<
>

First Cup: Monday

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "LeBron joined Shaquille O'Neal and Anthony Parker on the bench wearing their GQ ensembles. 'The air went out of our locker room when our guys found out he wasn't playing,' coach Stan Van Gundy said. The Magic overcame their LeBron Letdown. With James resting, they rallied from a 16-point deficit and pulled away late to beat the Cleveland Cavs 98-92 on Sunday in a game that never resembled a playoff preview. But Van Gundy's decision not to rest his key players down the stretch might pay off. If the Magic can win their remaining two games -- tonight against the Pacers in Indiana and the home finale against Philadelphia on Wednesday night -- they can finish with the second-best record in the NBA behind the Cavs. Meaning, if the Magic come out of the Eastern Conference, they will have home-court advantage in the NBA Finals -- a special way to say farewell to Amway Arena. ... Of course, if this comes to pass, the Magic likely will have to again eliminate the Cavs. Unlike Sunday, at least they wouldn't have to worry whether LeBron and Shaq would be playing. 'When those guys weren't playing, we had a lot of guys who didn't want to play, either,' Van Gundy said, bluntly. Van Gundy said it appeared that one of those guys was Vince Carter. Carter conceded he 'personally didn't play well,' finishing with just six points on 3-of-10 shooting."

  • Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "Fans -- and perhaps Mike Brown himself -- are left with several questions on the cusp of the postseason: Will LeBron James have lost his touch from long range? Will chemistry among the starters be lacking? Will that result in a struggle, especially if the first-round foe is the pesky Chicago Bulls? Or will the well-rested James take his gang to unprecedented heights? 'You study this stuff and people have done it all different ways, and it's worked and it hasn't worked,' Van Gundy said. 'If there were a sure-fire formula, everybody would be following it.' Yet with the Cavs' defense going in the wrong direction, a tinge of worry remains. At the moment, one wonders whether Brown's formula will prove to be the panacea or poison."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "The Trail Blazers added another wild and weird chapter to a season that never ceases to amaze Sunday afternoon, when another starter was lost to injury, another unexpected player became a hero and another improbable victory was achieved. In other words, it was just a typical day at the office for these Blazers. Despite playing without All-Star Brandon Roy for most of the game, the Blazers defeated the reigning world champion Los Angeles Lakers 91-88 at Staples Center in a game that featured a wild ending and too many subplots to recount. 'It was really weird and wacky going down the stretch,' said Blazers center Marcus Camby, who finished with 10 points and 17 rebounds. 'There were missed free throws. Fouls. Fouls on three-pointers. A three almost went in at the end. I'm just happy things went our way. Usually it doesn't happen like that on the road.' "

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Suddenly, all the head-scratching and numbers crunching to forecast which team the Trail Blazers will face in the first round of the NBA playoffs seems a little silly doesn't it? Dallas? The Lakers? Denver? Who cares? The bigger riddle now is whether Brandon Roy and his injured right knee will allow him to be ... well, Brandon Roy when the first round starts this weekend. If there was ever a day that summed up the Blazers' season, it was Sunday. Every time something good happens to this team, it is accompanied by something bad."

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "Before you start criticizing Phil Jackson for overcoaching for not just giving the ball to Kobe Bryant and telling everybody else to get out of the way, there's a reason why Pau Gasol had the ball in his hands with the game on the line even though he had been only 0-for-4 from beyond the arc all season. And the reason is Gasol is the Lakers' best player right now. For all the questions that surround the Lakers about their true chances of repeating as champions this season because of how inconsistent play and a rash of injuries have led to a 5-6 record in their last 11 games, there is no question Gasol has hit his stride and is ready for the postseason. The final miss notwithstanding, Gasol had another masterful game -- 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocks -- after coming into the game against the Blazers averaging 29.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.3 blocks over his last three games. It was Gasol's offensive rebound, arms outstretched high and strong in the middle of a sea of bodies, after Bryant's inexplicable second free throw miss, which gave the Lakers the chance to tie the game a possession before the 3-point miss in the first place. Gasol found Fisher with the pass leading to the foul preceding Fisher's own perplexing 1-for-2 foul shot performance."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "The intensity Joakim Noah displayed for, ahem, a team-high 38 minutes, 48 seconds on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre felt palpable, full of primal screams and chest pounds. And to hear Noah's teammates tell it following the Bulls' convincing 104-88 victory over the Raptors, that competitive spirit didn't limit itself to the court. 'He was focused in layup lines, the locker room, on the bus,' Derrick Rose marveled. 'He's giving his all, so you want to do the same when you see that.' Noah's dominant night of 18 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high-tying seven assists shifted talk from his minutes limit to perhaps extending the minutes limit on this most mercurial of Bulls seasons. A loss, and the season almost certainly would've ended Wednesday. With the win, the Bulls own a one-game lead over the reeling Raptors for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with two games remaining. 'I wanted to impose my will as much as I could, be aggressive at both ends,' Noah said. 'I was really focused. This was a huge win and I wanted to make sure our team played harder than their team.' "

  • Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun: "Out of nowhere, the season began to go south the moment the team regrouped from NBA all-star weekend in February. That moment, in retrospect, represented the turning point, a time when the Raptors took a turn for the worse -- and kept getting worse. What happened can’t be explained, but something happened. Perhaps when the season finally is put to rest, management will come clean and speak to the issues that have remained, for the most part, unspeakable. Word around the league is that someone got into Chris Bosh’s ear, convincing the face of the Raptors to shut down mentally for fear of compromising this summer’s free-agent windfall. Up until last week’s production, when Bosh returned to his high level and was named Eastern Conference player of the week, there was merit to the gossip. At first, you want to dismiss the talk because Bosh never has been the kind of pro to take nights off. He’ll disappear against opponents when properly scouted, but to not put in an honest effort never has been part of Bosh’s makeup. But then comes a string of games when Bosh isn’t attacking the basket, not controlling the boards and not imposing his will, and all that conjecture becomes valid."

  • Jonathan Feigen of Houston Chronicle: "There is a thought out there that Steve Nash is merely a playmaker, running this wild offense and collecting league-leading assist numbers as part of an offensive style. Besides that he is the offensive style and that the Suns' halfcourt pick-and-roll might be the most devastating play in the league, that always ignored that he has been one of the greatest shooters in league history, making 48.9 percent of his shots, 43.1 percent of his 3s and 90.3 percent of his free throws. This season, he is hitting on 50.8 percent of his shots, 43.8 percent of his 3s and 93.6 percent of his free throws. With the game on the line on Sunday, however, he took the Rockets apart, repeatedly finding the opening in the defense to simply set up the open 3s that won the game. With the Rockets desperate to slow Amare Stoudemire's assault of the rims, Nash hit the first of four-consecutive 3-pointers, but after that, he just looked things over and made decisions with ease that made it look easy. He finished with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting, hitting all three of his 3s and all four of his free throws, adding in his customary 11 assists. But beyond the numbers, he simply looked over the Rockets defense and with the game on the line, did everything right."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "The Oklahoma City Thunder continues to insist it doesn’t care about playoff seeding. Well, on Sunday night, the boys showed just how little regard they apparently have for their first-round destination. Against an injury-plagued Golden State team headed nowhere fast, Oklahoma City dropped a 120-117 shootout before 18,940 inside Oracle Arena. ... A win tonight at Portland would put the Thunder one game ahead of the Blazers with one left to play for both teams. And the Thunder would win the tiebreaker over Portland based on owning a better division record. A Thunder loss tonight would assure the Blazers at least the No. 7 seed. And if San Antonio wins against Minnesota, the Spurs also clinch at least the seventh seed and automatically drop the Thunder to eighth, assuring a first-round matchup with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. When asked if Sunday’s loss served as a wake-up call, Kevin Durant responded, 'You could say that.' 'Our fate is in our hands,' Durant said. 'We’ve got to finish out strong.' "

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "With two games left in this most irregular season, it seemed like a good time to check in with the captain to see where his head is. 'I don’t know about anyone else,' Paul Pierce said, 'but my head’s on my shoulders.' Some, however, might wonder whether said cranium is in proper working order when he insists the Celtics’ once grandiose goals are still within reach. Based on the club’s agida-inducing play, Pierce was given a chance to reconfigure the target. So just what minimum level of postseason achievement would it take for the Celts’ season to be considered a success? Pierce did not pause long. 'A championship, man,' Pierce said as the Celts took a day off in Chicago. 'I mean, that’s what we were saying in the preseason. We want to be the champs. That’s the minimum level. I don’t care what our record is. I don’t care how we’ve played. Our minimum level is winning the championship. That’s been our goal since we brought the team together, and that’s not changed.' But is it realistic? 'Yeah,' Pierce said. 'Without question.' "

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "About 15 franchise records tied or broken and seven months later, Zach Randolph is about to finish what he started in Birmingham, Ala. The Grizzlies will try again to secure their first non-losing season in four years tonight when they face the Denver Nuggets on the road in the Pepsi Center. No matter what happens in the Grizzlies' final two games, Randolph is winding down arguably the greatest single-season performance of any player to work for the franchise in its 15-year history. Heck, one would have a tough time arguing that any other player in a Grizzlies uniform did more to impact the team's record. That's not a slight to former Griz forwards Shareef Abdur-Rahim or Pau Gasol. It can be stated as fact given Randolph's productivity. ... Head coach Lionel Hollins has the unique perspective of having instructed Abdur-Rahim, Gasol and Randolph at different times in the franchise's history. Hollins said Abdur-Rahim playing for bad teams excludes him from the conversation so the discussion of greatest Grizzly comes down to Gasol and Randolph. 'Pau was an All-Star and so was Zach. From a status standpoint, they're both right there (together),' Hollins said. 'Statistically, you'd say Zach's season was better than anybody's. From a total impact, Zach's had a great year. We wouldn't be here without Zach.' "

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Several Timberwolves players took a stroll through the French Quarter on Saturday evening after dinner and came upon the all-too-recent aftermath of seven people shot on Canal Street at the edge of the Quarter. Kevin Love, Wayne Ellington, Damien Wilkins, Jonny Flynn, Ryan Gomes and Brian Cardinal saw people lying bleeding in the street and in a storefront about 9:30 p.m. Saturday, just after the popular French Quarter Festival officially had closed for the night. 'We were walking home from dinner and we heard what sounded like gunshots just down the next block,' Flynn said. 'It was pretty crazy. I think if we had left five minutes earlier, we would have been right in the middle of everything. It was a blessing we weren't.' Al Jefferson wasn't one of the players near Saturday night's shootings. 'No, I ate at the IHOP next to the hotel,' he said. A $12 million a year athlete eating at IHOP? 'When I was growing up, IHOP was like a five-star restaurant,' he said. 'I'm glad I wasn't there. If I had heard shots, I would have hit the ground and got straight with Jesus right there.' "

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Coby Karl knows what will be said. He signed to play for the team that his father, George, coaches. It's a feel-good story in any year, but even more so this season given the fact that George Karl is recovering from aggressive treatment for throat and neck cancer. Coby gets it. It doesn't mean he has to like it. And it doesn't mean when the Nuggets signed the guard on Sunday that they were thinking about reuniting father and son during a difficult time in their family. Basketball, and the business of basketball, is on the minds of both as Coby joins the Nuggets. 'That was what I didn't want it to be,' Coby Karl said. 'Obviously it's going to be portrayed that way but I want to be here as a basketball player. I want to be part of the team and hopefully progress to make the team next year and maybe play. So, as a basketball player I just want to be on an NBA court, on an NBA team. Obviously there's going to be a lot of media spinning it how you want to. But if that's what helps my father recover, that's great.' Mark Warkentien, Nuggets vice president of basketball operations, called Sunday's transactions that included signing big man Brian Butch, good for possible future moves. The contracts of both are guaranteed through the end of this season, but are non-guaranteed in the summer, which makes them easy pieces to include in any trades."