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Hockey's biggest star returns to ice Monday night

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Hockey's biggest star returns to ice Monday night

From Comcast SportsNet

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The great wait is finally over for Sidney Crosby.

Crosby, the NHL's biggest name but an idled star for more than 10 months due to a serious concussion, will return to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup Monday night against the New York Islanders.

It was difficult Sunday to tell who was happier Crosby, who finally returns to the sport he was dominating at this time a year ago, the first-place Penguins themselves or the NHL's hierarchy, which has long awaited the comeback of its marquee talent.

This will likely be the NHL's most-anticipated comeback game since former Penguins star Mario Lemieux ended his 3 12-season retirement by playing against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2000.

"He's excited. He's anxious. He's been wanting to play hockey for a long time," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after talking with Crosby, who was cleared Sunday to play by his doctors. "Now that he is scheduled to play, the anticipation is coming to the forefront and he's excited."

He's not the only one.

Crosby's return figures to give a major lift to the Penguins, who, even without their best player, are 11-6-3 and are tied with Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference lead. Monday's game will be only the third in the last two seasons that the Penguins will have their top three centres Crosby, former scoring champion Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal on the ice together.

No doubt the NHL is thrilled to get back its biggest attraction, a player who is only 24 yet one who already owns an MVP award, a scoring championship, a Stanley Cup victory and an Olympic gold medal.

"We're certainly going to enjoy No. 87 out there," Bylsma said.

Especially since there has been so much speculation and second guessing about when Crosby would play for the first time since Jan. 5, when a second hard hit in as many games resulted in the first concussion of his career.

The Penguins initially thought he would be back last season but Crosby never got close to doing so. He didn't practise again until March 31, and he was shut down for good in mid-April once concussion-related symptoms that included a sensitivity to bright light and loud noises, dizziness and fatigue returned.

Those symptoms persisted whenever he attempted to ratchet up his training regimen during the summer and, according to Crosby, they didn't disappear until shortly before training camp began Sept. 17.

Since then, the Penguins and Crosby's medical team have taken a slow, patient approach, trying to make sure that Crosby was symptom-free before he played again.

The Crosby-is-back speculation increased Nov. 7, when he refused to rule out playing later that week. Two days before, he unexpectedly left the Penguins in Los Angeles to return to Pittsburgh and meet with his doctors.

During the last two weeks, Crosby has declined to speak to reporters, another sign that his return appeared to be near.

Both Crosby and the Penguins insisted that no date or opponent was targeted once he was cleared by doctors, including his concussion specialists, he would return immediately.

His own teammates, at least publicly, kept insisting they had no idea when he would be back, saying they didn't want to pester him with questions about his health and playing status.

"Everybody knows how badly he wants to play," Penguins forward Matt Cooke said.

If Crosby had a bad practice in the two months, he was restricted to working out with his teammates, no one said so. He was frequently dazzling, showing off the moves, creativity and intensity that helped him accumulate 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games last season, putting him on pace for the highest-scoring season by an NHL player since Lemieux in 1995-96.

"We've seen him do some pretty crazy things, and we've seen him at a high pace," Bylsma said.

The Penguins, in a testament to their depth and resiliency, have gone 34-19-8 without Crosby the last two seasons. Even after losing to Tampa Bay and Florida on a two-game Florida road trip that ended Saturday, they are 11-6-3 and are tied with the Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead.

Now, the Penguins' goal is to be even better now that their signature star is back. Crosby was always certain he would be back shortly before training camp began he scoffed at rumours that the concussion threatened his career.

"We don't want to be in a situation where we just stand around and get caught up watching Sidney Crosby play," Bylsma said. "We have to engage and get to our game and be ready to play like our team can."

For now, Bylsma likely will reduce Crosby's playing time, cutting into his usual 20-plus minutes. According to his coach, Crosby will need some time to regain his game legs and get back to game speed.

Even if teammates such as James Neal and Steve Sullivan predict it won't take long.

"You get those guys in a game, they always want to go out one more shift," Bylsma said. "So we may have to tie him to the bench a bit."

What everyone across the NHL will be waiting to see is how Crosby absorbs hits, especially the first one that is levelled near his head. Brendan Shanahan, the new vice president for player safety, is intent on reducing the number of head shots, but even he knows they cannot be eliminated completely.

Since being cleared Oct. 13 for contact during practice, Crosby has absorbed some hitting during practice, but it has not approximated what occurs during a game.

Still, as Bylsma said, "He's a hard guy to hit. He's a hard guy to go after and hit hard. He's had a fair amount of that (hitting) and I know he's confident in those areas."

Bylsma initially plans on playing Crosby on a line with familiar linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. But Crosby also has practised at times with Malkin and with James Neal, the Penguins' top goal scorer to date with 12 goals.

"Sometimes Game 1 is on adrenaline, and it takes a few games for players to get that timing back, the speed of the game," Bylsma said. "It's easy to see in practice that he's the best player on the ice with his speed and the way he plays the game. He'll bring that to the game (Monday)."

And, along with it, the hopes and expectations of a team, a city and also a league that hasn't quite been the same since Crosby was sidelined by shots from the Capitals' David Steckel on Jan. 1 and the Lightning's Victor Hedman on Jan. 5.

After Monday, Crosby will continue his comeback at home Wednesday against the Blues and Friday against the Senators. His first road game and his first back in his native Canada will be Saturday night in Montreal.

LeBron joins 30,000-point club with buzzer-beater vs Spurs

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USATSI

LeBron joins 30,000-point club with buzzer-beater vs Spurs

SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James has joined the NBA's 30,000-point club.

James became the seventh player with 30,000 career points when he hit a jumper with one second left in the first quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers' game against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night.

James was recognized by the arena before the second quarter and got a standing ovation from Spurs fans. James patted his heard and said "thank you so much."

James needed seven points Tuesday to get there. He missed his first two midrange jumpers before making two driving layups and a 20-footer. He hit the milestone jumper over Danny Green from 19 feet out.

The 33-year-old James joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) and Dirk Nowitzki (30,808) on the list.

At 33 years and 24 days, James is the youngest to reach the mark. Bryant was 34 years and 104 days when he got there.

The 14-time All-Star has averaged 27.1 points since breaking into the league as an 18-year-old in 2003.

Warriors have four All-Stars for second consecutive season

Warriors have four All-Stars for second consecutive season

OAKLAND -- The Warriors on Tuesday captured their first repeat of the season. For the second consecutive year, they’re sending four players to the All-Star Game.

Forward Draymond Green and guard Klay Thompson were announced as reserves for the game scheduled for Feb. 18 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. They join Warriors teammates Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who were voted in as starters.

It’s the ninth time four players from one team were selected, but the first time it has happened in consecutive seasons.

The same four players made the team last season, when the Warriors went on to win the NBA Finals, but the format was strictly Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference.

Though reserves are still determined by a vote among coaches, the roster format has been altered this season. The top voting leaders in each conference -- Curry in the West, LeBron James in the East -- choose from the pool of available players, irrespective of conference affiliation. Those voted starters are first off the board.

With so many talented forwards migrating to the West -- including newcomers Paul George and Carmelo Anthony moving to Oklahoma City -- Green on Tuesday morning voiced some trepidation about being selected as reserve.

“It’s something that you want,” he said after shootaround. “It’s something I’d be excited about. But I do know it’s a tough pool.

“I want to be an All Star, one of the top guys in the league. But I’m here to win championships.”

Green is fourth on the Warriors in scoring, averaging 11.3 points, but leads them in rebounds (7.9) and assists (7.6). Despite missing seven of the team’s 47 games, he is making his third consecutive appearance in the All-Star game.

Thompson, who has played in all but one game this season, is making his fourth consecutive appearance in All-Star game. Third on the Warriors in scoring, at 20.6 points per game, he is having his most efficient season, shooting 48.6 percent from the field, including a league-leading 45.3 percent from deep.

Here is the full list of All-Stars:

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Starters: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins
Reserves: Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, Karl-Anthony Towns, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Starters: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid
Reserves: Kyle Lowry, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Love, Bradley Beal, John Wall, Al Horford, Victor Oladipo