Heat, James silence the critics

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Heat, James silence the critics

Well, that was certainly anti-climactic. After four dramatic contests, well-played on both sides, the villains in black--or white, as worn when in Miami--finally lived up to the hype Thursday night as the Heat ousted the Thunder, 121-106, to win the NBA Finals after winning the last four games of the series, but none as convincingly as the clincher.

League MVP LeBron James continued his sensational postseason run, capping the championship with a triple-double in Game 5 and the Finals MVP award while reshaping his image as a more gracious person as a champion than he was as a loser. Fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were outstanding in complementary roles, but surprisingly, hobbled veteran sharpshooter Mike Miller almost stole the show, knocking down his first five three-pointers en route to seven triples and 23 points.

After two seasons of critics questioning whether the Heat's role players had enough to push their star-studded trio over the top, the supporting cast delivered when it counted most. Mario Chalmers and respected veteran Shane Battier also had their moments in the spotlight, while even rookie point guard Norris Cole made an impact in limited minutes. Whether Miami simply caught lightning in a bottle--Bosh's return to health in the conference finals and playing tough and out of position at center, despite a game that leans more toward finesse than physical; outside shooting, a supposed Miami weakness, suddenly becoming a strength--or just found a winning formula is debatable, but either way, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra earned his stripes.

Under intense scrutiny with his boss, the legendary Pat Riley, supposedly ready to swoop in to take his job at any moment over the past two seasons, Spoelstra has certainly made his missteps, even in this very same postseason, but beyond the video-room narrative of his career, people forget that he managed to get a team featuring Wade and little else to the playoffs in back-to-back years before the advent of the "Big Three." That, as well as his more recent experiences, particularly last season's runner-up finish, counts for something, and it showed in the Finals, as he simply out-coached Thunder counterpart Scott Brooks in Thursday's laugher, the conclusion to an NBA campaign that almost didn't happen.

Speaking of Brooks--who, like Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, still doesn't have a contract extension--it's his turn to be under the microscope, albeit a less probing one. The postgame scene of superstar Kevin Durant crying in his mother's arms after Thursday's defeat was poignant, the series-changing Game 2 non-call of a James foul against Durant will be debated and All-Star sidekick Russell Westbrook's Game 4 43-point virtuoso performance will be remembered, but the inevitable offseason speculation will center on Brooks' adjustments or lack thereof, and therefore, whether he's the man to lead the young Thunder to the promised land.

That's unfortunate, as Oklahoma City's title-contending window is wide open--provided team general manager Sam Presti finds a way to keep both of his prized 22-year-olds (Westbrook and Durant are 23), league-leading shot-blocker Serge Ibaka and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who could have damaged his free-agent stock with his no-show of a series, around past next season. The squad appears to have such great chemistry on and off the court. That attribute is reminiscent of another Heat rival, the Bulls, who now have to regard both Finals participants as targets when Derrick Rose returns to full health--as various reports have stated, his recent Alabama trip is simply part of his rehabilitation process, which is going well, and is scheduled to feature a stint in his usual offseason training destination of Southern California later this summer--and whether moves are made this summer or the next, an upgraded supporting cast appears necessary for the franchise to host another parade on Michigan Avenue in the near future.

But now, in the brief window of time prior to next week's NBA Draft and the upcoming Olympics in London, is the Heat's time to bask in the glory. Although James and the team itself will still be regarded as villains in many circles, it's difficult for even their most ardent detractor to quibble with how they got their title and their prospects for winning more down the road.

Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan leaving for NBA Draft, but Vincent Edwards returning to Purdue

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USA TODAY

Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan leaving for NBA Draft, but Vincent Edwards returning to Purdue

The Big Ten Player of the Year is heading to the NBA.

Purdue announced Wednesday that big man Caleb Swanigan will keep his name in the upcoming NBA Draft, forgoing the rest of his NCAA eligibility.

Matt Painter and the Boilermakers will keep the services of Vincent Edwards, the senior-to-be opting to return to West Lafayette for his senior season.

Both players took advantage of rules allowing underclassmen to test the NBA Draft process, gather information from NBA teams and decide whether to return to college with their NCAA eligibility intact.

"These were very difficult decisions for both Vince and Caleb to make, and we are happy for both of them," Painter said in the school's announcement. "Vince has the potential to be one of the best players in the Big Ten. He is one of the most versatile players in the country and will use what he learned from this process to improve in all phases of his game.

"We are also happy that Caleb will be able to achieve his goal of getting drafted by an NBA franchise. He has set forth on this path for a long time, and we are thrilled that he will be able to realize his dream. We wish him the best of luck as he moves forward in the process."

Swanigan was one of the best college players in the country last season, averaging 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds a game. He registered a whopping 28 double-doubles on the season, helping lead the Boilers to the Sweet Sixteen.

Swanigan, who spent two seasons in West Lafayette, is being projected as a second-round pick. Draft Express' most recent mock draft has Swanigan as one of the first 10 picks in the second round.

Edwards averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game as a junior last season. He cranked it up at the end of the year after a slowish stretch in the middle of the campaign, scoring 21 or more points in three of the Boilers' final five games.

Losing Swanigan will obviously have a massive effect on Purdue's chances to win the Big Ten title next season, and his departure figures to dramatically alter the Big Ten landscape in general. The Boilers will likely remain a contender, but Swanigan's exit, albeit an expected one, could clear the way for Michigan State as the standalone preseason favorite for the league crown.

Dowell Loggains' energy suiting Mike Glennon, Bears QBs well

Dowell Loggains' energy suiting Mike Glennon, Bears QBs well

As Bears quarterbacks begin learning Dowell Loggains’ offense, they’re also in a getting-to-know-you phase with each other. 

While it’s not Mike Glennon’s job to develop Mitch Trubisky — that falls on Loggains and Dave Ragone — there does need to be some level of harmony from Glennon to Trubisky to Mark Sanchez to Connor Shaw in this unit. Coach John Fox is no fan of locker room drama, after all. 

The energy Loggains brings to practice could help foster some of that unit-level cohesiveness. Whether it’s through practice competitions or his spirited coaching style, it’s helped keep things lively as the Bears move through their offseason program. 

“He does a great job,” Glennon said. “He brings a lot of energy and he’s got that young personality that a lot of guys respond well to. It’s been great having him around along with a lot of other players and coaches, but he definitely does a great job bringing that energy.”

Shaw is the only holdover in the Bears’ quarterback room from last year, and even then, he suffered a season-ending injury during preseason play in August. The new guys are a 27-year-old signed to a $45 million contract, the No. 2 pick in the draft and a veteran who started two AFC Championship games. 

Good chemistry in the quarterback room doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s something that probably can’t hurt, especially with the development of Trubisky underway. That the Bears have been emphatic in defining Glennon’s role — it’s his year — set the right tone, Ragone said earlier this month. Adding Loggains’ energy in practice seems to have had a positive effect already, too. 

“With three new guys, they've worked very hard in the classroom and now finally we get to take it out on the field, so they're pretty enthusiastic themselves,” coach John Fox said. “And that's just Dowell's style.

“We have some pretty good guys in that room. Different levels of experience that have been there before and done it and that dynamic as far as being a good teammate and the relationship you have with that so I think that's why they handle it so well.”