A legendary performance by LeBron James

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A legendary performance by LeBron James

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The coveted NBA championship, the one LeBron James needs to validate everything, was vanishing. With 18,000 towel-waving fans roaring like the engines at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indiana Pacers had knocked the Miami Heat to the floor and to the edge of elimination. James didn't panic. He simply picked up his teammates and carried them to a win. And this time, Dwyane Wade helped. James scored 40 points with 18 rebounds and nine assists, and Wade added 30 points -- 22 in the second half -- as Miami rallied to even their semifinal series against Indiana with a 101-93 win on Sunday over the Pacers, who had the defending Eastern Conference champions down couldn't keep them there. "I felt like I had to do whatever it took to win," said James, who played all but four minutes. With All-Star forward Chris Bosh injured and back in Florida, the James-Wade tag team saved the Heat, who will host Game 5 on Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. "Me and Bron had it going," said Wade, who bounced back from the worst playoff game of his career -- five points on 2-of-13 shooting -- with one of his best, "We played off of each other very well. We both were aggressive at the same time. That's beautiful basketball for the Miami Heat when we play that way." The Heat now head home back in control of the best-of-seven series, which is down to a best-of-three with two of the games on Miami's home floor. "It's still going to be a dogfight," James said. Udonis Haslem, playing with a large bandage covering a nasty cut over his right eye that required nine stitches, added 14 points for Miami. For a while, the Heat's season was slipping away. The underrated Pacers had built a 10-point lead in the third quarter and were threatening to run away as they did in Game 3, when James and Wade took over. They scored 38 consecutive points in one stretch bridging the second and third quarters and combined to score 28 of Miami's 30 in the third when the Heat seemed to be playing with two to Indiana's five. "LeBron had that look," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "And when he has that look and Dwyane has that look, you want to run through a wall." Wade finished with nine rebounds and six assists, erasing the ugly memory of Game 3 when he also had a confrontation with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a public dispute that turned into a bigger deal than it probably was because of a two-day break between games. The next day, Wade, who has refused to blame injuries for his recent struggles, visited his former Marquette coach Tom Crean, who is now at Indiana. Wade said Crean had film for him to watch. "I was able to be a student of the game," Wade said. "Just figuring out what I needed to do differently to help our team get this win. I just wanted to come out today and affect the game somehow. Obviously, I knew I was struggling a little bit on my offensive game. I wasn't going to let that affect my overall game." James dismissed the idea the Heat were desperate team. "That's a strong word," he said. "It's a team with a lot of veterans and a lot of fighters." Danny Granger scored 20 and Paul George 13 to lead the Pacers. Center Roy Hibbert, so dominant at both ends in Game 3, had just 10 points and was in foul trouble in the second half. Indiana coach Frank Vogel second-guessed his decision to keep Hibbert and David West on the bench for a long stretch after halftime. But it was the Pacers' inability to stop Wade and James that was the difference. "You get the ball out of one of those guy's hands and it gets to the other guy's," he said. "It's not like one superhero and a bunch of role guys." Granger's 3-pointer had given Indiana a 61-51 and the Pacers, outhustling the Heat to loose balls, appeared poised to take a commanding lead in the series. But that's when James and Wade put on a jaw-dropping spectacle, combining for all but two points in a 25-5 run that put Miami up 76-66. During one sequence, Wade lost his balance and fell and was lucky to push the ball toward James near the top of the key. As Wade scrambled to his feet, James alertly passed him the ball and he calmly knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Heat a 64-63 lead. The pair made easy shots, tough ones and did everything in their power to steer Miami away from a 3-1 hole. Only eight teams in league history have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. That's what the Heat were staring at with a loss in Game 4. The Heat took a 76-70 lead into the fourth, and every time Indiana got close, either Wade or James responded. Miami also got a huge lift down the stretch from Haslem, who hasn't been a factor in the series but made four big jumpers in the final six minutes despite having his head split by an elbow by Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough. "Those guys carry a large load," Haslem said of Wade and James. "But sometimes we need other guys to step up and tonight was my turn. Next time it might be somebody else." Granger's 3-pointer got the Pacers within 96-91 with 1:33 left, but Haslem hit another short shot and James closed the Pacers out with three free throws in the last 16 seconds. Following the game, James sat in front of his locker icing both knees and reading a hard copy of "Hunger Games." After finishing a page or two, he set the book down. There'd be time for that later. The Heat were heading home, feeling good about the next chapter. NOTES: James, Wade and Haslem combined for 53 of Miami's 55 second-half points. ... Before the game, Miami F Juwan Howard and Pacers G Stephenson exchanged words. In Game 3, Stephenson mocked James by flashing a choke sign after James missed a foul shot and Howard confronted the Indiana reserve. Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw stepped between the players. ... Granger was slapped with his second technical in two games after getting in Wade's face late in the second quarter. ... James was one rebound shy of his postseason high. ... The national anthem was performed on harmonica by 85-year-old Carl Erskine, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1948-59. Erskine is an Indiana native. ... Heat owner Micky Arison was asked for his autograph by several fans sitting near the Miami bench. "You must be desperate," he cracked.

Should the Bears bring Devin Hester back to Chicago?

Should the Bears bring Devin Hester back to Chicago?

The Atlanta Falcons released kick return specialist Devin Hester on Tuesday after just two seasons with the team. 

The former Bear and four-time Pro Bowl selection, who's best known for being one of the NFL's most dangerous return men, is now in the market for a new NFL job. 

So that begs the question, should the Bears entertain the idea of bringing Hester back to Chicago in 2016?

Hester, 33, has an NFL-record 20 touchdown returns over his 10 year career. However, he only had one return touchdown during his two years in Atlanta, and collected just two receiving touchdowns and one rushing score. 

It's safe to say the Bears aren't interested in Hester as a receiver, and who knows how much gas he has left in the tank, but he has certainly made an impact during his time in the Windy City. 

Blackhawks among teams in contention to land Jimmy Vesey

Blackhawks among teams in contention to land Jimmy Vesey

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said at the ninth annual Blackhawks Convention that he's prepared to enter the 2016-17 season with the roster as currently constructed, but there could be one more addition coming, and an impactful one at that.

Coveted free agent forward Jimmy Vesey will hit the open market on Aug. 15, and the Blackhawks are reportedly among the short list of teams set to meet with him when he's eligible to speak with other clubs next month.

"Chicago will be a team we want to talk to on Aug. 15," Vesey's agent Peter Donatelli told Scott Powers of The Athletic over the phone Monday. "Chicago will be on the list, but it shouldn't be read as they're ahead of anyone else.

"He really has no idea where he's going to be. It's going to be up to the teams to sell him. ... Yes, [we have criteria], but we're interested in what the teams say rather than telling the teams what they have to say."

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Vesey is currently property of the Buffalo Sabres after the Nashville Predators, who originally drafted him with the No. 66 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, traded the 23-year-old left winger's negotiating rights in June for a 2016 third-round selection when it became apparent the two sides wouldn't be able to hammer out a deal.

What makes Vesey and Chicago a perfect match for each other is there's a legitimate spot open in the top-six to potentially play alongside Jonathan Toews, and because Vesey would be signing an entry-level contract, the maximum allowable salary is $925,000 per year, which benefits the cap-strapped Blackhawks.

Vesey is a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist, and captured the award as the best player in college hockey last season after scoring 24 goals and adding 22 assists in 33 games with Harvard University, where he played four years.

The previous two Hobey Baker Award winners are Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames (2014) and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres (2015), so the possibility of Vesey landing in Chicago could immediately give the Blackhawks another dynamic scoring option.

Even if winning takes time, Illini right to be excited about Lovie Smith's arrival

Even if winning takes time, Illini right to be excited about Lovie Smith's arrival

“Everything has been positive, which you would expect. When you’ve never lost a game at a place, normally it’s pretty positive, right?”

Lovie Smith … the comedian?

The comment — delivered Tuesday on Day 2 of Big Ten Media Days — wasn’t exactly side-splitting, but it was a surprising moment of levity from Smith, who’s returned to the Land of Lincoln to resurrect another orange-and-blue football program.

The joke was a nice little representation of the immense amount of excitement and positivity surrounding the program, something that couldn’t have been fathomed when the Illini finished another bowl-less season in November. The campaign started with Tim Beckman’s firing a week before the opener, then plodded through a 5-7 finish before ending on an uninspiring note with Bill Cubit’s head-scratching two-year contract, announced ahead of the finale against Northwestern.

But new athletics director Josh Whitman took swift action in dismissing Cubit and replacing him with Smith, a huge name — especially in these parts — with a track record of NFL success that brings instant credibility and a reason to pay attention to a program that only was making headlines for the wrong reasons.

Instantaneously, thanks to that eye-popping hire, feelings about the Illini changed.

“Sometimes when things haven’t gone the way people would like, change is good and you get excited about change and seeing what could possibly be,” Smith said Tuesday. “We all have histories on what we’ve done in our past. Hopefully that’s helped a little bit.”

Smith has brought reason to pay attention to Illinois football, but he warned that the overnight transition from boredom to excitement likely won’t be mirrored in the win-loss column. Smith still has to recruit multiple classes of players to stock his program, and while there are several talented players currently on the roster, a departure from losing seasons might still be a ways off.

“I can’t tell you we’re going to win every game,” Smith said. “I really don’t know how many games we’re going to win. The number of games our talent level says we should win, that’s what we want to do. We want to play up to our potential each week. That’s our goal each practice, each week. If we can do that, I think we’ll be OK. We were a five-win team last year. We know we need to improve upon that, and we will.”

And perhaps that’s why much of the talk Tuesday was focused on recruiting and building the future of this program. This is still mostly the same roster that Beckman built, and he never finished a season with an above-.500 record. Illinois has been to just five bowl games in the 21st century, only four in the past 14 years.

Thankfully for the Illini and their fans, Smith has plenty of advantages to breed recruiting success.

His name recognition alone ought to help, particularly in the state where he led the Bears for nine seasons, winning three division titles and earning a trip to Super Bowl XLI.

“The Chicago area — I can’t talk specifics about recruiting — one message we’ve got is ‘Lovie, we already know you. You’ve been in our homes on Sunday quite a bit.’ It has helped a little bit.

“They’re seeing my face, and that’s the first step, just getting them to come down and look at our university. And we’ve got a lot of players to come and see our university.”

And Smith is looking elsewhere, too, hoping to attract talent from all over. Even if kids in Indiana, Missouri and Texas didn’t grow up as Bears fans, they’re still sure to listen when a former NFL head coach walks through the door.

“They're listening to us. And that's all we want. Give us a chance,” Smith said. “Not just Chicago area. There's a triangle of the St. Louis area, of course. And Indianapolis there's a triangle. I'm from Texas. So we'll, of course, recruit that area. We have a lot of players on our team from the Florida area also. So recruiting is going well. And it's been a while since I've been in college ball. That has changed a little bit. It is a 24/7 job. And we're embracing that.”

There’s a reason Smith and Whitman have traversed the state trying to crank the excitement up even higher. There’s a reason Smith has met with fraternities and sororities in Champaign. There’s a reason the Illini are trying to pack Memorial Stadium and plastering up billboards in Chicago.

Everyone wants instant results, and if Illinois doesn’t get them in Year 1 under Smith, folks might think this is just more of the same with a new head coach, more of the losing that reigned throughout the eras of Ron Turner, Ron Zook, Beckman and Cubit.

But Smith wanted to promise that those days are in the past, no matter what the win-loss record looks like at the end of 2016.

“Every function we’ve been to — and we’ve been through a lot — has been that way,” Smith said of the current mood of excitement and optimism. “It’s the same message as our players have given: ‘Coach, what do we need to do?’ And for our fans, the message is come back, the message to our students. There’s nothing like student excitement in Memorial Stadium. From talking to the fraternities, the sororities, we need their energy in the stadium wearing the orange and blue. All of those things, University of Illinois bumper stickers, whatever it is, let people know who you believe in.

“Don’t worry about what’s happened in the past. It’s about today.”