First Cup: Monday

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James appeared to be taking an Easter stroll until anger at officiating woke him up and he imposed his will by scoring 20 of his 42 points on the then helpless-looking Celtics (48-28) in the fourth quarter. So much so that James felt no shame in trash talking with the Celtics bench after he'd taken -- and missed -- a 3-pointer on a breakaway with five seconds left and the Cavs down just two points. Even with the game gone, James woofed with quasi-smile on his face. 'What we did [Sunday] is good for our team,' James said. 'I don't know what they are thinking in their locker room. For us, we're not hanging our heads about this loss.' James went further, too, basically issuing a challenge for a potential playoff matchup which has a solid chance of happening in the second round of the playoffs. 'We don't like them and they don't like us,' James said. 'It comes from a tough seven-game series that we had. It comes from them wanting to win a championship, us wanting to win a championship and having to come through Boston to win it.' Other than the machismo contest, though, the circumstances of the way the Cavs ended their three-game winning streak perhaps should be a teaching point first and chest-beating exercise second. The lack of defense, poise and ability to hit free throws was jarring for a team that is going to need all three in road games exactly like this one in the very near future."

  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe: "The Celtics had to get the taste of Friday night’s home loss to the Rockets out of their mouths. Kevin Garnett had missed eight of his 12 shots. Paul Pierce missed the potential game-winner. But worse than anything, Ray Allen had played just 16 minutes, riddled with fouls. So not long after the game was over, the three of them went to dinner to hash things out. 'Paul paid for the valet,’ Garnett said. 'I picked up the dinner, and Ray got the dessert.’ They talked about the loss, the things they needed to improve, how they needed to step up as leaders. Though Allen downplayed the meal after the Celtics’ 117-113 win over the Cavaliers yesterday at TD Garden, his 33-point performance was the response Garnett and Pierce expected. 'I knew he was going to have a bounce-back game,’ Pierce said. 'The good things about this team is we stay together. Ray realized he didn’t play well the last game -- or didn’t really play at all. Ray was ready to come in here and step up, especially with the way the last game went because that was out of his character. He stepped up big for us. Without that effort, who knows how [yesterday’s] game would go.’ "

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Ron Artest bumped Manu Ginobili. Ginobili bumped back. Artest gave Ginobili a shove. Ginobili countered with a hip check. Before the muscle-flexing finally ended and the ball could be inbounded late in the first half of the Spurs' 100-81 victory over the Lakers, officials had issued technical fouls to both players and later gave another to Kobe Bryant. Ginobili took Sunday's piƱata treatment as a compliment. 'It makes you feel kind of good,' Ginobili said. 'If they are trying to mess with you, it means you're important, right?' Over the past month, no player has been more important, or meant more to his team, than Ginobili. Sunday's game added one more chapter to that book. Ginobili scored 32 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, and Tim Duncan added 24 points and 11 rebounds as the Spurs clinched their 13th consecutive playoff bid by laying to rest their Staples Center demons."

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "OK, that's enough humility. Little as any Laker wanted to talk about it, that was a shocking 100-81 loss they suffered to San Antonio, the old rival they'd beaten in 10 of the last 15 meetings before Sunday when the Spurs turned the mismatch around. In the really bad news for the Lakers, they approached it like a big game, as they have recently ... while losing four of six ... as they, quote, gear up for the playoffs. This raises a question: What happens if you dial it up, and you're even worse than when you lacked urgency? 'Well, it doesn't bode well for the playoffs or building momentum, but we can't seem to put together a good game from one opponent to the next,' said Coach Phil Jackson. 'Maybe if we have one single opponent for seven games, we'll be able to do that.' Entertaining as Jackson is, there aren't a lot of adherents to his Don't Worry, Be Happy Theory left. Actually, from the language Jackson used in the dressing room before coming out to reassure the media, I don't think he's so happy, or unworried, either."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Never did a victory feel so unsatisfying, and the Bucks' chances to make an impact in the Eastern Conference playoffs were severely damaged the moment Andrew Bogut hit the floor with such huge force. He is expected to undergo surgery and will miss the chance to play in the postseason after just one previous playoff appearance during his rookie year. Of course, there's still the delicate matter of clinching a playoff berth. The Bucks (42-34) reduced their magic number to two by defeating the Suns, with six games remaining in the regular season. Any combination of Bulls defeats and Bucks victories totaling two will put Milwaukee in the playoffs. Milwaukee, currently in the sixth position in the Eastern Conference, leads Charlotte (40-36) by two games and trails fifth-seeded Miami (43-34) by one-half game. So where do the Bucks go from here? They regroup for practice on Monday and get ready for a busy week that includes a big game at Chicago on Tuesday, a home game vs. New Jersey on Wednesday and a back-to-back set at Philadelphia on Friday and home to Boston on Saturday. If the Bucks beat the Bulls, they will clinch a playoff berth."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "The enduring image will be of Chris Bosh frozen in disbelief under the basket, unable to comprehend that his last-second, potential game-winning layup hadn't gone in. But the lasting memories of what could be a devastating loss should not be of Bosh's sorrow and heart-break, it should be of all of his teammates missing shot after shot after shot after shot. For that was the reason the Raptors were upset 113-112 Sunday by the Golden State Warriors at the Air Canada Centre, that was the reason they now cling more precariously to an NBA playoff spot than they have in a week. Because as much as Bosh's miss would have stolen a win in what would have been the most miraculous comeback of the season, the guys who couldn't make a shot to save their souls need to be held responsible."

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "In about a month, Warriors coach Don Nelson will probably try to convince reporters that he can't remember the details of Sunday's 113-112 victory over Toronto that tied him with Lenny Wilkens for the league's all-time mark in coaching victories. It'll be a tough sell. While Warriors fans watching on TV witnessed their automatic foul shooter miss two in a row with 11 seconds left, a crowd of 17,509 at the Air Canada Centre saw their All-Star miss a layup that would have won it at the buzzer, and basketball fans everywhere watched a rare moment of Nelson dancing with joy. 'You live for moments like that, the ones the team wants for you more than you want for yourself,' Nelson said. With his 1,332nd win in the books, Nelson finally embraced the record with his arms raised above his head in celebration, was instantly enveloped in a group hug with assistant Scott Roth, center Ronny Turiaf and guard Anthony Morrow, and had water squirted from a bottle onto his back. The entire team created a circle of merriment, Nelson went into the center of it and danced, and a hockey town gave a standing ovation to basketball history. 'What a game to tie the record with, huh? It was unbelievable,' Nelson said. 'It had about everything in it that you would want: from good to bad and from playing great to wetting the bed. We did about all of it.'

  • Tania Ganguli of the Orlando Sentinel: "After a string of very public arguments with, among others, coach Stan Van Gundy over playing time and a random fan in San Antonio, it seemed only a matter of time before Matt Barnes’ temper impacted a game. Van Gundy said he hoped Barnes would take his ejection from Sunday’s game as a “wake up call.” Barnes was contrite and apologized to his teammates. 'Apology accepted,' Vince Carter said, smiling. The truth is, his teammates don’t want him to change. 'No, you guys want us to be physical? Don’t complain if we are physical,' Dwight Howard said. 'That’s what we want. That’s what we need. We just want to play like that. People enjoy it. We get fired up after that.' Those who have played against Barnes throughout his NBA career understand this is part of his game. 'Matt is a very aggressive player,' Carter said. 'His intensity is always at a high level. We’re all trying to accomplish a goal. He knows that we need him out on the floor. You always want somebody who’s aggressive like that. Matt and I have had a few battles. That’s why I respected when he got in here. We have mutual respect because we had our battles. Two competitors. Playing against him for some years now, you know how he plays.' "

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "If the Mavericks were a car, they'd be on cinder blocks right now. Somebody would have ripped off the wheels and taken the sound system out and anything else that wasn't locked down. All the while, the Mavericks would have been blind to the thievery. That's the situation they face with five regular-season games to go and knowing that they have to win every one of them to assure themselves the No. 2 overall seed in the Western Conference. They need to find the pawn shop and buy back all their possessions, particularly the keys to that vehicle, which is their defense."

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "Fans lined a chain-link fence to greet the Thunder upon its return from a playoff-clinching victory Saturday night in Dallas. Roughly 18 hours later, a sellout crowd of 18,203 showed up at the Ford Center, and the rejoicing continued with the Thunder’s 116-108 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. With six regular-season games remaining, the Thunder (48-28) is now 25 games ahead of last season’s 23-59 finish. Not only did the Thunder unexpectedly clinch a postseason spot, it came during a season in which every Western Conference qualifier possibly could have 50-plus wins, which has happened only once (2007-08). ... Word had spread quickly on dailythunder.com of the potential airport assembly if the Thunder beat the Mavericks. Members of the Thunder travel party had no idea what awaited them. 'It was all a little overwhelming,' Scott Brooks said. 'Our players did a great job of going (to the fence) immediately, with high fives and talked to the crowd. I don’t know how many people were there, but it was loud.' On his Twitter account, Kevin Durant posted: 'Man I love our thunder fans so much! Came and greeted us as we got of the plane! It’s 12:17 am..feels good to bring the playoffs to Okc!' "

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Andray Blatche threw his arms up, rolled his eyes and helplessly looked toward the roof. He was flustered over yet another missed opportunity in a season filled with them. As the closing seconds wound down on the Washington Wizards' game against the lowly New Jersey Nets on Sunday, newcomer Cartier Martin saw Blatche wandering and whirling around, so he ran up to him and gave him a hug to console him. No, the Wizards hadn't lost to the team with the worst record in the NBA. They finally snapped a franchise-record nine-game home losing streak and actually topped triple digits in scoring for the first time in 20 games. So, there was much to be excited about in the Wizards' 109-99 victory before a season-low 10,112 at Verizon Center. But after scoring 20 points with a career-high 13 assists, Blatche was frantically in pursuit of his first career triple-double in the final minute. He came one rebound short, with his best opportunity for his 10th rebound lost in a tussle with Martin. 'I wanted it so bad,' said Blatche. 'But it happens. I'm not tripping.' "

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Ask Jerry Krause if he remembers the first time he saw Scottie Pippen play in person and the man who engineered the 1987 draft-day trade to acquire the now-Hall of Fame forward answers instantaneously and specifically. 'Portsmouth (Va.). Second night. A late game,' Krause said Sunday in a phone interview. 'He came out and I said, ‘That's the kid.' He had the longest arms I'd ever seen. That night, I got very excited. Very few people had seen him during the season so originally I thought we could sneak him. But later I knew he was going to be a first-round pick and a high one.' The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame will announce Monday what those in Chicago have known and appreciated for years: Pippen is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, joining Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan as other cornerstones from the Bulls' dynasty in their proper place. Krause, who hired Jackson and played an instrumental role in drafting or acquiring Hall of Famers Earl Monroe, Wes Unseld, Jerry Sloan and now Pippen, said greatness never is guaranteed. But Pippen's legendary practice battles with Jordan even in that first season when Pippen backed up Brad Sellers offered hints of what was to come. 'Michael wanted to make him a better player so he tried to kill him, and that's an education in itself,' Krause said. 'By midseason, he was competing pretty good against Michael. That competitiveness came out more and more. And he was a hell of a defender right from the start.' "

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Considering how legendary Karl Malone's training regimen remains to be among the Jazz, the Hall of Fame should ask The Mailman to donate some of his weights to display with his basketball paraphernalia. Mark McKown, the Jazz's strength and conditioning coach since 1997, remains in awe about Malone's routine that helped him build his body and game to Hall of Fame levels. 'With this group (of current Jazz players), we've got guys that are incredibly intense and work really hard,' McKown said, 'and they don't scratch the surface when it comes to Karl's work-ethic obsession.' It might surprise you who McKown credited for once trying to keep up with Malone -- for a while, at least. Jacque Vaughn was pretty good as a rookie, he'd try,' McKown recalled. 'But he ended up sort of disappearing a little bit.' "

  • Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: "Cedric Maxwell earns a living making outrageous comments on Celtics radio, but his most famous words came as a player when he urged his Boston teammates before Game 7 of the 1984 NBA Finals to climb on his back and he’d lead them to victory. If not for Dennis Johnson, Maxwell admits he never could have said that. 'I wouldn’t have been able to say, ‘Climb on my back boys,’ ' Maxwell said yesterday, 'if Dennis Johnson hadn’t controlled Magic Johnson.' Maxwell backed up his words by collecting 24 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 7 to lead the Celtics to a 111-102 victory. DJ limited Magic to 16 points. Maxwell was happy to hear that DJ, who retired 20 years ago, had finally been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. The official announcement will be made this morning, and the induction will take place Aug. 13 in Springfield. 'It’s absolutely the best thing that could have happened,' Maxwell said. 'It’s unfortunate that it took this long, but I finally realized that good things do happen to good people. For Dennis Johnson not to be in the Hall of Fame was really a travesty. For him to be there now, it’s a celebration of a guy who was a great basketball player.' "

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "It's a common sight in NBA locker rooms for players to have TV sets tuned to NCAA tournament games this time of year. Many of the players are heroes of tournaments past so they follow news of the college game pretty intently. So it was interesting to hear Charlie Villanueva's thoughts after Saturday night's loss to the Hawks on the near-certain possibility of the NCAA tournament expanding from the current 65 teams to 96 in the future. 'If they go to 96, college players should get paid then,' said Villanueva, who was member of UConn's 2004 national championship team. 'These people making a lot of money off these kids. They should pay college players. It's a billion-dollar business right there, man. They make a lot of money off these kids. Now the fact that they talking about expanding? C'mon, that's more money in their pockets and these kids are the ones out there working hard.' "

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "He's no ordinary rookie. It's one thing to be highly touted or in contention for NBA Rookie of the Year. But for Omri Casspi, whatever he does means much more. Each road game comes with large groups of fans yelling 'Casspi, Casspi!' as he waits to check into games. The Israeli flag is prominent in the stands, and dozens of youngsters, many wearing yarmulkes, wait for his autograph. This comes with the territory for Casspi, the first Israeli-born player in NBA history. 'He's got the weight of a country on his shoulders,' fellow rookie Jon Brockman said. 'Everyone's watching him, but he's handled it unbelievably. He doesn't let it get to him, and it doesn't change him at all.' It's a lot to bear for any player, much less a rookie who is struggling to earn playing time while working his way through an extended slump. ... Casspi might be an international star. But he's just 21 years old and adjusting to a new country while trying to learn how to play in the NBA. Some rough times were to be expected. 'A lot of times, things seemed to come so easy for him early, and there's some adversity hitting him that happens to everybody in this league,' Paul Westphal said. 'Nobody has an easy road in this league.' That makes Casspi like every other player in the NBA. "

  • Jerry Crowe of the Los Angeles Times: "The man who made perhaps the most famous shot in cinematic hoops history never played high school basketball. 'I tried out three years in a row,' Maris Valainis says, 'and I got cut three years in a row.' But as Jimmy Chitwood in the venerated 1986 film 'Hoosiers,' Valainis calmly sinks the game-winning jumper to give the Hickory High Huskers the 1952 Indiana state title. Movie fans haven't forgotten. Valainis says he's still recognized from his portrayal of Chitwood, whose shy, reserved personality is similar to his own. 'When I'm playing, yes,' says Valainis, whose picture-perfect shooting form can still be seen in Southland pickup games, 'and when I'm out sometimes too. If I'm in a social situation, I'll get a lot of, ‘You look really familiar to me.' And then finally someone will figure it out, which is amazing to me that 25 years later people would remember. But I guess it was pretty popular.' ... Valainis, 47, says that even NBA players have done double takes when meeting him. One was Kobe Bryant, leading to a round of golf with the Lakers star. George Steinbrenner once told the filmmakers he'd seen 'Hoosiers' about 250 times."