Pedro Martinez is back with the Boston Red Sox

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Pedro Martinez is back with the Boston Red Sox

From Comcast SportsNetBOSTON (AP) -- Former Boston manager Terry Francona gave Pedro Martinez a big hug along with some advice to help him in his new job as a special assistant to the Red Sox general manager."Now he's going to have to be on time," Francona needled his former pitcher on Thursday when the two were reunited at the annual dinner of the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.A three-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star who spent seven seasons in Boston, Martinez returned to the city where he had his best years. His role is still undefined -- he has the same title as former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek -- but Martinez said he would be willing to help with the pitchers, work in the minor leagues and generally be a friend to GM Ben Cherington."Varitek, Pedro -- they are the Red Sox," said Francona, the current Cleveland Indians manager who received the prestigious Judge Emil Fuchs Award, named after the former Boston Braves owner, for long and meritorious service to baseball.Other award winners included:--Miguel Cabrera, the Ted Williams Award as baseball's best hitter.--Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles, major league manager of the year.--Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals, major league executive of the year.--R.A. Dickey, the Tony Conigliaro Award for fighting through adversity.--Dustin Pedroia, the Thomas A. Yawkey Award for Red Sox most valuable player.--Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox pitcher of the year.--Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox rookie of the year.--Cody Ross, the Tommy McCarthy Good Guy Award.--Mike Aviles, the Jackie Jensen Award for spirit and desire.Martinez spent his first day back on the Boston masthead at a lunch with Cherington, new Red Sox manager John Farrell, CEO Larry Lucchino and Boston Mayor Tom Menino and some civic leaders. Martinez said Menino had been welcoming to him when he first arrived in Boston in 1998 and once again was forthcoming with advice about where to live and what to do in the city."Menino was a friend to me," Martinez said.Martinez was acquired from the salary-dumping Montreal Expos after the 1997 season, a few months before he would be awarded his first Cy Young. He instantly became the ace of the Red Sox staff, the biggest character in a colorful clubhouse and a key part of the team that won the 2004 World Series to end the franchise's 86-year title drought.Martinez said his experience with the team during that era can help players who are trying to recover from last season's last-place finish."There was something missing, in the clubhouse, the players, around Fenway. This offseason, they realized that they lost something," Martinez said, noting that the addition of Farrell as manager and players such as Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. "We have the right group of people. These guys coming in have great, great character."Martinez, who's now 41, went 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA in Boston. His .760 winning percentage is the best in franchise history, and he ranks third with 1,683 in strikeouts and sixth with 117 wins in a Red Sox uniform. He is also the franchise's all-time leader with 80 postseason strikeouts; in the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway Park, he struck out the first four batters he faced.In an 18-year major league career with the Dodgers, Expos, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies, Martinez went 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts. He has a career .687 winning percentage, and he led the majors in ERA five times, including 1997 when he had a 1.90 ERA with Montreal."I am thrilled to be returning to this organization and to the city I love," Martinez said. "It is an honor to be back with the Red Sox and help in any way I can. I am grateful to our leaders; I believe in them, and I thank them for allowing me to return to the field and help us win again."My heart will always live in Boston."Also Thursday, the Red Sox signed left-hander Craig Breslow to a two-year contract with a club option for 2015. Breslow had been eligible for salary arbitration. Breslow went 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 63 appearances for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Twenty of the 23 appearances the Yale graduate made in Boston were scoreless.

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

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AP

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

Winning a game against a LeBron James led team has proven to be an easier task than most for the Chicago Bulls in the last couple regular seasons.

And winning without James has proven to be a herculean task for the Cleveland Cavaliers since his return in 2014.

So putting those two events together seemed to produce an inevitable result at Quicken Loans Arena, with James out due to illness, as the Bulls pulled away from the Cavaliers 117-99 Saturday night.

The win marks the fourth straight for the Bulls, pulling them over .500 for the first time in nearly two months and they lead the season series 3-0 over the NBA Champions.

Of course, if James were healthy perhaps the Cavaliers would look more cohesive but without him, only Kyrie Irving was in double figures amongst the starters for most of the night. Irving was unguardable with 34 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

After the lead rose to 20, Irving went to work to get the Cavaliers back in it by scoring eight in the quarter and cutting the lead in half with 2:30 left. But without James, the Bulls were able to hold off the Cavaliers with baskets from 
Cristiano Felicio and Nikola Mirotic, who had his second straight big game with 14 points and 10 boards.

A third-quarter flurry from the Bulls gave them some breathing room after a back-and-forth 24 minutes. The Cavs threatened to blow the game open with a 65-59 lead to start the third but the Bulls quickly turned the tables, getting stops and leaking out for fast breaks.

Dwyane Wade corralled weak-side rebounds and popped it ahead to Butler and Bobby Portis for layups. 

Butler then hit two triples in succession to give the Bulls a 76-67 lead.

He struggled from the field but hit four triples on his way to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and Wade was one rebound short—one Felicio rebound attempt with seconds remaining, from getting a triple-double with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes

But the 3-point shooting has been a welcome addition since the trade of Doug McDermott, their best 3-point shooter.

Denzel Valentine followed up his sterling showing Friday night with another competent and confident performance, hitting three triples to score 11 and at least competing on the defensive end.

Cameron Payne made his debut as a Bull and hit two triples in the first half, both passes off the ball as he hasn't had enough time to grasp the offense, only going through a morning walkthrough with the coaching staff after the team arrived in Cleveland.

All in all, the Bulls had their ninth game with 10 or more triples, hitting 15.

Northwestern's sluggish stretch continues with loss at Indiana, how does it affect NCAA tournament hopes?

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AP

Northwestern's sluggish stretch continues with loss at Indiana, how does it affect NCAA tournament hopes?

On the verge of being in the NCAA tournament isn't the same as being in the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern has fans sweating as what looked like a surefire first-time trip to the Big Dance is getting increasingly bubblicious with each game.

The Wildcats are in some kind of a rut at the worst possible time, with losses in five of their last seven games. It's a stretch that could potentially take them from what seemed to be "lock" status to the bouncy NCAA tournament bubble real quick.

The latest blow to Northwestern's chances came Saturday night in Bloomington, with Indiana stealing a 63-62 victory in an odd game.

The Cats looked good through the middle part of the first half, finally getting some offensive contributions from Scottie Lindsey in the leading scorer's third game back from a four-game absence. Lindsey scored nine first-half points, getting a pair of steals that turned into breakaway dunks and knocking down a 3-pointer. Everything seemed to be clicking for Northwestern, which built a 12-point lead, before Indiana exploded on a 22-0 run to close the first half. That stretch featured four 3-pointers, including Devonte Green's half-court, buzzer-beating heave that will make all the highlight shows.

The Cats, though, responded, dominating for much of the second half. A 10-point halftime deficit was long gone thanks to Northwestern outscoring Indiana by a 23-6 margin through the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Cats' defense kept the Hoosiers to just three made baskets during that time. Northwestern held onto its lead, though Indiana did start to chip away. Still the Cats were ahead by eight with three minutes to play thanks to a big Bryant McIntosh banked-in 3-pointer.

A McIntosh free throw with 93 seconds left made it a seven-point game, but the Hoosiers scored the next eight points, clamping down on the defensive end and taking advantage of the Cats' misses at the ends of uneventful possessions. James Blackmon Jr.'s 3-pointer made it a two-point game with 38 seconds left, and after another empty Northwestern possession, Thomas Bryant got a game-tying dunk at the other end. Lindsey fouled Bryant on the play, and the Indiana center got a fortunate bounce on the free throw, giving the Hoosiers a one-point lead with two seconds left. McIntosh's half-court shot hit the rim but didn't fall, and the Cats lost in agonizing fashion.

Northwestern held a nine-point scoring advantage after halftime, but it was just barely not enough. The Cats shot 39 percent from the field on the game and were 4-for-18 from 3-point range. Northwestern scored 16 points off 16 Indiana turnovers, but the Hoosiers won on the boards and had a 21-7 edge in bench scoring.

McIntosh finished with 22 points, though he was 8-for-18 from the field. Lindsey had 13 points but was 6-for-15. Dererk Pardon had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Vic Law again struggled, scoring just four points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Though not allowing that 22-0 run would have been the best way to avoid defeat, a lot of attention will be paid to Lindsey's mental error of fouling Bryant in the game's final seconds. Northwestern has talked all year long about this year being different, how this team has found a way to win — or perhaps a way not to lose — the close games they've lost in years past. But this looked more similar to that type of outcome, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

There are just two games remaining on the regular-season schedule for the Cats: two home games against Michigan and Purdue. The Wolverines are hot, playing as well as just about anyone in the Big Ten right now after scoring a double-digit win over the Boilermakers on Saturday. The Boilers are still in first place in the conference standings. The next two games present an incredible challenge for a Northwestern team that's having trouble finding its footing at season's end.

Did Saturday's loss cost Northwestern a spot in the NCAA tournament field? According to the bracket-projection people, the Cats' spot has been secure since the win at Wisconsin. Even this week's loss at Illinois was followed by a video from ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi in which he assured Northwestern fans that the Cats would be going dancing.

But this has the potential to be a crash-and-burn finish to the regular season. Should games against Michigan and Purdue end in losses, Northwestern would be looking at a four-game losing streak with losses in seven of its last nine games. That would put an incredible amount of pressure on the team's trip to Washington for the Big Ten Tournament if the Cats are sitting on the bubble a week and a half from now.

Northwestern is still looking for its school-record 21st win. For a long while during the second half Saturday, it looked like it would come in Bloomington. Then it didn't.

For a long while, it's looked like Northwestern would get into the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, too.