White Sox

Bulls ready for marquee matchup with Thunder

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Bulls ready for marquee matchup with Thunder

For those who believe the Bulls will take the next step this season and advance to the NBA Finals, Sunday's showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder could be a preview of what's to come.

A marquee matchup featuring the league's two best teams--and the only time the squads face off in the regular season--the matinee contest will be must-see TV for fans in the Chicagoland area and beyond.

"It's a big game, it's going to be exciting and we want to play against the best," said Joakim Noah. "They're a great team, we're a great team. Let's get it popping."

However, the charismatic center's boisterous sentiments weren't echoed by his coach. Tom Thibodeau, as one would expect, downplayed the upcoming affair.

"It's our next game. They're really good, it's going to be a great test for us and we've got to be ready. We've got to take care of the ball, we've got to play great defense. They've got great length, they're a well-balanced team, so we're looking forward to it," he said.

"They're a high-scoring team, they play in transition, they have a lot of weapons, but whenever you're facing a team like that, it's not only your defense. You have to play sound offense also, so we have to play a well-balanced game and defend, rebound, keep our turnovers down, share the ball, inside-out. That doesn't change from game to game."

Luol Deng, while taking a more humorous approach, took a middle ground between his coach's dourness and his teammate's excitement.

"They're a very good team. Even last night when I watched them, they played great. They've got so many weapons. Their big guys are really good defensively, block shots. It's going to take a total team effort, but we're going to go out there, play hard and try to win," said the first-time All-Star, who will likely be charged with defending two-time reigning NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant.

"When we play bad, you guys the media are going to kill us anyway, no matter who we play, so this game is for you guys, to hype it up and get everybody ready for it, but for us, it's another game we've got to go out there and play hard."

Regardless, despite Thibodeau's distaste for the media's labeling certain contests as "measuring-stick games," there will be plenty of analysis of what many believe could be an NBA Finals preview.

Squirrel runs onto field to interrupt play during White Sox-Twins game

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USA TODAY

Squirrel runs onto field to interrupt play during White Sox-Twins game

In one of the nuttier things to happen at a baseball game this season, a squirrel came onto the field during Tuesday’s White Sox-Twins game.

The squirrel ran onto the field during the bottom of the fifth and the umpire called time to stop play. It ran through the legs of Max Kepler, who was the baserunner at first base for the Twins at the time, straight across the infield and into the White Sox dugout.

Check out the chaos:

'Baby steps' in the right direction for Cole Hamels

'Baby steps' in the right direction for Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels is working on so much stuff mechanically right now, he compared his pitching delivery to a golf swing and how "you're thinking about like 10 different things and you can't hit the ball off the tee box."

The veteran southpaw picked up the win Tuesday night and recorded his first quality start since June 23, but it wasn't exactly smooth.

Two separate times, he failed to come through with a shutdown inning after his offense gave him the lead, serving up a pair of homers to allow the Giants to tie the game. But he came through when they needed him most, throwing up a goose egg in the box score after Jonathan Lucroy drove home Javy Baez with the game-winning run in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Overall, it was a step in the right direction for Hamels as he tries to regain the form he had before he hit the injured list.

"It's just kinda the baby steps and getting back to knowing what I'm capable of doing and obviously not causing any sort of damage for these games that I'm trying to get back to what I know to do," Hamels said after the 5-3 victory and conceded he did have some positive things to build off of. "I was able to get a better line and direction toward home plate, but at the same time, leaving some balls up. That's what I was trying to get away from, just 'cause the past couple starts, I was really getting hurt on the fastballs up. Like I did today, the two fastballs up were obviously hit out of the ballpark.

"It's a game of inches. If I can slowly but surely get to where I need to be, then I can see the type of results I know I'm capable of having and will look a little bit better on TV and in the box score."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon felt like Hamels got better throughout the game, as the lefty started "pitching" more and settling in with his command. 

Hamels was on fire before he hit the injured list with an oblique injury and even after more than a month on the shelf, looked to be picking up right where he left off with 5 shutout innings in his first game back Aug. 3. 

But things have taken a turn since then, as he allowed 12 earned runs on 17 hits over just 5 innings pitched in his next two starts before grinding it out Tuesday night.

The Cubs haven't seen this type of struggle from Hamels, who gave the team a major shot in the arm last summer after coming over in a trade and was the rotation's best pitcher for the first half of this season.

"He's been Steady Eddy for us since he's been here," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's a professional. He's one of my favorite teammates ever. I love when he plays. I love him in the dugout, I love the intensity he brings and it's fun to watch him play."

Assuming the Cubs stay on the same rotation, Hamels will get one more start on this homestand - Sunday afternoon in the series finale with the Nationals.