Cubs

Starting Five: Bulls at Lakers

Starting Five: Bulls at Lakers

Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010
5:18 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. Bulls power forward Taj Gibson expects to play in tonights game against the Lakers after aggravating a foot injury Sunday and missing the teams practices that day and Monday. I think I should be able to playWe worked on it all morning, the last couple hours, the day before, said Gibson, who claims he was told by doctors that he couldnt further aggravate the injury by playing. Im feeling a lot better. Once they figured out what it was, that helped it heal faster. When they saw the MRI, did the check-up to make sure I was okay, they said he should treat the injury with some ice and stim electronic stimulation.

Continued Gibson, who said the injury was unrelated to the plantar fasciitis that troubled him since last season: Even if Im a little down, when the game comes, everything just changes. Im looking forward to trying to play; looking forward to playing, actuallyIm just happy that there werent any tears or anything. When we were looking at the film, they the doctors were all shaky-faced; their faces were all screwed-up. Its just a little aggravation. Thibodeau chimed in, He said hes feeling a lot better today, so its encouragingWe didnt think it was anything major, but we were cautionary Mondaygoing to the doctor, see how he feels tonight before the gameand if hes ready to go, he goes.

2. Reserve forward Brian Scalabrine, another USC product, expressed much stronger sentiments about practicing at his rival school. Ill tell you what: I dont have good nights here. I feel like we should have went to SC the University of Southern California, his alma mater or even maybe the Staples Center at shootaround, but I can come in this gym UCLAs Student Activity Center. I dont really have any hatred toward this place right here. I mean, I have some hatred of Pauley Pavilion, UCLAs home gym. Listen, Im not going to hide it: I hate UCLA; thats just the way it is. I like USC, I hate UCLA. I want them to lose, I want USC to win, said Scalabrine before shootaround.

We battled, but Im not like the guys nowadays that have friends and stuff like that at other places. When we were there, we hated UCLA; I wanted them to lose every game. I dont know how they felt about us, but thats just how it is. Added Scalabrine: I played one time in the vaunted summer pickup games at UCLA. They argue too much. Magic Johnson, manhe cheats. You cant ever get any games going. I come to work; I dont come to argue. I could argue at home if I wantbut top-notch runs here.

Scalabrine also opined about the Bulls opponent tonight and whether they were an improved team with the additions of free agents Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, the improvement of Shannon Brown and Kobe Bryants hot start. I think theyre a better team, but for thema team like thatthey won a championship; you dont know how all that is going to work in June. It might work in June. All sights point to them maybe working in June, but you just never know, said Scalabrine.

You never know. In 08, we Boston won the championship and the next year, K.G. Kevin Garnett has the knee thing and we were out in the second round vs. Orlando. You never know whats going to happen. We thought we were poised to win that championship, just like we thought we were poised to win last years championship. I dont think you never know how thats going to play out. Especially in the playoffs, I think the cream rises to the top, and clearly they have guys that have performed at that level and have done well, but the other guys have stuff to prove.

3. After Sundays practice at the Staples Center, Derrick Rose discussed the underrated Lamar Odom, his teammate from the FIBA World Championships gold medal-winning USA Basketball squad. Hes Odom a good dude. Works hard, loves the game, really helpful to his teamhes going to eat offensively. Rebounds, tip-ins, push the ball up the floor. If theres an advantage, hes going to drive the ball, get to the line. Hes going to ball when hes on the floor, said Rose.

When youve got a guy thats been playing the power forward spot for numerous years and you put on a team USA Basketball where hes got to play centerhe started for us at center, so he had to stick Luis Scola and all the other great European centers over thereso that was kind of weird and he took that challenge. Rose went on to talk about Odoms intense pregame preparation. You could just tell Odom was a champion by the way he prepared for the games. He does a whole body workout before a game. I call it a prison workout. Hell be in the locker, the coach will be talking and hell do million little workoutspush-ups, sit-ups. Everybody was laughing like, Man, here he goes with his workout. Put his towel down and do a whole bunch of workouts. But the way he prepares for games in unbelievable. Thats why hes where hes at right now.

Rose also noted his alma mater, Chicagos Simeon Career Academy, being ranked as the preseason top team in the city and No. 10 nationally, with speculation the perennial prep powerhouse could be better than his back-to-back state championship squads. Theyve Simeon got a chance to do it. Theyve got a lot of young talent, good coaching staff there and it would be great if they could have another team like that his own team, said Rose.

4. Thibodeau talked about his history with Bryant after Sundays practice, which goes back to the superstars days as a high school phenom at Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia. He was so driven. He was a high school kid and when he had a day off from school, and hed be in the gym from eight in the morning until eight at night. He was trying to play against the pros and watch everything, lift weights. You know his talent. In high school, when he was playing against pros, he looked like he belonged with them. You knew he was going to be special, but I think his drive is what he really separates him.

When you combine that drive and his intelligence with his talent, hes top of the line, recalled Thibodeau, who joked that his knowledge of Bryants game hasnt helped me very much. His dad former NBA player Joe Jellybean Bryant was coaching at La Salle and John Lucas was the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. They had known each other for a long time and we were practicing at St. Joes St. Josephs University. In Philly, everyone was around. High school players, college players, you had prosthey were all in the same gymbut you could just tell. The way he would study everything was amazing for a high school kid.
5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

The armchair psychology went like this: Force the Los Angeles Dodgers onto the plane, let them think about it during the long flight to the West Coast, get in their heads during Friday’s day off and feel all the momentum and pressure shift in this National League Championship Series.

At least that’s what the Cubs told themselves and the media, whether or not they actually believed it, playing the kind of mind games designed for lesser teams. From Theo Epstein and the top of baseball operations down, the Cubs had enough connections to the 2004 Boston Red Sox to hope they could become only the second team to overcome an 0-3 LCS deficit.

That dream officially ended at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday when Willson Contreras lined Kenley Jansen’s 93.3-mph cutter at backup shortstop Charlie Culberson, another symbol of Dodger Way game-planning and the overall depth to withstand the loss of All-Star Corey Seager as he recovered from a back injury. The mosh pit formed in the middle of Wrigley Field, where it got very quiet except for a few sections of Dodger fans cheering and Gary Pressy playing the organ.

The Cubs are no longer the defending World Series champs after an 11-1 loss that had no drama or suspense and felt more like a getaway day. There will be no Game 6 or Game 7 this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“I only experienced winning,” said Albert Almora Jr., a rookie outfielder on last year’s forever team. “Jon Jay told me: ‘Look at the expressions on their face when they’re celebrating on your field and let that sink in and learn from that and build from that.’”

You believed Almora, a baseball gym rat, when he stood at his locker and said: “It hurts.” But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media roughly 30 minutes after the final out, you didn’t really feel any tension in the room, more like a collective exhale, a time to sit around and drink a few Presidente beers and realize that the Dodgers deserved to go to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

“They just flat-out beat us,” said Kris Bryant, who got the first hit off Clayton Kershaw, a garbage-time homer in the fourth inning when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

Bryant is everything you could ever want in a franchise player – diligent on the field, polished off the field, even more productive in many ways after his MVP campaign, someone who doesn’t even drink during clinch celebrations – but even he admitted he still felt the World Series hangover that bugged the Cubs.

“I was just looking back at last year,” Bryant said. “I didn’t get home until like November 10 last year with all the festivities after winning and stuff. I think that really caught up to some of us this year. So I don’t know, maybe the extra time to recoup, maybe train a little harder. I am getting older, so I got to watch that.”

The reporters chuckled along with Bryant in a room where the sound system played classic rock like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The Cubs know they should be good again in 2018 – and for years after that – and didn’t exactly sound devastated.

To be honest, Wednesday’s thrilling Game 4 win felt like the Super Bowl for this team, Jake Arrieta getting a standing ovation and tipping his cap before signing his free-agent megadeal somewhere else, Wade Davis having the guts to finish off a 48-pitch, two-inning save and the Cubs feeling the adrenaline rush of staving off elimination for another night.

When Jon Lester saw the media gathering by his locker, he joked: “What? I didn’t do s---. Why the f--- do you want to talk to me?”

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but we’ve been in the NLCS for three years in a row,” said Lester, who raised the bar for expectations when he signed a $155 million contract with a last-place team after the 2014 season. “You know how special that is. I know everybody kind of goes back to the first half of the season and they like to nitpick. But we won the division, made the playoffs and made it to the NLCS.

“Sometimes, you’re not always going to be in the World Series. The Dodgers are a really good team. They’re playing really good baseball right now. This series showed it. Sometimes, it is what it is, and you just kind of move on.”

The Cubs had Lester, a three-time World Series champion, lined up for a Game 6 that is no longer necessary. Jose Quintana – who shined against the Washington Nationals in the last round and battled Kershaw to a draw in Game 1 – didn’t give his team a chance this time.

Quintana, a signature trade-deadline move made with multiple playoff runs in mind, allowed runs in the first and second innings and left the bases loaded in the third for Hector Rondon, who watched Kike Hernandez drive the second of his three home runs into the right-center field basket for a grand slam.

The Cubs were desperate enough that John Lackey, five days before his 39th birthday, pitched two innings in what was likely his last game in a big-league uniform. Lackey kept walking out of the clubhouse and declined to speak with reporters: “No, I’m good, man.”

“It’s not easy to be the best,” outfielder Jason Heyward said, “but that’s what you want. You don’t want easy. You don’t want to expect to be going home every year. You want to be in October. You want to have a chance to win the World Series. And you want to be one of the teams that expects to be there.”

That’s what the Cubs will be next year, when the last day of the season won’t have the same big-picture perspective. It will be either a stinging loss or spraying champagne.

“Seems like a hundred years ago, right?” Lester said about his decision to sign with the Cubs. “It’s one of those Catch-22s. You look at it as it’s a disappointing season for the simple fact that we didn’t make it to the World Series. But you got to look at the positives, too, in that moment whenever you get on a plane to go home.

“We gave ourselves a chance. It just didn’t happen this year. We got beat by a better team. We beat them last year (in the NLCS), and they beat us this year, so you got to tip your hat sometimes, and you move on. We’ll be ready to go in spring training.”

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”