NBA team earns 1st playoff spot since '07

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NBA team earns 1st playoff spot since '07

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- With some help, the Los Angeles Clippers had already clinched their first playoff berth in five years before they tipped off against Oklahoma City. Then they went out and earned it.Nick Young scored 19 points off the bench, Blake Griffin added 17 and Randy Foye 13 to beat the Thunder 92-77 on Monday night."It is something that we're happy about, but by no means is that all we want," said Griffin, who like a lot of his teammates will be in the postseason for the first time. "That was one of our goals coming in, but it goes farther than that."Houston lost to Denver by three points earlier Monday night, ensuring the Clippers would end the second-longest active postseason drought in the league."I'm happy we can get Blake on TV in May," DeAndre Jordan said.Griffin had 11 rebounds and Jordan grabbed 12 in the Clippers' fourth straight victory and 12th in their last 14 games. Their 38 wins are the most since the franchise had 40 in 2006-07."This is a great feeling," said Paul, whose acquisition shortly before the lockout ended has played a key role in the Clippers' changing fortunes. "We can celebrate it, be excited about it tonight but tomorrow we're back at work."Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 24 points, Serge Ibaka and James Harden added 12 points each, and Russell Westbrook was held to nine as the Thunder's two-game winning streak ended. San Antonio beat Golden State to move percentage points ahead of the Thunder in the race for the No. 1 seed in the West."There's no time to panic right now," Durant said. "We have to win the next game in order to get our momentum back."The Clippers didn't need the victory to achieve their immediate goal, but they played like they wanted it in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Thunder 26-11."We got good looks, but we were missing shots and they picked their intensity up," Durant said. "It was just one of those tough ones for us. I missed a few 3s, Russell missed a few elbow jump shots, which he normally makes, and Serge missed some that went in and out. That's how the game is, man."Mo Williams hit a 3-pointer for the Clippers' first lead since they scored the game's first basket. Eric Bledsoe came in for Paul and calmly ran the offense, feeding Williams and Young, who combined for 10 of their first 14 points."We're one of the best second units in the league," said Young, who joined the Clippers a month ago in a trade from Washington. "I'm excited. I was waiting for one of these type of games. To get it tonight against one of the league's top teams was great."Griffin scored on back-to-back rim-rattling dunks that had the Clippers' 32nd sellout crowd of the season on its feet roaring. Paul briefly came back in, but Williams and Foye made consecutive 3s to stretch their lead to 90-77, so the All-Star guard sat down again with the game in hand."We have enough offensive power to play with anybody, but our defense is what triggers us," Paul said. "When we defend, we're tough to guard."Foye dribbled out the final seconds with a smile on his face, although at the buzzer the Clippers did little more than smile and hug each other."We know that's not the only thing we want," Jordan said. "We still have a goal for this team, and this is just one of the steps towards it."The Clippers won the season series, 3-1."They're really good, but I don't think they're a better team than us," Durant said. "It's not like we're afraid of them or that we're scared to see those guys later on. But you have to give them credit. They beat us."The Clippers dominated the third, outscoring the Thunder 23-14. Durant and Westbrook were shut out, while Ibaka scored 12, including nine in a row. Young scored eight straight, hitting two consecutive 3s, to draw Los Angeles within one. Durant banged into Griffin on the perimeter for the foul. Griffin made both shots, but the second was disallowed when Jordan committed a lane violation, leaving the game tied at 66."We picked up the defensive intensity to start the third quarter," Paul said. "We got some steals, got out in transition, guys hit some big buckets and we were able to sustain that momentum."The Thunder led by 11 points in the second quarter. The Clippers closed within four three times, the last time on a 10-3 run including four in a row by Griffin. But the Thunder ran off the final five points to go up 52-43 at halftime. Ibaka had three fouls in the first half when he had no rebounds and no points.NOTES:Paul took his 2-year-old son to a Dodgers game on Sunday. They were both wearing Dodgers caps and his son waved at the crowd. "They booed me bad," he said. "I was just happy that my son didn't know what was going on." ... The Clippers play four of their final five games on the road, where they will try to finish with a .500 or better record for the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. ... They are 15-14 away from home, one of just three Western Conference teams with a winning road mark. ... The Thunder fell to 19-11 on the road, still tops in the West. ... The Thunder came in averaging 103.1 points. ... Durant made 10 of 12 free throws, but the Thunder was just 62 percent from the line, well below their league-leading 80.3 percent.

Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

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Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, the 2016 Bears are coming into focus.

Sunday night, CSN broke down the weekend that was — a busy one for the Bears, featuring not just the draft but also the addition of a backup quarterback and the subtraction of veterans Matt Slauson and Antrel Rolle.

So where do the Bears stand? Click on the links below to hear from Chris Boden, Jim Miller, Dave Wannstedt and Hub Arkush as they recap the draft and the rest of the Bears' offseason.

— Draft Central: Initial impressions of Bears' draft class

— Draft Central: Scouting first-round pick Leonard Floyd

— Draft Central: Bears move around in Round 2

— Draft Central: A look at the Bears' post-draft depth chart

— Draft Central: Bears release Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

— Draft Central: Bears add Brian Hoyer as Jay Cutler backup

Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

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Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

Addison Russell strolled out of the Cubs locker room wearing a baggy pinstriped suit with a smile plastered across his face.

He paused for a second and looked back to see Kris Bryant in his American flag suit (complete with American flag shoes) and the rest of his teammates and coaches following suit.

Russell smiled wider and continued the march toward the team bus to the airport.

This was only hours after the sophomore shortstop committed the costly error that led to the worst team in baseball (Atlanta Braves) notching a series split with the best team in the game at Wrigley Field.

Forget the loss. Move on.

Yeah, the Cubs are feeling good about themselves right now.

As they should.

The Cubs ended April with the best record in baseball (17-5), living up to the hype they created after a wild offseason and throughout a wacky spring training.

Things would have been so much difficult if the Cubs had not gotten off to a hot start in a city that watched the Bulls crash and burn and miss the playoffs while the Blackhawks were knocked out in the first round.

Imagine how the city and its sports fans would have responded if the red-hot White Sox was the only baseball team looking like a contender 1/6 of the way through the season.

As the Cubs face their toughest test of the season to date with seven straight games against two of the best teams in the league (Pirates, Nationals), let's look back at the five biggest takeaways from the campaign to date:

1. Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off.

Everybody wanted to know what Arrieta would do as an encore to follow up his 2015 Cy Young season in which he put up the best second half the game has ever seen.

How about 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and a no-hitter? It's crazy to think Arrieta could be better than he was last season, but he's making it true with each outing. 

At the very least, Arrieta has picked up right where he left off and might well be the best pitcher in the game (though Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale would surely have something to say about that).

2. The pitching staff has carried the Cubs.

Even beyond Arrieta, the Cubs pitching staff as a whole has been fantastic. Only the Washington Nationals have a better team ERA entering play Monday. Cubs pitchers also have a batting average against of under .200, tops in the big leagues.

It helps when Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have combined to allow just 13 earned runs in 94 1/3 innings. John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks haven't been bad, either, as the rotation has recorded 18 quality starts in 23 tries.

The back end of the bullpen has been clicking, too, as Hector Rondon allowed his first run of the season Sunday, while Adam Warren still hasn't given up an earned run in eight innings and Pedro Strop is locked in (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13 Ks in 9 1/3 innings).

The Cubs pitching staff has also gotten it done at the plate, driving in eight runs on 10 hits.

"This month was the pitcher," Bryant said. "They were unbelievable and they hit pretty good, too, so they kinda picked themselves up at times. ... The pitchers have carried us the whole month."

3. This team is much improved defensively.

Theo Epstein's front office identified the weaknesses of last year's team that ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series and one of the main issues was defense — particularly outfield defense.

Gold Glover Jason Heyward's defense has been as good as advertised, with the big free agent acquisition gunning down baserunners and diving all over the outfield.

Dexter Fowler has earned positive grades defensively, too, as the Cubs forced him to play a little deeper in center field.

Bryant has looked solid in left field and at third base, and Ben Zobrist's steady glove at second has been a welcome addition in an infield that already boasts elite defenders in Russell and Anthony Rizzo.

"Defensively, we've caught the ball," Joe Maddon said. "We've played catch well. Everybody's talking about the offense, but primarily, it's been pitching and the defense that's set this whole thing up."

4. This team doesn't wilt in the face of adversity.

The Cubs had remarkably good luck on the injury front in 2015, but it took until only the second inning of the third game in 2016 for the first major blow.

Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season, yet the Cubs had just one letdown game after that news before righting the ship and marching forward without "Fast Hulk" in the lineup.

If somebody predicted the Cubs would be 17-5 in the first month of the season without Schwarber even collecting a hit, they would've been laughed off the internet.

Maddon and his coaching staff have seen just about everything there is to see in this game, and they have a stable of veterans like David Ross, Lester, Lackey and Zobrist who know what it takes to rise above adversity and keep everybody pulling on the same rope.

5. The Cubs haven't reached their peak.

Everybody is talking about a Cubs offense that ended the weekend with the second-most runs scored in baseball.

But the reality is, this lineup really hasn't hit its groove yet, scoring most of their runs with timely hitting and an insanely patient approach that keeps the conga line moving on the basepaths.

Yet Zobrist, Rizzo, Russell, Heyward, Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler are all hitting .250 or below, and Schwarber notched just four at-bats before tragedy struck.

Imagine what this offense will do when everything gets clicking and the weather starts to warm up.

"A lot of us are just getting going," Bryant said. "It'll be fun to see when things are clicking when the pitching's going good and the hitting's going good."

That feeling is mutual around the clubhouse.

"We have some work to do in general," Heyward said. "We're not hitting on all cylinders right now. We're not clicking consistently."

So does that mean the Cubs are expecting months where they finish with a better record than April's 17-5?

"I'd love to just keep doing that every month," Maddon said. "I'd be happy with that. We've played pretty well this entire month. It's hard to knock our guys right now.

"Offensively, defensively, pitching — the baserunning's been really good. To be able to sustain all those components would be great. I think you're gonna see guys actually hit better. A lot of our offense has been just based on some really good at-bats, some timely hitting.

"But just to purely go out there and just literally knock the cover off the ball, we haven't done that yet. So I think there's an offensive push that we're capable of.

"You just look at the numbers in general, and there are guys that are capable of more, numerically speaking. You probably will see more come from the offense."

Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pirates on Monday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies live from Pittsburgh for first pitch at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (2-2, 2.78 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you're ready for the action.

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