Linsanity is no match for LeBron, Heat

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Linsanity is no match for LeBron, Heat

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Jeremy Lin collided with LeBron James shortly after tip-off, stumbling backward. With that, the tone was set. And Lin's rise from unknown to stardom hit its first major snag. Chris Bosh scored 25 points, Dwyane Wade added 22 and James put up 20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, five steals and two blocks -- the first such stat line in the NBA since James himself had a night like that four years ago -- as the league-leading Miami Heat stopped Lin and the New York Knicks 102-88 on Thursday night. It was Miami's eighth straight win, all coming by at least 12 points. "A learning experience," Lin said afterward, before heading to Orlando for his role in All-Star weekend. "A tough one." Lin's final line: 1 for 11 from the field, eight points, three assists and eight turnovers -- a long way from the 23.9 points and 9.2 assists he had been averaging over his first 11 games in the Knicks' rotation, when he breathed immeasurable life into a team that was floundering. Not this time. Lin paid the Heat a great compliment, saying their defense made it tough to even dribble. "First of all, he deserves all of the credit he's been given," Wade said. "We knew it was going to be a tough task guarding him. ... He's a good player, but we put a lot of pressure on him and it was a success." The scene was electric, and for much of the night, the game matched the hype. Spike Lee, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Chad Ochocinco all sat within seven seats of each other on one sideline, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins were on another sideline, and members of the New York Mets' front office reportedly jumped aboard a helicopter for the quick trip from the team's spring-training home in Port St. Lucie down to Miami. Even the First Fan took note of the hubbub surrounding the game. "In another life, I would be staying for the Knicks-Heat game tonight, then going up to Orlando for NBA All-Star weekend," President Barack Obama told cheering students at the University of Miami earlier in the day. "But these days, I've got a few other things on my plate. Just a few." When Air Force One was headed to Orlando for a Thursday night fundraiser, yes, there were televisions tuned to Heat-Knicks on board. "This has been about a three-week push for us and it's a good way to end before the break," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I think everyone in that locker room needs a handful of days. We've been really focused ... to make this push. We played a team that with more time they're going to improve and become a very dangerous team. They already are right now." The Heat defense wasn't geared just toward Lin, but rather slowing the entire Knicks' offense. New York shot 39 percent, turned the ball over 19 times and had 10 shots blocked -- five of them by Miami center Joel Anthony, who also had six rebounds and took only one shot, which he missed. "I'm sure they were all geeked up for him," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said of the Heat defense against Lin. "And they took the challenge and they did a great job. It's hard to be Peter Pan every day." If proof was needed that the Heat wanted to make a point against Lin, there was some clear evidence. Exhibit A: Mario Chalmers stole the ball from Lin and went in for a two-handed dunk in the early minutes. Exhibit B: Norris Cole, Chalmers' backup at point guard, did the same thing in the second quarter. Combined dunks this season for Chalmers and Cole entering Thursday? Zero. Those strip-and-scores were part of a six-turnover first half from Lin, matching his third-highest total in any half this season. Amare Stoudemire also had six turnovers in the first 24 minutes, the Knicks were outscored 30-16 in the paint, 12-1 on fast breaks and 12-3 off turnovers. Lin had two assists in the first 1:26 of the game. He had one in the final 46:34. "He's a good player, a really good player," James said of Lin. "And they're going to do some great things. But for us, we come in and take care of business." Said Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 19 points: "We have some work to do. Nobody said it would happen overnight." J.R. Smith scored 14 for New York off the bench. Stoudemire finished with 13 and Steve Novak scored 12 for the Knicks, who never led in the second half. Early on, back and forth they went, just as everyone wanted. "It's always big when the Knicks come in," Bosh said. "They have that New York-Miami thing. The crowd enjoyed it. And we enjoyed it." It was classic Knicks-Heat stuff, just like those playoff battles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bodies were flying, tempers were flaring, Tyson Chandler and D'Antoni picked up technicals arguing the same play in the first quarter ... and more than a few Knicks fans who paid big money for tickets -- the average price for the game on the resale markets was over 700, by one estimate -- made their presence known loudly and often. "It's one game," D'Antoni said. "And we're not there yet. They're there. They're the team right now to beat for everybody. They're playing better than everybody. And we're trying to get our team together." Lin said he was already eager for the second half to start. "I'm not going to hang my head or anything like that," Lin said. "I know I went out there and I played hard. Can't win em all. Can't have a great game every game. But at the same time, I need to understand, OK, what'd I do wrong? How can I improve?' I think that's going to be exciting." NOTES: Wade spoke to the sellout crowd before the game, thanking them on behalf of the NBA and especially the six All-Star weekend-bound Heat players for their support the first half of the season. ... A number of arena workers snapped photos of Lin as he warmed up on the court about two hours before game time. ... In Orlando, where All-Star festivities were getting under way, NBA Commissioner David Stern said "it's fair to say that no player has created the interest and the frenzy in this short period of time, in any sport, that I'm aware of like Jeremy Lin has."

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

With their second pick in the 2017 draft, the Bears addressed offense and did it in a way that, when coupled with one of their main offseason moves, makes for some very interesting what-ifs for the upcoming season.

The choice at No. 45 was tight end Adam Shaheen, who at 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds becomes the second significant addition at the position following the signing of Dion Sims (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) to a three-year deal. In a sometimes over-specialized NFL, the Bears have brought in not one but two every-down tight ends.

“Yeah, that’s accurate,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “So it opens up a lot of possibilities for our offense.”

The acquisitions of Shaheen and Sims hold some intrigue, if only because of sheer bulk, because the inescapable conclusion with the commitments to big tight ends is that the Bears might be serious about running the football. They ran 28.4 percent of their 2016 plays in personnel packages of two or three tight ends or with a tight end and fullback.

Under coordinator Dowell Loggains the Bears ran the football just 39.3 percent of the time in 2016. Head coach John Fox and Loggains cite the Bears’ frequent need to play catch-up as the reason why, though in 12 of the 16 games the Bears were tied, led or were within seven points at halftime. In fairness to Fox and Loggains, the Bears in fact arguably did not have the physical firepower at tight end to sustain a smash-mouth base of operations.

That said, both Shaheen and Sims also have a fully formed receiver side to their games, which is where the bigger-picture interest lies. Shaheen had 122 receptions over his last two seasons at Ashland. Sims caught 36, 25 and 35 passes in his final three years with the Miami Dolphins. Both Shaheen and Sims were high school basketball standouts; Shaheen played a year of basketball at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, while Sims was dual-recruited for football and basketball at Michigan State after finishing fourth in voting for Mr. Basketball in Michigan in 2009.

“I definitely think (the basketball stuff) helps,” Pace said. “Half the time, it’s like these tight ends are going up for a rebound and boxing out. And (Shaheen) definitely has it. When we talk about body control and catching radius, the ball is not always going to be on target. And Adam has the ability to do that. We confirmed that through the tape, and Frank (Smith, tight ends coach) was able to confirm it during the workout.”

Why not take a defensive back?

During the NFL owners meetings this spring, Pace said that the draft's depth of talented options was a factor in free-agency decisions as well as the draft. So his willingness to trade down in the second round of this draft was expected, given that it has been rated as one of the best-ever drafts for quality and depth at defensive back.

Of course, these were the same experts’ analyses that concluded that no quarterback would be drafted before the middle of the first round, when in reality three went in the first 12 picks after teams traded up, so ... oh, never mind.

The NFL collective seems to agree with the take on defensive backs: Of the 107 players selected through three completed rounds, 29 (27.1 percent) have been defensive backs (18 cornerbacks and 11 safeties). Meaning more than one-fourth of the 2017 draft picks have been defensive backs.

What wasn’t expected was Pace then making no move at either cornerback or safety even after the trade-down that recovered much of the draft capital expended to deal up to No. 2 for Mitch Trubisky. When the Bears’ pick at No. 45 came around, the Bears instead chose a smaller-college tight end.

First thoughts were that Pace agreed with thinking that said starter-grade corners in particular could be had as late as the fourth round — he reacquired a fourth-round pick in the trade with Arizona, giving him two (Nos. 117 and 119) — or that he had been outflanked by a sudden minor run on defensive backs. In the eight picks from No. 36 (the Bears’ original second-round slot) to No. 43, four defensive backs were snatched up, three of them safeties.

That clearly didn’t bother Pace, though the Bears ended Friday with a plan to take a revised look in the defensive back direction.

“Yeah, we’re going to have to kind of sort through it tonight and we’ll be here late tonight and early in the morning,” Pace said. “Kind of resetting our board and going through it again. We’re going to take best player available, and if it ends up being offensive players, that’s what it is.”

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

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USA TODAY

After fighting through unspeakable adversity, Celtics 'enjoying the moment' with new perspective

Championship moments rarely occur in the first round. With a playoff format that drags the postseason out for more than two months, with playoff series taking as long as two weeks, the second season feels like just that. It’s far too early to say what exactly Friday night in Chicago will mean for the top-seeded Celtics, but a sense of a team coming together under unfathomable circumstances may prove to be the turning point in a season that a week ago appeared hanging by a thread.

It happened in three parts.

On the floor the Celtics looked every bit the part of a 51-win team that edged out LeBron’s Cavs for the top spot in the East. Brad Stevens’ small-ball approach came full-circle as the Boston guards lived in the paint against the Bulls, kicking out to open shooters for 16 3-pointers that helped the Celtics put away the game (and series) midway through the third quarter.

Avery Bradley starred for a second consecutive night, tallying 23 points while making Jimmy Butler work for his, while eight different Celtics hit a 3-pointer and the team shot 49 percent. For the first time in the series the Celtics looked dominant, like a team poised to contend with the Cavaliers for supremacy in the East.

“It felt good to play Celtic basketball again,” Avery Bradley said. “We were all smiling, having fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s how hard we worked this entire year, to play that type of basketball.”

Isaiah Thomas was naturally somber much of the series. The well-documented death of his 22-year-old sister put a damper on the series before it began, and the MVP candidate understandably chose not to address it on the few occassions he spoke with the media. But Thomas looked more like himself as the series went on. Not only did his numbers improve, he appeared more vocal after made baskets, laughed off trash talk from Bulls point guard Isaiah Canaan, and engineered the Celtics' offense to near-perfection.

His defining moment came late in the third quarter with the Celtics nearing a 30-point lead. After a hard foul he gathered his four teammates in a huddle near the baseline and shouted that the series for the Bulls was "a wrap for these m------------!" This was the same player who two weeks earlier was brought to tears prior to Game 1, and who will bury his sister on Saturday in Tacoma, Washington. Under unthinkable circumstances, Thomas averaged 23.0 points and 5.7 assists in 34.8 minutes in the series.

“I feel like he has grown,” Al Horford said. "And we all have in a way with all the adversity that has gone on. It could have easily gone the other way, but I feel like especially tonight when we got the game in hand, in control, we all just kept on repeating to stay focused to keep it going, keep pushing. We didn’t want to give them any life and we were a focused group and we were enjoying the moment.”

Thomas' journey won't get easier. He'll have another short turnaround to get ready for Sunday's second-round matchup against the Celtics. But like his teammates did in Games 3 and 4, when Thomas flew by himself to Chicago following his return home to Tacoma to mourn with his family, they'll have another opporuntity to grow closer. Brad Stevens kept an incredible perspective on the situation throughout the series, and applauded his team for doing the same while still fighting for wins.

"Bigger things than basketball happened, and that took precedent and it takes precdedent," he said. "I was really proud of our guys for how they treated each other, how they stood together, stuck together. And how nobody pointed fingers, they were just a great support for one another, especially Isaiah."

When Thomas does return, and when the Celtics gear up for their next postseason journey, expectations will have remained the same. Though the Wizards were one of the league's best teams in the second half, and with John Wall and Bradley Beal playing on another level, it'll take more performances like Friday night - both on the court and collectively staying together - for Boston to advance. A 2-0 hole against the Wizards will feel a whole lot different than it did against the Bulls.

That sort of letdown doesn't feel like it will happen again. Though no one would have wished such tragedy to force it, the Celtics came together at a critical moment and came out better for it. Their work isn't done, and they know it. But the way they were able to handle the adversity in Round 1, anything seems possible for Stevens, Thomas the top seed in the East.

"We just try to stay the course in the day-to-day. And if that results in us winning more games or winning in the playoffs, or whatever the case may be, there’s only one goal in the Boston," Stevens said. "Seventeen (NBA championship) banners above us. We don’t have a choice. We only shoot for one thing there."