OKC sends Kobe, Lakers home for the summer

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OKC sends Kobe, Lakers home for the summer

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With the Oklahoma City Thunder just starting to come to life, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn't need to take a break. They will have enough time to rest as they get ready for a second straight trip to the Western Conference finals. Westbrook scored 28 points, Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and the two All-Stars skipped their usual rest periods to power the Thunder ahead in the second half for a 106-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the West semifinals on Monday night. "We know that's the most important time of the game, especially in a tight game," Durant said. "I think that we kept our composure throughout the fourth, and our poise and we made plays." Kobe Bryant scored 42 points for the Lakers and took the briefest of rest -- less than 2 minutes -- in the second half. It didn't even take that long for the game, and their season, to slip away. After getting eliminated by Los Angeles in 2010 and Dallas in 2011 before both of those teams went on to win it all, the Thunder knocked both out on their way to the West finals for the second straight year. The only other time the franchise made consecutive conference finals was from 1978-80, including Seattle's only NBA title in 1979. Once there, they'll face the top-seeded Spurs, the only team other than the Lakers or Mavs to win the West in the past 13 years and currently riding an 18-game winning streak. The series starts Sunday night in San Antonio. After Westbrook's pair of three-point plays fueled a 14-3 burst that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay late in the third quarter, Durant hit two 3-pointers as the Thunder scored the first 10 points of the fourth to push their lead to 93-77. Bryant was waiting to check in when Durant connected on his second 3-pointer, just 89 seconds into the fourth quarter. But by the time he got in, there was little he could do -- despite the 13th 40-point game of his playoff career. "That what we do. That's our rotations and that's the right rotation to make," Bryant said. "You have to trust that unit coming in there to hold the fort down." Lakers coach Mike Brown said he trusted that unit -- including starters Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum -- after it had turned a five-point deficit into a lead to start the second quarter. "I've got to be able to rest Kobe a few minutes here and there, and we didn't do a good job of handling it at that point in the game," Brown said, adding that he didn't keep Bryant out as long as he had planned. Westbrook went running to the scorer's table and pumped his fist in the air after his first energizing three-point play, when he was able to flip the ball in after Ramon Sessions fouled him on the fast break. "I just tried to throw it to the rim and luckily it went in. That kind of sparked us, and everybody else kept it going from there," Westbrook said. Westbrook converted another after banking in a jumper from the left side despite Sessions slapping him on the arm to make it 82-76 with 1:29 left in the third quarter. Durant extended the lead with a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth and then hit another 32 seconds later -- just after Bryant had stepped to the scorer's table to check in after a brief rest. Bryant described it as "tough, to say the least." After blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, Bryant had called out forward Pau Gasol to be more aggressive -- much as he had with Gasol and Bynum before the Lakers faced elimination in Game 7 of the first round against Denver. Gasol came through with a monster game -- 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists -- and Steve Blake scored a playoff career-best 19 points to save the Lakers that time. Bryant didn't get nearly as much help against the Thunder. Gasol took 14 shots, his most of the series, but made only five to finish with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace scored 11 and Bynum 10. James Harden added 17 points as Oklahoma City's bench outscored the Lakers' 35-5. The Thunder also had a 30-6 edge in fast-break scoring. The Lakers were outrebounded 51-35 and had only three offensive rebounds, two from Gasol and none from Bynum. "We're asking our bigs to do a lot but I know for sure we could have gotten more scoring from those two guys in the offensive rebounding category ... and we could have gotten more from our bench," Brown said. The Thunder got five of their first eight baskets on dunks and controlled the boards early on, grabbing 16 of the game's first 22 rebounds while keeping Los Angeles off the offensive glass for the first 11 minutes. Bryant had to create all of the offense, scoring 15 of the Lakers' first 19 points and getting all six of his baskets without the benefit of an assist. When others started chipping in, the Lakers went on a 16-7 run to go up 35-32 following Bynum's three-point play. Oklahoma City scored the next eight points, including Harden's fast-break dunk, before Bryant got past him for a pair of dunks of his own -- the first a driving, two-handed reverse jam and the second a two-handed alley-oop slam over Harden. But Bryant and World Peace both drew technical fouls as the Lakers lost their cool with 31.9 seconds left before halftime when World Peace was called for a flagrant foul against Thabo Sefolosha on a fast break. World Peace used his right hand to strip the ball from Sefolosha as he went up to the basket but then shoved him out of bounds with his left hand. Sefolosha hit both free throws and Durant capitalized on both shots from the technicals World Peace and Bryant got for arguing the flagrant call to put the Thunder 54-51 ahead at halftime despite shooting less than 40 percent. Notes: The Lakers had baskets just after the buzzer at the end of the second and third quarters that both got reviewed on instant replay. ... Westbrook got a technical foul for cursing at an official after a no-call midway through the first quarter. ... The Thunder's Nick Collison needed stitches to close a cut on the back of his head that he sustained during Game 4. ... Los Angeles is 10-3 when Bryant scores 40 points in the playoffs, losing both times he did it this season.

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

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USA TODAY

White Sox snap scoreless streak early, cruise past Indians

The White Sox quickly ended their 23-inning streak of offensive futility and didn't look back. 

A three-run first inning propelled the White Sox to avoid getting swept with a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians in front of 24,444 at Guaranteed Rate Field Sunday afternoon. 

Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the first with a double, and after Tyler Saladino dribbled a ground ball through the left side, he came around to score on Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly. The White Sox last run before that came in the fourth inning of their 9-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday. 

After Cabrera's flyout, Indians right fielder Abraham Almonte made a mess of Jose Abreu's line drive single, allowing it to skip past him to the wall. That error brought Saladino home and allowed Abreu to reach third, and Abreu later scored on Leury Garcia's two-out single to tag a third run on Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. 

Salazar was shaky over his five innings, striking out nine but allowing seven hits and issuing three walks. The White Sox struck again in the fifth inning when Avisail Garcia launched an RBI double off the top of the center field wall. 

Cleveland's inability to catch the ball helped the White Sox push across another run in the sixth inning. After Omar Narvaez drew a leadoff walk, Jacob May put down a sacrifice bunt and hustled to first, where second baseman Michael Martinez — covering for charging first baseman Carlos Santana — had to awkwardly stretch for Santana's underhand toss. Martinez dropped the ball, allowing May to reach.

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Following strikeouts by Anderson and Saladino, Cabrera lined a single to left, and Narvaez was aggressively waved home (a common practice with two outs in an inning). Brandon Guyer's throw easily beat Narvaez to the plate, but Indians catcher Roberto Perez dropped it, allowing Narvaez to score the fifth run of the game.

Another Indians defensive miscue led to the White Sox sixth run in the eighth, when an Abreu ground ball kicked off Santana's spikes and into center field, allowing May to score.  

White Sox starter Derek Holland was solid in his six innings, allowing only a solo home run to Francisco Lindor with three walks and six strikeouts. His toughest test came in the top of the fifth, when he issues a two-out walk to Santana to load the bases but struck out Lindor to end the frame. Holland lowered his ERA to 1.99 with his six innings of one-run ball Sunday. 

The Indians tacked on a late run when David Robertson threw a wild pitch that allowed Lonnie Chisenhall to score with two out in the ninth.

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

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They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.