LeBron James continues to light it up

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LeBron James continues to light it up

From Comcast SportsNetMIAMI (AP) -- LeBron James ran a few steps behind the play, knowing exactly what was coming. The lob from Norris Cole arrived, and the NBA's reigning MVP rose for a catch and dunk.He made it look easy.He's making everything look easy right now.James scored 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting in a record-setting show, Dwyane Wade scored 30 and the Miami Heat beat the Los Angeles Lakers 107-97 on Sunday for their fifth straight win.It was James' fifth straight game with at least 30 points, a franchise record. He also joined Adrian Dantley (1979) and Moses Malone (1982) as the only NBA players to score at least 30 and shoot at least 60 percent in five straight outings, the team said."Don't take it for granted," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's making greatness look easy."Mario Chalmers scored 13 and Chris Bosh finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat.Kobe Bryant had 28 points and nine assists for the Lakers, who also got 18 points from Earl Clark. The Lakers had eight turnovers in the fourth quarter, while Miami had none."Turnovers," lamented Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "You have to give them credit. They're good."With the win, Miami moved 2 games clear of the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference standings. The Knicks lost to the Los Angeles Clippers earlier Sunday.Dwight Howard and Steve Nash each scored 15 for the Lakers."They have a couple of sensational players over there that made some big plays," Bryant said.Indeed, James and Wade stole the show down the stretch.Wade also shot 12 for 18 for Miami, which shot 55 percent as a team and held a 38-29 edge in rebounding. James scored 20 in the second half and Wade had 18 in the final two quarters, but the defending NBA champions weren't able to pull away until the final minutes.Wade had five straight points for Miami, the last of them coming with 7:15 left when his three-point play put the Heat up 89-82 -- at that point, their biggest lead of the day.A minute later, Wade started what might have been Miami's signature sequence of the game.He stepped in front of a pass by Bryant under the basket, then flipped it to Bosh before falling out of bounds. Bosh got the ball to Cole, who beat Nash down the court, then lobbed a pass over his head to James, who soared for a slam that gave the Heat a seven-point lead once again."You could feel the buzz in the arena today," James said. "We were just happy that we were able to play our game, weather some of their storms that they had and come out with a win."With 3:25 left, James turned in another highlight.He stole a pass, drove down the court and Nash -- who found himself in the lane against a fast-charging James plenty of times Sunday, all to no avail -- simply had no chance.It was almost as if Nash wasn't even in James' field of vision. He leaped for a dunk, giving him 30 points and the franchise record, and Miami's lead was nine. Bryant scored on the next Lakers possession, but Shane Battier hit a 3-pointer with 2:42 left to put Miami up 100-90 for the first double-digit lead for either team all day.That was the last gasp for the Lakers, who finished their road trip at 4-3."We had our chances, but we weren't good enough tonight," Nash said. "We had too many breakdowns and we had opportunities to stretch the lead at times in the game and we couldn't do that either so probably in the end we didn't deserve it."The teams finished the first half tied at 53, and the third period didn't allow either team much in the way of breathing room either, until the final seconds.That's when James started flexing some muscle.James scored Miami's last 11 points of the third, all in the final 4:20, and four of those came in the last six seconds. He was fouled by Clark and made the first free throw. Then the second attempt was tipped back out by Battier to James, who was just beyond the 3-point line. He connected from there, and the Heat took a 78-73 lead into the fourth.It took a few more minutes, but eventually James and Wade helped Miami put it away."D-Wade came and he just started cooking in the fourth quarter," Bryant said. "He started doing what D-Wade does and made sensational play after sensational play."Rapper Lil Wayne -- a semi-regular in the crowd at Heat games -- was there for the first half, then tweeted that he was ejected for rooting for the Lakers. Security personnel were seen talking to the rapper at halftime, and a Heat spokesman said after the game that he chose to leave on his own and was not ejected.NOTES:The Heat have now won six of their last seven games against the Lakers. ... James made his first five shots, which left him at 42 for his last 52 attempts from the floor to that point, a ridiculous 81-percent clip. ... Bryant had five assists in the first quarter, tying a season best. ... Celebrities in attendance included Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga, pro golfer Justin Rose and Donald Trump. ... LSU football coach Les Miles live-tweeted the game, noting that James is "more athletic in person."

Haggerty: Grading the Bruins Draft

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Haggerty: Grading the Bruins Draft

BUFFALO – The Bruins knew they had some objectives heading into the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagara Center, and by their accounts they achieved them. The Black and Gold were looking to get bigger and grittier down the middle at the center position, they wanted to get faster and they knew they had to continue to add quality top-4 candidates to their organization defensemen corps depth.

Charlie McAvoy, Ryan Lindgren and Cameron Clarke will add to the defensemen within the Bruins organization, and both Trent Frederic and Joona Koppanen are big-bodied, gritty centers that take care of business in their own end.

Oskar Steen is the one departure as a small, skilled forward out of Sweden to add to the D-men and centers that now count themselves as members of the Black and Gold. Interestingly enough this was the first season in Bruins history that the B’s drafted an entire class of players without selecting a single Canadian player.  

The six player draft class wasn’t an overwhelming success or an abject failure, but something in between both of those while a much more muted all-around experience for Don Sweeney in his second season running the hockey operations in Boston.

“You look at last year and we took three junior players right out of the hop. This year there were some college players,” said Don Sweeney. “We always identify the best players that we want, and positional need. In a perfect world it all lines up.”

With that in mind, here are grades and breakdowns for each of the six prospects that heard their names called by the Bruins this weekend:

First round: Charlie McAvoy (14th overall) – The Boston University D-man impressed scouts and college hockey enthusiasts all the same by playing extremely well as the youngest NCAA player last season. McAvoy’s explosive skating ability, quick decision-making with the puck on his stick and ability to execute the tape-to-tape pass practically ensure that he’ll have success at the next level, and his low center of gravity and feisty physicality at 6-foot, 208-pounds will make him well-embraced by Bruins fans. The Bruins scouting staff was split between choosing McAvoy or BCHL defenseman Dante Fabbro when both players were there for the taking, but McAvoy’s skating ability and playmaking confidence tipped the scales his way. McAvoy could be NHL-ready a within a couple of seasons, and immediately shoots to the top of the organization’s D-men prospects. Grade: A-. What the Bruins say: “We had a lot of discussion on a lot players, and those two players [McAvoy and Fabbro] we went back and forth on them quite a bit. They’re both good defenseman, but we really believe that Charlie has something that we really liked. Playing against men already at that age is a big thing, and we’ve seen him grow as a player. He can skate, he’s mobile and he plays physical. We feel like his style is what we’re looking for, and it’s up to him to take it to the next level.”

First round: Trent Frederic (29th overall) – The 6-foot-2, 210-pound center is a hard-working, strong player in the pivot that isn’t afraid to pay the price in the danger areas, and is more than willing to throw his body around. The offensive ability seems to be a bit limited, but he also played with an injured hand in the second half of last season that appeared to impact his placement in the final draft rankings. In a perfect world Frederic develops into a hard-nosed, gritty forward in the mold of his favorite players (David Backes, Justin Abdelkader), but he sounds eerily like a Chris Kelly kind of player taken in the first round of the draft. Clearly the Bruins were looking at size at the center spot, and perhaps they were a little thrown last minute when Tage Thompson got selected a few picks earlier in the first round. But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to draft third and fourth line center prospects at the end of the first round when skilled players like Alex DeBrincat and Pascal Laberge were still on the board. If DeBrincat turns into a scoring machine in Chicago with Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, the Bruins will regret this weekend in a big, big way. This feels like a reach with a draft pick the Bruins were hoping to move for a defenseman, but the likeable Frederic will have years at the University of Wisconsin to prove everybody wrong. Grade: D. What the Bruins say: “We needed some centers with some size and heaviness, and we really believe he’s going to a [Wisconsin] program where everything is changing for him. Even his teammates all talk him up. He’s not going to be top two line guy, and we all know that. He’s got some jam, and he plays hard. You want good people that are going to pay the price. He playing well during the year, and then he tailed off at the end because he had a broken hand. We liked his projection as a staff.”

Second round: Ryan Lindgren (49th overall) – The Minnesota native and Gophers recruit has recorded nine goals and 35 assists for 44 points and 145 penalty minutes in 116 games over the last two years with the US National Development Team Program. The 6-foot, 198-pounder isn’t very big, isn’t the fastest guy when it comes to skating and is far from the flashiest player that came through the Team USA pipeline over the last couple of years. But Lindgren is hard-nosed and competitive, and is a high character player that brings effort into every category of his game. Scouts rave about his leadership, character and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good of the team while quietly going about his own business, and the Bruins could use a solid defenseman like that. Lindgren will need to improve, but everybody that knows him thinks he’ll be able to do it. Grade: B. What the Bruins say: “He blocks shots. He’s not the most skilled guy like McAvoy or anybody like that, but he brings an element that we really liked as an organization. He really brings something as a leader, and we like those guys.”

Fifth round: Joona Koppanen (135th overall) – The 6-foot-5 center from Finland is big, strong and keen on playing with strength and effort in his own end, and has the kind of size at the center position that you just can’t teach. The problem right now is that the body type, style of game and limited offensive ability in a Finnish player reminds everybody of Joonas Kemppainen, who quite simply didn’t work out in Boston during his NHL audition last season. One has to hope that Koppanen can continue to develop his offensive skills to at least be a player with average production down the road, but nobody is expecting him to be more than a third or fourth line center at this point. Grade: B-. What the Bruins say: “He’s a big guy, and for a big guy he can really move around. He’s very good defensively and smart with his positioning. He plays hard. The skill is the one area that needs to develop, and we think it’s going to do that. He was a guy that we targeted because he’s a big guy that can skate, and is good in his own end.”

Fifth round: Cameron Clarke (136th overall) – The 18-year-old is a bit of a diamond in the rough out of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), who nonetheless got noticed in Michigan over the last year. Clarke played last season for the Lone Star Brahmas, and registered nine goals and 41 assists for 50 total points and 29 penalty minutes in 59 games during the 2015-2016 season. The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder is a bit on the gangly side and needs more physical development before he turns professional, and that’s something he should be able to focus on while heading to college at Ferris State. I like the off-the-beaten path Grade: B. What the Bruins say: “We knew there were teams that were there [ready to take him], and our guys really liked him. He’s gained a lot of weight in a year-and-a-half, but we know he’s going to take some time. We’re good with that. Our guys really liked him, so we took him.”

Sixth round: Oskar Steen (165th overall) – The 5-foot-9, 187-pound Steen is an undersized Swedish forward that plays a smart, versatile brand of hockey, and he does it while also showing plenty of flashes offensively. The 18-year-old played for Farjestad BK J20 of the SuperElit League for the past two years, putting together 15 goals and 45 total points across 69 games leading up to his selection this weekend. Clearly the size and lack of physical strength will be marks against Steen when he goes toe-to-toe against bigger, stronger competition in North America, but he showed enough smarts and skill to make his own mark. Grade: C+.What the Bruins say: “He’s got underrated skill. He can score goals and move the puck. He’s not the biggest guy, but we’ve seen him and we were excited to be able to draft him.”

OFFSEASON

Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

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Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics turned quite a few heads when they used two of their three, first-round picks on International players.

They were part of a record-setting night for international players, with 15 being selected in the first round – the most ever in NBA history.

But like many international draft picks, it is far from a given that you’ll see either of Boston’s international first rounder picks Guershon Yabusele and Ante Zizic who were selected with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively.

While it’s not uncommon for teams to draft international players in the first round and do so with the plan being to keep them overseas for another year or two, the potential hold-up for Boston’s two international picks has more to do with coming to terms on a buyout amount with their current teams.

“We’ve had initial discussions with their representatives,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, when I asked him about it during the team’s press conference to introduce the newest Celtics on Friday. “We have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion. And I’m not sure about summer (league).”

While it remains an option, a league source told CSNNE.com that it’s unlikely that either player will participate in either of Boston’s summer league squads which will play in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Ainge agrees that there are a number of positives one can take from drafting an overseas player in the first round.

But the decision by Boston to draft Yabusele and Zizic in the first round had a lot to do with one thing – talent.

“The reason that these two guys are here, … is because they’re good players,” Ainge said. “The fact that they have people that want them on their teams on the International top level competition, tells you how good players they are. They could easily find jobs overseas at the top level. They’ve earned that reputation. They’re both very productive. Guerson very productive and Ante very good rebounding … now we’re trying to figure out the best way they can help us for their development. We’re working with their representatives on that plan.”

Yabusele, a 6-8, 275-pound power forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes with Rouen Metropole Basket in the LNB Pro A league in France. While appearing in 34 games last season, he grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times while tallying eight double-doubles.

Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound center, distinguished himself as one of the better players in the Adriatic League this past season. He was voted by fans, media and coaches as the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect after averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 24.8 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.7 percent from the field.

Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

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Bruins need Hayes to "take his game to another level"

BUFFALO -- With it appearing that Loui Eriksson is all but gone from the Bruins with the July 1 opening of free agency around the corner, B’s general manager Don Sweeney must find a way to replace the second-leading point man from last year’s hockey club. With or without a suitable Eriksson replacement at right wing via trade or free agency, the Bruins will also need greater production from their returning wingers on the right side.

That means 20-year-old David Pastrnak needs to have a breakthrough season after the Bruins knocked away attempts to extract him in trade discussions for a top-4 defenseman, and Jimmy Hayes needs to rebound from a streaky, disappointing first season in Boston. The 6-foot-6 Hayes slumped to 13 goals and 29 points in 75 games, and was a team-worst minus-12 while going through long stretches where it was hard to even notice him on the ice.

His GM said that needs to change next season with the Bruins counting on him to play more consistently, and be willing to play the big man’s game.

“We have internal candidates that might have to step up, and David is a player like that…Jimmy is a player like that. There’s no question we’re not a complete team right now,” said Sweeney. “So we’ll go to work now, and that could be through free agency, or through potential trade stuff. It could also be about the excitement if somebody pops from the development side of things. I think Jimmy had a pretty start to the year, but he really tailed off when the team needed him most. He should take some responsibility for that. We had a pretty frank discussion about that to challenge him to take his game to another level, and be able to help out a younger player.

“He played a lot with Ryan Spooner. I have to put ownership on Jimmy in terms of saying ‘Hey, I have to take more responsibility. It’s not just about finishing and scoring goals.’ He has the capacity to do that. He gets power play time and net-front time, and he needs to get to the hard areas of the ice with more consistency. It’s an area that he needs to continue to improve upon. We as an organization feel that we need to have players that are driven to get better.”

As far as the free agent options mentioned by Sweeney, Kyle Okposo and Troy Brouwer would be names to watch closely as they both fight the Black and Gold mold of winger with size, strength and finishing ability.

Clearly there’s no choice but for the 26-year-old Hayes to have a bounce-back season given that he’s signed for two years in Boston at $2.3 million per season, and that they need him with the right side of their forward group in flux.