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NBA team earns 1st playoff spot since '07

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NBA team earns 1st playoff spot since '07

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- With some help, the Los Angeles Clippers had already clinched their first playoff berth in five years before they tipped off against Oklahoma City. Then they went out and earned it.Nick Young scored 19 points off the bench, Blake Griffin added 17 and Randy Foye 13 to beat the Thunder 92-77 on Monday night."It is something that we're happy about, but by no means is that all we want," said Griffin, who like a lot of his teammates will be in the postseason for the first time. "That was one of our goals coming in, but it goes farther than that."Houston lost to Denver by three points earlier Monday night, ensuring the Clippers would end the second-longest active postseason drought in the league."I'm happy we can get Blake on TV in May," DeAndre Jordan said.Griffin had 11 rebounds and Jordan grabbed 12 in the Clippers' fourth straight victory and 12th in their last 14 games. Their 38 wins are the most since the franchise had 40 in 2006-07."This is a great feeling," said Paul, whose acquisition shortly before the lockout ended has played a key role in the Clippers' changing fortunes. "We can celebrate it, be excited about it tonight but tomorrow we're back at work."Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 24 points, Serge Ibaka and James Harden added 12 points each, and Russell Westbrook was held to nine as the Thunder's two-game winning streak ended. San Antonio beat Golden State to move percentage points ahead of the Thunder in the race for the No. 1 seed in the West."There's no time to panic right now," Durant said. "We have to win the next game in order to get our momentum back."The Clippers didn't need the victory to achieve their immediate goal, but they played like they wanted it in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Thunder 26-11."We got good looks, but we were missing shots and they picked their intensity up," Durant said. "It was just one of those tough ones for us. I missed a few 3s, Russell missed a few elbow jump shots, which he normally makes, and Serge missed some that went in and out. That's how the game is, man."Mo Williams hit a 3-pointer for the Clippers' first lead since they scored the game's first basket. Eric Bledsoe came in for Paul and calmly ran the offense, feeding Williams and Young, who combined for 10 of their first 14 points."We're one of the best second units in the league," said Young, who joined the Clippers a month ago in a trade from Washington. "I'm excited. I was waiting for one of these type of games. To get it tonight against one of the league's top teams was great."Griffin scored on back-to-back rim-rattling dunks that had the Clippers' 32nd sellout crowd of the season on its feet roaring. Paul briefly came back in, but Williams and Foye made consecutive 3s to stretch their lead to 90-77, so the All-Star guard sat down again with the game in hand."We have enough offensive power to play with anybody, but our defense is what triggers us," Paul said. "When we defend, we're tough to guard."Foye dribbled out the final seconds with a smile on his face, although at the buzzer the Clippers did little more than smile and hug each other."We know that's not the only thing we want," Jordan said. "We still have a goal for this team, and this is just one of the steps towards it."The Clippers won the season series, 3-1."They're really good, but I don't think they're a better team than us," Durant said. "It's not like we're afraid of them or that we're scared to see those guys later on. But you have to give them credit. They beat us."The Clippers dominated the third, outscoring the Thunder 23-14. Durant and Westbrook were shut out, while Ibaka scored 12, including nine in a row. Young scored eight straight, hitting two consecutive 3s, to draw Los Angeles within one. Durant banged into Griffin on the perimeter for the foul. Griffin made both shots, but the second was disallowed when Jordan committed a lane violation, leaving the game tied at 66."We picked up the defensive intensity to start the third quarter," Paul said. "We got some steals, got out in transition, guys hit some big buckets and we were able to sustain that momentum."The Thunder led by 11 points in the second quarter. The Clippers closed within four three times, the last time on a 10-3 run including four in a row by Griffin. But the Thunder ran off the final five points to go up 52-43 at halftime. Ibaka had three fouls in the first half when he had no rebounds and no points.NOTES:Paul took his 2-year-old son to a Dodgers game on Sunday. They were both wearing Dodgers caps and his son waved at the crowd. "They booed me bad," he said. "I was just happy that my son didn't know what was going on." ... The Clippers play four of their final five games on the road, where they will try to finish with a .500 or better record for the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. ... They are 15-14 away from home, one of just three Western Conference teams with a winning road mark. ... The Thunder fell to 19-11 on the road, still tops in the West. ... The Thunder came in averaging 103.1 points. ... Durant made 10 of 12 free throws, but the Thunder was just 62 percent from the line, well below their league-leading 80.3 percent.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?