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In the zone: Garza shuts down Phillies

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In the zone: Garza shuts down Phillies

PHILADELPHIA Matt Garza bobbed his head and swayed from side to side in front of his locker. He buttoned up his blue dress shirt, singing along with the Bob Marley music spilling from the clubhouse speakers.

Dont worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right.'

Garza doesnt exactly project calm. Hes hyperactive and talks to himself. But as Cubs president Theo Epstein once said, theres a method to the madness.

And the idea of Garza staring down hitters from a distance of 60 feet, 6 inches has to be reassuring to the other 24 guys in the room.

In front of a sellout crowd, Garza crossed over into another zone on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, dominating the Philadelphia Phillies in a 5-1 victory that highlighted everything he could be for this franchise.

Garza allowed a bloop single to Jimmy Rollins that fell into right-center field to begin his game and then retired the next 18 batters he faced.

It was a steady stream of weak pop-ups and routine groundballs, the nasty stuff you need in October. After seven scoreless innings, Garza left with a one-hitter and 10 strikeouts, the 10th time hes hit double digits in his career.

Manager Dale Sveum said Garza who knows his own personality very well would be the first one to tell you this.

Thats probably the most comfortable place hes at on the mound, Sveum said. Other than that, hes bouncing off walls all the time.

Its probably the one place where he can kind of gather himself and calm down and obviously hes done it throughout his career. Hes been one of the better pitchers in baseball.

This is where Garza pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series. The Cubs are 8-14 and near the start of a long rebuilding process.

There are indications that Garza (2-1, 2.67 ERA), who is under club control through 2013, will likely be a major part of those plans. How long will it take to get back to those heights?

I dont know Im just trying to get through the next five days, Garza said. I dont foresee anything. I just know that were moving in the right direction. Were playing aggressive (and) were playing hard through nine. Thats all we can do.

I have every expectation to be a part of that. Id like for it to happen this year. I dont know anything beyond the next five days.

It wasnt a perfect game Carlos Marmol walked three batters and forced in a run in a close-your-eyes ninth. And a Phillies team (10-12) weakened by injuries has been hearing the boos, struggling to generate offense throughout April.

But the Cubs could laugh about waiting until Game 22 before an outfielder (Joe Mather) hit his first home run this season. The small-ball approach continued to work with Tony Campana (two hits, two runs and his sixth stolen base in eight games).

The rotation (4.12 ERA) wont stack up with Philadelphias. But the Cubs have been competitive, and theyve enjoyed watching Jeff Samardzija evolve into a potential frontline starter, and look forward to Ryan Dempster coming off the disabled list on Thursday.

Everyone feels pretty confident when (Garza) goes out on the mound, Mather said. Those guys are going out there and giving us a chance to win every single time.

It remains to be seen whether the Cubs can really run that momentum out into the summer, and give their fans reasons to watch, but Garza expects to enjoy the ride.

We got a lot of moving pieces, Garza said, but I think its going to be a lot of fun (with) a lot of youth (and) a lot of growing up.

Blakchawks Talk Podcast: What should the Blackhawks be asking for this holiday season?

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USA TODAY

Blakchawks Talk Podcast: What should the Blackhawks be asking for this holiday season?

On the latest Hawks Talk podcast, Pat Boyle, Steve Konroyd and Charlie Roumeliotis discuss Corey Crawford's concussion, Henri Jokiharju leaving the team to play in World Juniors, how the Blackhawks defensemen stack up, and what gift do the Blackhawks need this holiday season?

01:30 Corey Crawford's concussion

04:00 You can't use Crawford's injury as an excuse this season

06:10 Hawks able to get a look at Collin Delia

07:00 Henri Jokiharju to play for Finland in World Juniors

10:30 Erik Gustafsson's potential

14:00 Strome and Kane playing on the same line

17:00 What have the guys seen from Dylan Sikura

21:30 Tough back to back games at Dallas and Colorado

24:30 Guys give their holiday gift to the Blackhawks

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

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USA TODAY

Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.

LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.

Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.

Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24  and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.

Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.

As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.

1.   FAST BREAK POINTS.  We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.

2.   MARKKANEN IN THE POST.  The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.

3.   SHUT DOWN SPENCER.  Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.