Fire

Say hello to the hottest team in the NBA

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Say hello to the hottest team in the NBA

From Comcast SportsNetOKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Reggie Jackson gave an unexpected spark for the surging Oklahoma City Thunder.But it was star Kevin Durant who scored 35 points as the Thunder extended their winning streak to nine games with a 92-88 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night."Reggie has been here for a year now," Durant said. "He knows what it takes. He's not pouting that he's not playing. He's coming in and working hard every single day, just waiting on his chance, and coach gave him a chance tonight."That shows how much he believes in all of us. He would have done that with anybody, and Reggie was the guy that came in and he gave us a really, really big spark."I'm really proud of him, his defensive intensity, hitting shots, just playing with a lot of energy. I'm glad he got that opportunity.With the Thunder trailing by 11 points late in the third quarter, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks went with a small lineup, inserting Jackson alongside backup point guard Eric Maynor, Kevin Martin and Durant, and the Thunder closed the quarter on a 7-0 run. A 9-2 run, capped by a dunk by Durant, put the Thunder ahead 67-64.Jackson played most of the fourth quarter, finishing with five points. It was his first action since Dec. 1 against New Orleans and only his 11th appearance for the Thunder in 22 games this season. He played for the D-League's Tulsa 66ers on Saturday."You've just got to stay ready," Jackson said. "Of course it's tough, but once you get out there, especially in this atmosphere, it's easy to get going."With the win, the Thunder matched the second-best start in franchise history at 18-4. The Seattle SuperSonics started 20-2 in the 1993-94 season and the Thunder started 18-4 last season.It was the Thunder's third win over the Hornets in the past four weeks and seventh straight in the series. Brian Roberts scored 16 points to lead New Orleans, which lost its fifth straight game.Still, coach Monty Williams wasn't entirely displeased."I thought we competed tonight," Williams said. "I thought we brought an edge. Obviously we lost the game, but when we compete that way and keep our turnovers down, you give yourselves a chance."Greivis Vasquez missed a 3-point attempt in the closing seconds that would have given New Orleans the lead. Thabo Sefolosha corralled the rebound and made the clinching free throws for the Thunder.Oklahoma City, the league's highest-scoring team, entered the game with a 106-point average, but had its run of 12 straight triple-digit games end as it had to fight back simply to win against the worst team in the Western Conference.The Hornets, who fell 77-70 on Tuesday night against Washington, figured their best chance to stay with the Thunder was to keep the game low-scoring and that strategy worked for most of three quarters.The Hornets led 62-51 after a basket by Austin Rivers with 2:01 left in the third quarter before the 16-2 spurt by Oklahoma City spanning the third and fourth quarters.The Hornets regained the lead twice after that, but a 3-pointer by Martin put the Thunder ahead for good at 73-72 with 6:20 left. Still, Oklahoma City struggled to pull away.A three-point play by Durant with 1:12 left pushed the Thunder's lead to 89-84, but Anthony Davis made 1 of 2 free throws with 18.5 seconds left and New Orleans grabbed the rebound on the miss.Roberts made a 3-pointer with nine seconds left to pull the Hornets within 89-88.Durant made 1 of 2 free throws with 8.1 seconds left. The Thunder scored 34 points in the fourth quarter, two fewer than they did in the first half."For whatever reason, we started the game off out of sync offensively," Brooks said. "Like I talk to the guys all the time and what we talk about every day, is that the defense needs to be there."In the fourth quarter, Brooks said, "We got aggressive and I thought we passed the ball much better, but we were making shots. It was just a combination of a few things. Our defensive intensity picked up."With help from 12 points by Ryan Anderson, New Orleans led most of the way in the first half and was up 44-36 at halftime. Oklahoma City, which entered the game second in the NBA in field-goal shooting at 49.1 percent, shot 30.6 percent from the field, including 0 of 3 from 3-point range.Oklahoma City led briefly by one point on two occasions in the second quarter before a 13-3 run by the Hornets gave them a 36-26 lead.Anderson finished with 14 points for the Hornets. Martin scored 17 for Oklahoma City while Russell Westbrook added 14.NOTES:The Thunder's first-quarter (17) and first-half (36) point totals were season lows. ... The Hornets' only lead over the Thunder in the first two meetings of the season came in the second game, when they were up 2-0. New Orleans coach Monty Williams said before the game he's still not sure how long Eric Gordon, who has a sore left knee, will be out of the lineup.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”