First Cup: Friday

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "There's a lot going to be made of how well the Cavs played with their so-called 'small' lineup in, which means without a true center and with a lot of quickness. Without a doubt, it led directly to the remarkable second half when the Cavs outscored the Celtics 60-32 and held them to 22 percent shooting. Boston's bigs -- the plodding Kendrick Perkins, the knee-hampered Kevin Garnett, the over the hill Rasheed Wallace and the nimble but not quick Glen Davis -- do not handle athletic opponents well. Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson and even Antawn Jamison (when he wasn't throwing the ball to the other team) gave Boston all sorts of problems. This, in general, is the lineup that ESPN columnist and Celtics fan Bill Simmons calls 'poop in your pants scary' because of how well the Cavs can play with it. Without a doubt, because of the versatility of LeBron James and the tremendous shooting ability of several Cavs it can look vicious. Also, they may not be a better big man pick-and-roll defender in the league than Varejao. And when you see the difference between him and Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas -- two of the worst pick-and-roll defender big men in the league -- it can be stunning. But as good as the small lineup may look -- and with Hickson playing with such vigor, it looked very good -- it is a not a way to play all the time. It is more effective when used to throw off opponents, especially when they are not prepared for it. Assume the Raptors will go over it in shootaround on Friday morning."

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "Once words could explain away a night like last night, a 108-88 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in which one Celtics team shot 70 percent in the first quarter and led by 10, while another shot 14.3 percent in the fourth quarter and was outscored 31-12, which is a fast way to make a lead disappear. If that kind of basketball continues against the NBA’s best teams it’s also a way to make the Celtics disappear, which is what makes this problem of blown second halves and empty words so vexing. Yet as Kevin Garnett tried to reply to questions whose answers had a numbing sameness to them his head slipped down and his long, dark hand ran over his face before he spoke, making him look the way a farmer does after watching his crops burn up for another day under an unrelenting sun with no sign of rain in the air. 'At some point there has to be some action,' Garnett said, after which all the other words paled in comparison. “Doc has a saying, ‘You got to run through the whole race.’ We’ve got to do that. Until we players decide to do that we’re gonna be in this predicament.' '"

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Seriously, you know what's amazing? That three columnists all criticizedDwight Howard within days of each other -- during the same time frame when the Magic's magnificent big man was named the NBA's Player of the Week. It's mystifying. It's logic-defying. They call him an underachiever. They call him a puppy dog. They call him a paper tiger. They ought to be calling him an MVP. But they won't, you see, because that would be NBA blasphemy. As Magic coach Stan Van Gundy points out, 'It's over. LeBron's going to get the award.' This is no knock on LeBron; he is certainly worthy of the MVP. He leads the league in scoring and has led the Cavs to the best record in the NBA. All I'm saying is Superman deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the King by the nation's media. I can understand NBA fans being blinded by the endless LeBron lovefest and eternal highlight loop on ESPN, but you'd think the media would be a little more discerning. You'd think the media would have a bit more historical perspective and appreciate that Dwight is on the verge of doing things that have never been done in the NBA."

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "Disappointed with his effort in a 'disgraceful' home loss to Minnesota, Heat forward Michael Beasley returned to an empty AmericanAirlines Arena hours later for some soul searching. 'Some people think I take the game for granted,' Beasley said Thursday. 'But this is my life, what I live for, how I live. Anytime I feel something is wrong, I try to get my mind right, tune up my machine.' Beasley was still stung Thursday by the Heat's 91-88 loss Tuesday to a Timberwolves team that has the Western Conference's worst record and is 5-25 on the road. Particularly disgusted with his play, Beasley got back on the court just after midnight for a workout that lasted until about 3 a.m. Wednesday. With a friend shagging rebounds, Beasley retook many of the shots he missed from his 5-of-18 performance against Minnesota, a loss coach Erik Spoelstra described as 'disgraceful.' "

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "The hope here that if Portland does qualify, it ends up the No. 8 seed in the West and draws the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers. I want to see the Blazers-Lakers. You want to see it. The Blazers probably want the Lakers, too. And the other matchups are so unpalatable that it's probably worth rooting against them now. Portland is 9-1 in its last 10 games against Los Angeles at the Rose Garden Arena (9-0 vs. Kobe Bryant, incidentally). The Lakers in a matchup would be compelling, and emotionally gratifying, and I can't shake the image of Lakers coach Phil Jackson leaning against the wall outside the visiting locker room, brow furrowed, talking in a defeated tone about what went wrong. ... Bring on the Lakers? You bet. Portland isn't the better team. It doesn't have more depth, or experience, or the better superstar player. But I'm willing to wager that it would feel like the NBA Finals for a lot of deserving people for a few nights. This has been a season of doubt and disappointment. The list of injuries is staggering. The questions around the current players are fair, and important. But there isn't a question that the Lakers would view a first-round playoff matchup against Portland as a nuisance."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Manu Ginobili, the beating heart of a four-time NBA champion, has declared he feels like, well, Manu Ginobili. The importance of such self-actualization can't be overstated for a team that will play the Rockets at the Toyota Center still seventh in the Western Conference. 'I feel great, and I bet you can tell,' Ginobili said after submitting Exhibits A through Z in a Wednesday night victory against the Thunder. The performance gave every Spur aboard the short flight to Houston reason to believe a late-season surge is possible. The 32-year-old guard scored 26 points Wednesday, his second-highest output of the season and his sixth game with at least 20 in the past nine outings. Ginobili's season has been a four-month search for the lift in his legs that made him a 6-foot-6 highlight reel for most of his eight seasons as a Spur. A spectacular fourth-quarter run-down block against the NBA's leading scorer, 6-9 Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant, was the affirmation for which the Argentine dynamo has waited. 'Going to dunk, or going for a block like that, a month ago that couldn't have happened,' he said. 'I'm feeling great, and I'm very happy about it.' "

  • Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News: "A Superman imitator in our midst? Brendan Haywood really does look like the key to the deal, at least for now. You have to think that Caron Butler, a career 44 percent shooter, will find that shooting touch. At that point, this deal becomes the kind of thing that puts Dallas on a level floor with Denver for the No. 2 spot in the West. Meanwhile, long-suffering Wizards fans already have seen Drew Gooden go to the Clippers and Josh Howard lost for the season with a knee injury. This wasn't a trade, it was a heist. Oh yeah, steals. The Mavericks are fifth in the league (8.6 per game) in this five-game stretch. A team trying to establish its identity following a roster-changing trade is doing it with defense. This is new for the Mavericks. This is a good thing."

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Throughout our conversation, Rudy Fernandez made it clear that he was uncomfortable talking about his future because he and the team were in the middle of a playoff hunt. 'I don’t want to talk about this right now. I want to focus on Portland and play hard every time I’m on the court,’ Fernandez said. 'That’s my only goal right now.’' Fernandez said he has every intent of finishing the two years remaining on his contract. The talk of him returning to Spain to play for Real Madrid is overblown, he says. 'I only said I won’t close doors,’ Fernandez said. ... The point Fernandez wanted to make is that he is not pouting. He is not demanding out. He is not seeking to leave Portland. In fact, he is thinking mostly about the playoff race and how he can help the Blazers. If he has been unhappy, I told him he was doing a good job of hiding it. To me, it seemed like his mind has always been in a good place. That’s when he smiled and shook his head. He balanced his hand unevenly, suggesting his mental state this year. 'I try. I try. I try,’ he said of keeping his mind right."

  • Al Iannazzone of The Record: "Here’s breaking news: Athletes, coaches and executives don’t always tell the truth, shocking as it may seem. But their words make for good newspaper stories, blogs, weekly Page 2 columns, comments on Web sites and debates among sports fans. This is what will happen when the Nets or any team signs a free agent this summer. The team will say the player was their top choice – even if he wasn’t. The player will say this is the team he wanted to be playing for all along, and he’ll rattle off the names of the other players on the roster. All the teams with money -- the Knicks, Nets, Heat, Clippers, Bulls -- have something to offer other than millions. They have location and more millions in marketing potential. If the Nets get the No. 1 draft pick, that would help their pitch. But just know that the player will go where he makes the most money and has the best chance to win -- in that order. Then he’ll say it had nothing to do with the money."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Remember Allen Iverson's famous tirade about practice? He would have loved the situation John Salmons has faced since joining the Bucks in a deal with Chicago last week. Salmons has been with the Bucks for seven days and has yet to go through a true practice session. But it hasn't mattered too much as the 6-foot-6 guard has played a key role in the Bucks' recent surge. Salmons had 18 points in the Bucks' 115-95 victory over New Orleans Wednesday, his second game in the starting lineup after coming off the bench in his first two games with Milwaukee. 'The next time on our schedule where we could have some sort of meaningful practice is Tuesday,' Scott Skiles said. 'We'll do something (in Miami) tomorrow. We may not go to the gym; guys may be getting their lifts in or whatever. We're interested to find out some more things John could do once we have more time in the gym. We've got to just wait, and until then we have to do the best we can. He's certainly doing a nice job.' "

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Taj Gibson routinely is one of the first Bulls to arrive at the Berto Center for practice, and his initial move is to check the NBA standings. 'I want to experience the playoffs and see how I fare in that atmosphere,' Gibson said Thursday. 'That's all I'm focused on. (Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose) have told me it's 100 times more competitive every game and it means so much for the development of young players.' Coach Vinny Del Negro routinely is one of the first Bulls to arrive at the United Center on game days, and once the game starts, his initial move often is to call a play for Gibson. 'I like to get rookies' confidence going right away,' Del Negro explained. Told that Gibson, 24, hardly acts like a rookie, Del Negro smiled. He knows."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Success can be measured in several ways for NBA franchises over the course of a season. It can come through securing a quality draft selection, standing among the 16 teams that annually qualify for the postseason or seeing the bottom-line in the black. But the most flattering mark of success is when opposing franchises begin following suit, emulating your team’s blueprint and plotting a similar path to success. Surprisingly, after 43 wins in the past two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder has risen to that level of respectability. 'I think teams that are in a rebuilding stage are looking to be a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder,' said Minnesota forward Kevin Love. 'They really set the bar for where teams in a rebuilding stage want to be.' A year ago, the storyline in Oklahoma City was whether the Thunder could successfully implement past plans seen in San Antonio, Portland and Atlanta. Now, teams like Minnesota, Sacramento, Washington and, to an extent, Indiana are pattering themselves after the Thunder. 'We’re hoping to be like them,' Love said of the Thunder. 'They turned their season around quickly.' ... the unheralded source to the Thunder’s success is a clear-cut commitment to an identity. The same repetitive, almost robotic, responses that Sam Presti and coach Scott Brooks supply have sparked the Thunder’s improvement in the standings."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "I heard from several Rush Limbaugh fans today, mostly chiding me for referencing him in my column about Paul Westphal's decision regarding Spencer Hawes. For those who might not have been following the drama, Westphal placed Hawes on the inactive list Tuesday after the third-year center voiced his frustration about roles, rotations, and substitutions. Of course, Evans and Sean May voiced very similar comments, and neither was punished. Westphal explained that May apologized, Evans was only speaking in generalized, and .... well, he just seemed ticked off at Spencer. I wrote that it was surprising that Westphal, who is a friend of right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh, would attempt to muzzle a player, especially since all of the player comments were relatively mild and matter-of-fact. Anyway, to set the record straight, if Westphal and Keith Olbermann were buddies, I would have offered a similar comment about the bombastic left-wing talk show host. While I thoroughly enjoyed an intelligent, enlivened, provocative discussion - we are all about passion here - if I wanted to be lectured or yelled at, I'd re-enroll in my Catholic grammar school."