Bears

The Heat fail in the clutch -- again

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The Heat fail in the clutch -- again

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- This does not sound like a winning formula. Miss 24 of 29 shots in one stretch, on the road. Watch an 11-point, second-half lead turn into a deficit. Have your entire team get outscored by two players in the fourth quarter. Somehow, it worked for the Indiana Pacers. And with one part of the Big Three gone, the Miami Heat might have a very big problem. David West scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and the Pacers took home-court advantage away from Miami by beating the Heat 78-75 in Game 2 of the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday night -- after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both came up short on key opportunities in the final minute. "Defense and rebounding," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "We built this team, we started talking about smash-mouth basketball, about winning the war in the trenches, and that's with defense and rebounding. That's what I grew up watching Eastern Conference basketball being like. We understand offense is going to come and go, especially like a great defensive team like these guys ... but we're pretty good, too." The series is tied at 1-1, with Game 3 in Indianapolis on Thursday night. James scored 28 points for Miami and Wade finished with 24, though both failed to convert big chances late. James missed two free throws with 54.3 seconds left and Miami down one, and Wade was short on a layup that would have tied the game with 16 seconds remaining. Moments later, a few of the Pacers were leaping in celebration at midcourt of Miami's floor, something that Wade said was noticed afterward. "The game is not lost or won with two free throws," James said. "But I definitely want to come through for my teammates. So I'll get an opportunity again. I know I'll be at the line again in that situation. Just go up and make em." Miami was without Chris Bosh, who's sidelined indefinitely -- almost certainly the rest of the series, possibly longer if the Heat advance -- after he strained a lower abdominal muscle in Game 1. His absence was noted in many ways. Miami shot 35 percent, got outrebounded 50-40 and besides James and Wade, no other Heat player scored more than five points. According to STATS LLC, it was the first time in Heat franchise history that only two players scored more than five points in a game, regular-season or playoffs. After Wade's missed layup that would have tied the game, he remained on the court for a few extra seconds, looking exhausted until James -- who said Wade would make that shot "10 out of 10 times" -- pulled him up. "Chris was missed, no doubt about it," Wade said, after he and James outscored Indiana 21-17 in the fourth. "But that's not the reason we lost this ball game." The Heat were outscored 28-14 in the third quarter, shooting 3 for 17 in that period. They didn't score in the final 2:41 of the game, and when Mario Chalmers missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it on the last play, Miami dropped to 1 for 16 from 3-point range on the night, 1 for 22 in the series. "Welcome to the playoffs, for us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That's how we're viewing it. This series has started. They won on our home court. Now we have to collect ourselves, gather ourselves and get ready for Game 3. That's all that matters right now." George Hill had 15 points, Danny Granger scored 11 and Paul George added 10 for Indiana, which made only 38 percent of its shots. The Pacers had been 2-9 this season when shooting that poorly, yet got a split in Miami anyway. "I feel like we should be 2-0," George said. James had a chance to give Miami the lead with 1:22 left, but his shot was blocked from behind by George, who was fouled two seconds later. He missed both free throws, keeping the Indiana lead at 76-75. And after Wade missed a jumper, James was fouled by Granger -- his sixth -- battling for the rebound with 54.3 seconds remaining. James missed both shots, and Indiana held on from there. "Their third-leading scorer had five points and that's what you want to do," Granger said. "If LeBron James gets 11 assists they are probably going to win. They scored a lot, but we stopped everyone else." Emotions picked up considerably in the fourth. Wade was steaming when he missed a shot after trying to create contact with Indiana's Dahntay Jones with 9:53 left. As Wade argued, Jones went the other way and set Leandro Barbosa up for a score that put the Pacers up 63-56. Chalmers turned the ball over on the next possession, and as the Pacers took off for what set up as a 2-on-none break, Wade caught Darren Collison from behind and knocked him over. A flagrant-1 was called, Collison hit both free throws, the Indiana lead was nine and tensions were suddenly high. It all seemed to spark Miami. The Heat scored the next six points. James -- who got hit in the head by Granger with 7:25 left, sparking a bit of shoving that led to double-technicals given to both players -- added a putback off an offensive rebound and Wade did the same about a minute later, getting Miami within 69-66 with 5:57 left. The whole game was a grind. Indiana scored 16 points in the first seven minutes of the first half, then scored 17 in the next 17 minutes. And even after a drought like that, Miami's lead was only 38-33 at the break. Miami was 0-for-7 on shots that would have pushed its margin to double digits in the first half. "Playoffs," George said, "are about grinding it out." James missed a free throw that would have tied it with 4:30 remaining, but after George got the rebound, James dove in to create a jump ball situation. The MVP easily won the tap, sending it to Wade, whose bank shot over West put Miami back on top 72-71. Barbosa scored on the next Indiana possession. The Pacers weren't rattled, and never trailed again. "We never felt like we were the underdogs," Granger said. NOTES: James' six steals were a Heat playoff record. ... Trying to exploit the size advantage with Bosh out, the Pacers got 7-foot-2 C Roy Hibbert three shots in the first 1:11 of the game. He got three the rest of the game. ... Wade is now 39-11 in home playoff games. ... James will play his 100th playoff game Thursday.

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

The Chicago Bears are less than one month from the start of training camp, but the praise for general manager Ryan Pace's offseason continues to pour in.

Pace and the Bears received an A for their offseason -- the best grade in the NFC North -- from Sports Illustrated. A big part of the perfect score was the overhaul at wide receiver.

Chicago had one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL last season—the team ranked dead last in passing yards per game (175.7)—so that position was clearly an area of focus this offseason for general manager Ryan Pace. The additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and Anthony Miller via the draft will boost a stagnant group, assuming Robinson returns fully healthy from last September’s ACL tear. If 2015 first-round pick Kevin White can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his ill-fated career, it’s an added bonus.

Much is expected from the revamped group of pass-catchers even though none of them have an overwhelming history of production. Robinson had a dominant season in 2015 (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but his last two seasons involved mediocre production in 2016 and a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. Gabriel's never topped more than 621 yards in a season and tight end Trey Burton has been a backup his whole career. Miller has yet to play a snap in the NFL and White, now entering his fourth season, is still looking for his first touchdown catch.

Mitch Trubisky has a lot of work to do once training camp kicks off. Not only must he master coach Matt Nagy's offense, but he must do so while building chemistry with all of his new receivers. Growing pains will happen, but the upside and expectations for the Bears in 2018 are higher than they've been in many years, and it's all because of a great offseason had by the front office.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.