The Clippers did not lose in December

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The Clippers did not lose in December

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- After their 17th consecutive victory gave them a perfect month, the Los Angeles Clippers finally paused to admire their achievement."We got something extremely magical going on," said Caron Butler after the Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 107-96 on Sunday night to become the third team in NBA history to record a perfect month."When we win we usually jump up and down once or twice," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Tonight we let them jump and down three or four times, so everyone had their fill."The Clippers went 16-0 in December to join the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs, which included Del Negro, and 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams to go undefeated in a month. Their franchise-record winning streak is the longest since Boston won 19 in a row four years ago."I am amazed because I haven't done it since I've been in the league," said seven-year veteran Chris Paul, whose 19 points and nine assists helped his team maintain the league's best record at 25-6.Butler led the Clippers with 29 points despite not playing in the fourth quarter and made all six of his 3-pointers, including five in the opening period. Jamal Crawford scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin piled up five fouls and was held to seven points after getting double-teamed."That shows our depth," Paul said. "Our bench stepped up amazing. On any given night it can be another guy."The streak isn't talked about among the players and coaches. But it's a popular topic among everyone else."That's an incredible record to have," Utah's Derrick Favors said. "They've got 17 straight wins and they're playing hard. I know there's a lot of pressure on them to try to keep it up, and they're going to keep coming out and keep playing the same way."Actually, it's just the opposite, according to Griffin, who said the last month "is the most fun I've ever had playing basketball.""You don't really think about it that much. We're having a blast," he said about the streak. "It's not like it's one of these things where it's so much pressure."Al Jefferson scored 30 points -- one off his season high -- to lead Utah, which fell victim for the third time during the Clippers' streak. The Jazz lost 116-114 on Friday when the Clippers rallied from 19 points down, and they were beaten 105-104 on Dec. 3, both times at home."It's frustrating," said Gordon Hayward, who had 16 points. "Knowing that they're a good team and knowing that we're always right there with them, knowing that we need to keep on playing good for 48 minutes."The Jazz lost their third in a row and seventh in the last nine games."We can't make any mistakes against them, especially on their home floor because they make you pay for it," Jefferson said.Crawford keyed a 10-5 run to open the fourth, highlighted by a 3-pointer and a fast break pull-up jumper that helped the Clippers extend their lead to 89-81. Paul and Griffin didn't join the second unit until 5:55 remained and Utah had closed within four on a basket by Favors.That was as close as the Jazz got. The Clippers made 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch and their defense held Utah to one field goal in the final 3:38."It was a grind-it-out game, nothing pretty about it," Crawford said. "We got us a nice thing going and we got to keep it going."Los Angeles stretched its lead to 71-59 in the third quarter, when Butler scored 10 of their first 17 points.From there, the Jazz closed on a 17-8 run to pull to 79-76 going into the fourth. Utah briefly took its first lead since early in the game when Jefferson scored over Lamar Odom, but the Jazz committed two costly turnovers in the final 49 seconds.Paul got fouled and made both free throws, and then Matt Barnes stole the ball from Jamaal Tinsley and fed Paul on the break. He missed but Crawford was there to tip it in and restore the Clippers' lead."We haven't been playing our best basketball the last few games," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're playing hard, but we've got to be a little smarter and not make the kind of mistakes we made down the stretch."The Clippers shot 62 percent en route to a 54-45 halftime lead, with Butler scoring 17 points in the first quarter. Utah led briefly to start the game when Jefferson scored eight of their first 13 points.NOTES:Los Angeles improved to 11-3 at home. ... The Jazz fell to 6-13 on the road. ... Clippers F Ronny Turiaf says his right elbow is "messed up." He said he hurt it a couple games ago when he felt discomfort while boxing out. ... Odom's ankle is bothering him. ... The Clippers haven't lost since Nov. 26 at home against New Orleans.

Despite early hook again, Cubs may need Jason Hammel in October

Despite early hook again, Cubs may need Jason Hammel in October

LOS ANGELES – Even from the upper levels of Dodger Stadium, inside the Vin Scully Press Box, you didn’t need binoculars or a lip reader to tell that Jason Hammel wanted nothing to do with Joe Maddon.

Not this early on Saturday afternoon, not when the veteran Cubs pitcher came into a possible playoff preview with a 13-6 record and a 3.07 ERA. An animated Hammel gestured toward home plate and walked off the mound in the middle of the third inning, continuing a sometimes awkward/usually productive relationship with the star manager that dates back to their time together as Tampa Bay Rays.   

No, Hammel doesn’t get much latitude, even during his 11th year in the big leagues and a strong individual season that has so far answered the questions about a second-half fade.

But Maddon walked out from the dugout with two runners on, one out and Adrian Gonzalez up next, trying to extend a 3-1 lead with one big swing. Maddon summoned Rob Zastryzny from the bullpen and watched the rookie lefty get two groundball outs.

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The move worked, even during a 3-2 loss, as Zastryzny looked extremely impressive, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced, eight days after getting called up from Triple-A Iowa and making his big-league debut, showing that he could become an X-factor for October.

No, Hammel didn’t look all that sharp against a tough Los Angeles lineup, giving up five hits to the 12 batters he faced, including a first-inning homer to Corey Seager and three consecutive hits to begin the third. 

But Hammel is also a respected teammate who helped the Cubs transform into a playoff team last year and build baseball’s top-performing rotation this season.

Who cares? The Cubs are still 36 games over .500 and began the day with huge leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (14) and Pittsburgh Pirates (16.5) in a watered-down division.

Well, Hammel in particular is a guy who feeds off confidence and positive reinforcement. The Cubs might need him in October, especially if John Lackey (shoulder) experiences a setback before coming off the disabled list or another starter gets hurt down the stretch. 

Notre Dame sees a role for high-impact freshman Daelin Hayes

Notre Dame sees a role for high-impact freshman Daelin Hayes

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian VanGorder doesn’t want to give away the game plan, but it’s clear the third-year Irish defensive coordinator is going to find a way to get freshman defensive end Daelin Hayes on the field this fall. 

Hayes, a 6-foot-3, 250 pound former five-star recruit from Belleville, Mich., showed during August camp an impressive burst toward the quarterback — something Notre Dame’s defense has lacked since VanGorder took over in 2014. For example: During a full-contact 11-on-11 portion of one of Notre Dame’s practices open to the media earlier this month, Hayes rocketed into the backfield and sacked DeShone Kizer. 

“If you just looked at traits,” VanGorder said, “he’s got the trait.”

VanGorder was quick to point out Hayes still has plenty to learn as an all-around football player. But with Notre Dame able to do more with sub packages this year — they can thank Shawn Crawford’s health for that — Hayes is in a position to rush the quarterback as part of a third-down blitz. 

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said the plan for Hayes is to get him in on those passing down blitz packages, and then slowly see if he can handle a higher workload on first or second down (for now, Hayes is behind hand-in-the-ground weakside defensive ends Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti on the depth chart). 

“I think just his ability to change direction and his explosiveness gives him a little bit of an edge that way,” Gilmore said. “We’ve got a few guys that can do it but he’s a special talent that way.”

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Gilmore admitted Hayes is still “a little bit behind strength-wise” after undergoing shoulder surgery in December. That procedure knocked out Hayes, who enrolled early, for spring practice and conditioning earlier this year, but Gilmore added that he’s “naturally strong” and doesn’t expect strength to be a problem as the season goes on. 

Gilmore, too, said Hayes has gone about his introduction to college life in a mature way that’ll help him see the field immediately. 

“I think he approached it differently than most freshmen,” Gilmore said. “I think he’s on track and going to play for us. He’s a freshman that’s got a great skillset, he’s a special kid that way and how fast that he can learn the defense and take it at a high speed once the bullets start flying, if he can do it will be the real issue. But athletically, he’s ready to play.”

Cementing coaches’ feelings about Hayes being ready to play: Brian Kelly said earlier this month that while Hayes has worked with the No. 1 Irish defense — which means going against left tackle stalwart Mike McGlinchey — he’s “faring quite well.” That may be the most promising soundbite about Hayes given how good Notre Dame’s redshirt junior left tackle and captain is. 

In typical football coach paranoia, VanGorder bristled a bit when asked if Hayes was going to begin as a sub-package pass rusher and eased into more standard down plays: “Is this for someone’s scouting report?” he asked. 

But no matter how coy VanGorder wants to be, it's clear Hayes is in a position to contribute to a defense in need of playmakers this fall. 

“I think we’ll find something for him to do,” VanGorder said. 

Cubs can't climb out of early hole in loss to Dodgers

Cubs can't climb out of early hole in loss to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs had Julio Urias and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, but couldn’t knock out the young lefty from Mexico who’s drawn comparisons to franchise icon Fernando Valenzuela. 

Saturday afternoon began with Dexter Fowler drawing a leadoff walk at Dodger Stadium and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back singles into right field.

Instead of going for the jugular, cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist dropped a sacrifice bunt back to Urias, who then struck out Addison Russell and Jorge Soler looking to keep it a 1-0 game.

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Urias – who pitched at four different minor-league levels last season and only turned 20 this month – settled down against the best team in baseball to earn the win in a 3-2 victory in front of 49,522.

Urias lasted through the sixth inning, allowing no more runs and finishing with eight strikeouts, helping rescue a first-place team that’s used 14 different starting pitchers and put a major-league record-tying 27 players on the disabled list.