Cubs

NBA Power Rankings: Heat still No. 1

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NBA Power Rankings: Heat still No. 1

By Tony Andracki & Mark Strotman

Each Monday throughout the regular season, Mark Strotman and Tony Andracki will rank all 30 NBA teams. Below are the first power rankings of the year in advance of the 2012-12 season. Think we're way off? Agree with our picks? Hit us up on Twitter at @BullsTalkCSN with comments or criticisms.

Tony
Mark Comments 1
Tony: The best team until somebody dethrones them.
Mark: Defending champs get even better with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
2

Tony: Kobe is going to will this team to come together quickly.
Mark: Best starting lineup in the league, but will bench produce enough?
3
Tony: Very Dangerous even without Harden. Will Ibaka get it together on O?
Mark: Ginobili's back injury starting to become a concern (will miss opener).
4
Tony: Will be really fun to watch. Faried will be a monster. Mark: Still the Western champs, but took a small step back losing Harden.
5
Tony: Established as an annual contender behind CP3.
Mark: Core still strong; Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will help replace Allen.
6
Tony: Can't ever count them out, despite the aging roster.
Mark: Young, rising team gets better with Iguodala. 7
Tony: Paul George could key Pacers taking the next step.
Mark: Bringing back Hill and Hibbert means Indiana will contend again in East. 8
Tony: Will be in the thick of things again, but no longer a powerhouse.
Mark: Revamped bench (and a healthy Billups) should support star-studded starting lineup.
9
Tony: Exciting offseason. Will go as far as D-Will takes them.
Mark: The loss of O.J. Mayo hurts, but Conley on the verge of stardom.
10
Tony: Losing Iguodala was big, but Collins will keep 'em contenders.
Mark: New location, new lineup, new jerseys. But will we see new results?
11
Tony: RandolphGasol frontcourt will carry this team.
Mark: Deepest frontcourt in the NBA needs production from point guard Mo Williams.
12
Tony: Thibs will keep their head above water 'til Rose's Return.
Mark: Losing Lou Williams and Iguodala hurts, but Bynum (when healthy) is finally a face to the franchise.
13
Tony: Is this the year Teague takes the next step? Could be big.
Mark: Ugly start to preseason a thing of the past, and Hinrich appears to have avoided serious injury.
14
Tony: Dirk's health will determine season.
Mark: With Horford healthy and Lou Williams on board, Hawks could be sneaky contender in East.
15
Tony: Not sold on them as a contender right now.
Mark: Amar'e will miss six weeks, and point guard (Kidd, Felton) still a question mark.
16
Tony: Hayward is an intriguing guy. Should be integral part of this team.
Mark: No Dirk for a month leaves questions, but core still in tact.
17
Tony: Season hinges on how well JenningsEllis share the ball.
Mark: Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut's health will be a key to the season.
18
Tony: Nicolas Batum is this year's breakout star.
Mark: Jennings and Ellis form elite backcourt, but frontcourt past Ilyosova must improve.
19
Tony: Lin, Harden, Omer an interesting Big Three, to say the least.
Mark: Addition of Harden helps, but can Asik and Lin live up to their contracts?
20
Tony: Health of Curry, Bogut will dictate record.
Mark: Minnesota drops a few spots with Love (hand) and Rubio (ACL) out to start season.
21
Tony: Will be a team to watch when they get LoveRubio back.
Mark: Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge are a dynamic core, but they have little help.
22
Tony: Could surprise people. Monroe is turning into a star.
Mark: The talent is there, but they need an identity...and a defense.
23
Tony: Like their young pieces. Will they trade Varejao?
Mark: The Steve Nash-less era won't be a fun start, but Suns hoping Marshall can one day be heir apparent.
24
Tony: Will Valanciunas live up to the hype?
Mark: Anthony Davis is the real deal, but the Hornets are still a couple of years away.
25
Tony: Year 1 A.N. (After Nash). Is Dragic the answer at PG?
Mark: Addition of Kyle Lowry was a big move, but the Raptors will need help to have chance at No. 8 spot.
26
Tony: Will Cousins mature into a bonafide star?
Mark: Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe are great 1-2 duo to build around.
27
Tony: Remember when Eric Gordon played?
Mark: Kyrie Irving has the franchise in good hands, and Dion WaitersTristan Thompson are great supporters.
28
Tony: Wall's injury a severe blow to a team that should lose often.
Mark: Washington will really struggle until John Wall returns from a knee injury.
29
Tony: "Rebuilding" year after Dwight. Afflalo a nice get, though.
Mark: Dwight Howard nightmare is finally over, but the Magic got very little in return.
30
Tony: Should improve on last year's record, but not by much.
Mark: Love Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's upside, but even he can't change the Bobcats' fortunes this year.

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

For the second straight week, Kyle Schwarber halted his postgame media scrum to get something off his chest.

Standing at his locker — the same spot he stood exactly a week prior — the Cubs slugger got about as forceful as he's ever been with the cameras rolling.

Are the Cubs drained right now?

"Never. Nope. Not at all," Schwarber said. "I'll shut you down right there — we're not running out of gas at all."

Really? 

You gotta admire Schwarber's grit. He's got that linebacker/football mentality still locked and loaded in mid-October after a brutal first three games of the NLCS.

But...come on. The Cubs aren't drained? They're not tired or weary or mentally fatigued?

Schwarber says no, but it doesn't look that way on the field. They look like the high point of the season was that epic Game 5 in D.C. It was one of the craziest baseball games ever played, very reminsicent of Game 7 in last year's World Series.

Only one thing: Game 7 was the ultimate last game. They left it all on the field and that was cool because there was no more season left. Last week's wacky contest wasn't the final game of the season. It was just the final game of the FIRST series of the postseason.

So if the Cubs aren't feeling any weariness — emotional, physical, mental or otherwise — they must be superhuman.

Yet Anthony Rizzo — the face of the franchise — backed Schwarber's sentiment.

"I'm 28 years old right now," Rizzo said. "I could run laps around this place right now. I've got a great job for a living to play baseball.

"We have a beautiful life playing baseball. You gotta keep that in perspective. So if you wanna try to get mentally tired, realize what we're doing."

Rizzo talked that talk, but his performance on the field has hit a wall. After his "Respect Me!" moment in Game 3 of the NLDS, Rizzo went hitless in his next 16 at-bats before a harmless single Tuesday night. He then struck out in his final trip to the plate.

Bryzzo's other half — Kris Bryant — actually took the opposite stance of his teammates.

"Yeah, [that Washington series] was pretty draining, I think," Bryant admitted. "Some good games there that I think were pretty taxing for our bullpen and pitchers, too. 

"Kinda expect that around this time of year. The games mean a lot."

It's not surprising to hear those words from Bryant. In fact, it wouldn't even be mildly shocking to hear every player in the clubhouse share the same point of view.

The Cubs played all the way past Halloween last fall, then hit the town, having epic celebrations, going on TV shows, having streets named after them, etc. 

Then, before you know it, there's Cubs Convention again. And shortly after that, pitchers and catchers report. 

From there, the "title defense" season began, featuring a lackluster first half and a second half that took a tremendous amount of energy just to stave off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and get into the postseason.

Oh yeah, and then that series with the Nationals where the Cubs squeaked out a trio of victories by the slimest of margins.

These Cubs have never really had anything resembling a break. 

However, they're now just one game away from getting that rest they so badly need (and deserve).

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”