Cubs

Power Rankings: Knicks rising, Nuggets falling in opening week

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Power Rankings: Knicks rising, Nuggets falling in opening week

By Tony Andracki & Mark Strotman

Each Monday throughout the regular season, Mark Strotman and Tony Andracki will rank all 30 NBA teams. Below are Week 2 Power Rankings. Think we're way off? Agree with our picks? Hit us up on Twitter at @BullsTalkCSN with comments or criticisms.
Past rankings: Preseason

  Tony
 Mark Comments 1
 Tony: The class of the NBA so far. Parker is on fire.
 Mark: Parker, Duncan out to prove age never a factor in San Antonio.
 2
 Tony: That blowout loss to NYK bumps them down a peg.
 Mark: Hiccup in New York, still look like team to beat in the East.
 3
 Tony: Chris Paul will be in the MVP discussion all year.
 Mark: Jamal Crawford for (very) early Sixth Man of the Year?
 4
 Tony: Not a great record to start, but will right the ship. Mark: Carmelo hasn't slowed down since the Olympics as Knicks beat Heat, Sixers.
 5
 Tony: More concerned about Nash's injury over 1-3 start.
 Mark: Still figuring out life post-Harden, but Durant's rebounding numbers impressive.
 6
 Tony: Really beat up on MIA. Will Felton stick at PG?
 Mark: Granger's knee starting to be a concern. 7
 Tony: This is Paul George's breakout season.
 Mark: Not worried about sluggish start. 8
 Tony: Closely watching Deron Williams' ankle.
 Mark: Very tough schedule to open season, but Iguodala and Lawson look great.
 9
 Tony: Really needed that win at home against New Orleans.
 Mark: Move over Boston: Brooklyn's herringbone court the best in the game.
 10
 Tony: This is my surprise team to make the playoffs. Love the talent.
 Mark: Not time to panic just yet, but Nash (leg) could miss 4 weeks.
 11
 Tony: Once they get Dirk back, they'll be Top 10 team.
 Mark: Jrue Holiday is a franchise point guard.
 12
 Tony: Lou Williams a great fit for this offense.
 Mark: Jae Crowder a pleasant surprise off the bench; Mayo looking like a FA steal.
 13
 Tony: Remember when people said Harden wasn't worth a max deal?
 Mark: Grizzlies right where they should be.
 14
 Tony: Great starting 5, but they don't have depth.
 Mark: Huge win over the Thunder; even more impressive doing it without Josh Smith.
 15
 Tony: Off to a really good start. Jennings looks smarter, better.
 Mark: Nice 2-0 start, but where is Ilyosova?
 16
 Tony: Horrendous start to the year, but will figure it out.
 Mark: Offense hasn't found rhythm yet, but defense looks solid early.
 17
 Tony: Need to shore up their defense.
 Mark: Brandon Rush (torn ACL) will be missed.
 18
 Tony: This may be Jrue Holiday's breakout season.
 Mark: So James Harden was worth 80 million, huh Oklahoma City?
 19
 Tony: Will struggle in the powerhouse West.
 Mark: Damian Lillard is for real, and could make a push for Rookie of the Year honors.
 20
 Tony: I think Mo williams is glad to be running the point again.
 Mark: Interior offense, not Mo Williams, the problem early on.
 21
 Tony: Just need to stay around .500 until LoveRubio get back.
 Mark: Almost went 3-0 to open season, but lost late lead to San Antonio.
 22
 Tony: Off to a great start, even with Gordon out indefinitely.
 Mark: Kyle Lowry looking like one of the biggest steals of the offseason.
 23
 Tony: Luis Scola looks reborn right now.
 Mark: Looks like Love will miss the full six weeks recovering from broken hand.
 24
 Tony: I like this team, but postseason may still be a year away.
 Mark: Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and J.J. Redick all performing well for 2-0 Magic.
 25
 Tony: Young team, but still not quite playoff-ready.
 Mark: Michael Beasley could average 18 points per game in this offense.
 26
 Tony: Surprising start led by J.J. Redick's sharpshooting.
 Mark: Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao are by themselves in this fight.
 27
 Tony: Kemba is turning into a star.
 Mark: Pistons have played a tough schedule, but haven't looked good in losses, either.
 28
 Tony: Will rack up a lot of losses this year.
 Mark: There's no discipline in Sacramento, and Kings won't go anywhere until DMC grows up.
 29
 Tony: They need their playmaker back.
 Mark: Opening night win took everything out of them; lost to Dallas by 26 the next night.
 30
 Tony: Rodney Stuckey is off to an ugly, ugly start.
 Mark: John Wall can't return soon enough.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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