Cubs

Red-hot Clippers match a franchise record

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Red-hot Clippers match a franchise record

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers' franchise record-tying 11th consecutive victory had owner Donald Sterling leading a "hip, hip hooray" chant in the locker room.Sterling grabbed the hand of coach Vinny Del Negro and held it up, exhorting his team, "Let's hear it for the coach." Then he told Del Negro, "Vinny, give me a hug" and the two men embraced."Eleven in a row. Not bad, is it?" Sterling said.Blake Griffin scored 18 points and Jamal Crawford added 17 in the Clippers' 93-77 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night that tied the franchise mark set by the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves."That's pretty special, especially to do it at home," said Chris Paul, who had 10 points and 12 assists, giving him 5,003 in his career."The food tastes better, the music sounds better, you sleep a little better," Paul said. "Everything seems better when you're winning."DeAndre Jordan added 12 points for the Clippers, whose 19-6 record is tied with New York for second-best in the NBA.Robin Lopez scored 14 of his 22 points in the first quarter and rookie Anthony Davis added 16 for the Hornets. They lost their ninth in a row and 11th in 12 games while falling to 2-10 on the road. They were the last team to beat the Clippers on Nov. 26."We knew they were going to come out with a lot of energy. They made shots that they didn't make the last time we played them, and they got a lot of easy buckets," Davis said. "They've got a great team. They're all capable of scoring the ball, from the starters to the bench."Four of the Clippers' five starters took the fourth quarter off, with only Willie Green coming back in after having helped build a 19-point lead to start the final period. But the Hornets couldn't get anything going against the second unit that has played a significant role in the Clippers' current run."We've been getting off to good starts and not putting so much pressure on our bench," Paul said.The Hornets staged a brief rally to open the third. Davis scored five in a row in their 12-9 run that drew them within seven. The Clippers took over from there, outscoring New Orleans 18-6 to end the third leading 75-56. They made 8 of 10 free throws, while Paul's fast-break dunk highlighted the spurt. Griffin grabbed his teammate as Paul swung wildly from the basket."Oh, did I dunk tonight?'" said Paul, the least likely to dunk on a Clippers team nicknamed "Lob City."Blake drew laughs when he said, "You saw I had to help him down.""They really feed off their fast break," Ryan Anderson said. "They're a team that runs, and when they get turnovers they break out and find open guys at the other end. They did that the whole second half and they took advantage of our mistakes."Paul fed Griffin for a layup late in the second quarter to notch his 5,000th assist, triggering a standing ovation. Griffin got fouled on the play and made the free throw. It came during an 11-0 run that provided the Clippers' largest lead to that point, 46-30. Paul's alley-oop pass to Griffin led to a fast-break dunk for the Clippers' final basket of the half, with them leading 48-38."I didn't know what everyone was cheering for," Paul said.Griffin said, "It's cool to be part of that. It's definitely not the last. I'm looking forward to 10,000."The Hornets kept it close in the opening quarter, when they trailed 22-16 after Lopez scored 14 points. He was scoreless in the second quarter when he picked up his third foul.NOTES:Del Negro said Jordan turned his ankle during the game. ... At 27 years, 228 days, Paul is the third-youngest player in NBA history to reach 5,000 assists, trailing Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. He is the fifth-fastest to reach the milestone, needing 510 games. ... New Orleans hasn't won since Dec. 3 against Milwaukee. ... Hornets G Eric Gordon missed the game against his former team because of a sore right knee. He smiled when Clippers fans chanted his name in the final 2 minutes. ... Returning home from a four-game trip, the Clippers had a moment of silence for the victims of last week's school shootings in Connecticut.

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.”