Cubs

Noah's career day leads Bulls to 16th straight win over Pistons

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Noah's career day leads Bulls to 16th straight win over Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. Now, after a signature performance Friday evening, the All-Star talk surrounding Joakim Noah is truly legitimate, if it wasnt before. The center had a career night in both points (30) and rebounds (23) in leading the Bulls (10-8) to a 108-104 victory over the Pistons (6-15) at The Palace at Auburn Hills.

Surprisingly, in a battle of two teams not exactly known for their offensive prowess, the matchup was a shootout early on, as each squad got off to a high-scoring start. Marco Belinellis (16 points) big night Wednesday in Cleveland apparently carried over, as the shooting guard, again filling in for the injured Rip Hamilton in the former Pistons stars former stomping grounds knocked down two triples to start his outing.

Additional Bulls point production came from Noah, who dominated the boards early, but they were countered by the young Pistons tandem of big man Greg Monroe (13 points) and point guard Brandon Knight (21 points), whose combined efforts made it a close-knit affair. After a quarter of play, the Bulls trailed their hosts, 30-26, in a bit of a step back defensively from recent performances.

It turned out that the opening period simply foreshadowed what was to come, as the Pistons absolutely blitzed their guests to begin the second quarter. Propelled by the scoring of Rodney Stuckey (24 points, seven assists), recently demoted to a reserve role, Detroit went on a tear, as even backup big men Charlie Villanueva (15 points) and rookie Andre Drummond made major impacts against the visitors vaunted defense.

Suddenly, the Bulls found themselves in a double-digit hole and after grasping the reality of their situation, fought back behind the play of their big-man duo starting with Carlos Boozers (24 points, six rebounds) quiet effectiveness and after his re-entry into the contest, Noahs relentless play, which yielded a double-double in the first half and significantly cut into the deficit. After being down by as much as 17 points, the Bulls still trailed, but by a much more manageable 55-50.

After the break, which included a performance by rapper Fat Joe, the Bulls continued to whittle away at the Pistons lead, and while Knights scoring exploits persisted, the Bulls eventually tying the contest at 68 apiece midway through the third quarter. The aforementioned post tandem of Boozer and Noah continued their solid output, aided by Luol Deng (16 points, six assists, five rebounds, two blocked shots), who slowly started to come alive offensively.

It remained a back-and-forth affair as the period waned on, as Detroit veteran forwards Tayshaun Prince (13 points) and Jason Maxiell made timely buckets, but the Bulls dominant frontcourt trio of Noah, Boozer and Deng made their respective presences felt to give the visitors a slight edge. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 78-74 advantage.

Noahs dominance on the interior highlighted the beginning of the fourth quarter, as the charismatic center was a one-man wrecking crew literally owning the glass, finishing extremely proficiently and even knocking down his ever-improving outside jumper, prompting his trademark finger guns celebration helping the Bulls seize control of the contest. Boozer, functioning as Noahs sidekick, filled in the gaps offensively, throwing down powerful dunks and hitting mid-range jumpers to give the visitors some breathing room.

While the Pistons valiantly attempted a last-gasp comeback, the Bulls clamped down on the defensive end and continued to execute on offense, ensuring that they sealed the deal. But the night belonged to Noah, who had the best night of his career, cementing, at the very least, his All-Star candidacy.

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

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USA TODAY

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?

“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.

Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.

“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”

Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.

“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.

“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”

Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.

“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.

“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.

“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”

Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.

The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.

“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.

“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist shares his leadoff approach

Sports Talk Live is on location at the Brickhouse Tavern at Wrigley Field to get you set for Game 3 of the NLCS. David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Jesse Rogers (ESPNChicago.com) and Bob Nightengale (USA Today) join Kap on the panel. 

Plus, Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson drop by to talk about the big matchup.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: