Cubs

Heat embrace villain role as playoffs continue

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Heat embrace villain role as playoffs continue

If anyone saw the events of Tuesday night coming, in which the Heat again embraced the villain's role in their second-round series with the Pacers, it was the Bulls. In their final regular-season trip to Miami, the Heat was the aggressor and perhaps went over the line in a string of incidents, including reserve James Jones' flagrant foul on Joakim Noah and subsequent ejection, All-Star guard Dwyane Wade's virtual tackle on longtime rival Rip Hamilton and league MVP LeBron James' unnecessarily hard screen on the diminutive John Lucas III.

While Miami's chippiness appeared to catch the Bulls somewhat unaware, the Pacers established themselves as a physical team in last spring's first-round series, which is why situations like backup big man Lou Amundson's unintentional elbow to Heat counterpart Udonis Haslem in Sunday's Game 4 and Tyler Hansbrough's flagrant foul on Wade in Tuesday's game weren't unexpected. Nor was Haslem's retaliatory flagrant on Hansbrough, although the onus should be on the game officials for not upgrading the call after review and possibly ejecting Haslem.

However, with upwards of a 30-point lead, only deep reserves on the court, the game in hand and the Pacers looking thoroughly defeated in the game's waning moments--recently-named NBA Executive of the Year Larry Bird called his team "soft," but more than an identity crisis, Indiana should be worried about the health status of starting forwards Danny Granger and David West for Thursday's Game 6--massive center Dexter Pittman leveled Pacers guard Lance Stephenson in the throat with a flying forearm. Now, Stephenson being the target is no surprise after he was caught on camera giving the choke sign during Indiana's Game 3 win, but Heat veteran Juwan Howard already confronted Stephenson before Game 4 and to make matters worse, Pittman was caught winking on camera after the dirty deed, which led to post-game concussion tests for Stephenson and could ultimately result in a broken collarbone.

Miami, still without All-Star forward Chris Bosh, looks primed to advance to the conference finals now that Wade has rediscovered his game and James has taken his own to another level. There, they're likely to face an experienced, yet banged-up Boston squad--future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, not to mention defensive stopper Avery Bradley, are dealing with injury concerns--which has the chance to close out pesky Philadelphia in a Game 6 matchup Wednesday, setting up a series between two teams with a chip on their respective shoulders that shouldn't lack for physical play and verbal confrontations.

Meanwhile, the West is comparably tame after the Spurs swept Vinny Del Negro's Clippers and the Thunder dispatched the tumultuous Lakers in a relatively easy five games, giving both teams plenty of time to rest and prepare for what should be a tremendous conference finals. With all of the flaws in the remaining East teams, the two Western Conference juggernauts appear to be head and shoulders above their potential NBA Finals competition, though in the postseason, nothing is set in stone.

Cubs' Anthony Rizzo on coronavirus fears: 'More players will opt out'

Cubs' Anthony Rizzo on coronavirus fears: 'More players will opt out'

Here we go again.

Another day of delayed and pending coronavirus tests. Another six Cubs sit out workouts and a scrimmage as a precaution.

Another reason to doubt whether Major League Baseball can shore up the minimum, baseline safety expectation it promised — timely testing — to pull off a 60-game season that involves teams traveling to and from 30 different locations for nine weeks.

“Yeah, I think some more players will opt out,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Wednesday as the Cubs and other teams adjusted to yet another day of last-minute personnel and scheduling adjustments because MLB’s every-other-day testing process continues to produce gaps, delays and flaws with results.

“There’s definitely a level of fire drill some mornings,” Cubs manager David Ross said.

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Neither Ross nor Rizzo pointed fingers at MLB or anyone else, Ross again pointing out this is a first-in-history undertaking. And both said they expected the system to improve.

But to Rizzo’s original point, as each day of training camp passes through the hourglass toward next week’s openers without a solution so, too, it seems more players are likely to pass on playing at all.

Thirteen already have opted out, including Giants star Buster Posey and former Cy Young winners David Price and Felix Hernandez — none of those with a pre-existing condition that puts him at higher risk.

MORE: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play

Many other high-profile players throughout the majors, including Angels superstar Mike Trout and the Cubs’ Yu Darvish say they haven’t ruled out joining the 13, depending on what they see from health and safety conditions as this progresses.

“We didn’t sign up for these bad protocols as far as testing,” said Rizzo, already sidelined with a bad back. “The biggest thing for us is the safety.

“Listen, we are in a pandemic. We are all at risk,” he added. “We all want to play baseball because that’s what we love to do, and we have an opportunity to bring joy to a lot of people that are home, through these tough times.

“But we are all human. If guys start testing positive left and right and this gets out of control, I’m sure you’ll see some guys opt out.”

Darvish said over the weekend that he was prepared to go home if he didn’t like what he saw from a safety standpoint with the Cubs — who so far have been the only team in the league yet to have a player test positive since intake testing.

But he also said, “I’m still concerned.” And it’s hard to imagine that continued delays and uncertainties within the testing process will ease that concern as teams begin to travel out of their bubbles next week.

“Credit to all of our guys for the most part coming in and staying safe,” Rizzo said. “Obviously you can’t control [everything]. You go pick up something at the grocery store and you get it, you can’t control that. But being as safe as you can away [from the park is key].

“Generally, a lot of people want to play, and that’s what we want to do, and it’s just about staying safe.”

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6 Cubs sit out Wednesday's activities due to another COVID-19 testing delay

6 Cubs sit out Wednesday's activities due to another COVID-19 testing delay

Six Cubs players will miss Wednesday’s intrasquad game as they wait for results from Monday’s COVID-19 testing.

It’s the second time this week multiple Tier 1 members of the Cubs — which includes players and coaches — have missed team activities while waiting for test results. Manager David Ross and five other Tier 1 Cubs did not participate in Monday’s activities after Saturday’s results came back pending and required retests.

Ross has preached patience throughout Summer Camp as Major League Baseball works through its early testing hiccups, repeating that message on Wednesday.

“This not easy — I think I've said that a million times — it’s not easy on the players, it's not easy on Major League Baseball,” Ross told reporters. “I don't think it's anybody's fault that things are delayed. 

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“If you want to point fingers, we’re focusing on the wrong task. We've got to focus on, as the Chicago Cubs, doing the best work we can when we're on that field and controlling what we can control, and testing is not in our control. To be frustrated is just a waste of energy for me.” 

Because of the delay, Robel Garcia, Christopher Morel, Brennen Davis and Miguel Amaya joined the Cubs from their South Bend alternate training site for Wednesday’s scrimmage.

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