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Cardinals at Cubs

The St. Louis Cardinals will attempt to earn a split against the Chicago Cubs when the National League Central rivals meet at Wrigley Field on Sunday for the finale of their four-game set. After being blanked in the series opener, St. Louis edged Chicago 3-2 before suffering a 6-4 setback on Saturday.

Lance Lynn suffered his third loss in four starts after winning 11 of his first 12 decisions for the Cardinals, who fell for just the second time in nine games but dropped into a tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates for first place in the division.

Alfonso Soriano has hit six of his 16 home runs in his last eight games. Chicago has won six of its last eight contests but occupies fourth place in the NL Central, 14 games out of first place.

All-Stars Adam Wainwright (12-5, 2.30 ERA) and Travis Wood (6-6, 2.69) will square off at Wrigley Field in the last contest before the break.

Wainwright looks to close out the first half with his third consecutive triumph. The 31-year-old has worked at least seven innings in each of his last three outings and has won eight of his nine home decisions this year, is 6-6 lifetime versus Chicago.

Wood is attempting to make it back-to-back victories after going 0-3 over his previous six starts. The 26-year-old defeated the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, allowing two runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings. Wood is 3-3 in eight career outings against the Cardinals, including a road loss on June 17 in which he gave up four runs – three earned – and seven hits in seven frames.

Giants at Padres

If Tim Lincecum can pitch a  no-hitter in July of 2013 then it goes to reason that Barry Zito and win at least 1 game on the road. Something he has yet to do this year.

The San Francisco Giants look to complete a four-game series sweep of the host San Diego Padres on Sunday and have outscored the Padres 23-3 over the first three games of the set, adding to San Diego’s misery this month. The Padres have lost 18 of their last 21 contests to fall a season-high 13 games under .500 and 9 1/2 behind first-place Arizona in the National League West.

Zito has gone 0-3 with a 5.82 ERA over his last seven outings, six of which the Giants lost but has faced San Diego three times this season, going 1-0 with a 1.65 ERA.

Eric Stults (7-7, 3.50) is on the mound for San Diego Stults has been the Padres’ most consistent starter, going 5-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 13 outings since May 7. San Diego is 7-1 in his eight home starts, posting six straight victories.

On Zito’s side, however, is the Padres’ recent struggles at the plate. San Diego has lost 18 of 21 games, and much of that is due to an unproductive offense. The club hasn’t reached a double-digit run total since May 25 and has amassed just three runs in three games this series.
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NBA: Game 4, Spurs at Grizzlies

NBA Playoff Preview: Game 4, Spurs at Grizzlies

Commentary available on game day.

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NBA: Game 4, Heat at Pacers

In game 3, Indiana looked nothing like it did in Miami, when it pushed the Heat until the end in Game 1 and thwarted every challenge Miami threw at them to hold on in Game 2.

But you couldn’t expect the Heat to stay silent and on Sunday night, Miami started fast, took control in the second quarter and never allowed Indiana to get closer than seven. It was the first time the Pacers lost at home in the playoffs and the 18-point deficit matched their worst home loss all season.

Game 4 on Tuesday night is not going to be about grabbing home-court advantage but now will be a statement game.

A test if you will of whether James and his teammates will continue to give in against a Pacers team that has repeatedly shown it will not back down from challenges. Who’s going to blink?

James scored 22 points in Game 3 and seized control of the offense by working from the post. The surprise move allowed the Heat to beat the Pacers at their own game, outscoring Indiana 52-36 in the paint and opening up mid-range jumpers for James’ teammates.

The Heat wound up shooting 54.5 percent from the field, setting a franchise playoff record with 70 points in the first half and committing just five turnovers – a performance that even had the Heat calling it their best game of this year’s playoffs.

How will Indiana respond? Cleavie seems to think Miami will roll from here but I doubt that.

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NBA: Game 5, Pacers at Heat

NBA Playoff Preview: Game 5, Pacers at Heat

Commentary available on game day.
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NBA: Game 6, Heat at Pacers

NBA Playoff Preview: Game 6, Heat at Pacers

Commentary available on game day.
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NBA: Game 1, Pacers at Heat

For the Pacers, this is pretty much uncharted waters and I think this favors them. The pressure is on the Miami Heat and the Pacers can go for broke. But will they?

Only one current Pacers player has ever appeared in a conference-final game, and that was backup big man Ian Mahinmi, who played exactly 71 seconds in one game of the 2011 West title series without so much as taking a shot. Wednesday night in Miami will provide the first chance to see where these two teams stand.

Indiana took Miami to six games last season, leading the series 2-1 at one point, and left an impact on the Heat with words, actions and play. The series was always physical, at times bloody, and it took some superb efforts by Wade and James for Miami – which was without Chris Bosh for 5 1/2 of those six games – to put the Pacers away.

The Heat are overwhelming favorites, at least according to the Las Vegas oddsmakers, who apparently aren’t putting much stock in that it was the Pacers who prevailed in two of the three meetings between the teams this season.

Indiana is going to need solid if not exemplary play all around but especially from Paul George.

Cleavie isn’t putting much stock in the Pacers having any chance at anything and more than likely the Heat will prevail but I don’t think it will be the cake-walk everyone is predicting.

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NBA: Game 2, Pacers at Heat

If you hadn’t seen the game you might think the Pacers are doomed from losing Game 1 of their series with the Heat. Far from it. If anything, the line was predicting a blowout and that never even came close to transpiring. Game 2 is tonight and who knows what’s going to happen.

It was one play and Indiana’s head coach Frank Vogel’s decision to not have a 7-foot-2 shot-blocking machine like Hibbert in the game for the final play but you could just as easily say the odds were the Heat would shoot from outside with so little time. What’s done is done but you have to think the Pacers are in the Heat’s head a bit more.

Matching the level of drama may be difficult, but the actual level of play will likely improve, especially after a series-opener where both teams were turnover-happy – 20 for Indiana, 21 for Miami, hardly the norm for either side – and play was at times choppy thanks in part to 58 personal fouls being called.

For all the sensational statistical story lines that were born from Game 1 – James’ 30-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist effort, Chris Andersen making all seven of his shots, David West and Hibbert combining for 20 field goals – the box score alone points to plenty of areas where things could get better for both sides on Friday night.

I predict the pace is going to slow down, the play gets cleaner. I disagree with Cleavie across the board and Indiana takes this one.

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NBA: Game 3, Spurs at Grizzlies

NBA Playoff Preview: Game 3, Spurs at Grizzlies

Commentary available on game day.

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NBA, Game 3, Heat at Pacers

NBA Playoff Preview: Game 3, Heat at Pacers

Commentary available on game day.
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NBA: Game 2, Grizzlies at Spurs

Are the Grizzlies just slow starters? Game 2 is tonight in San Antonio and in both rounds of the playoffs so far, Memphis has lost Game 1 before rallying back to knock out the Los Angeles Clippers and then the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It took the Grizzlies two games to get off the mat in the first round, when they suffered a 21-point blowout at Los Angeles and then lost on a Chris Paul buzzer-beater in Game 2. Memphis then won the next four.

The Spurs had a surprisingly easy time against the NBA’s best defense in Game 1, shooting 53 percent and making a franchise postseason-record 14 3-pointers on just 29 attempts. It took Memphis too long to settle in during its first conference finals appearance, and San Antonio was up 17 by the end of the first quarter and 20 in the second quarter.

It’s very unlikely we’re going to see a repeat of that disaster but Cleavie seems to think so, calling for the Spurs to runaway with this one too, among other predictions about Zach Randolph and Tim Duncan. The Barkdale can not abide.

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