Pro Pets

PBT previews the Bulls' first-round matchup

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PBT previews the Bulls' first-round matchup

With the Bulls set to take on the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, everybody is weighing in with their predictions.

On ProBasketballTalk Extra, Kurt Helin doesn't see any of the top three seeds in the East losing in the first round, and even feels the Pacers could sweep the Dwight Howard-less Magic.

Also on PBT, John Krolik has a full preview of the Bulls-Sixers series, a matchup between the second-best (Chicago) and third-best (Philly) defenses in the league in points per 100 possessions.

John sees Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton and Joakim Noah as the three key players to the Bulls in the series, and I'd have to agree. The health and efficiency of Rose and Rip are obviously a hot topic and if one were to go down with injury in this series (or any time in the playoffs), the Bulls would be hurting.

Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and the combo of Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young are John's keys for the Sixers. I would have to add starting point guard Jrue Holiday to that list.

Many thought Holiday was going to take another step toward stardom in this season, but was plagued by a bit of inconsistency all year and regressed in points, assists and rebounds per game as well as field goal percentage and free throw percentage. If he plays at a high level all series, that could be a big boost to the Sixers.

Overall, John sees this as a good test for the Bulls, but with Chicago coming out on top in five hard-fought games.

Pro Pets: David Kaplan's sun-loving mutt, Yoshi

Pro Pets: David Kaplan's sun-loving mutt, Yoshi

“We will always have a dog.”

Our series Pro Pets presented by Nissan continues with our Cubs Pre and Postgame Host David Kaplan and his wife Mindy. They are joined by their dogs, 11-year-old mixed-breed Yoshi and 5-year-old Siberian Husky, Sparky.

Yoshi was adopted at a Wolves game where Kap dropped the puck for charity. A little black pup was up for adoption and his son Brett begged for the dog. After chatting with a volunteer at the event, Kap and his son, Brett, were told that the dog would be put down if he did not adopt him that night. A call was made to Mindy and then Yoshi was in the car going home with Kap and Brett.

“We are just the kind of couple that agrees that we want them sleeping in our bed," Mindy Kaplan said. "We want them snuggling with us.”

Pro Pets is a weekly short-form digital video series that presents compelling stories of high-profile athletes and personalities with the animals they love. To see more from our Pro Pets Series, check out our Pro Pets page: nbcsportchicago.com/pro-pets

Tune in to our Pro Pets Show on September 15 at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago.

What will Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once Addison Russell returns?

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USA Today

What will Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once Addison Russell returns?

What will the Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once - or if - Addison Russell is able to return to the field?

Russell is still in concussion protocol and it's unknown when he will resume baseball activities. There are no clear timelines for head injuries and every person responds differently.

He was still showing symptoms this weekend after taking a 94 mph fastball to the face in Milwaukee last Sunday. Russell meets with team doctors each day, but will be relegated to the bench until he is given medical clearance to return.

Even if Russell is able to play again over these next couple days, how could the Cubs possibly take Hoerner out of the lineup right now?

The rookie collected 3 more hits Saturday, including a 3-run homer in the sixth inning:

That now gives him 11 RBI in his first six MLB games.

"Nico's performance cannot be overlooked," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "That [homer] was the first pitch he saw yesterday? I mean, c'mon. And beyond that, the thing I'm really focused on is the defense. He's really done a nice job on defense, which we really need that moment out there. The offense has been a plus.

"I have not given that thought until I know that Addison is ready to rock and roll. And once he does, I know one thing for sure - even if Nico were to start the game, we could upgrade the defense later with Addison in the game, too. So it's one of those things - I don't even permit myself to go there. I don't even know if [Russell is] gonna play or not. I don't know that.

"So in the meantime, Nico: just keep doing what you're doing. He's impressed probably the industry, but more importantly - the clubhouse. The guys have really been impressed by him."

It’s been a nightmare season for Russell. He missed the first month serving out the rest of his suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. He was optioned to Triple-A Iowa initially after the suspension and then came up to the big leagues, where he struggled and was unable to carve out consistent playing time despite the Cubs' need for production at second base.

Russell was then demoted to the minors again in late-July after persistent baserunning/mental mistakes. When Javy Baez went down with injury on the last homestand, Russell stepped in to play shortstop (his natural position), but committed a throwing error in three straight games last weekend in Milwaukee.

Saturday marked only the 95th professional game in Hoerner's career, but he has drawn rave reviews from every corner of the Cubs clubhouse, including seasoned veteran Jon Lester tabbing him as a sparkplug.

Less than a week ago, Hoerner was sitting at home in Oakland with his family, thinking his regular season was done and getting ready to play in the Arizona Fall League soon.

Now, he and his family are at Wrigley Field, soaking it all in:

"[My first game at Wrigley] was amazing. It felt like I had always hoped it would," Hoerner said. "Something you think about for a long time and it definitely lived up to the hype. I had hyped it up to my family a lot just from seeing one game here last year. I said it was unlike anything I had ever seen before and they agreed."

After his debut week, it's natural for fans to wonder if Hoerner should be the Cubs' starting shortstop on a playoff roster even if Russell is able to come back healthy. Baez's exact timeline looms as an x-factor here, too.

Who knows how this will all play out over the next two weeks, but the Cubs have to get to October first and right now, Hoerner is clearly the answer to help them do so.

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