Bulls dominate Cavaliers in laugher

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Bulls dominate Cavaliers in laugher

CLEVELANDPerhaps they were motivated by losing an exhibition game to them, but the Bulls (2-0) took the Cavaliers (1-1) to the woodshed Friday night, winning a 115-86 laugher at Quicken Loans Arena, showing no mercy in the process.

While it was another balanced effort from the teams startersforwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer sparked them early, while Rip Hamilton had a strong third quarterdiminutive backup point guard Nate Robinson stole the show.

Again emphasizing their transition game, the Bulls jumped out to a quick start, with Boozer (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists)a former Cavaliers draft pick, who controversially left via free agency, something fans still rememberleading the way. Boozer continued to show off his high level of conditioning by running the floor for two fast-break dunks, as well as knocking down his mid-range jumper, to help the visitors gain a bit of separation early.

Deng (14 points, five rebounds) displayed a similar effectiveness against both Clevelands set defense and on the breakin the halfcourt, the All-Star utilized his back-to-the-basket gameand picked up where his fellow Duke product left off. Kirk Hinrich got in the mix toward the end of the period, attacking off the dribble, and at the end of the first quarter, the Bulls led, 32-16, by virtue of 74 percent shooting from the field.

Chicagos second unit, plus Deng, maintained and then extended the wide winning margin with stifling defense that forced the hosts into turnovers and led to more transition scoring, as well as solid execution on set plays, of which Taj Gibson was a prime beneficiary. A well-balanced attack offensively, combined with their usual stellar defense clearly bothered an inexperienced Cavs bunch, which struggled to both manufacture offense and get stops defensively.

Robinson (16 points, 12 assists), in what looks like it could become a pattern, sparked the team off the bench with both his playmaking and when the regulars returned to the court, the Bulls kept their vice grip on the home team intact, despite Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (15 points), last seasons NBA Rookie of the Year, starting to assert himself late in the period. Robinson and Cleveland swingman Alonzo Gee exchanged three-pointers in the waning moments of the second quarterthe latter coming at the halftime buzzerand at the intermission, the Bulls were ahead, 60-35.

After the break, the Bulls level of execution saw some slippage and although there wasnt much noticeable damage on the scoreboard, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau clearly wasnt pleased. Hinrich going to the bench with his fourth foul early in the third quarter didnt help matters, as Irving remained persistent in attacking off the dribble, aided by the efforts of the athletic Gee.

The visitors emphasized ball movement to find their groove again, as Hamiltons (19 points) patented mid-range game started clicking and with the Cavaliers still having ball-security issues, their guests first-half dominance reappeared. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held an 83-56 advantage.

At the outset of the extended garbage time otherwise known as the fourth quarter, the Bulls quickly pushed their lead to above a 30-point spread, prompting Thibodeau to put an all-reserve lineup on the floor, though it didnt change the results. However, the coach grew dissatisfied with the play of his second unit and reinserted four of his five startersMarco Belinelli played in place of Hamiltonand the contest remained out of reach for Cleveland.

Eventually, whatever bothered Thibodeau was resolved, at least enough for him to remove his regulars and allow the likes of rookie Marquis Teague, making his regular-season NBA debut, and deep reserve Vladimir Radmanovic to see some action. In all, it was a remarkably impressive early-season performance, one that showed that the Bulls by-committee approach still leaves them amongst the leagues upper-echelon clubs.

Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

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Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

Leicester City just became the biggest sports story of the year.

If you're a soccer fan, you knew that already. If not, let me explain why the club from the Midlands in England shocked everyone, even the sportsbooks across the Atlantic, by winning the English Premier League title this season.

Those sportsbooks are a good place to start. Leicester City was a 5,000-to-1 favorite to win the Premier League this season. You won't find a professional sports team in this country that has odds that long to win a title.

The longest odds to win the World Series this year were the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves at 500-to-1. The NBA's Philadelphia 76ers were 350-to-1, and that team won 10 games. Hockey's longshot was the Arizona Coyotes at 250-to-1. You can't get an NFL team at longer than 200-to-1 to win the Super Bowl right now. That makes Leicester 10 times less likely than any underdog champion this country can provide.

The upset title was such a shock to the sportsbooks in England that they were offering to cash out bettors at a discount price before Leicester clinched the title. In the end, England's biggest sports books combined to lose more than $11 million.

As ESPN's Paul Carr pointed out, 15-seed Cal State Bakersfield was 5,000-to-1 to win the NCAA Tournament this year. A 15-seed has never made it past the Sweet 16 and with all respect to how bonkers it would be if a 15-seed was to win the NCAA Tournament, that's just six games. Leicester City did this over 38 games.

By the time the Foxes play out the last two games, they clinched the title early for an extra ounce of insanity, they will have played each team twice, once home and once away. This isn't a miraculous play like a Hail Mary or a massive one-off upset like the Miracle on Ice. This is a full season where a team that was expected to finish towards the bottom of the league won the championship and led the league for most of the season.

There have probably been more incredible moments and more incredible games in sports, but maybe never a more incredible season than what Leicester accomplished this year.

The reason the odds were so long is because there is no salary cap and there is no draft. Each team is truly on its own when it comes to creating a good team and the playing field is not even.

Imagine the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays fighting as division rivals in a world where instead of having a draft where the worst teams picked first, all amateur players entering the pros were free agents. Most of the players who would have been first round picks would wind up with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc. The poor Rays would have a lower payroll and no built in mechanic to keep them competitive. That's what Leicester has to go up against when competing with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Then there's the promotion and relegation system most of the world uses in soccer. Leicester City wasn't even in the Premier League from 2004-2014. Last season the team returned to the Premier League and barely survived relegation. They even had a stint in the third tier in the 2008-2009 season.

In the Premier League era, which started in 1992, no team has ever been lower than third the year before going on to win the title. Leicester was 14th last season.

The mesmerizing stats are countless, but to close it out it's worth noting that Leicester is a 132-year-old club. It had never won the top league in England. Even Cubs fans think that's a long time.

Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

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Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

PITTSBURGH — “Still smells like champagne,” said one wise guy walking through the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park late Monday night.

The Cubs had just beaten the Pittsburgh Pirates, with some of the same raw emotions from last year’s wild-card win resurfacing during a 7-2 win in early May. There’s that much at stake in the National League Central that maybe we shouldn’t spend so much time fixating on the St. Louis Cardinals.

The eye-for-an-eye moment came in the seventh inning, with Pittsburgh reliever Kyle Lobstein drilling Ben Zobrist with his first pitch. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz had already watched Cubs starter Jason Hammel hit Starling Marte with a pitch in the sixth inning and issued a warning to both benches.

Manager Joe Maddon yelled at Lobstein and Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli screamed at the visiting dugout, and it felt like October all over again.

“I was able to vent a little bit,” Maddon said. “It’s always fun to vent, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve all been there. You have to vent on occasion. That’s the worst thing you could possibly do for your health long-term — to hold that stuff in. I want to get it out.”

Maddon spent part of his pregame media session talking up Cervelli, calling him a “good dude” who worked out at his wife’s boxing gym in Tampa, Fla., during the offseason: “He came to my Gasparilla party, dressed as a pirate of all things.”

“It’s just a matter of judging intentions,” said Zobrist, who’s new to this emerging rivalry after earning a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year. “As a team, you’re trying to think: ‘Well, was that intentional? Was it not?’ But I think in that situation it was pretty clear.

“Our whole team’s going to stick up for each other. Obviously, Joe took exception to it. I think a lot of other guys did, too. I’ve been around long enough — I’ve been hit before. I took my base and scored a run. That’s the way I look at it.”

Maddon had even more fun with the Pirates and the replay system in the seventh inning after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle erased a double play with a successful challenge at first base. Maddon responded by using Major League Baseball’s new takeout rule to challenge Jordy Mercer’s slide into second base.

“I had no clue what I was doing,” Maddon said. “I just knew I could challenge. At that particular juncture, why not? Give it a roll. Bottom of the seventh inning, who knows what they’re going to think?”

Maddon kept rolling and filibustering during his postgame news conference, saying how much he loved the Pirates’ uniforms as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania and comparing this rivalry to his high-school quarterback days and Hazleton vs. West Hazleton.

“People in Pittsburgh can enjoy that,” Maddon said. “They can identify with ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘All the Right Moves,’ all of the above. I’m being this way specifically so I don’t comment on the hit by batter.”

Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

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Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

PITTSBURGH — Relentless is the word the Cubs keep using to describe a lineup that knocked out Gerrit Cole on Monday night with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates already trailing by two runs at PNC Park.

Relentless could also be a label for Theo Epstein’s front office, even after spending almost $290 million on free agents and even with an 18-6 record that’s the best in baseball following a 7-2 win over the Pirates.

The Cubs want nothing to do with the randomness of another elimination game and can’t take anything for granted with 85 percent of the schedule still remaining. They’ve already lost playoff hero Kyle Schwarber for the season, and the outfield picture is clouded with Jason Heyward dealing with a sore right wrist since early April and Matt Szczur scheduled to get an MRI on his right hamstring on Tuesday morning.

Not that Epstein needed a reminder, but the president of baseball operations flashed back to last year’s National League wild-card game when he flew into Pittsburgh, checked into the team’s downtown hotel across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and went running along the Allegheny River.

From his hotel room, Epstein could sort of see where Schwarber’s two-run homer off Cole flew out of PNC Park last October, giving this franchise a runaway sense of momentum.

“We’ve played really well,” Epstein said, “but I don’t think we’ve completely locked in yet or clicked in all facets of the game. Our pitching staff’s really been carrying us. It’s been the most consistent part of our team yet. As it warms up here, I think the bats will get going and they’ll probably carry us for a while.

“But as far as needs that we might have, or ways that we can get better, we’re always assessing that. I think there’s lots of different ways we could potentially improve the club before the end of the season.”

The Cubs will watch Tim Lincecum’s upcoming showcase in Arizona because they always check in on potential impact players at that level. Lincecum — a two-time Cy Young Award winner who helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series titles — is making a comeback after hip surgery.

While the Cubs should have big-picture concerns about their rotation and a farm system that hasn’t developed the arms yet, Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA) is making his own comeback.

Even if manager Joe Maddon doesn’t seem to completely trust Hammel, who gave up two runs across five innings and got pulled after throwing 89 pitches and accidentally hitting Starling Marte to lead off the sixth. Four different relievers combined to shut down the Pirates (15-11) the rest of the night.

Epstein — who is in the fifth and final year of his contract and used “status quo” to describe his extension talks with chairman Tom Ricketts — will have the position-player prospects to bundle if the Cubs do need a frontline pitcher this summer. A franchise-record payroll in the neighborhood of $150 million was also projected to have some room for in-season additions.

After beating up on the division’s have-nots and going 8-1 against the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs should have a better idea of where they stand after Maddon’s “Minimalist Zany” road trip to Pittsburgh and a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field.

“There’s always the threat of somehow playing to the level of your competition in a negative way,” Maddon said. “I’m not denigrating any team that we’ve played to this point. That is not my point. But if you play teams with less-than (.500) records and maybe they’re not playing as well, you don’t turn that dimmer switch up to the full velocity. But when you’re playing really good teams, I think that naturally brings out the best in you.”