1 seed Bulls one loss away from elimination

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1 seed Bulls one loss away from elimination

From Comcast SportsNet
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- His coach called Jrue Holiday's slump "0 for the world." Even as the misses piled up, Holiday never felt the weight of it on his 21-year-old shoulders. All he could do in a thorny Game 4 was laugh about his struggles with teammate Evan Turner. "You've got to be happy when you play," Holiday said. "It really helps." Boy, did it help Philadelphia in the final minutes against Chicago. Holiday busted out of a game-long slump with consecutive 3-pointers that stretched a one-point lead into seven and helped the 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls 89-82 on Sunday and take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series. "Don't fear the consequences," 76ers coach Doug Collins said. It's the top-seeded Bulls who suddenly fear elimination. Spencer Hawes scored 22 points and Holiday had 20 to put the Sixers one win away from joining the short list of eighth-seeded teams that have won a series against a No. 1 seed. Andre Iguodala had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, who have won the last three games after losing Game 1. Game 5 is Tuesday in Chicago. The short-handed Bulls played without Derrick Rose (torn ACL) and Joakim Noah (sprained ankle). Rose is out for the season and Noah is day to day for the rest of the series. In NBA postseason history, the eighth seed has won a first-round series against the No. 1 seed four times, including last season when Memphis eliminated San Antonio. Golden State (2007), New York (1999) and Denver (1994) also pulled off the rare feat. "I'm not worried about it," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I'm just worried about the next game. We do have more than enough to win with." The Sixers won three straight playoff games for the first time since Allen Iverson fueled their run to the 2001 NBA finals. Holiday was sensational down the stretch after a rocky first 3 quarters. He missed his first five 3-point attempts until he nailed one to make it 77-73. He hit another the next time down for a seven-point lead to the delight of a roaring sellout crowd. They were easily his biggest shots on a 7-of-23 night. He expects to hear the same noise in the next round. "We have to play like it's Game 7," Holiday said. "We want to win in Chicago." The undermanned Bulls kept at it and refused to use playing without their two biggest impact players as an excuse. C.J. Watson, who scored 17 points, hit a step-back jumper to make it a two-point game. In a whistle-happy game, Holiday went to the line with 51 seconds left and made both for an 84-80 lead. Suddenly -- and shockingly -- the Sixers are a win away from taking a playoff series for the first time since 2003. Carlos Boozer had 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls. Taj Gibson chipped in 14 points and 12 rebounds. Without a full roster, the Bulls barked at the refs, talked trash on the court and used every self-motivational tactic they knew to gain an edge on the Sixers. Noah, injured in Game 3, took charge on the bench as head cheerleader. Wearing a protective walking boot, he clapped, cheered and offered instruction in the timeout huddle. Noah was needed more on the court than as a de facto assistant coach. Boozer actively did his best to keep the Bulls in the game. He played through foul trouble to score 18 points through three quarters (matching his combined total for the first two games) and he fought for some of the tough rebounds Noah would grab. It wasn't enough. The Sixers made 22 of 31 free throws to Chicago's 11-for-14 effort. The Sixers only averaged 18.2 free-throw attempts this season. "Bottom line, we've got to play better defense without fouling," Boozer said. "You can't cry about the referees. It's the playoffs. If we could hold them to 17, 18 points in the fourth quarter, maybe we win that game." Iguodala played through right Achilles' tendinitis to make so many impact plays for the Sixers. He halted a Bulls run in the third with a 3 for a 57-56 lead. Bad leg and all, he still soared for a thunderous dunk on the break in the first half for an eight-point lead. One of the worst fourth-quarter foul shooters in the NBA, Iguodala even made both with 26.6 seconds left. "I think the adrenaline carried me through the game," Iguodala said. "It's hard to get on your toes, that's the hardest thing." Game 4 lacked the electric atmosphere early that accompanies a postseason game because the Broad Street Run was routed in front of the sports complex. The Wells Fargo Center was barely half full by tip and the announced crowd of 20,142 needed time to warm up. By the time Holiday hit his 3s, the arena was going wild. His sharp shooting in clutch time came at the right time after a slow start. Holiday and Turner continue to befuddle Collins with their inconsistency. The under-25 starting backcourt followed a solid Game 3 with a combined 3 for 22 for eight points in the first half. Lou Williams, perhaps the league's top reserve, failed to bail them out with a 2-for-10 effort in the game. Their struggles were a key reason the depleted Bulls kept the score tight even without their two stars. The Sixers crashed the boards early without Noah in the lineup and had 15 second-chance points in the half to grab a 10-point lead. Hawes hit the go-ahead 20-footer late in the fourth for the Game 3 winner and he continued his hot hand into Sunday. He had made seven of his first eight shots, including a 3-pointer right before the second quarter buzzer to send the Sixers into halftime with 44-42 lead. Notes: Boxer Bernard Hopkins, former NBA great Dolph Schayes, former Sixers great Julius Erving and actor Bill Murray attended the game. ... Philadelphia last won a playoff series when it beat New Orleans in 2003. ... The Sixers hold a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series for the first time since the 1984 East semifinals. ... 76ers CEO Adam Aron said there was nothing the team could do about the start time.

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

PHOENIX — Carlos Rodon was pretty excited to face hitters at a major league venue on Monday afternoon, another step in his return from the disabled list.

Just when the White Sox left-hander will return is still to be determined. But it’s another telling sign of progress that Rodon threw 60 pitches and got up and down four times against White Sox minor leaguers at Chase Field on Monday. The exercise was the fourth simulated game that Rodon — on the 60-day disabled list with bursitis in his left shoulder — has participated in since he returned to the mound earlier this month. He said he currently views himself on an every-fifth-day schedule. Jake Petricka, who like Rodon was ecstatic to be back around White Sox teammates, also threw in the sim game as did Nate Jones.

“I’ve been itching for two months,” Rodon said. “Like I said, frustrating. Hopefully soon they’ll lift the leash off and let me pitch in a game and get back up here for my boys.

“Jake and I, we just play it by ear, listen to what they got for us and we do it.”

“We’re getting closer.”

While nobody is putting a timeline on when Rodon would return, he’s clearly advancing to a promising phase. General manager Rick Hahn watched Rodon’s outing and called it positive. Hahn said it’s encouraging that Rodon has begun to think of himself on a five-day schedule and the next step includes building up arm strength and endurance.

“He’s been out there now three or four times throwing to hitters,” Hahn said. “Each time has been a little more crisp from what I understand from the previous ones to today. Hopefully here in the coming weeks we are able to announce he’s starting a rehab assignment and we’ll have a better sense of his time frame at that point.”

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The entire ordeal has been somewhat of a frustrating odyssey for Rodon. He initially believed he would be ready to return to the White Sox at the start of the month.

“Now it’s May 22nd and we’re still here,” he said. “It’s taken a lot longer than I imagined. It’s hard to be patient when your team is out here battling. I’m sitting on the backfield throwing and fielding PFP’s and waiting back here. It’s been frustrating.

“That’s all I can say, frustration.”

Rodon said he threw at 100 percent in the game. He described his command as pretty close to normal and said his stuff has begun to return.

The process has taken longer than all parties expected because it’s based on feel and “throwing with discomfort is never a good thing,” Rodon said. However, that time appears to be in the past as Rodon feels like he’s made good progress and is itching to get back on the mound.

Rodon would love to ignore his body and try to pitch through this. But after experiencing discomfort, Rodon appreciates the methodical approach.

“The competitor in me tells me to go out there, screw it, I can pitch,” Rodon said. “I’ll do it. I don’t care. But then you have to step back and know this is your career. It’s something that could affect you over a long period of time, I have to be healthy. I can’t be on the DL every other month. You know? That’s not going to work. You have to be a reliable starter, a guy who goes seven innings. We’re looking into the future. Not just this year but into the future. Obviously, hopefully I’m a part of that. Have to be healthy to help out so. It’s hard to take the reins back on myself. As you get older you know your body better, what feels right and what feels wrong. I’m understanding that in the whole process. They’re helping me pull the reins back.”

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

Ben Zobrist doesn't yell and scream like John Lackey, but the veteran utility player still has a way of cutting right to the chase and not mincing words.

Zobrist — who's about to turn 36 — is refreshingly honest, even when admitting his new role as the Cubs' leadoff hitter comes with his challenges.

On the one hand, Zobrist seems like the perfect fit for the one-spot in the Cubs lineup: He's ultra patient, barely swings at pitches outside the strike zone and even has some pop to start a game off with a bang (as he did Sunday afternoon).

And while he acknowledged he needs to keep the same approach regardless of where he's hitting in the lineup, Zobrist still has a level of discomfort leading off.

"Leading off is not easy because of that first at-bat," he said. "You feel like, 'Well maybe I should be patient,' but then you don't want to let the ball right down the middle go by. There's just that question in your mind. You gotta weigh it based on the pitcher you're facing that day and really try to zone up on the first pitch.

"You don't get to see any of the previous pitches. Sometimes, it's harder to time the pitcher when you haven't seen anybody else batting in front of you in the lineup. That's the only difference. Besides that, I just consider it one of the other spots in the lineup."

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Monday marked Zobrist's 154th start in the leadoff spot in his career, which ranks fifth in frequency behind second (319 starts), third (267), fourth (229) and fifth (185).

Zobrist's numbers at leadoff are the lowest of any of those five lineup positions — .237 average, .328 on-base percentage and .708 OPS.

Hitting second through fifth in the order, Zobrist has career marks of .273 average, .368 on-base percentage and an .806 OPS.

Entering Monday night, Zobrist has made 24 starts at leadoff for the Cubs and carries a .220 average and .322 on-base percentage.

But he set the tone Sunday afternoon with a leadoff homer and came just a few feet shy of two more longballs later in the game.

Monday night, he put together a 12-pitch at-bat before striking out looking to lead off against Giants starter Ty Blach. Through his first three plate appearances Monday, Zobrist had seen 20 pitches.

Even though he admitted there are challenges in the leadoff spot, Zobrist isn't putting any added pressure on himself to set the table for the Cubs' big bats.

"It's just about being consistent," he said. "If I can be consistent and I can get on base, then I'll be doing my job in that spot. Although [Kyle] Schwarber hasn't hit as well as he wants to hit at the start of the year, he still got on base a lot in that spot. 

"We as an offense will continue to play better. It doesn't really matter who's [leading off] as long as we're getting on base."

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Maddon also liked the idea of Zobrist and his career .358 on-base percentage possibly forcing the opposition to shift less against Schwarber.

The thinking goes, if Zobrist reaches base ahead of Schwarber (hitting second), the defense will have to account for a baserunner and thus not be as able to load up the right side of the infield with defenders.

Zobrist is already a Swiss Army Knife for Maddon with his ability to play multiple positions. But the veteran has also been a key cog in the lineup, though mostly as protection to Anthony Rizzo the last two years, hitting cleanup. 

Maddon and the Cubs knew exactly what they were getting with Zobrist's versatility.

But now can he give the Cubs lineup a consistent presence atop the order in the vein of Dexter Fowler the last two years?

"Probably his best asset — two things — are that he knows the strike zone as well as he does and the fact that he's able to play a variety of different positions," Maddon said. "I say switch-hitting's also a part of that, but he's been this guy for a while. 

"He's got this recognition in the latter part of his career, but he's always been this type of player.

"All he wants to do is win. That's who he is."