Cubs work walk off magic for first series win

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Cubs work walk off magic for first series win

Alfonso Soriano hit a game-ending RBI single in the 10th inning and the Chicago Cubs beat St. Louis 3-2 on Wednesday night, ending the Cardinals' run of 13 consecutive winning series.Tony Campana sparked the winning rally with a one-out single off Fernando Salas (0-1). Campana then stole second in a close call that led to the first ejection for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.After Starlin Castro struck out, Bryan LaHair was walked intentionally before Soriano hit a full-count pitch off second baseman Tyler Greene and into the outfield. Campana scored easily to give the Cubs their second consecutive dramatic victory against the CardinalsJames Russell (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning to get the win.Chicago led 1-0 before Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer off Carlos Marmol with two out in the eighth inning. LaHair then tied it with a leadoff drive off Marc Rzepczynski in the ninth.The Cubs also beat the Cardinals 3-2 on Monday night on Joe Mather's game-ending, two-run single. They will go for the three-game sweep Wednesday afternoon.St. Louis won its last seven series in the regular season last year, then stormed through the playoffs to the World Series title. It opened this season with six more series wins before running into the slumping Cubs, who had dropped seven of eight before the Cards came to town.It was St. Louis' first series loss since it dropped two of three against Cincinnati from Sept. 2-4. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 2002 Braves were the last team to put together a 13-series streak.

The Cardinals had just four hits before Holliday drove a 2-2 pitch over the wall in center for his fourth homer. Rafael Furcal set up the go-ahead drive with a one-out walk against Rafael Dolis, who retired Skip Schumaker before first-year manager Dale Sveum went to his closer with Holliday coming to the plate.Carlos Beltran then walked and move to third on Marmol's errant pickoff attempt before David Freese flied out to end the inning. The erratic closer was jeered by the Wrigley Field crowd of 38,894 as he made his way to the dugout.Chicago nearly wasted a terrific outing by Jeff Samardzija, who struck out nine in 6 2-3 innings. The right-hander yielded just four hits and two walks in his second start against Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals in 11 days.Samardzija pitched five shaky innings at St. Louis on April 13, but the Cubs roughed up Wainwright in a 9-5 victory.This one was much different.Wainwright allowed one run and six hits over six innings in his best start since he had elbow-ligament replacement surgery last February, sidelining him for the 2011 season. The 6-foot-7 right-hander struck out seven and walked one, but remained winless in four starts this year.Chicago grabbed the lead in the first. David DeJesus drove a leadoff double into the right-field corner and advanced on Tony Campana's sacrifice. Starlin Castro then lofted a fly ball to right, leading to a disputed call at home.Beltran settled under Castro's ball and made a strong throw to the first-base side, forcing Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina to dive across the plate with his glove. Molina was right there as DeJesus stuck his left arm out while sliding past home on the dugout side, drawing a safe call from umpire Chris Conroy.DeJesus clapped his hands and scurried back to the dugout as Molina popped up and began arguing with Conroy. Matheny popped out of the dugout and got between Molina and Conroy before continuing the argument with the umpire. Looking at the TV replays, it was unclear whether DeJesus ever touched home, but Matheny eventually left the field after a short argument.It was a busy night for Molina, who had two hits, made a rare throwing error and picked DeJesus off second after a leadoff double in the fifth.The Cubs had a chance to add to their lead in the fourth, putting runners on second and third with no outs. But Wainwright wiggled out of the jam, showing the moxie that made him one of baseball's best pitchers before the elbow injury.Ian Stewart and Darwin Barney struck out swinging, the latter on three pitches, before Wainwright issued an intentional walk to Geovany Soto. Samardzija then popped out to end the inning.NOTES
The Cubs outrighted RHP Rodrigo Lopez to Triple-A Iowa. Lopez was designated for assignment when RHP Michael Bowden was added to the 25-man roster on Monday. ... Bowden made his Cubs debut in the ninth and pitched a scoreless inning.
Box score Complete recapCopyright2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls build around All-Star Jimmy Butler?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls build around All-Star Jimmy Butler?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune) and Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Jimmy Butler is an All-Star starter. Is he a superstar now meaning the Bulls have to build around him? The guys pose that question to Bulls great Horace Grant.

The Raiders want to move to Las Vegas. If your NFL team moved, should you keep rooting for them? Plus should the Cubs help Sammy Sosa out as his Hall of Fame chances get smaller?

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below.

NBA Buzz: Chris Paul hurt, the Bad Boy Warriors and some bummer draft news for the Bulls

NBA Buzz: Chris Paul hurt, the Bad Boy Warriors and some bummer draft news for the Bulls

It's become the newest trend in the NBA. Players 6-foot-10 and taller wandering out to the 3-point line to launch jump shots (or set shots), hoping to draw their defenders out of the paint.

Yes, we know the NBA has become a 3-point shooting league thanks to the long-range talents of players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, J.J. Redick and Damian Lillard. Advanced analytics have shown coaches and front-office executives the value of that extra point from beyond the arc, and every team is working to develop 3-point shooting range with just about all the players on their rosters, including 7-foot centers.

Robin Lopez has been watching his twin brother Brook join the 3-point craze. Brook had only launched 31 shots from 3-point range in his previous eight NBA seasons, but this season he's put up 191 3s heading into play on Thursday and made 66 for a more than respectable 34.6-percent success rate.

Naturally, Robin says he can do anything his twin brother can do and told reporters it's only a matter of time before he gets the green light to shoot the 3 ball.

"It's something I've been working on this season. I don't know if it's game-ready yet, maybe that's a little more of a confidence issue. Coach Pete (Myers) has me shooting corner 3s before games. The way the NBA is going, I don't see why not. If Brook can do it, I can definitely do it."

Taj Gibson knocked down a corner 3 against the Wizards last week and said the coaching staff is encouraging him to shoot more of them in games. Gibson spent time after practice on Thursday working on his long-range shooting with assistant coach Mike Wilhelm, then told reporters, "I try to take two a game, but when you get out there, you don't really realize how far it is until you're lined up and the crowd is yelling 'shoot it, shoot it.' Your teammates are behind you. It's fun. I hopefully look forward to finally make some in the future."

Gibson added his 3-point shooting has already become a big topic of conversation around the team.

"My teammates are making little jokes about what I'm going to do when I make it. You gotta make some kind of signal or something. But one day at a time."

In case you haven't noticed, some of the best young big men in the game like Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and DeMarcus Cousins have made the 3-point shot a staple in their offensive arsenals. And Robin Lopez says there's no reason why centers shouldn't expand their games behind traditional low post battles.

"I think it's wonderful for the game. I think there's a real premium on skill at all positions on the court. I think that's really going to continue. You're going to have more versatile big men."

Fred Hoiberg joked with reporters he might have to call a play to get Robin a 3-point try down the line, but he understands the value of having power forwards and centers who can shoot from long range.

"It's obviously a huge part of today's game. The 3-point shot, having multiple player that can stretch the floor. Those teams are really hard to guard."

So, with the Bulls currently ranking dead last in the NBA in 3-point shooting at just under 32 percent, Hoiberg is searching for more options, even among the tallest players on his roster.

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Paul's injury big trouble for Clippers

Bad news for the L.A. Clippers, who will have to get along for the next six to eight weeks without floor leader Chris Paul, who tore a ligament in his left thumb defending Russell Westbrook on Monday. Just the latest in a series of untimely injuries for Doc Rivers' team.

The good news? Paul will be healed in time for the playoffs, and the Clippers do have a deep group of veteran guards, including the aforementioned Redick, Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers. But with Blake Griffin already on the sidelines recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, the Clippers could have a tough time holding off Utah, Memphis and Oklahoma City in the race for home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

The larger question involves the direction of the franchise going forward. Under terms of the new CBA, Paul is eligible to sign a five-year contract this summer in excess of $200 million, while Griffin is also set to sign a new max deal. Will the Clippers tie up their payroll for years to come around the talented but oft-injured duo? Or are they better off cutting ties with at least one of their All Stars to keep some degree of cap flexibility going forward?

Since Rivers is the coach and president of basketball operations, that decision will largely be his to make in consultation with deep-pocketed owner Steve Ballmer.

Melo wants to stay in New York?

Speaking of franchise direction, what's next for the floundering Knicks, who've sunk to 11th place in a weak Eastern Conference?

Carmelo Anthony met with team president Phil Jackson earlier this week to clear the air about an article written by Jackson confidante Charley Rosen that suggested Anthony has perhaps outlived his usefulness in New York and that the Knicks should consider trading him. Anthony reaffirmed to Jackson he wants to stay and win in New York and that he has no intention to waive his no-trade clause.

So for now the uneasy alliance between Anthony and Jackson will continue, but the Knicks will be hamstrung by the Melo and Joakim Noah contracts for the next few years, likely preventing them from making any major moves to improve the roster.

Sixers reaping rewards of The Process

At the other end of the spectrum is the Philadelphia 76ers, who are finally starting to reap the benefits of acquiring so many high draft picks in recent years. Joel Embiid is already a star in his first NBA season, looking like he could be the league's best center in very short order. Embiid's sensational rookie campaign means the Sixers will be able to trade either Nerlens Noel or Chicago native Jahlil Okafor for a veteran backcourt player to balance out the roster.

And we still haven't seen 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, who's being brought back slowly from a broken foot suffered in a preseason game. Former general manager Sam Hinkie might not have been allowed to stay on to see "The Process" completed, but he deserves a lot of the credit for staying the course when other front-office execs would have bailed.

The Bad Boy Warriors

Who could have imagined the Golden State Warriors being mentioned in the same breath as the Bad Boy Pistons? Facing statement games this week against the Cavs and Thunder, Golden State took a page out of Bill Laimbeer's book, flattening LeBron James and Russell Westbrook with flagrant fouls. Now, James certainly embellished the hit he took from Draymond Green with one of the all-time soccer-style flops, but there's no arguing Green plays with an edge and physicality that borders on dirty.

Watching Zaza Pachulia stand over Westbrook after a deliberate smack down indicates Pachulia is more than ready to take on the enforcer role in what could be a much-anticipated third straight Finals matchup between the Warriors and Cavs. After watching tape of Wednesday night's incident, Westbrook had this to say about the team's next meeting Feb. 11 in Oklahoma City: "I'm going to get his ass back. Straight up."

Bummer draft news for Bulls

Sorry, Bulls fans. That future first-round pick Sacramento owes the Bulls (top-10 protected) from the Luol Deng trade years ago is almost certainly going to become a second-round pick this June. The Kings just went 1-6 on their longest homestand of the season, and now head out on the road for eight straight games. Even worse, they just lost their second best player, Rudy Gay, to a season-ending Achilles injury. Under the terms of the Deng trade, if the first-round pick owed to the Bulls isn't conveyed by this year's draft, it converts to a second-round pick. And after losing Gay for the season, the Kings are a lock to finish in the bottom 10.

So a chance for the Bulls to add a low lottery pick to their roster this summer just went out the window.

Stat of the week

Thanks to my friend Nick Friedell, who tweeted this gem from Jacob Nitzberg of ESPN Stats and Information: Tuesday night's game against Dallas marked Jimmy Butler's 16th game this season with 10-plus free throws made, which ties him with Chet Walker for the 10th-most such games in a single season in franchise history. Only Michael Jordan has more games in a season with 10-plus free throws made in franchise history.

And Russell Westbrook's incredible season continues as he looks to become the first NBA player to average a triple-double since the great Oscar Robertson back in 1961-62.

NBA season leaders in triple-doubles since Westbrook's rookie season (2008-09):

Season Player Triple-doubles Total NBA triple-doubles
2008-09 LeBron James 7 30
2009-10 LeBron James 4 23
2010-11 LeBron James 4 37
2011-12 Rajon Rondo 6 18
2012-13 Rajon Rondo 5 42
2013-14 Lance Stephenson 5 46
2014-15 Russell Westbrook 11 46
2015-16 Russell Westbrook 18 75
2016-17 Russell Westbrook 21 53 (through Jan. 18)

Quote of the week

Congratulations to Jimmy Butler on being named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter for the Feb. 19 game in New Orleans. Last week, Butler told reporters he really didn't care about whether or not he made the team, saying he'd be relaxing on a beach somewhere if he wasn't selected.

That prompted this response from Taj Gibson: "He's lying, he's lying so much. You never know what you're going to get from Jimmy. I know, definitely, he wants to make the All-Star team. He's been putting in a lot work in for it."

No question about it, Taj, Butler deserves to be in the East starting lineup as he continues to rise up the rankings of the top players in the game. Now the challenge for the Bulls is finding more athletes and shooters to put around him.