Cubs

Spurs look as dominant as ever

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Spurs look as dominant as ever

From Comcast SportsNetSAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Tony Parker shooed away the NBA coach of the year. The San Antonio Spurs were ahead 36 points and he didn't want Gregg Popovich to end his night just yet."To stay in shape," Parker said.That's how bad it got for the Utah Jazz. It was the third quarter of a playoff game, and Parker by then was practically treating it as just another workout.Pummeling the Jazz in a fashion not seen since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls humiliated them in the 1998 NBA Finals, San Antonio handed Utah its second-worst playoff loss, winning 114-83 on Wednesday night to take 2-0 lead in the first-round series.Parker scored 18 points, while Popovich -- a day after receiving the NBA's highest coaching honor -- could practically put the Spurs on autopilot after a 20-0 run in the second quarter. Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin had admitted to being unusually jittery before losing Game 1, but this time, it was center Al Jefferson summing up how this shiner felt."Embarrassing," he said.The only bigger embarrassment for the Jazz in the playoffs was that 42-point loss to Jordan's Bulls in 1998.Game 3 is Saturday night in Salt Lake City.It's the first time the Spurs have led a series 2-0 since opening the 2008 playoffs against Phoenix. San Antonio won that series in five, and unless the Jazz can shake this off, this one will be over just as quick.If not sooner."I can't explain it. I couldn't explain it the other night," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "They came out and just whipped us."It was a total collapse by the Jazz in spite of flying back to Salt Lake City after Game 1 and regrouping with two days of practice back home. There they had talked about adjustments and maybe giving Parker "a hard foul or two" to get him thinking twice about driving, but Parker didn't seem to have a dent on him before taking the entire fourth quarter off.Jefferson and Millsap weren't any more imposing on offense than they were defensively. Jefferson scored 10 points, and Millsap had nine.Popovich chalked the blowout more to the Jazz having a bad night -- they shot 23 percent in the first half -- than the Spurs dominating. Parker played 28 minutes and Popovich said the decision on when to take his star out was a struggle between keeping him in condition and not risking injury."He wanted to get the whole quarter, but we compromised and got two more minutes," Popovich said. "He's been special for us all year, obviously. We got to keep him ready to go."The Spurs held the Jazz scoreless for nearly 7 minutes in the second quarter while rookie Kawhi Leonard and unheralded swingman Danny Green outplayed the Jazz's stars. The Jazz filed off the court at halftime walking slow, heads down and quiet after being as close as 31-26 minutes earlier.Jefferson and Josh Howard, who also had 10 points, were Utah's leading scorers.It was the most lopsided postseason win for the Spurs since beating the Nuggets by 28 in 2005. San Antonio's playoff record is a 40-point victory over Denver in 1983."You don't expect to win a playoff game like that," Green said. "They're a very good team, but they didn't shoot it as well as they liked. They didn't shoot it as well as they did, and we shot the ball pretty well. Stuff like that happens."The Spurs have won 12 in a row, a season high after surrendering two 11-game winning streaks this season by not playing Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili.Duncan finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Leonard scored 17 points, and Green had 13.At least the Jazz didn't look the most embarrassed the entire night. Popovich again had to show off his coach of the year trophy before the game, this time for fans while standing between Duncan and Spurs great David Robinson. Popovich obliged for several seconds before scrambling to hand the trophy off to one of his assistants as fast as possible.Notes: The last Jazz team to rally from an 0-2 deficit and win a playoff series was 2007, when Utah came back to beat Houston in the first round. The Spurs later beat that team on their way to their fourth championship. ... Backup Spurs C Tiago Splitter (sprained wrist) was available to play but the rout gave Popovich the luxury of letting the big man continue to heal. Popovich said Splitter should be better by Game 3.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.