Cubs

The Clippers did not lose in December

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The Clippers did not lose in December

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- After their 17th consecutive victory gave them a perfect month, the Los Angeles Clippers finally paused to admire their achievement."We got something extremely magical going on," said Caron Butler after the Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 107-96 on Sunday night to become the third team in NBA history to record a perfect month."When we win we usually jump up and down once or twice," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Tonight we let them jump and down three or four times, so everyone had their fill."The Clippers went 16-0 in December to join the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs, which included Del Negro, and 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams to go undefeated in a month. Their franchise-record winning streak is the longest since Boston won 19 in a row four years ago."I am amazed because I haven't done it since I've been in the league," said seven-year veteran Chris Paul, whose 19 points and nine assists helped his team maintain the league's best record at 25-6.Butler led the Clippers with 29 points despite not playing in the fourth quarter and made all six of his 3-pointers, including five in the opening period. Jamal Crawford scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin piled up five fouls and was held to seven points after getting double-teamed."That shows our depth," Paul said. "Our bench stepped up amazing. On any given night it can be another guy."The streak isn't talked about among the players and coaches. But it's a popular topic among everyone else."That's an incredible record to have," Utah's Derrick Favors said. "They've got 17 straight wins and they're playing hard. I know there's a lot of pressure on them to try to keep it up, and they're going to keep coming out and keep playing the same way."Actually, it's just the opposite, according to Griffin, who said the last month "is the most fun I've ever had playing basketball.""You don't really think about it that much. We're having a blast," he said about the streak. "It's not like it's one of these things where it's so much pressure."Al Jefferson scored 30 points -- one off his season high -- to lead Utah, which fell victim for the third time during the Clippers' streak. The Jazz lost 116-114 on Friday when the Clippers rallied from 19 points down, and they were beaten 105-104 on Dec. 3, both times at home."It's frustrating," said Gordon Hayward, who had 16 points. "Knowing that they're a good team and knowing that we're always right there with them, knowing that we need to keep on playing good for 48 minutes."The Jazz lost their third in a row and seventh in the last nine games."We can't make any mistakes against them, especially on their home floor because they make you pay for it," Jefferson said.Crawford keyed a 10-5 run to open the fourth, highlighted by a 3-pointer and a fast break pull-up jumper that helped the Clippers extend their lead to 89-81. Paul and Griffin didn't join the second unit until 5:55 remained and Utah had closed within four on a basket by Favors.That was as close as the Jazz got. The Clippers made 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch and their defense held Utah to one field goal in the final 3:38."It was a grind-it-out game, nothing pretty about it," Crawford said. "We got us a nice thing going and we got to keep it going."Los Angeles stretched its lead to 71-59 in the third quarter, when Butler scored 10 of their first 17 points.From there, the Jazz closed on a 17-8 run to pull to 79-76 going into the fourth. Utah briefly took its first lead since early in the game when Jefferson scored over Lamar Odom, but the Jazz committed two costly turnovers in the final 49 seconds.Paul got fouled and made both free throws, and then Matt Barnes stole the ball from Jamaal Tinsley and fed Paul on the break. He missed but Crawford was there to tip it in and restore the Clippers' lead."We haven't been playing our best basketball the last few games," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're playing hard, but we've got to be a little smarter and not make the kind of mistakes we made down the stretch."The Clippers shot 62 percent en route to a 54-45 halftime lead, with Butler scoring 17 points in the first quarter. Utah led briefly to start the game when Jefferson scored eight of their first 13 points.NOTES:Los Angeles improved to 11-3 at home. ... The Jazz fell to 6-13 on the road. ... Clippers F Ronny Turiaf says his right elbow is "messed up." He said he hurt it a couple games ago when he felt discomfort while boxing out. ... Odom's ankle is bothering him. ... The Clippers haven't lost since Nov. 26 at home against New Orleans.

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Matt Nagy says Mitch Trubisky's Week 7 struggles due to poor footwork

Matt Nagy says Mitch Trubisky's Week 7 struggles due to poor footwork

Fundamentals can often make or break a quarterback's career. For the Bears third-year signal-caller, Mitch Trubisky, he's struggling with one of the most important aspects of quarterback play: footwork.

Coach Matt Nagy met with the media at Halas Hall on Monday and confirmed most of Trubisky's struggles in the Bears' 36-25 loss to the Saints in Week 7 were the result of sloppy footwork.

"The No. 1 thing I came away from was footwork. I thought footwork was just OK. And then the footwork leads to a little bit of better decisions/accuracy with throws. There was some times where there were some backpedals or movement in the pocket could've been a little better or different.

"You look at the one throw on 3rd-and-five, the second possession of the game, he's hit that all week and missed that, that was the start, and then there was a few others one. The other one that I thought was a bigger error by (Trubisky) at that position was we had a 1st-and-10 at the 24-yard line going in and we took a sack for eight yards and that was an RPO. That's a learning tool for him. Hey, we call a run-pass option and we're just a little bit off in our progression on that play and we ended up losing eight yards. Now it's 2nd-and-18, now you're back to 3rd-and-14 and we have and incomplete pass and we gotta grind to make three points.

"For me, playing the position, when you have sloppy footwork, it can lead to other issues. And I think that's what we saw."

Trubisky ended the game completing 34-of-54 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns, but most of those stats were accumulated during garbage time, which Nagy dismissed as irrelevant. It's obvious Nagy is being careful with his words and, somehow, is still putting a positive spin on some pretty harsh criticism of Trubisky. 

If a quarterback is feeling the pass rush and dropping his eyes too early, which Nagy suggested is happening with Trubisky, and their footwork and accuracy are sloppy and inconsistent, the likely end result is a switch at the position. That isn't going to happen in Chicago, but it's Nagy's honest assessment of Trubisky's play on Sunday is at least a sign (even if it wasn't as harsh as it could've been) that the protective gloves will soon come off.

We just aren't 100% there yet.

"The growth of this offense needs to be better," Nagy said. "That territory, that position (quarterback), it always starts there. It always does. What I have to remind everybody else is there's other parts to this system. It's not just the quarterback play. I think we know what those other parts are that we need to play better at. Collectively, not just at the quarterback position, we need to be a little better." 

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