First Cup: Thursday

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The defending NBA champions wanted this one. They had gone 2-2 on their road swing, and they needed to beat the Hawks, according to the Zen master Phil Jackson, to 'redeem this trip.' Instead the regal Lakers were rebuffed, and rudely. The Hawks beat the Lakers in every quarter. 'That doesn’t happen much against that team,' Mike Woodson said afterward, but it happened for his team. ... Matched them in emotion. Matched them in intensity. Trumped them on talent. Trumped the defending champions. Think about that. 'This shows we can play with anybody,' Jamal Crawford said, but there’s a difference between playing with anybody and beating anybody. The Hawks have been able to do the former for a while, and now they’re managing the latter. Over the past eight days they’ve beaten both teams that played for the 2009 NBA title. You don’t do that unless you can play some yourself."

  • Peter May Special to ESPNBoston.com: "Sam Presti got a bit of the 'Glory Days' treatment Wednesday. He arrived in Boston in time to take a stroll past his old dormitory at Emerson College. He later hooked up with his Emerson coach, Hank Smith, at TD Garden for the Celtics-Thunder game. There were also some teammates at the game from his high school hoop squad at Concord-Carlisle High. Presti got them tickets. Presti was a Dual County League star at Concord-Carlisle. He was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship (which he didn't get) after a distinguished career at Emerson. While at Emerson, he was a two-time member of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference all-tournament team. Honestly, does it get any better than that? It does. Presti is in the discussion for the NBA Executive of the Year award in just his third season as the general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is only 33 -- and the unquestioned architect of one of the NBA's feel-good stories of 2009-2010. It's a story that has no bad end in sight, and has thrust the publicity-shy Presti into the spotlight. Others are happy to do the talking for him."

  • Chris Forsberg ofESPNBoston.com: "Only Orlando's Dwight Howard had attempted more free throws (754) than Kevin Durant (733), and Oklahoma City's star swingman had nearly double the amount of attempts as the nearest Celtic (Paul Pierce, tied for 20th in the league at 385). So the fact that Durant ended up at the charity stripe 15 times Wednesday wasn't shocking. But put in the context of the game, it left some, including Kevin Garnett, shaking their heads. 'I thought we were playing Michael [expletive] Jordan tonight the way he was getting the whistle,' Garnett vented. 'Durant damn near shot more free throws than our whole team.' To be clear, the Celtics did not pin all the blame on Wednesday's 109-104 loss to the upstart Thunder on the referees. The refs weren't the ones who were late closing out on Jeff Green as he drilled a pair of ice-water-in-his-veins 3-pointers in the final two minutes to help Oklahoma City emerge with another monumental win this season. But on a night Boston shot 59.5 percent from the floor, generating a staggering 44 field goals against a top-10 scoring defense, a 34-17 free-throw attempt disparity between the teams stood out like a sore thumb on the final box score."

  • Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "It's one of the great myths in the NBA -- one that seemingly is debunked on a nightly basis but continues to live on for some mysterious reason that belies all statistical and visual evidence. At some point in time, someone somewhere decided to label the Lakers as a 'deep team.' Over the past two seasons, you've heard how good the Lakers' roster is from 1 to 12 and how their bench is able to sustain leads and how everyone on this team knows his role. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Lakers are not a deep team. They're not even a shallow team. They're a rock-solid, one-floor building with a shaky basement that probably would fail inspection. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they've had to venture to their basement-dwelling bench recently because of injuries to Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton. As a result, their bench players have been exposed for what they've always been -- streaky shooters, talented cheerleaders and the biggest weakness on a team with a Grand Canyon-sized drop-off in talent from their top five players to the rest of the roster."

  • Tom Enlund of the Journal Sentinel: "Cleveland (59-16), which was whistled for only 12 fouls in the game, shot 49 free throws and made 29 (64.4%). The Bucks, who committed 29 fouls, made 8 of 9 foul shots for the game. 'We had our chances to win the game and give them credit because they played well,' said Bucks center Andrew Bogut who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. 'But they fouled 12 times through the whole game, and we fouled 29 and that's the difference right there. And nine free throws (attempted) to 45. You look at a stat sheet like that and you'd think we lost by 20. It's tough when you look at a stat sheet like that. I guess we were fouling too much, and they weren't fouling at all.' Bogut proceeded carefully in discussing the free-throw disparity. 'This is a little over the top,' said Bogut who missed a layup with under 3 minutes left and the Bucks leading by three. We know they're an aggressive team and we know they get to the rim but we were attacking the rim the same way, so ..." John Salmons, who led the Bucks with 28 points, said, 'That's a discouraging stat. That's got to be a record. I don't want to lose no money, so I'm not going to speak on that.' Cleveland coach Mike Brown said that the game's free throw totals were reflective of the Cavaliers' defensive philosophy. 'We want to be a physical defensive team, but we don't want to send teams to the free throw line,' he said. 'So I thought our guys did a decent job with that tonight.' "

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "A season of injuries, anguish and a high-profile argument -- surely enough to conquer even the best and deepest of teams -- became memorable for another reason on Wednesday: The Trail Blazers are headed to the playoffs. The Blazers continued their torrid late-season run with a 118-90 laugher over New York at the Rose Garden, clinching the franchise's 28th postseason appearance, perhaps none of which have been so rewarding, so hard earned and frankly, so remarkable. 'This one means a lot,' said LaMarcus Aldridge, who led the Blazers with 21 points. 'This one is a little bit more sentimental than last year because we had to go through so much adversity, so it means a little more. Everyone kind of counted us out, started jumping off the band wagon.' "

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Carmelo Anthony gets more whistles than J-Lo passing a construction site. Getting to the foul line is Melo's MO. 'That's my game. I don't want to settle for jump shots,' the Nuggets star said. But lately the whistle-blowers have held their breath. Anthony insists he didn't alter his attack mode, but he averaged just 6.3 free throws in his last 10 games -- compared with 9.2 for the season (ranking fourth in the NBA). Anthony is frustrated, but he will have to find creative ways to draw fouls in the final seven games of the regular season. Starting tonight against Portland, the Nuggets begin a seven-game series to determine their playoff seeding. '(The officials) always tell me that I create the contact, and I thought that's what you were supposed to do in basketball,' Anthony said. 'But I can't cry over spilled milk.' In the last six games -- Denver lost five -- Melo's melodic flow has been thwarted. Free throws complement his game; the threat of fouls and foul shots keep defensive players honest. But Melo's offense has been out of sync. He has had recent games of 9-for-23, 11-for-25 and -- hide your children -- 3-for-16 shooting."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "The Timberwolves will send packages of 'Brewer's Blend' coffee to voting media members nationwide Thursday morning as part of their campaign to promote Corey Brewer for the NBA's Most Improved Player this season. From what he saw of the final moments of a long-awaited, streak-snapping 108-99 victory over Sacramento, teammate Al Jefferson suspects Brewer himself hijacked the shipment sometime Wednesday night. 'That's probably why he was all over the place tonight,' Jefferson said. ... Kurt Rambis summoned Brewer off the bench after he had sat for nearly 12 minutes. 'I didn't think I'd get back in,' Brewer said. 'I'd been over there since the three-minute mark of the third. I was happy he put me back in, gave me a chance to play. I just felt like I have to make something happen.' All he did was score the team's final 10 points, starting with a three-pointer and ending with an emphatic slam dunk with 34.7 seconds left."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "As Mike Miller was cutting tape from his ankles after last night's 96-91 victory over New Orleans when James Singleton asked him, 'How many points you finish with?' Miller said, 'Twenty-seven. I used to get 40 a night, killa. Now, when I get 27; feels like I just went for 60.' Miller often jokes about being old after turning 30 on Feb. 19. But after erupting for a new season high to help the Wizards avoid becoming only the second team in NBA history to lose 17 games in the same month, Miller could only shake his head. He hadn't scored at least 20 points in a game since he dropped 25 points on the New York Knicks on Jan. 30. Miller has had just three 20-point games this season."

  • Stephen A. Smith of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "To know anything about Ed Snider is to be faced with the reality that you know very little about him at all. Some people say he's charitable and generous. Others say he's moody and aloof. Those who have worked for him vacillate between calling him a 'great man ... a great owner' and labeling him someone a bit too knee-jerk, too impulsive to ever lead a franchise to prominence. But as the 76ers approach yet another season of unfulfilled expectations, with dire consequences on the horizon for a few individuals deemed responsible for this mess, those very characteristics about Snider become more relevant than ever. As chairman of the team's parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, he's the man designated to lead this moribund franchise back to respectability. That's a difficult task, folks. Let's not even try to sugarcoat matters. The Sixers are awful. They have players but no real team to speak of. It's going to take a herculean effort to turn things around. And before they make any decision on coach Eddie Jordan or Ed Stefanski, the team's general manager, the first order of business is to make sure Snider is as invested as he should be. Quite a few folks around here have wondered about that. 'I have no idea why anyone would,' Snider said a couple of days ago, right before he was scheduled to leave town for the rest of the week. 'I'm very committed to this franchise. I'm the chairman. I want us to win. No one should ever question that about me.' Sixers fans are doing it anyway."

  • Tom Enlund of the Journal Sentinel: "Bucks coach Scott Skiles reflected on the jawing match in Tuesday's home game against the L.A. Clippers involving Bucks center Andrew Bogut and Clippers guard Steve Blake, and later Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, that resulted in technical fouls being called against all three. Skiles was asked if there was a fine line between standing up for yourself and your teammates and drawing technical fouls and giving points to the opposition. 'There's a couple things there,' said Skiles. 'It used to be that you could swing at someone and connect and get a $500 fine. That kept most people on their toes out there because for instance if you're going to run up on a Maurice Lucas or someone ... it was worth it for him for $500. He might break your face. Everyone runs in there now because they know there's no recourse. Nobody is really going to do anything. Steve was playing hard, my guys were playing hard. Bogues tried to put a good screen on him, and they got into it. I was pleased with our response to it after it took awhile for the refs to look at it and sort it out. We had to stand around but came back with a lot of pop.' Skiles said that he didn't want to generalize about instances like that."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "During last June's NBA Finals, ESPN analyst Jon Barry noted that Dwight Howard often looked 'mechanical' on offense and lacked a go-to move. But Barry feels differently now. He thinks that Howard has made 'tremendous strides.' 'It's reactionary game,' Barry explained. 'So you have to make moves according to what your defense does. I just think he's got a better feel for that. With his repertoire, he seems to have everything. I've seen right-hand hooks, left-hand hooks. I've even seen a face-up jump shot for the first time, although it's used sparingly. Ask Tim Duncan how that's worked for him over the last 15 years. As a post player, especially with the athleticism that he presents, it can open up so many doors for him. He will be absolutely unstoppable if he can make a face-up jump shot to force guys to come out on him.' "

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Retired center Dikembe Mutombo sat courtside Wednesday night, putting a cap on a day mostly geared toward meshing with Grizzlies rookie Hasheem Thabeet. 'He’s very interested in Hasheem,' Griz general manager Chris Wallace said. 'He wanted to come in and get together with Hasheem.' Mutombo has served as a global ambassador for the NBA since he retired from the Houston Rockets in 2009. It is not uncommon for the former Defensive Player of the Year to visit different NBA cities throughout the season. It is believed, too, that the Griz might talk to Mutombo about working as a paid consultant in the offseason. Mutombo will spend a lot of time coaching Thabeet in the summer if the Griz have their way. Thabeet had dinner with Mutombo Tuesday night and the two shared their first extended conversation. 'He was telling me the stuff he used to do when he played,' Thabeet said. 'I’ve never had a chance to talk to him like that. It was really good.' "

  • Jo-Ann Barnas of the Detroit Free Press: "Once a casual fan of the NBA, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg became hooked last summer when fellow Swede Jonas Jerebko was selected by the Pistons in the second round of the draft. Since then, Zetterberg has been a box-score junkie, looking up Jerebko’s stats -- minutes, points and rebounds. 'It’s fun to follow,' Zetterberg said. The Swedish Red Wings -- there are seven -- let it be known to Jerebko months ago that if the rookie needs help adjusting to life in the United States, he can lean on them. Jerebko, after all, is the only Swede in the NBA. With two weeks remaining in the regular season -- and the team out of the playoffs -- the Wings know that Jerebko has been one of the few highlights for the Pistons. 'And now I hear he’s going for rookie of the year,' Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. 'They have no offensive plays that involve him, but he’s been scoring a lot of goals. Goals? Is that how they say it in basketball?' Jerebko, 23, is a Wings fan, too. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall said they love Jerebko’s vibe: 'Our record with him being here is pretty good; he was saying he’s 7-1.' "