Cubs

But they're not the NBA's hottest team

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But they're not the NBA's hottest team

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Oklahoma City's biggest stars displayed a unique version of balanced scoring against Atlanta: Russell Westbrook led the Thunder in the first half and Kevin Durant dominated the Hawks over the final two quarters.Durant set a season high with 41 points and Oklahoma City held off Atlanta 100-92 on Wednesday night for its 12th straight win.Westbrook had 27 points -- 21 in the first half -- and 11 assists. Durant scored 28 points in the second half, including 18 in the fourth, and also had 13 rebounds.No other Oklahoma City player scored in double figures."There's going to be nights where one has the hot hand and there's going to be other nights the other does," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.Both top scorers were hot against the Hawks. Durant made six of nine shots in the final period, including three 3-pointers, and the Hawks couldn't find a way to slow the 6-foot-9 forward."We double-teamed him, we zoned him," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "He still made shots. You can't stop him when he's hot like that."Durant said Westbrook's strong first half helped open more opportunities for him after the break."He was aggressive and they were giving him jump shots," Durant said. "We just played off of that. He was very good and it opened up for me in the second half."Durant acknowledged he launched some "questionable" shots. "But my teammates wanted me to do it," he said.Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 19 points, Josh Smith had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Al Horford and Lou Williams scored 13 apiece.Durant was especially strong after Atlanta cut a 16-point deficit midway through the third quarter to 73-69.Durant slowed Atlanta's comeback attempt when he dominated a sequence on both ends of the floor, blocking a shot by Smith before throwing down a jam. Smith drew a foul and Durant sank the free throw to push the lead to 85-75.With about 3 minutes remaining, Durant hit a fallaway jumper. Less than a minute late, he made a spin move and then sank a 3-pointer over the 6-foot-7 Kyle Korver, who was left shaking his head."He's just one of those players," Korver said. "People don't understand how tall he is and how long his arms are."The fallaway jumper and spinning 3-pointer would have been unlikely attempts for most players."That's him, though," Horford said. "He can do it. He's that good of a player, unfortunately for us."Oklahoma City (21-4) improved the NBA's best record and atoned for a 104-95 home loss to the Hawks on Nov. 4. That loss left Oklahoma City 1-2; it is 20-2 since then and hasn't lost since Nov. 23 at Boston.The 12 straight wins matches the longest streak for the franchise since 1996, when it had a 14-game winning streak as the Seattle SuperSonics.The Hawks took their last lead at 19-17 on a follow shot by Anthony Morrow. The Thunder then went ahead with a 10-1 run that overlapped the end of the first period and the start of the second. Martin opened and closed the run with jumpers.Oklahoma City stretched the lead to 17 on four straight free throws by Durant following fouls by Morrow late in the half."You can't have a second quarter like we did," Horford said. "We had a lapse and they took a big lead. You can't do that against a team like them."The Thunder led 68-52 midway through the third quarter, but a technical foul against Smith with 3:12 remaining in the period seemed to spark the Hawks.Smith sank a 3-pointer as part of Atlanta's 8-0 run to close the period. Anthony Tolliver scored the first three points of the fourth quarter on a free throw and jam to cut the Thunder's lead to 73-69.Westbrook ended Atlanta's 11-0 run with a jam following an offensive rebound by Nick Collison.Sere Ibaka had 4 points and 14 rebounds for the Thunder.NOTES:The Thunder assigned F Perry Jones and G DeAndre Liggins to the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League. Jones, the first-round pick from Baylor, has appeared in 10 games, averaging 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds. ... The Hawks were without G Devin Harris, who left Tuesday night's game at Washington after injuring his left foot. He wore a walking boot on Wednesday. ... Morrow returned after missing two games with a sore back. ... Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Kris Medlen and Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves attended the game and sat with former teammate Tommy Hanson, who was recently traded to the Angels.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.