Hinrich day-to-day as Bulls prepare for Celtics

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Hinrich day-to-day as Bulls prepare for Celtics

DEERFIELD, ILL.After suffering a right hip strain in the first half of Saturday nights Bulls home win over Minnesota, starting point guard Kirk Hinrich underwent an MRI Sunday morning, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau revealed. No determination has been made yet, but its unlikely that the veteran suits up in Monday nights contest against the Boston Celtics at the United Center.

He had an MRI this morning, Thibodeau explained after the teams Sunday-afternoon practice at the United Center. I still havent talked to Bulls head trainer Fred Tedeschi, other than its a strain and right now, hes day-to-day.

Backup point guard Nate Robinson would assume Hinrichs starting duties in the event that the starter is indeed sidelined. Robinson, who scored 18 points in a relief effort Saturday, played for Boston during parts of two season, including the Celtics 2010 run to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Lakers, and part of his role included guarding All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo in practice.

Watching him over the years, just being a fan of basketball, great player. He gets everybody involved and he has a great motor to his game, so Ive got my hands full, but Im ready, said Robinson, who compared playing for Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, a Chicago-area native, to playing for Thibodeau, his former assistant. Just match his intensity, thats about it. Bring the energy, match his intensity and just be ready to play.

Im not trying to make it about me and him. This is a team. Were trying to win the game, were trying to beat the Celtics. Its not me vs. Rondo, its the Bulls vs. the Celtics, he continued after Sundays practice. Hes become a better shooter, as everybody can see. Over the years, hes getting better, more confidence. He knows hes good and thats one thing you need as a basketball player, first and foremost. Know that youre capable of being a great player and hes understood that.

Added Thibodeau: The next guy has to get the job done, so Natell be ready. Nates been around, Nates played against him.

Rondos a great player, but theyre a lot more than just Rondo. Its a very talented team, a very deep team, so we have to be ready for that challenge, the coach went on to say. Rondo, hes a great player. Each year, hes gotten better, hes very smart and theres not anything he cant do. Hes a great playmaker, he can score when he has to, hes a tremendous defensive player, He keeps a lot of pressure on you at all times.

Boston has started out slow this season, as the Celtics are prone to do, but after a busy offseason that saw them lose future Hall of Famer Ray Allen to the rival Heat in free agency, but add several talented newcomers, Thibodeau is wary of his old team. Of course, the core of the team remainsRondo, go-to scorer Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, now playing center on a full-time basisremains the same.

Theyre deep, theyre really deep. They had a great offseason when you have guys like Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa. Their draft was very productive, Jared Sullinger was a great pickup for them. Theyre two-deep at every position, maybe even more. Rondo has the ability to make everyone better, so does Garnett and you cant overlook how great Paul Pierce is, he said. The four and five in their system are basically interchangeable, so I dont think Garnett playing center is a big adjustment. Hes always had the ability to guard everybody on the floor, but I think his quickness at the five is an advantage, it opens up the floor. He and Bass complement each other extremely well and then, of course when you look at Jeff Green, theres another guyall those guys who are coming off the benchBarbosas been a big-time player, Courtney Lees been a starter on a Finals team, Jeff Green started on an excellent Oklahoma City team. Thats quality depth.

Thibodeau claimed that he places no more importance on playing the Celtics than any other team, being that hes worked for so many NBA franchises during his 20 years as an assistant coach before coming to Chicago. Still, he acknowledged that winning the 2008 title with Boston does make somewhat of a difference.

Ive been with so many teams, so I guess it is good motivation every night, he explained. Its interesting because obviously Doc, the organization, Ive been close with them. You win a championship, you are tied to them, so I appreciate that friendship and what their organization did for me. That being said, that was 2008. That was a long time ago, so I look at the roster now, a lot of those guys are gone. But I always have a special spot for them. Its a great organization, Docs a close friend of mine. I wish them well all the time, expect when they play us.

In a light moment Sunday, Thibodeau displayed his humorous side when asked about Hinrichs rivalry with Rondo. For those who dont recall, the two feisty guards got into an altercation during the epic 2009 first-round playoff series between the Bulls and Celtics.

Oh, thats nothing. Those are the good old days, joked Thibodeau, a Celtics assistant coach at the time. To take a line from John Paxson, I dont recall.

Hinrichs potential absence means that rookie Marquis Teague will get more of an opportunity moving forward. Thibodeau was complimentary of the first-round draft picks performance Saturday and is pleased with his progress overall.

I think its just learning the NBA game, learning his teammates, learning the system. Its a big jump going from college from the pros, so hes right where he should be. He gets there early, he stays late. I think hes starting to develop more confidence, he put a lot of work in, Thibodeau said. Hes got to run the team, so in order to run the team, you have to know what your job is and then, youve got to be able to do your job. Then, hes got to be able to do it every day. Hes got to be able to do it in practice, in games, whenever youre called upon. Like yesterday, he didnt play in the first half, called upon and was ready to go. Thats what we expect from him.

Hes figuring it out. Part of it is knowing what our schemes are, part of it is knowing the opponent and what the team is trying to get accomplished, and hes starting to figure that out. His individual defense is actually pretty good. Hes learning more because everything is done in a team scheme. If one guy is breaking down, its going to hurt your scheme, so away from the play, hes still figuring that out. Hes got the initial part down, but hes got great instincts, great quickness, very intelligent and so, I think as he reads things more, I think he can be very disruptive and so, I want him to play to his strengths.

One potential area of concern for the Bulls is the recent play of the slumping Carlos Boozer. The starting power forward shot 0-for-5 from the field Saturday night, but Thibodeau said he was unconcerned.

If you look at his plus-minus, its a plus. His rebounding was very good. His team defense in the third quarter was excellent. Guys go through that. When the balls not going in, you do other things. Hell come around. Hes already proven what hes capable of doing. Hes just got to get some easy scores and once that happens, hell be fine.

Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

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Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

Leicester City just became the biggest sports story of the year.

If you're a soccer fan, you knew that already. If not, let me explain why the club from the Midlands in England shocked everyone, even the sportsbooks across the Atlantic, by winning the English Premier League title this season.

Those sportsbooks are a good place to start. Leicester City was a 5,000-to-1 favorite to win the Premier League this season. You won't find a professional sports team in this country that has odds that long to win a title.

The longest odds to win the World Series this year were the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves at 500-to-1. The NBA's Philadelphia 76ers were 350-to-1, and that team won 10 games. Hockey's longshot was the Arizona Coyotes at 250-to-1. You can't get an NFL team at longer than 200-to-1 to win the Super Bowl right now. That makes Leicester 10 times less likely than any underdog champion this country can provide.

The upset title was such a shock to the sportsbooks in England that they were offering to cash out bettors at a discount price before Leicester clinched the title. In the end, England's biggest sports books combined to lose more than $11 million.

As ESPN's Paul Carr pointed out, 15-seed Cal State Bakersfield was 5,000-to-1 to win the NCAA Tournament this year. A 15-seed has never made it past the Sweet 16 and with all respect to how bonkers it would be if a 15-seed was to win the NCAA Tournament, that's just six games. Leicester City did this over 38 games.

By the time the Foxes play out the last two games, they clinched the title early for an extra ounce of insanity, they will have played each team twice, once home and once away. This isn't a miraculous play like a Hail Mary or a massive one-off upset like the Miracle on Ice. This is a full season where a team that was expected to finish towards the bottom of the league won the championship and led the league for most of the season.

There have probably been more incredible moments and more incredible games in sports, but maybe never a more incredible season than what Leicester accomplished this year.

The reason the odds were so long is because there is no salary cap and there is no draft. Each team is truly on its own when it comes to creating a good team and the playing field is not even.

Imagine the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays fighting as division rivals in a world where instead of having a draft where the worst teams picked first, all amateur players entering the pros were free agents. Most of the players who would have been first round picks would wind up with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc. The poor Rays would have a lower payroll and no built in mechanic to keep them competitive. That's what Leicester has to go up against when competing with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Then there's the promotion and relegation system most of the world uses in soccer. Leicester City wasn't even in the Premier League from 2004-2014. Last season the team returned to the Premier League and barely survived relegation. They even had a stint in the third tier in the 2008-2009 season.

In the Premier League era, which started in 1992, no team has ever been lower than third the year before going on to win the title. Leicester was 14th last season.

The mesmerizing stats are countless, but to close it out it's worth noting that Leicester is a 132-year-old club. It had never won the top league in England. Even Cubs fans think that's a long time.

Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

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Joe Maddon vents frustrations with tensions already rising in Cubs vs. Pirates

PITTSBURGH — “Still smells like champagne,” said one wise guy walking through the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park late Monday night.

The Cubs had just beaten the Pittsburgh Pirates, with some of the same raw emotions from last year’s wild-card win resurfacing during a 7-2 win in early May. There’s that much at stake in the National League Central that maybe we shouldn’t spend so much time fixating on the St. Louis Cardinals.

The eye-for-an-eye moment came in the seventh inning, with Pittsburgh reliever Kyle Lobstein drilling Ben Zobrist with his first pitch. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz had already watched Cubs starter Jason Hammel hit Starling Marte with a pitch in the sixth inning and issued a warning to both benches.

Manager Joe Maddon yelled at Lobstein and Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli screamed at the visiting dugout, and it felt like October all over again.

“I was able to vent a little bit,” Maddon said. “It’s always fun to vent, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve all been there. You have to vent on occasion. That’s the worst thing you could possibly do for your health long-term — to hold that stuff in. I want to get it out.”

Maddon spent part of his pregame media session talking up Cervelli, calling him a “good dude” who worked out at his wife’s boxing gym in Tampa, Fla., during the offseason: “He came to my Gasparilla party, dressed as a pirate of all things.”

“It’s just a matter of judging intentions,” said Zobrist, who’s new to this emerging rivalry after earning a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year. “As a team, you’re trying to think: ‘Well, was that intentional? Was it not?’ But I think in that situation it was pretty clear.

“Our whole team’s going to stick up for each other. Obviously, Joe took exception to it. I think a lot of other guys did, too. I’ve been around long enough — I’ve been hit before. I took my base and scored a run. That’s the way I look at it.”

Maddon had even more fun with the Pirates and the replay system in the seventh inning after Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle erased a double play with a successful challenge at first base. Maddon responded by using Major League Baseball’s new takeout rule to challenge Jordy Mercer’s slide into second base.

“I had no clue what I was doing,” Maddon said. “I just knew I could challenge. At that particular juncture, why not? Give it a roll. Bottom of the seventh inning, who knows what they’re going to think?”

Maddon kept rolling and filibustering during his postgame news conference, saying how much he loved the Pirates’ uniforms as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania and comparing this rivalry to his high-school quarterback days and Hazleton vs. West Hazleton.

“People in Pittsburgh can enjoy that,” Maddon said. “They can identify with ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘All the Right Moves,’ all of the above. I’m being this way specifically so I don’t comment on the hit by batter.”

Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

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Cubs top Pirates to stay baseball's best, but Theo Epstein won't stop making moves

PITTSBURGH — Relentless is the word the Cubs keep using to describe a lineup that knocked out Gerrit Cole on Monday night with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates already trailing by two runs at PNC Park.

Relentless could also be a label for Theo Epstein’s front office, even after spending almost $290 million on free agents and even with an 18-6 record that’s the best in baseball following a 7-2 win over the Pirates.

The Cubs want nothing to do with the randomness of another elimination game and can’t take anything for granted with 85 percent of the schedule still remaining. They’ve already lost playoff hero Kyle Schwarber for the season, and the outfield picture is clouded with Jason Heyward dealing with a sore right wrist since early April and Matt Szczur scheduled to get an MRI on his right hamstring on Tuesday morning.

Not that Epstein needed a reminder, but the president of baseball operations flashed back to last year’s National League wild-card game when he flew into Pittsburgh, checked into the team’s downtown hotel across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and went running along the Allegheny River.

From his hotel room, Epstein could sort of see where Schwarber’s two-run homer off Cole flew out of PNC Park last October, giving this franchise a runaway sense of momentum.

“We’ve played really well,” Epstein said, “but I don’t think we’ve completely locked in yet or clicked in all facets of the game. Our pitching staff’s really been carrying us. It’s been the most consistent part of our team yet. As it warms up here, I think the bats will get going and they’ll probably carry us for a while.

“But as far as needs that we might have, or ways that we can get better, we’re always assessing that. I think there’s lots of different ways we could potentially improve the club before the end of the season.”

The Cubs will watch Tim Lincecum’s upcoming showcase in Arizona because they always check in on potential impact players at that level. Lincecum — a two-time Cy Young Award winner who helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series titles — is making a comeback after hip surgery.

While the Cubs should have big-picture concerns about their rotation and a farm system that hasn’t developed the arms yet, Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA) is making his own comeback.

Even if manager Joe Maddon doesn’t seem to completely trust Hammel, who gave up two runs across five innings and got pulled after throwing 89 pitches and accidentally hitting Starling Marte to lead off the sixth. Four different relievers combined to shut down the Pirates (15-11) the rest of the night.

Epstein — who is in the fifth and final year of his contract and used “status quo” to describe his extension talks with chairman Tom Ricketts — will have the position-player prospects to bundle if the Cubs do need a frontline pitcher this summer. A franchise-record payroll in the neighborhood of $150 million was also projected to have some room for in-season additions.

After beating up on the division’s have-nots and going 8-1 against the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs should have a better idea of where they stand after Maddon’s “Minimalist Zany” road trip to Pittsburgh and a four-game showdown against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field.

“There’s always the threat of somehow playing to the level of your competition in a negative way,” Maddon said. “I’m not denigrating any team that we’ve played to this point. That is not my point. But if you play teams with less-than (.500) records and maybe they’re not playing as well, you don’t turn that dimmer switch up to the full velocity. But when you’re playing really good teams, I think that naturally brings out the best in you.”