First Cup: Tuesday

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "So you're John Salmons, the best Milwaukee import since Bavarian hops, and you're going back and forth in the fourth quarter with Joe Johnson like Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, matching the Atlanta guard shot for remarkable shot in yet another of his habitually clutch performances for the Bucks. So what's that like? 'The best person to explain that in this locker room is Brandon (Jennings),' Salmons said Monday night after dropping 32 on the Hawks, 'because he got 55.' And that right there would be one of the better reasons to fear the Deer. Jennings, a strong rookie of the year candidate in part because of the double-nickels he scored on Golden State back in November, had already showered, dressed and left the locker room. He had time to do that because he had poor shooting night, just 1 of 8, and wasn't on the floor when the Bucks wrapped up an exhilarating 98-95 comeback against the Hawks. But Jennings wasn't the only one. Andrew Bogut struggled again, going 4 of 11. Ersan Ilyasova couldn't find the basket, either. And still, these Bucks continue to find a way."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Lately fans at Philips Arena groan when Hawks forward Josh Smith winds up to take a jump shot. Smith said he doesn’t notice it but even if he did, it wouldn’t change his approach. If opponents are willing to give him open jump shots, Smith plans to keep taking them. 'They are just there,' he said. 'I just try to shoot them with confidence.' That strategy hasn’t been working so well. According 82games.com’s game tracking statistics, entering Monday Smith was shooting 37 percent on jump shots compared to 63 percent on shots in the lane. Smith, who otherwise is having his best season, said he hasn’t looked at his percentage on outside shots. Told about the poor numbers, he shrugged them off. 'It’s all good,' he said. 'It will get better.' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "After almost 12 seasons in the league, afterslam-dunk titles and scoring more than 19,000 points, Vince Carter finally achieved something he dearly wanted: To be part of a 50-win season. 'It’s a wonderful feeling, but I want to win it all,' Carter said. The Magic improved to 50-21 after beating Philly on Wednesday night. Carter was part of a 49-win team in New Jersey, but that’s the closest he’s ever come to the big 5-0. Carter has been superb since a forgettable January, and looks ready to lead the Magic into the playoffs as the 'hometown' hero. Next goal for VC: Get past the second round of the postseason. His teammates are aware of the doubters who have bird-dogged Carter throughout his career and point to what he’s done lately. 'I am happy for him,' point guard Jameer Nelson said. 'A guy like him that many people criticize all the time and say a lot of negative things about has proven to everybody as of late and has been playing great for us.' "

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "The Celtics finished a rugged road trip at 2-1, and have won five of their last seven. The Green failed to lock up a playoff berth Monday (a formality at this point), but more disappointingly, also failed to gain ground on Atlanta in the race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks fell to surging Milwaukee. Despite a lackluster final 26 minutes Monday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't seem overly concerned. 'No, we just lost the game,' said Rivers, when asked if Monday constituted a step backward as his team's four-game winning streak was snapped. 'We're not going to overdo this. We'll let [the media] analyze this and figure out why we lost. They outplayed us. They made shots, moved the ball, attacked us. They were the better team tonight.' Rivers seemed to suggest that the positive energy from a successful start of this road trip wouldn't be tempered by Monday's loss. Sure, the Celtics weren't happy to give away a double-digit lead after outplaying the Jazz so thoroughly in the first half, but Boston's starters simply didn't have it Monday. It happens. As long as it doesn't become a pattern over the final 12 games, the Celtics can live with losing to a quality opponent. Even still, Boston is likely to look back and realize it let one get away, particularly as its previously rock-solid defense went soft."

  • Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com: "Well, how many blowout losses to lottery teams do the Mavs need to suffer before they stop hitting the snooze button? The 115-99 loss to the New Orleans Hornets dropped the Mavs to 1-3 since they matched the longest winning streak in the NBA this season. And this ranked right up there in the embarrassment department with getting routed at home by the New York Knicks to snap the winning streak. ... 'We basically just called it quits, it seemed like,' small forward Shawn Marion said. 'We just took it on the chin. We stopped doing everything we did to take the lead and relaxed.' There's that R word again. And Jason Kidd also uttered it, saying the Mavs might be guilty of looking ahead to the postseason. The consensus in the losers' locker room at New Orleans Arena is that this isn't a case of the Mavs suffering from swollen heads after their winning streak. So perhaps there's no need to remind this bunch of veterans that they play for a franchise that has won a grand total of one playoff series in the last three seasons. The Mavs, whose core consists entirely of veterans searching for their first ring, seem to understand that playing soft is a surefire way to make an early playoff exit. Yet that isn't reflected in their recent play."

  • Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com: "Vinny Del Negro has spent most of his two-year tenure with the Chicago Bulls being criticized. Derrick Rose chipped in 27 points in the Bulls' win over the Houston Rockets on Monday.Some say he's not a very good in-game strategist. Some say he doesn't have nearly enough experience to be a head coach. The list goes on and on. The criticism that I've heard more than most at various points throughout this season is that Del Negro doesn't show enough fire. There's been a segment of fans that always wished Del Negro would be more animated on the sidelines. He's certainly not as laid back as Lovie Smith, but he isn't exactly Stan Van Gundy, either. Make no mistake, Del Negro is filled with fire, but he doesn't usually show it on the sidelines. Sure, he'll pick up the occasional technical, which he did several times over the Bulls' recent 10-game losing skid. But he usually prefers to chomp on his gum or shake his head in disgust whenever the mood to burst hits him. On Monday night, all of that changed. With 58.5 seconds left in the third quarter of his team's 98-88 win over the Houston Rockets, Mount Vinny finally erupted. All the frustration of the game, the perceived flops by the Rockets players and the recent rash of losing and injuries manifested itself into an explosion the likes of which the Bulls hadn't seen. After Taj Gibson was called for a questionable offensive foul, Del Negro marched onto the court and started screaming at referee Bob Delaney. The first technical came almost instantly. After a few more seconds, the second one came right after. For the first time in his coaching career Del Negro had been ejected from a game."

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "The Lakers' newest member of the starting lineup, Lamar Odom, has been playing with an aggravated left shoulder injury for 15 games now, but he's never let on. Not when the injury happened against the Boston Celtics on Feb. 18, when he threw down the hammer on Boston's Ray Allen to finish a fast break with a dunk, Odom's 6-foot-10, 230-pound body swinging out in front of him as his shoulder stayed locked in position with his left hand grasping the rim. Not when he shot just 2-for-6 the next game against Memphis after the injury. Not when he shot 2-for-8 against Phoenix, either. In fact, we scribes in the media didn't discover the injury until Lakers coach Phil Jackson outed Odom after the Minnesota game, explaining that sometimes the lefty's shoulder gets banged and suddenly causes his left arm to go numb. Odom filled in for the injured Andrew Bynum on Sunday with four points, 13 rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocked shots in Los Angeles' 99-92 win over Washington. Just ask Washington's Alonzo Gee if he knew it was a guy with a lame arm who blocked his shot from behind while starting a fast break all in one motion during the third quarter. Injured or not, Odom is contributing. It was the team's first test since Bynum strained an Achilles tendon and the Lakers went back to the 'In Case of Emergency, Break Glass' container they keep Odom in that's had its glass shattered numerous times before. It's becoming an annual rite of passage for the Lakers: Bynum goes down. Odom steps up. But this time he's stepping up when a lot of players would be sitting out. Jackson said Odom 'just didn't feel comfortable out there,' explaining the lefty's meager 1-for-4 shooting line and hefty sum of five turnovers. But the team was much more comfortable with him out there, even in a limited role."

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "Dwyane Wade counts rap mogul and businessman Jay Z among his celebrity pals. But it's going to take more than serenading Wade on a hit song to get the Heat guard to consider changing teams. The Heat made its final trip of the season to New Jersey on Monday to play the Nets. Jay Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, co-owns the Nets and mentioned Wade in last year's hit song, Empire State of Mind. It's unclear what impact Jay Z's friendships with top free agents might have this summer. ... Although Jay Z's reference in the song fell well short of violating tampering rules, Wade embraced the shout-out. In the song, Jay Z raps: 'Me, I gotta plug [rapper] Special Ed. I Got It Made. If (rapper) Jeezy's paying LeBron [James], I'm paying Dwyane Wade.' 'With Jay, there's no telling what he meant,' Wade said when asked about the song. 'But just to be mentioned in a song that great -- because Jay's one of the greatest who ever did it -- it's really big.' Wade has maintained at every potential NBA recruiting stop that he prefers to re-sign with Miami. But that hasn't stopped the speculation, expected during the Heat's three-day stay in Wade's hometown for Thursday's game against Chicago. 'I'll talk to people I need to before making a decision,' Wade said recently. 'I don't know if Jay is one of them.' "

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "As the season nears the finish line, the stakes are getting higher, and nothing may be as big for the Nuggets as the five-game Eastern Conference road trip they begin tonight. Playoff seeding and the Northwest Division lead hang in the balance. The Nuggets (47-23) enter tonight in the Western Conference's No. 2 spot by one game over Dallas and leading their division by 1 1/2 games over Utah. A bad week could see the Nuggets relinquish both of those positions with little time to regain them. 'Brutal. Brutal road trip coming up playing against some teams that are playing really well,' guard Chauncey Billups said. 'We're in an intense dogfight over here, trying to maintain home-court advantage and win the division. We can have a good trip, but we have to focus on one team at a time.' "

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Zach Randolph was in the right place at the right time. But what else is new? When Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay missed a 16-foot shot, there was Randolph with his hands ready. The basketball found him and Randolph -- winding down arguably the greatest individual season in franchise history -- caught the rebound and earned two free throws as he was hacked on what would have been an effortless put-back. The Grizzlies’ blue-collar forward finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds in Arco Arena on Monday and set a franchise record for rebounds in a single season. He passed Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s mark of 825 rebounds from the 1999-00 season during the third quarter of the Grizzlies’ 102-85 victory over Sacramento. Abdur-Rahim watched the feat as an assistant coach on Sacramento’s bench."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Roy Hibbert averaged more than three fouls in just 14 minutes a game last season. His constant foul problems kept him saddled to the bench most of his rookie season, stunting his development. Hibbert hasn't had the same problem this season, and it's paying off on both ends of the court. He again is averaging more than three fouls, but he is able to play nearly 25 minutes a game. ... How dramatic has the change been? Last season, it seemed every questionable call went against Hibbert. This season, opposing coaches and players sometimes complain that a foul isn't called against him. Hibbert has fouled out just four times in 70 games this season. He has had five or six fouls just four times in the past 22 games. 'He's doing a very good job of keeping his nose between the ball and the basket,' coach Jim O'Brien said. 'I think the officials across the league have done a real good job at calling the verticality rule as well. I think they're doing a good job of not bailing the drivers out. As a result, that has helped Roy's guts to step in front of people.' "

  • Phil Miller of the Star Tribune: "Darko Milicic scored a season-high 16 points against the Lakers last Friday, and appeared to be more confident about taking good shots. 'The guys are learning how to use him. The guys are trusting him more. The guys like to give him the basketball because they know he's a willing passer,' Kurt Rambis said. 'I've told him, whenever he's comfortable, I'm OK with him shooting inside, outside, [from the] elbow, long distance. But he has to have the confidence to do that.' For Milicic, who is still only 24 years old despite being a seven-year NBA veteran, it's a matter of playing the way he was taught back in Serbia. 'I'm just trying to relax. I got used to playing this American way of running crazy, playing too fast. I've got to slow it down,' Milicic said. 'When I came [to the U.S.], I stopped playing basketball the way I know how to play. Playing too fast, running like chickens without heads.' "

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "On Friday, Richard Hamilton went scoreless for the first time since the 2000-01 season and played a season-low 19 minutes. In Sunday's game, he did not score after the first quarter and finished with just six points in 19 minutes. Think about that. The Pistons’ leading scorer and biggest name -- the guy who gets introduced last at home games -- went scoreless in seven of eight quarters. Pistons fans will learn a lot Tuesday night about how Hamilton and the Pistons will finish the season. One day after Cleveland completed its first season sweep of Detroit in 30 years, Indiana rolls into The Palace of Auburn Hills looking to finish a 4-0 sweep of its own."

  • Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman: "Thunder rookie Serge Ibaka last week unveiled a new signature move following an emphatic dunk in Toronto. Holding his arms out like an airplane, Ibaka calls it 'Air Congo.' Ibaka pulled 'Air Congo' again Monday night, but it was his blocked shot of Tim Duncan with 8.8 seconds left that gave the Thunder a chance to rally for a win. San Antonio held on for in a 99-96 win, but Ibaka held his own the fourth quarter against the Spurs' future Hall of Famer. 'Serge was terrific,' said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks. 'That's one of the hardest players he will guard the next 15 years in this league even after Duncan is long gone, retired. He's a special player, one of the best ever... and Serge did a great job battling him.' "