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First Cup: Thursday

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "When was the last time a boring, unimaginative six-game winning streak became a stellar, laudable seven-game winning streak? Wednesday night. The Lakers turned a near-flawless second half into a 92-83 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, extending their two-week run after getting commendable efforts from too many players to avoid a run-on sentence. Kobe Bryant was proficient on offense, Ron Artest was a game-breaker on defense, and Lamar Odom was strong, sore shoulder and all, at AT&T Center."

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks clinched their third consecutive playoff berth in grand style, as Josh Smith's putback dunk as time expired vanquished Orlando 86-84. It broke the Hawks' six-game losing streak to the Magic and prevented a four-game regular-season sweep. With the scored tied at 84, the Hawks' Joe Johnson lofted a jumper from the left side that bounced high off the rim. From the opposite baseline, Smith roared to the basket, cramming the ball through the rim an instant before time expired. 'I just crashed it,' Smith said. 'Luckily, the ball was right there for me to tip in. I know that Joe's a good shooter, and I knew that it wasn't going to come out too far, and I was just able to be around the rim.' The Hawks have now played five consecutive games that either have gone to overtime or have come down to the last possession, winning three. 'We're being tested right now,' coach Mike Woodson said. 'I think that's excellent to see who's going to step up and make plays. Tonight, it was Josh ‘Smoove.' '"

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "While the Atlanta Hawks were celebrating like an NCAA 15th-seed gone wild, bouncingteammates engulfing hero Josh Smith on the floor, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy gave Rashard Lewis a sour look. Lewis responded with hunched shoulders and palms raised upwards. Smith had just vaulted over Lewis to slam back Joe Johnson's missed shot at the buzzer, giving the Hawks a long-awaited, 86-84 victory Wednesday night against the Magic. In one fell swoop, Smith wiped out Vince Carter's tying 3-point shot seconds earlier and secured the Hawks a playoff spot. He also ended Atlanta's six-game losing streak against Orlando, including three defeats this season, and cut the playoff-bound Magic's lead in the Eastern Conference postseason race to 3 ½ games. ... Van Gundy squarely pointed the finger at Lewis, 6-feet-10, for not boxing out Smith, 6-9. 'Unfortunately, we forgot to box on the weak side, and Josh was able to make a great play,' Van Gundy said. 'We became spectators and didn't block out.' Lewis wasn't happy with some of Van Gundy's offensive play-calls, but he more or less took the responsibility for not putting a body on Smith."

  • Woody Paige of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets lost to the Celtics on Wednesday night. They lost their third straight. They have lost that lovin' feeling. They are lost without George Karl. The extended loss of guard Ty Lawson was distressing. The extended loss of forward Kenyon Martin has been damaging. The extended loss of coach George Karl is devastating. Because of the ravaging cancer treatments Karl is enduring, he can't return to the Nuggets until, optimistically, mid-April. The most important thing here is that George get better, well and free of the disease. In regard to the less-important thing, the truth is the Nuggets likely will be done before Karl can get back on the bench. Not long ago it seemed, and I wrote, the Nuggets could surpass last season's 54-victory total, challenge the Lakers in the Western Conference finals again and, yes, have a very reasonable chance to win the NBA championship. But these Nuggets, without Karl, and without Martin, barely will win 50 games and won't play the Lakers, won't play in the league Finals, won't win their division and maybe won't even have a home-court advantage in the postseason. The truth hurts."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "The Milwaukee Bucks' late-season ride to the playoffs took a bumpy detour Wednesday night at the Bradley Center. Milwaukee's starting five was sluggish and ineffective and coach Scott Skiles went to his bench players early in the first quarter, but nothing slowed down the Philadelphia 76ers as they cruised to a 101-86 victory. 'This appears to have been brewing a little bit,"'Skiles said after his team saw its eight-game home winning streak snapped and lost for just the third time in its last 18 games. 'The Denver game (on Saturday) we were very good. But the rest of the games -- Clippers, Sacramento, Atlanta and tonight -- we're not doing anything to set a tone. We're starting the game kind of passive and teams are taking it to us. We've been fortunate to get back in those games and win the Atlanta game and the Sac game. But tonight was much more like the Clipper game where we just couldn't get back into it.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The last time the Miami Heat faced the Chicago Bulls, Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich was being restrained while going after the officials, teammate Brad Miller was being charged with a flagrant foul against Dwyane Wade, and the Bulls were crying foul after a similar blow by Wade against Taj Gibson did not result in a whistle. ... Against that backdrop, the circus also will be arriving at the United Center on Thursday night. No, not the Ringling Bros., but Kenny, Charles and Ernie, the TNT studio team that will be leaving the studio to handle the play-by-play on the national broadcast. For those who forget, it was Charles Barkley, much to the delight of partners Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, who had alluded to Wade's supporting cast as a group of Titos, a reference to Tito Jackson's role alongside Michael Jackson with the Jackson Five. Second-year forward Michael Beasley not only chose to fire back at Barkley, but proceeded to then lapse into a protracted slump. 'He can say what he wants,' Beasley said Wednesday. 'He can call me a Tito, call me New Edition, he can call me whatever else. I kind of let that upset me, which messed my game up a little bit. My little slump was a little longer than expected. I don't care. I'm playing. I'm going to play. He can call me Tito, he can call me SpongeBob. He can call me whatever he wants.' "

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "An informant entered the visitors' locker room to tell the Grizzlies that Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis was sitting out their game Wednesday night in Oracle Arena. That turned out to be false: Ellis started despite having flu-like symptoms. But Griz center Marc Gasol jokingly told O.J. Mayo that Ellis must have 'Mayo-itis.' Several Griz players laughed although Mayo didn't think the mention of Ellis was very funny last month at the NBA's trade deadline. If it is true that the Warriors turned down a Grizzlies offer that would have essentially swapped Mayo for Ellis, the guy wearing No. 32 in Beale Street Blue wants to understand why. 'We definitely need to keep this team together,' Mayo said before the Grizzlies faced the Warriors. 'It's a young team. We all like each other. We're playing well. Just when you get something good, why break it up? It doesn't make sense. But that's this business.' ... Mayo said he remains unaffected by having his name in trade discussions. 'I'm always going to go out on the court and compete and try to help my team win,' Mayo said. 'It happens. Look at Zach Randolph. As great as he is, he's been traded three or four times. It's the business.' "

  • Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Hold the champagne corks on Chris Cohan's departure from the Warriors. Even though he has authorized a New York firm to seek bidders for the franchise, he may not be done making a mess yet. The chances of closing the deal in less than three months seem ridiculously slim, assuring that the new owner will not be able to replace the current management team (a term most liberally applied in this case) before the June draft. Worse, the deal has little chance of being completed before the July 1 start of free-agency negotiations. In any other year, those restrictions would be disturbing, but the Warriors' devoted fans could take full solace in Cohan's exit and its long-term benefits. This year is different. This summer brings the NBA's long-awaited summer blockbuster of free agency - starring LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Carlos Boozer, possibly Amar'e Stoudemire. Under an aggressive new owner, the team could be preparing to cut deals that would cut a swath through the salary cap. While it seems unlikely that the Warriors could shed enough payroll to get into the James or Wade stakes, one sentence has been reverberating ever since Monday's revelation about the sale: Larry Ellison always makes things happen the way he wants them to happen."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Ray Allen has taken shooting advice from a wide range of mentors, including his father. But one he credits with being particularly instrumental is a bit unusual - Karl Hobbs, the Dorchester native, former Cambridge Rindge and Latin and UConn star, and current coach at George Washington. Hobbs was an assistant on the UConn staff when he started giving Allen pointers - a funny thing, considering the 5-foot-11 point guard’s entire game was driving and dishing. 'Yeah, he was a driver, but he’d never let us mess around with the game when we were working out,' Allen said. 'When I did my individuals, I’d work on what he was teaching. One thing he taught me was how to escape my defender.' Hobbs didn’t have much need for a jumper in high school, considering he had a young Patrick Ewing in the post."

  • Jamie Samuelsen for the Detroit Free Press: "Do you think Mateen Cleaves' image has taken a hit because of his lack of NBA success and recent DUI arrest? Or is he still as beloved as could be among Spartans? There’s no crime in being a great college player and a lousy pro. Just look at the Heisman Trophy winners over the years. Do Ohio State fans think any less of Archie Griffin because he didn’t do much in the NFL? Florida fans will adore Tim Tebow even if he falls flat after the draft and has to switch to wide receiver or H-back or … coach. And Michigan fans were well aware that Charles Woodson was one of their greatest ever even though his career didn’t really take off right away. Mateen Cleaves’ legend would have been burnished by a great pro career – like Magic Johnson’s legend. But the memories of 2000 aren’t any less sweet because of what’s happened since. That was still the team. He was still the man. It’s a simple formula. The off-court stuff is up to each individual fan to determine. These guys aren’t choirboys. They never were. Let’s not forget that Cleaves had a run-in with the law for an alcohol-related incident before he led the Spartans to that first Final Four. Doesn’t make him a crook. Doesn’t mean he was going down the wrong road. Just pointing out that off-court decisions shouldn’t necessarily mar what happens on the court."

  • John Coon of the Deseret News: "At the time he initially signed with Utah, Othyus Jeffers was the 18th player from the NBA Development League to be called up by an NBA team for the 2009-10 season. One of those call-ups included current Jazz teammate Sundiata Gaines. What sets players like Gaines and Jeffers apart from their former D-League counterparts? Simply put, their ability and willingness to defend. "Everybody that is going to the NBA -- they're not going to call you up to be a superstar on the team,' Gaines said. 'Defense separates a lot of guys because a lot of players can't play defense on this level.' "

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Here's my one reference to tanking. The Pacers could have dressed only five guys and they would have still beat the Wizards. That's a brutal team."