Thunder taking change in stride

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Thunder taking change in stride

The Thunder have been no strangers to change this season, but their ability to move on during difficult times has made it a near-seamless transition for one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

A team that built their core the last four years almost entirely through the draft, Oklahoma City made major news a week before the season began by trading Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets.

It was a trade that took most of the league by surprise. Oklahoma City was attempting to fit Hardens eventual contract extension into their already tight salary cap, which had committed more than 45 million to three players for next season. Harden eventually received a five-year, 80 million max contract with Houston, where he has played well, while the Thunder received fellow shooting guard Kevin Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb in return.

The move was a difficult one for the Thunder, the team that drafted Harden third overall in the 2009 Draft and watched him mold into one of the league's top scorers. It was also difficult for stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who considered Harden a brother in the Oklahoma City locker room.

Just being around a guy every single day for the last three years, forget the basketball part of it, Durant said. We called each other family here, so just to see one of your brothers leave the way he did so unexpectedly was the toughest part of it.

"Basketball-wise, we just know we have to come in and handle business because anything can happen in this league. Us being so close as brothers and doing everything together, it was kind of tough not having him here the next day.

With such a young core consisting of 23-year old Westbrook, 23-year-old Serge Ibaka and 24-year-old Durant, it would have been easy for them to have trouble accepting the trade of someone they grew with both on and off the court.

And while head coach Scott Brooks said it was a difficult adjustment, hes been happy with how his team has moved forward post-Harden.

Theyre young but theyve been in the league for five or six years now, so its an adjustment," Brooks said. "Theres no question about that. If there wasnt an adjustment youd be worried about them because theyd have no emotions, and youve been with guys for a long time, even myself as a coach, its an emotional job.

You get to be with these guys every day, but you also have to understand thats part of the job. Youve got new faces and new opportunities for guys and you have to integrate it as quickly as possible. Theres no excuses. You dont have time. Nobody feels sorry for you. You do the best you can and you move forward without excuses and things usually work out."

Durant began the rebuilding project in Seattle, when he was selected second overall by the Sonics in the 2007 Draft. A year later, the brand new Oklahoma City Thunder selected Westbrook with the No. 4 pick and Ibaka with the No. 24 pick, and saw their record jump to 50-32 with a playoff apperance. Harden arrived a year later as the Thunder improved to 55 wins and a Western Conference Finals appearance.

And last year, that core came within three wins of an NBA Championship. It seemed as though this could have been the year the NBAs best young talent made it over the top, but the financial restrictions kept Harden away from Oklahoma City.

Durant said it was difficult, but also that the team is adjusting well with Martin in tow. Martin has averaged 19.3 points per game off the bench through four games. The Thunder are just 2-2, but seem to have adjusted well to the major change that took place just a week before their season began.

Its all in a days work for Durant, who said the change was difficult to cope with but something he understands as being part of the business of the NBA.

"Anything can happen in this league. We see some of the best players switch teams quickly, we've seen so many players get traded, let go in this league, so theres nothing thats new to us, and I think that with that mind set youll always be prepared for anything," Durant said.

"And we just gotta come in and do our jobs every single day and everything will work out for us for the best. So Im not worried about anything that happens in this league. Its been happening for the last five or 60 years, so you've got to just play through it and move on."

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Pirates on CSN

The Cubs wrap up their three-game series with the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage from the North Side starts at 7 p.m., and be sure to stick around following the final out for reaction and analysis on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (13-7, 3.21 ERA) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (3-3, 3.02 ERA)

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Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

Preview: Chris Sale, White Sox close out series with Tigers on CSN

The White Sox close out their series against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (15-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.33 ERA)

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White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

White Sox bullpen falters in loss to Tigers

DETROIT — The 2016 White Sox expected an improved offense when they addressed two of last season’s biggest needs with trades for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.

While scoring is up a hair over the 2015 club, it hasn’t nearly been enough.

As they have for much of the season, the White Sox jumped out to an early three-run lead on Tuesday night but failed to put their opponents away. Their dormancy allowed the Detroit Tigers to rally back to send the White Sox to an 8-4 loss in front of 27,121 at Comerica Park. Frazier homered early before Detroit scored eight runs between the fifth and seventh innings. The Tigers look to complete a three-game sweep of the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon on CSN.

“That’s kind of been the story of our year,” leadoff man Adam Eaton said. “With runners in scoring position we haven’t been able to drive in and get the big hit. When we do that we win. When we get it done we win and when we don’t it bites us.”

The White Sox thought they added serious bite to an offense that finished at or near the bottom of the American League in 2015 in most of the major categories. Frazier was acquired in a three-team deal from the Cincinnati Reds and Lawrie came over from Oakland for two-minor leaguers. On top of the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche a year earlier, Frazier and Lawrie were expected to bolster positions in which the White Sox finished last in OPS in the majors last season.

To an extent, the plan has worked. The White Sox entered Tuesday having increased their scoring average to 4.07 runs per game, up from 3.84. But even with that improvement, the White Sox started play 13th among 15 AL clubs in runs scored and 63 runs below the league average.

They also were 13th in home runs (131), slugging percentage (.402) and OPS (.717).

Part of their struggles can be attributed to injuries — Lawrie has been out since July 22 and Austin Jackson has been gone since early June. The unexpected retirement of LaRoche also left the White Sox short on left-handed power in the middle of the lineup and forced Cabrera from the second spot to fifth to provide balance. And some can be attributed to down years by several key veterans, including the performance with runners in scoring position by Jose Abreu and Frazier.

But even the White Sox thought they’d be a better run-scoring team than they have proven through 131 games.

“I think we did,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You lose Rochie at the beginning of the year, and that changed the left-handed dynamic of what our lineup would have been like. But you still expect guys to hit a little better and score more runs than we’ve done. We haven’t held up our end of the bargain.”

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Their end of the bargain left the White Sox vulnerable on Tuesday. Frazier’s two-run homer and an RBI groundout by Eaton in the second inning had the White Sox in command. But Daniel Norris struck out Tim Anderson to strand a runner at third.

Then in the fourth, Norris got Tyler Saladino to fly out to shallow right, which prevented the runner on third from tagging. After Eaton walked, Norris got Anderson to ground into a fielder’s choice.

Even though Norris’ pitch count was sky high, the White Sox failed to knock him out of the game. That allowed the Tigers to rally back against Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Albers and Jacob Turner.

“They seem to add on,” Ventura said. “They don’t stop adding on that extra run. A guy on third with less than two outs, they’re able to get it in. That’s been an Achilles heel for us.”

It’s also been a source of frustration, Eaton said. The White Sox look around the room and feel like they have a talented group, especially now with Justin Morneau solidifying the middle. But once again, that group didn’t keep their foot on the pedal and paid the price.

“They just continue to plug away,” Eaton said. “Their offense is good enough to come back from any deficit. Hats off to them, but we’ve got to keep adding on. We got on Norris early and got his pitch count up, but we’ve got to keep knocking on the door. We didn’t keep on it enough and knock him out real early.

“Top to bottom I think we have a pretty good lineup. It is frustrating when you don’t get that big hit and vice versa for the big pitch.”