Jae Crowder must rise to challenge, or Cavs-Celtics series won’t last long

The Cavs have their Big Three — four-time All-Stars Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and that one kid from Akron, Ohio, all household names. The Celtics have the Value Brand equivalent in burgeoning bona fide superstar Isaiah Thomas, a reinvigorated Al Horford and Avery Bradley, a defensive specialist who’s expanding his offensive arsenal before our eyes in the postseason.

Limited Womens Dan Fouts Jersey Despite being the No. 1 seed, Boston, set to host Cleveland in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night, is the underdog. The Celtics aren’t anyone’s Washington Generals, but you might locate ice water in Hell before you find someone who thinks they’ll actually win the series. If the Celtics plan on being anything more than a speed bump as the Cavaliers, undefeated in the playoffs, cruise to a third-straight Finals appearance, it’s going to be incumbent upon an even lesser known starter, fourth-year small forward Jae Crowder, to show up and show out out like never before.

Crowder could be the most important supporting player on both ends of the floor for a team whose bench produced 48 points in a Game 7 win against the Wizards on Monday.

Limited Womens D’Qwell Jackson Jersey Thomas was bolstered all year by marquee free-agent signee Al Horford (16 points, six rebounds, five assists Monday).They’re the stars here. But in this game, as much as any of the Celtics’ wins in this series, the seldom-matched efficiency of the Celtics’ roster turnaround was on display. This performance can be chalked up to Boston’s depth.

NBA teams can take a decade or more to find the right mix to pull off a rebuild. The Celtics didn’t rebuild as much as they opted for a quick flip, a task they completed with a pull-away, 115-105 win over the Wizards in Game 7 of the East semifinals on Monday night at home.

As important will be how Harden handles his new teammate

This is not an Xs and Os question, though there are valid concerns about how the Rockets will find enough touches for both Paul and Harden, two ball-dominant guards. D’Antoni’s offensive credentials are well-established, and given the pace his teams employ, there will be plenty of possessions to split. But working both Paul and Harden into an offense will be a challenge.

As important will be how Harden handles his new teammate. We saw, already, how things went when Harden was paired with Dwight Howard, an experiment that ended when Howard hit free agency last summer. Howard and Harden had an ever-deteriorating relationship, and their locker room tension spilled over onto the court, sending a team that had won 56 games and earned a spot in the conference finals to a 41-41 record.
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But Howard bore at least as much responsibility for that mess as Harden. Howard’s history of setting flame to team chemistry is well-known, going back to Orlando, then on to the Lakers, Houston and again last season in Atlanta. Maybe if Harden was a better leader, he could have more successfully integrated Howard into the Rockets’ fold. But that’s a tall task for any player.

Authentic Kids Cedric Peerman Jersey Once Howard was gone, though, there were still teammate concerns about Harden, and that has to worry the Rockets. They only have one year for certain with Paul, who agreed to opt in on the final year of his contract and delay free agency.

While the veteran is viewed as and paid like a stopgap starter, the Bears would be fools not to at least give the rookie a chance in an open competition for the job this year. Trubisky was drafted so high because the Bears believe he can and will be their longtime starter — no need to delay the inevitable if he proves immediately capable.

The good news for whoever starts at quarterback: A strong running game should take away some of the production burden.

DeAngelo Williams faceplants in pro wrestling debut

DeAngelo Williams’ pro wrestling debut could have ended his football season before it started.

During his Sunday night appearance on Slammiversary XV, the veteran NFL running back faceplanted on the mat after leaping off the ropes to bodyslam his opponent.

Williams, 34, has spent his last two seasons in Pittsburgh but remains on the free-agent market after the Steelers didn’t offer him a new contract this offseason. The former Panther, who is Carolina’s all-time leading rusher, amassed 1,735 total yards and 17 touchdowns in 25 games during his tenure with the Steelers.

For its annual rankings, Sporting News is rating only 31 NFL general managers ahead of the 2017 season.

This is not an intentional homage to the acknowledged master of personnel management, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, which was given in our annual head coach rankings. This is in recognition of one of the latest executive beheadings in recent memory.

Thanks to whatever went down in Kansas City that did in John Dorsey less than a month before training camp, at the deadest point of the offseason, as of this ranking there were only 31 GMs employed by 32 teams. Fun!

That doesn’t affect the top of the rankings, which are based on tangible and intangible criteria and spans their entire bodies of work. The No. 1 ranking, again, should not be a surprise.warriors_009-115x115

NBA Draft 2017: Celtics GM Danny Ainge sounds off on Josh Jackson

The Celtics are thrilled to have Jayson Tatum on their roster, but team GM and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge was also excited to get some things off his chest at his presser after the NBA draft Thursday night.

He was quick to speak of his disdain for the way former Kansas forward Josh Jackson treated the Celtics prior to the draft as he cancelled a workout when Ainge, Boston head coach Brad Stevens and Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren who got up early to fly out just to see him play.
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Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings each hit three-run home runs and Zack Godley (3-1) pitched into the eighth inning as Arizona topped the Rockies, 10-3. Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, best in the majors.

Addison Russell had four of the Cubs’ 16 hits, including a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored as Chicago routed the Marlins, 11-1.

Brad Marchand Authentic Jersey Miguel Sano went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and three runners left on base against the White Sox as the Twins were shut out for the first time this season after a 4-hour, 50-minute rain delay. It was a rough day for Twins reliever Nik Turley, who allowed five runs on six hits, using 33 pitches to record just two outs.

Angels (38-38) at Red Sox (40-32), 7:10 p.m. ET 鈥?Boston will retire David Ortiz’s No. 34 Friday night in what is expected to be an emotional ceremony for Big Papi. The pitching matchup in the series-opening game will feature the slumping Rick Porcello (3-9, 5.05 ERA) against Angels right-hander Alex Meyer (3-3, 3.52 ERA).

We won’t really know how they’re doing until the season.

The dugout brouhaha was captured on national television and it helped to perpetuate the Bronx Zoo moniker: The Yankees were out of control. Their manager couldn’t control his star player and he also couldn’t control himself. After the game, Martin told reporters, If you don’t hustle, I don’t accept it. If a player shows up the club, I show up the player.

Cassius Marsh Authentic Jersey Winning doesn’t always translate to the following season. But if there was one thing that myself, and other Falcons fans, had to be concerned about going into 2017, it was the mental makeup of the team. There’s no success in 2017 if they don’t put 2016 in the past.

Mens Tyreek Hill Jersey We won’t really know how they’re doing until the season. When they get that first 25-point lead, or when they face the Patriots in primetime on Sunday Night Football in Week 7, will be a good indicator of where they stand.

It’s good to see Ryan and the Falcons putting the Super Bowl behind them to make a run next year. A lot of us are still working on that.

Here’s one reason: There’s a long way to go in the 2017 season. Plenty of time for natural regression, slumps, injuries and fatigue.

Here’s another reason: Big-league history tells us that a rookie hitting 50 homers is pretty rare. So rare, in fact, that it’s never happened.

So, let’s not fall victim to just double it-itis and multiply first-half stats to arrive at our second-half hopes. No doubt, it’s been fun to watch. But let’s not get carried away.

It could be a while before we see Chicago back in the NBA playoffs.

Celtics — Listen, there is nothing wrong with Jayson Tatum. He is an intriguing prospect who can score from all over the court. But Boston desperately needs another star to usurp the Cavaliers in the East.

He was the first draft prospect shown by anchor Rece Davis. The idea of the pass-happy Ball restoring Magic Johnson’s Lakers to their former Showtime glory was an irresistible angle for ESPN’s on-air talent.

Elite Youth Howard Wilson Jersey A Big Baller perhaps headed to rejuvenated the Lakers franchise, Davis said. Analyst Michael Wilbon agreed.

Lakers and Celtics. It still comes back to that, Wilbon said. The two pillars of the league.

Jay Bilas reached for a golf analogy to describe Lonzo Ball’s unorthodox shooting release.

Elite Youth Ross Cockrell Jersey His shot is not pretty, Bilas said. It’s like Jim Furyk’s golf swing. You wouldn’t teach anybody that way. But Jim Furyk’s golf swing at impact is near perfect. Now the release point here is not perfect. But he makes it. And he makes it at a rate better than a lot of guys we say are good shooters. He can shoot it.

Hill was a Pro Bowler last year as a reward for a season that saw him score 12 touchdowns from an average distance of 44 yards. The elusive 5-10, 185-pound receiver led the NFL with 30 forced missed tackles while catching 61 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns. He added 267 rushing yards and three scores, but really made an impact as a return specialist, with 976 combined return yards and three touchdown returns.

That rookie season landed Hill at No. 36 on NFL Network’s player-voted Top 100 list, an honor the Georgia native said gave him chills.

NBA Finals 2017: ESPN adding ‘First Take’ episodes as show hits road

With the 2017 NBA Finals shaping up to be another dramatic showdown between the Warriors and Cavaliers, get ready for double doses of Stephen A. Smith and ESPN’s First Take.

The Embrace Debate show starring Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim will go live twice a day during The Finals, which will tip off June 1 on ESPN’s sister Disney network ABC. The shows will be produced on location in front of audiences in Oakland and either Cleveland or Boston.

Depending on how many games are played in the best-of-seven series, ESPN could air from three to seven live First Take specials in the afternoon, evenings and weekends during the Finals.

These live shows are scheduled to air on: June 4, 6, 7, 14, 15, 16, 18. They will be in addition to the regularly scheduled First Take weekday shows (10 a.m.-noon ET).

If the series reaches Game 7, ESPN will air 33 hours of live First Take from the road.

Elite Mens Brian Urlacher Jersey James, who’s dominated Durant throughout his career, is the reason he didn’t go East. He’s also the reason upcoming big-name free agents such as Paul George and Kyle Lowry likely won’t either. With No. 23 in your conference, the ceiling is the roof.
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Durant had a solid Game 7 against the Warriors last season, scoring 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting in a 96-88 loss, but in the two previous series-clinching opportunities, he looked shook. In Games 5 and 6 against the Warriors he shot a combined 22 of 62 from the field, jacking up 31 attempts in each contest. Nonetheless, the Thunder were within striking distance, trailing by only four points with 8:30 to go and a chance to advance to the Finals in a win-or-go home bout for both squads.

The Warriors had already won a title and a record 73 regular-season games. However, in big business, the best way to eliminate the competition can be to buy it out. They didn’t need Kevin Durant. They just wanted him off the Thunder.

Weekend ratings predictions: Pro Bowl, UK-KU, Aussie Open and more

There was a brief stretch earlier in the decade when the Pro Bowl was thriving in the ratings, but times have changed. Ratings soared as high as 7.7 in 2011 (the highest since 2000) but have fallen every year since, bottoming out at last year’s 4.5 the lowest since 2006. Given the NFL’s season-long ratings slump, it is fair to expect this year’s Pro Bowl to continue the downward trend. Prediction: 4.3.

Prescott will play with extra confidence this week knowing he already lit up the Packers once this season, to the tune of 247 yards, three touchdowns and a 117.4 passer rating in a 30-15 Week 6 win at Lambeau Field.

That wasn’t even his peak efficiency. Prescott was rated higher in seven of his games in 2016, all victories.

Think about all the outs Prescott could have taken during his dazzling rookie season. He could have fallen flat right away, showing his near-perfect preseason play was a fluke. He could have faltered as defenses solved him at midseason, timed with Tony Romo becoming available again. He could have slammed into the proverbial rookie wall and not recovered after his worst performance, in a second loss to the Giants in Week 14.

But Prescott has been able to rebound from his few hiccups. Even when he hasn’t had his best stuff, he’s handled it better than most QBs, young or seasoned.

The R still will be next to Prescott’s name when he’s introduced as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback against the Packers, but for all intents and purposes, he’s a veteran.vikings_117

LeBron James heckled by fan claiming to be ex-college player

Cue the LaVar Ball jokes . . .

LeBron James got an earful from a fan after the Cavaliers blew Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Celtics on Sunday night in Cleveland. A frustrated James unwisely engaged the heckler; it was unwise not just because hecklers usually aren’t worth the trouble, but because this heckler claimed to be a baller, which just makes the story even better.

LeBron got peeved at heckling fan after game. LeBron asked what fan had done. Dude replied: ‘I played at Hiram College.’ Emotions were raw in the moment but the guy’s liquid courage was pretty hilarious. He was removed from arena shouting his college stats.

Hmmmm. An ex-college player (Hiram is an NCAA Division III school in Hiram, Ohio) who can recite his stats wants to talk smack to the world’s best basketball player? Yeah, that sounds vaguely familiar.

Harry Giles, PF, Duke. Three knee surgeries in the last four years count as a significant red flag, of course, but the Pacers are in position to take a risk. Giles was never quite the same after returning to the floor for Duke this season, but he still has the potential to be a smooth, athletic, all-around big man to go with Myles Turner.
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Limited Womens Shea McClellin Jersey Jarrett Allen, C, Texas. Allen was 0 of 7 from the 3-point line during the season, but scouts believe he can develop into a 7-footer with 3-point range over time. That’s gotten his stock moving upward.

Tyler Lydon, SF/PF, Syracuse. Lydon is a solid combo forward who can knock down perimeter jumpers. The Blazers will also be looking for help at backup point guard, but they could pick that up later.

Chris Bosh, Heat agree to part ways, report says

Wayne Simmonds Elite Jersey Chris Bosh has not played basketball since February 2016 due to recurring blood clots, but he hasn’t given up hope on an NBA return. He may now have his chance after agreeing to part ways with the Heat, according to ESPN.com.

Bosh, an 11-time All-Star, was hoping to play at some point this past season, but a failed physical in September dashed his hopes. Heat president Pat Riley said that Bosh’s career with Miami probably is overafter the failed physical.
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The Heat will owe Bosh a guaranteed $52 million over the next two seasons including insurance but the new agreement is expected to remove Bosh from the salary cap, the report says.

Bosh’s complex situation was made even more unique due to the new collective bargaining agreement, which goes into effect July 1. An independent panel of doctors must clear Bosh since he has a potentially life-threatening medical condition.

Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona. Markkanen could make a fitting understudy for Dirk Nowtizki, a versatile forward in the Nowtizki mold. He averaged 15.6 points and made 42.3 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman for the Wildcats.

Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida State. Assuming there are no bizarre trades in the works, the Kings could be in position to follow up their point guard pick by addressing another weak spot, small forward. Isaac’s stock swooned as the regular season wrapped up, but averages of 12.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in tourney play helped revive him.

Luke Kennard, SG, Duke. Kennard in the lottery? A stretch, maybe, but Stan Van Gundy is desperate for shooters, having somehow assembled a team that ranked 28th in 3-point percentage. Kennard might lack the size and quickness to be a good NBA defender, but he has proven to be an excellent shooter, likely the best on the board when Detroit picks.