hanging out with his wife and one-year-old son, but he isn't interested in all that much rest right now.

"[I plan] to get back to work," Almora said. "I think we have a big chip on our shoulder coming into next year."

Rizzo and Bryant, meanwhile, played 167 and 161 games, respectively, including the postseason. They combined for over 1,500 plate appearances from April 2 through Oct. 19.

Neither player has much interest in watching the Los Angeles Dodgers play either the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in the World Series.

So what will they do?

"It's always tough," Rizzo said after the Cubs were officially eliminated. "You start a journey with all these guys and at the end of the day, these last couple days, you don't take anything for granted at all.

"The stretch, the cage work. Yesterday could've been our last day. Today's obviously our last day. We gotta enjoy these moments because you don't know how long they last.

"But you make a lot of friendships along the way. This next week will be tough and kinda scratching your head on what to do."