Cubs

Opening week of NBA season offers some revelations

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Opening week of NBA season offers some revelations

A week into the NBAs regular season, its become clear that certain assumptions made before the campaign starting are off the mark, at least in the easy going. For example, as the Bulls learned Tuesday night in outlasting the previously-undefeated Magic at the United Center, Orlandodespite a roster blending young, under-the-radar talented and veteran role players not regarded as primary optionswont be the leagues worst team.

Another observation that can be gleaned from watching the Bulls is the fact that Joakim Noah could make his debut All-Star appearance, as alluded to Wednesday by the Chicago Sun-Times. Even with the league removing the center designation from the ballot, Noahs all-around play and improved scoringprovided he remains consistent with that aspect of his gamecant be ignored and being that hes both a fan favorite and a player opposing coaches respect, it wouldnt be a surprise to see him in Houston come February, assuming he stays healthy and the Bulls are, at minimum, in playoff position.

Speaking of the Bulls postseason prospects, early as it may be, they got a boost when the news hit that Indianas go-to scorer, Danny Granger, will miss three months with ongoing knee issues. In the wake of Derrick Roses own injury, the Pacers were anointed the successor to throne in the Central Division, but the supposed up-and-coming squad has flawsincluding a retooled and possibly less effective bench and while power forward David West appears to be back to his pre-ACL form, no certified alpha dogeven aside from Grangers woes.

Elsewhere in the division: Clevelands promising young backcourt of surprise fourth overall draft pick Dion Waiters and last seasons Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, is exciting, but the Cavaliers dont yet have a roster to be taken seriously; Detroit has looked awful early on, though the young core of severely underrated big man Greg Monroe, second-year point guard Brandon Knight and raw, but talented center Andre Drummond is something for the Pistons to build upon; Milwaukees scoring-oriented backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis has better chemistry after an abbreviated season together and while the Bucks could challenge for a bottom playoff seed, they dont appear to be a team that upper-echelon opponents should truly fear.

As far as the rest of the East: Toronto, now anchored by the perennially-underrated Kyle Lowry, looks to be improved; New York got off to a fast start, sparked by defense and Carmelo Anthony dominating with Amar'e Stoudemire on the shelf; Boston continues to integrate its new pieces and is a work in progress, but has contender potential; and Miami, with Ray Allen fitting in seamlessly as an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate and Rashard Lewis showing that he still has something less in the tank, appears to be even better, now that they have the air of a champion, a defined style of play and improved three-point shooting.

Around the league, the incessant chatter about the Lakers ups and downsmostly the latter, with their exhibition struggles bleeding into the regular season, further compounded by Steve Nashs early-season injuryhas muffled some of the other storylines across the NBA. Out West, the Spurs have started quick and look poised to again be a juggernaut, the Clippers appear to be one of the leagues most talented teams and although the Nuggets have had early struggles, lack outside shooting and don't have a true go-to scorer, their athleticism and depth is scary. However, the most buzz has been generated by the blockbuster James Harden trade, a move that has changed the narrative surrounding the Thunder and elevated the Rockets back to relevancy.

Oklahoma City, the Bulls' opponent Thursday night, were declared winners of the deal by many observers--the structure of the current CBA forced the organization's hand, is the consensus--and because they received a 20 point-per-game scorer in Kevin Martin, there's no reason to for anybody to immediately hop off the bandwagon, though increased scrutiny will be paid to the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Meanwhile, acquiring Harden energized Houston, thought before the season began to be one of the league's worst teams on paper, as well as easing the pressure off free-agent signees Jeremy Lin and former Bulls backup center Omer Asik, as Harden's scoring--he scored 37 in his debut, followed up by a career-high 45, propelling him into being the NBA's top scorer on the young season--and playmaking have some thinking the Rockets could sneak into a bottom playoff spot in a Western Conference that suddenly appears much more wide-open with the Lakers' early struggles, Dirk Nowitzki being on the shelf for Dallas and expected postseason contender Minnesota hamstrung by injuries to young stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

The Cubs are "due."

That's a funny thought in general. For anybody or any team to be "due," that's saying that everything will even out eventually.

That's often true in baseball. But that's over the course of a 162-game season, far and away the longest sample size in professional sports. 

In an abbreviated postseason series, there really is no such thing as "due" because the season's over before you get a chance to see things even out.

The baseball gods don't ensure that everybody gets the same amount of luck at the same time. The sample size is absolutely too small for that. Plus, the Cubs have had plenty of luck and caught their fair share of breaks already this postseason.

So while it's easy to point to some of the Cubs numbers and say things like "they're not going to hit .162 as a team forever," that's not necessarily true because there are only two guaranteed games left in the 2017 for Joe Maddon and Co. It is absolutely possible the Cubs' season is over before they get a chance to correct their offensive woes.

Though, it would be pretty stunning to see the Cubs offense finish a 9-game October stint with Jon Lester and Jose Quintana as the team's leading hitters (both are 1-for-4, .250 average). 

Like a deliriously-happy, champagne-soaked Theo Epstein said early Friday morning in our nation's capital, "we always hit eventually."

So if I'm a betting man (which I'm not, unless you count fantasy sports), I'm betting on the Cubs offense finally waking from their fall slumber. 

They're simply too good to continue these numbers. This team has combined for a .513 OPS, which is essentially a team of Andres Blancos, a 33-year-old backup infielder who defined "light-hitting" with a .192 average and .549 OPS in 144 plate appearances this season.

The urgency is now a very real thing with the Cubs, and that's something — maybe the ONLY thing — that has really motivated this 2017 squad. They've really only played well when they've had a sense of urgency and they did not have that the first two games in Los Angeles.

Which is understandable. After such a physically, emotionally and mentally draining Game 5 that didn't end until early Friday morning, the team had to travel all the way across the entire continental U.S. only to wind up getting diverted to New Mexico where they sat on the tarmac for five hours.

Every single starting pitcher on the team was exhausted and working on short rest, and that's not to say anything about Wade Davis, who gave everything he had just to get the Cubs to the NLCS.

The Cubs have now had a full day off to clear their heads, get back to center and find their mojo again.

I'm betting that's exactly what they've done, because this team has proved over and over again how resilient they are. I mean, really, a 2-0 deficit is nothing for a team that stared down a 3-1 deficit in the World Series a year ago.

Prediction

Cubs 5, Dodgers 2

The Cubs started out the two-game set in LA by having a few good at-bats against the game's best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) before things got awful against the Dodgers bullpen.

But if we're talking about being "due," that Dodgers bullpen is due for a regression on some level. They've been absolutely incredible this postseason, allowing only one baserunner to the Cubs in eight innings thus far.

Breaking things down individually, there are positive signs for several guys:

—Kris Bryant struck out only three times in 8 at-bats in LA, which is actually an improvement considering he struck out 10 times in 20 at-bats in the NLDS.

—Addison Russell lined a homer to left off Rich Hill for the Cubs' only run in Game 2. He had some really good at-bats in Game 5 and the game's biggest hit when he doubled home two runs off Max Scherzer.

—Javy Baez walked in Game 2. I mean, if that's not enough of a reason for positivity, what is??

Either way, the Cubs offense has their hands full against Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86 ERA) and Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72 ERA) the next two games and if they win one of those two, Kershaw awaits in Game 5 Thursday.

Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

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Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

With the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show just days away, here are five teams that you need to keep in mind when the brackets are announced. They could cause big matchup problems once the postseason begins. You can catch show live this Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago+ with live streaming at nbcsportschicago.com/IHSAPairingShow and via the NBC Sports app.

Class 8A

Edwardsville: The Tigers (5-3) got off to a rough start and lost their first three games, including an opening week stunner, 53-49, to Naperville North. It was a game that the Tigers led 42-0 in the second quarter. However, coach Matt Martin and company are riding high with a five-game winning streak. They feature an explosive offense led by junior QB Kendall Abdur-Rahman and a deep group of backs. Keep an eye on freshman RB Justin Johnson. 

Naperville North: The afforementioned Huskies (5-3) have lost two of their last three games but don't be fooled. Naperville North can trade offensive punches with everyone in the 8A field behind QB Drake Davis, WR Nick Calcagno and a deep group of receivers. Senior LB Ryan Marrano leads the Huskie defense. The team has marquee wins over Edwardsville, Wheaton North, Lake Park and Naperville Central.

Class 7A

Mount Carmel: The Caravan (5-3) will wind up starting the state playoffs on the road.  And trust me: every opponent will not be excited to see this tradition-heavy program come to town. Mount Carmel will look towards its running game with QB Alek Thomas (a TCU baseball and football commit) along with a big offensive line led by senior Jeremy Cooper (Cincinnati). 

[MORE: Edgy Tim's Week 9 Power Rankings]

Class 6A

Providence Catholic: The Celtics (5-3) are coming off a tough Week 8 loss to Loyola. Don't let the three losses fool you. The combined record of the three teams Providence lost to is 22-3. Keep an eye on senior RB Deshon Gavin (WIU commit), a big and physical offensive line and a strong group on defense. Providence has won five of its last six games.

Class 5A

Rochelle: It is the last season for Hubs' veteran head coach Kevin Crandall. Rochelle (5-3) will look to run the football early and often. They also have a fast, physical defensive unit. Rochelle's three losses this season come to the likes of Sterling (8-0), Morris (7-1) and Johnsburg (8-0) and this team will be a tough out for every opponent in 5A. Rochelle is 157-95 under Crandall, including three 12-win seasons.