Heat embrace villain role as playoffs continue

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Heat embrace villain role as playoffs continue

If anyone saw the events of Tuesday night coming, in which the Heat again embraced the villain's role in their second-round series with the Pacers, it was the Bulls. In their final regular-season trip to Miami, the Heat was the aggressor and perhaps went over the line in a string of incidents, including reserve James Jones' flagrant foul on Joakim Noah and subsequent ejection, All-Star guard Dwyane Wade's virtual tackle on longtime rival Rip Hamilton and league MVP LeBron James' unnecessarily hard screen on the diminutive John Lucas III.

While Miami's chippiness appeared to catch the Bulls somewhat unaware, the Pacers established themselves as a physical team in last spring's first-round series, which is why situations like backup big man Lou Amundson's unintentional elbow to Heat counterpart Udonis Haslem in Sunday's Game 4 and Tyler Hansbrough's flagrant foul on Wade in Tuesday's game weren't unexpected. Nor was Haslem's retaliatory flagrant on Hansbrough, although the onus should be on the game officials for not upgrading the call after review and possibly ejecting Haslem.

However, with upwards of a 30-point lead, only deep reserves on the court, the game in hand and the Pacers looking thoroughly defeated in the game's waning moments--recently-named NBA Executive of the Year Larry Bird called his team "soft," but more than an identity crisis, Indiana should be worried about the health status of starting forwards Danny Granger and David West for Thursday's Game 6--massive center Dexter Pittman leveled Pacers guard Lance Stephenson in the throat with a flying forearm. Now, Stephenson being the target is no surprise after he was caught on camera giving the choke sign during Indiana's Game 3 win, but Heat veteran Juwan Howard already confronted Stephenson before Game 4 and to make matters worse, Pittman was caught winking on camera after the dirty deed, which led to post-game concussion tests for Stephenson and could ultimately result in a broken collarbone.

Miami, still without All-Star forward Chris Bosh, looks primed to advance to the conference finals now that Wade has rediscovered his game and James has taken his own to another level. There, they're likely to face an experienced, yet banged-up Boston squad--future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, not to mention defensive stopper Avery Bradley, are dealing with injury concerns--which has the chance to close out pesky Philadelphia in a Game 6 matchup Wednesday, setting up a series between two teams with a chip on their respective shoulders that shouldn't lack for physical play and verbal confrontations.

Meanwhile, the West is comparably tame after the Spurs swept Vinny Del Negro's Clippers and the Thunder dispatched the tumultuous Lakers in a relatively easy five games, giving both teams plenty of time to rest and prepare for what should be a tremendous conference finals. With all of the flaws in the remaining East teams, the two Western Conference juggernauts appear to be head and shoulders above their potential NBA Finals competition, though in the postseason, nothing is set in stone.

Carl Edwards Jr.'s special tie to Memorial Day

Carl Edwards Jr.'s special tie to Memorial Day

For Carl Edwards Jr., Memorial Day has a special meaning.

That's because the Cubs reliever has a very close tie to the armed services. 

Edwards met his fiance, Nette Smith, before her deployment in Afghanistan. Throughout her active service, Edwards kept in touch by writing her letters. Their relationship eventually blossomed, and now the couple has a one-year-old child. 

With Smith's army commitment finished, she views Memorial Day as a time to appreciate all those who serve. 

"To me, Memorial Day is a day set aside for me to remember some of the people I have met who sacrificed everything," Smith said. 

Watch the couple's entire story in the video above. 

Morning Update: White Sox power past Tigers; Dodgers sweep Cubs

Morning Update: White Sox power past Tigers; Dodgers sweep Cubs

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Sunday:

Stranger than fiction: Dodgers sweep Cubs as Lester vs. Kershaw doesn’t live up to expectations

Miguel Gonzalez throws six perfect innings as White Sox take series against Tigers

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore the noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup: ‘If you want to freak out, freak out’

Two days out, White Sox already excited about facing former teammate Chris Sale

Fire midfielder Dax McCarty named to U.S. national team roster

Jose Abreu relishing opportunity to help mentor Luis Robert, White Sox newest Cuban addition

How patient will Cubs be with Ian Happ and the rookie learning curve?

Takuma Sato holds off Helio Castroneves to give Andretti another Indy 500 win

Sky continue early season struggles in loss to Sun

Honda Road Ahead: Cubs offense looks to build off showing against Clayton Kershaw