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Top Stories of 2012, No. 5: Celtics burned by Heat in Eastern Conference finals 12.29.12 at 7:55 pm ET
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Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 5: the Celtics’ loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical

The Celtics put forth a valiant effort but were not able to knock off LeBron James and the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. (AP)

The Celtics were one victory away from advancing to the NBA finals. But what stood in the way, LeBron James and the Miami Heat, turned out to be more than the Big Three and the rest of the Celtics could handle.

A 101-88 defeat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals put an abrupt end to a playoff run that looked like it had legs after a comeback season from the Celtics, who were under .500 at the All-Star break of a lockout-shortened season.

The C’s battled injury issues all season. Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox had season-ending heart ailments. Jermaine O’Neal had his season end early, and Avery Bradley missed the Heat series. Even as the playoffs began, a sprained MCL slowed down Paul Pierce and bone spurs kept Ray Allen off the floor.

After finishing first in the Atlantic Division at 39-27, the Celtics took down the Hawks in six games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They went on to get by the 76ers in a seven-game series and line things up for a big series with the Heat.

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Wednesday’s Morning Mashup: Cubs manager Dale Sveum shot by Robin Yount on hunting trip 12.05.12 at 7:58 am ET
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Welcome to Wednesday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

WEDNESDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
NBA: Timberwolves at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. (CSNNE; WEEI-FM)
NBA: Nuggets at Hawks, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
NBA: Mavericks at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
College basketball: Ohio at Memphis, 7 p.m. (CBSSN)
College basketball: Florida at Florida State, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Michigan State, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
College basketball: Temple at Villanova, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
College basketball: Penn State at La Salle, 9 p.m. (NBCSN)
College basketball: South Florida at Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: USC at New Mexico, 10 p.m. (CBSSN)
College basketball: Gonzaga at Washington State, 11 p.m. (ESPNU)

AROUND THE WEB:

Dale Sveum had a tale to tell reporters Tuesday at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. (AP)

♦ Cubs manager Dale Sveum revealed Tuesday at baseball’s winter meetings that he was shot in the right ear and back during a recent hunting trip with Hall of Famer Robin Yount. The former Brewers teammates were hunting quail in Arizona when Yount fired a shot and Sveum was hit by the spray pattern from a six-shot.

“The bird got up in front of him, and he lost track of where I was and pulled the trigger,” Sveum said. “I was just looking for birds myself. It was behind me, so I got drilled with pellets in the back one stuck in the ear.”

Sveum, who said there was a lot of blood involved but he wasn’t seriously injured, added that he started calling Yount “Dick Cheney” in reference to the former vice president who shot a friend while hunting.

“You don’t get hit very often,” Sveum said, adding: “It’s not that big a deal.”

♦ The Lakers squandered a 13-point lead with 10 minutes remaining and dropped a 107-105 decision to the Rockets on Tuesday night in Houston. Like the Magic did Sunday night, the Rockets fouled Dwight Howard repeatedly down the stretch, and Howard cooperated, missing 5-of-10 from the line in the last 3½ minutes (8-of-16 overall).

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni defended his decision to keep Howard in the game.

“If you take him out now, then you’ll be taking out a guy that’s going to be your franchise player all the time,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got other problems to worry about. We shouldn’t be talking about him. He’s doing a [heck] of a job and he’ll work through it and knock them down.”

Said Howard: “People are going to say whatever they want to say, but at the end of the day, go back and look at the game. The reason we lost was not my free throws. That didn’t lose us the game. Our defense was not there in the fourth quarter.”

The Lakers played with Pau Gasol (tendinitis in both knees), who has come under fire for his inability to acclimate to D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense. According to an ESPN report, general manager Mitch Kupchak told Gasol’s representatives that he will look to trade Gasol if the Spaniard cannot adjust to the new system.

The Wizards recorded just their second win of the season Tuesday night, and it came against the defending NBA champion Heat. With quarterback Robert Griffin III looking on, the Wizards pulled out a 105-101 victory.

Washington, which started the season 0-12 and has been without injured point guard John Wall all season, has defeated Miami three straight times, dating back to last season. But the Heat’s stars aren’t too concerned about the setback.

“Nah, man, there’s not no lesson. This ain’t a lesson for us. We just lost,” LeBron James said. “We’ve seen and been through everything, so we don’t need a loss to be like, ‘Oh, let’s catch ourselves.’ It happens.”

Said Dwyane Wade: “You move on. You learn from it, but yo don’t become a good team by holding on to certain losses — or certain wins.”

ON THIS DAY TRIVIA: On Dec. 5, 1982, in a 6-4 victory over the Flyers, which Bruins player recorded a hat for the second consecutive day?

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LeBron James named SI’s Sportsman of the Year 12.03.12 at 10:06 am ET
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LeBron James capped a memorable year with a memorable honor. (AP)

NBA MVP LeBron James was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, the magazine announced Monday.

James, 27, won his first NBA championship in 2012, leading the Heat past the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals and then past the Thunder in the NBA finals. He also won a gold medal with Team USA at the London Olympics.

He became just the second player ever to win an NBA title, an NBA MVP award and an Olympic gold medal in the same year (Michael Jordan, 1992).

James acknowledged that he needed to change some things following his infamous ESPN special in 2010 in which he announced his decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Heat.

“Did I think an award like this was possible two years ago? No, I did not,” James said in the SI cover story. “I thought I would be helping a lot of kids and raise $3 million by going on TV and saying, ‘Hey, I want to play for the Miami Heat.’ But it affected far more people than I imagined. I know it wasn’t on the level of an injury or an addiction, but it was something I had to recover from. I had to become a better person, a better player, a better father, a better friend, a better mentor and a better leader. I’ve changed, and I think people have started to understand who I really am.”

James is the first NBA player to be named SI’s Sportsman of the Year since Heat guard Dwyane Wade in 2006.

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Report: Lakers could be setting up for future run at LeBron James 10.19.12 at 1:54 pm ET
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Could LeBron James be headed to the Lakers in two years? (AP)

An ESPN.com report Thursday suggested that the Lakers might be positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James after his contract with the Heat allows him to opt out at the end of the 2013-14 season.

James didn’t want to get into the discussion of his future following a preseason game against the Pistons on Thursday.

“I’m here, and this is what it’s all about,” James said. “I’m preparing for this season, preparing to defend our title and that’s it. This is where … I’m here now.”

Multiple NBA executives told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst that they believed the Lakers would be able to add James, and would have the salary cap space to offer him a deal as long as Kobe Bryant sticks to his plan to retire when his contract ends after two more seasons.

In other Lakers news, Dwight Howard might take to the court as soon as this Sunday.

Howard reportedly has told teammates and friends that he’s hoping to play in the Lakers’ exhibition game against the Kings on Sunday.

Howard, who had surgery to repair a herniated disk in April, said he has to keep his nerves down when playing in front of the Los Angeles crowd.

“This is a new team, new city, and I think everybody is expecting a lot out of me, so I have to make sure I keep all that out of my mind when I play in front of the home crowd,” he said.

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Thursday’s Morning Mashup: Yankees GM denies trade talks involving Alex Rodriguez 10.18.12 at 7:55 am ET
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Welcome to Thursday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

THURSDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
MLB playoffs: Yankees at Tigers, 4 p.m. (TBS; WEEI-AM)
MLB playoffs: Giants at Cardinals, 8 p.m. (Fox; WEEI-AM)
NFL: Seahawks at 49ers, 8:20 p.m. (NFL Network; WEEI-FM)
College football: Oregon at Arizona State, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
NBA preseason: Celtics at Nets, 8 p.m. (CSNNE)

AROUND THE WEB:

Alex Rodriguez

♦ Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, mired in a batting slump and a controversy for allegedly flirting with two women behind the dugout during a recent playoff loss at Yankee Stadium, appears headed out of New York. The question is, who will take on the fading star and his megacontract?

Rodriguez, consigned to the bench after batting .087 this postseason, has a full no-trade clause but reportedly is resigned to the fact that he’s not wanted by the Pinstripes and would accept a trade.

On Wednesday, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman strongly denied a rumor that there have been discussions with the Marlins about sending the 37-year-old to Miami and paying all of the remaining $114 million left on his contract.

“I have had no discussions with the Florida Marlins, certainly would never have any trade discussions under the circumstances,” Cashman said. “There are no discussions whatsoever. They are false.

“We are not down the line on any trade talks with any of our players, including Alex. And I haven’t engaged any general manager about trade discussions since the [Aug. 30] deadline. I’ve had no trade discussions, so false, 100 percent false.”

♦ Forbes magazine unveiled its list of the world’s most valuable sports brands. Nike, valued at $15.9 billion, tops the list of businesses, followed by ESPN ($11.5 billion) and adidas ($6.8 billion). The Super Bowl (worth $470 million) is the top event, followed by the Summer Olympics ($348 million) and soccer’s World Cup ($147 million).

The top athletes are golfer Tigers Woods ($38 million) and tennis star Roger Federer ($29 million), with a three-way tie for third between three-time NBA MVP LeBron James, golfer Phil Mickelson and soccer legend David Beckham ($26 million). The Yankees ($363 million) lead the ranking of top teams, followed by soccer clubs Manchester United ($293 million) and Real Madrid ($255 million). Five of the top 10 teams are from soccer.

Looking at regional sports networks, YES is No. 1, worth $600 million. NESN moved into the top 10 for the first time, ranking ninth at $500 million.

♦ Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, from Everett via Tilton School in New Hampshire, was cleared by the NCAA to play this season after an investigation into the school’s funding of unofficial visits. Coach John Calipari revealed the news Wednesday during an appearance on ESPN. Noel, a 6-foot-10, 228-pounder who has been compared to NBA No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis, is part of another heralded freshman class assembled by Calipari.

ON THIS DAY TRIVIA: On Oct. 18, 1994, the Red Sox named Kevin Kennedy as manager. Who did he succeed?

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Jim Boeheim thinks LeBron James may be better than Michael Jordan 08.15.12 at 5:47 pm ET
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It’s only August and LeBron James is already having one of the best years a basketball player has ever had. In May, the 27-year-old won his third MVP award in four years. In June, he took home his first NBA title (and a finals MVP to go with it). And on Sunday, James topped it off with a gold medal in the Olympics.

He has been so great that Syracuse and USA assistant coach, Jim Boeheim believes James may even be better than, gulp, his Airness himself.

“[James] is a leader. He gets on the court, he tells people what to do … this guy can guard five [positions] … put him on anybody, he can guard him,” Boeheim told ESPN Radio Wednesday. “I always felt Michael Jordan was the best player I’ve ever seen … I didn’t think it was close … and I’m not so sure anymore … this guy is 6-9, 260 pounds and he’s getting better … I know we’ve had great, great players through the years. He’s like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well.”

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Friday’s Olympics roundup: USA men’s basketball advances to gold medal match 08.10.12 at 8:42 pm ET
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The USA men’s basketball team defeated Argentina 109-83 to advance to Sunday’s gold-medal match against Spain.

Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant all recorded double-digit points for a USA team that shot 53.1 percent from the field. They also limited Argentina to 44.3 percent from the field.

James led the squad with eight field goals while Carmelo Anthony added another seven from the bench. Durant’s 19 points led the team.

Spain, led by Pau Gasol‘s 16 points, defeated Russia to earn the other berth in the gold-medal game. Russia was winning through two frames before Spain scored 26 points in the third, adding 21 in the fourth to win 67-59.

TRACK AND FIELD: AMERICAN WOMEN WIN 4×100 RELAY

The USA women’s 4×100 relay team took the gold medal with a 40.82 time, defeating Jamaica by a large margin. USA already had a sizeable lead by the time Carmelita Jeter took over the last leg, but she helped her team break the 27-year-old world record by .55 seconds.

In the 4×400 men’s relay, USA finished with the silver medal. By the start of the fourth leg USA was leading the Bahamas. The Bahamas overtook USA’s Angelo Taylor narrowly on the closing leg, winning the gold. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saturday’s Olympics roundup: Michael Phelps wins gold in final Olympics race 08.04.12 at 7:55 pm ET
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Swimmer Michael Phelps saved his best for last Saturday, helping the United States to first place in the men’s 4×100 medley relay, Phelps’ final race of his legendary Olympic career.

The team of Phelps, Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian held off Japan (silver) and Australia (bronze) in 3 minutes, 29.35 seconds to claim the gold medal. It was Phelps’ fourth gold of these Games, pushing his career total to a record 18 golds and 22 medals overall. …

Missy Franklin also earned her fourth gold medal of the London Games as she helped the U.S. to victory in the women’s 4×100 medley relay. The team of Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt finished in a world-record-time of 3:52.05 to edge Australia and Japan.

BASKETBALL: U.S. ESCAPES AGAINST LITHUANIA

Two days after a record 83-point rout against Nigeria, the U.S. men’s basketball team received a scare against Lithuania but ultimately prevailed, 99-94, to stay undefeated in group play.

The Americans trailed with under six minutes left as the Lithuanians looked poised to complete a monumental upset. But just like he did so often in this year’s NBA playoffs with the Heat, LeBron James stepped up when it mattered the most, scoring nine of his 20 points in the final minutes to hold off Linas Kleiza (game-high 25 points) and Lithuania.

The U.S., which clinched a berth in the quarterfinals with the victory, is 4-0 to lead Group A and will play Argentina on Monday to conclude the group stage.

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LeBron James nearly loses finals MVP trophy 06.28.12 at 3:00 pm ET
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During the hysteria of winning his first NBA championship last week, LeBron James came to a stunning realization when he entered the Heat locker room for their celebration: he couldn’t find his finals MVP trophy.

From Lee Jenkins’ piece on James in this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated:

[After] James retreated to the locker room, where teammates bathed him in a Budweiser–Dom Perignon cocktail, he caught a scare. He couldn’t find his finals MVP trophy.

“Where’s my trophy?” James hollered, rummaging through his locker. “I left it right here!” He rushed through the tunnel back to the court, where he had to give an interview, but the moment it ended he asked, “Have you seen my trophy? Who took my trophy?” On the way to the press conference, where the MVP trophy was waiting all along, he relaxed a bit. “It’s just an individual award, anyway,” he says. “It’s not the one that matters.” He took the Larry O’Brien trophy from the podium and cradled it like a third son, and when friends offered to help carry it down a hallway, he waved them off.

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Thursday’s Morning Mashup: Hockey players unimpressed by cramping LeBron James 06.21.12 at 7:59 am ET
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Welcome to Thursday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

THURSDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
MLB: Marlins at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. (NESN; WEEI)
MLB: Rockies at Phillies, 7 p.m. (MLB Network)
NBA finals: Thunder at Heat, 9 p.m. (ABC)

AROUND THE WEB:

LeBron James is helped to the bench while suffering from leg cramps during Tuesday's Game 4 win over the Thunder. (AP)

LeBron James might have won over some fans for fighting through leg cramps in the final minutes to help the Heat defeat the Thunder in Tuesday night’s Game 4 of the NBA finals, but some hockey players were not impressed.

Tweeted Ducks center Nick Bonino: We get it Lebron, it doesn’t hurt when you’re running around but it looks unbearable when the cameras are close up during the timeouts.

Added Capitals minor leaguer Ryan Potulny: Lebron James is embarrassing himself and the NBA or actually all athletes.

Predators minor leaguer Scott Valentine tweeted with sarcasm: If Lebron somehow manages to pull off winning a ring after fighting through a thigh cramp.. it will be a story I tell my children’s children.

James, whose Heat look to close out the series Thursday night in Miami, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:51 remaining and finished with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

“I had cramps. I had it before. It’s not a pleasant feeling,” he explained. “Basically, your body shuts down. Your legs shut down and there is nothing you can do about it.”

♦ A day after Rays manager Joe Maddon called out the Nationals for exposing Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta‘s excessive pine tar on his glove and getting him ejected — Maddon called the move “cowardly” — Washington manager Davey Johnson responded. Johnson insisted he was just following the rules when he asked the umpires to check Peralta’s glove, and he offered his opinion of Maddon.

“I didn’t know [Maddon] that well, but I thought he was a weird wuss, anyway,” Johnson said. “I understand where he’s coming from. His job as a manager is to protect the players. Striking out at who ever he thinks is causing your players any grievance. So I understand where he’s coming from. But he doesn’t know me from a hole in the hill. Or I him, for that matter. But I do know the rulebook, and I do try to follow it.”

Maddon, meanwhile, implied that the Nationals would have trouble attracting free agents because of Tuesday’s actions. Peralta pitched for Washington in 2010, so he apparently was sold out by a former teammate who tipped off Johnson.

Said Maddon: “To utilize information based on the fact that the guy had played here, I don’t know if that is a form of cheating or what, that is really underhanded I believe to use that kind of information.”

♦ Knicks guard J.R. Smith is going after the Chinese team he played with last season for more than $1 million that was withheld from his $2.8 million salary for missed practices. The team, Zhejiang Chouzhou, produced a four-page list of offenses, including Smith skipping team meetings and practices to travel around the country and Europe, and blamed Smith’s sister, Stephanie, for being the root of the problems. Stephanie was involved in some incidents in the stands at games, including one in which she allegedly choked a Chinese fan.

Smith claims that he did not miss as many practices as the team alleges, and he noted that he played in all 32 games and led the team in scoring (36.4 ppg).

FIBA will rule on the dispute, likely next week.

♦ Former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs made good on his promise to reward the New Jersey boy who sent him $3.36 in hopes of keeping him in New York. Jacobs, who signed as a free agent with the 49ers, took the boy out with his own son to a facility with inflatable bounce houses and gave him a $5 bill.

“He had some interest in there just for being a good kid,” Jacobs said. “He’s worth a lot more than that $5 bill I gave him.”

ON THIS DAY TRIVIA: On June 21, 1916, which Red Sox hurler pitched the first no-hitter in Fenway Park history, a 2-0 victory over the Yankees that included three walks? Hint: The player shares a name with an outfielder from Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the 1970s.

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