First Cup: Thursday

  • Associated Press via The New York Times: "Players resting at the end of the regular season will be discussed among NBA executives, though commissioner David Stern doesn't see anything coming of it. With a healthy LeBron James set to miss his fourth straight game Wednesday night, Stern said he is putting the matter on the agenda for the board of governors meetings Thursday and Friday in New York. 'We're troubled by it, because it would be our preference that healthy players play,' the commissioner said during his annual pre-playoffs conference call. 'But sometimes players play at different levels of being nicked or bruised and we never wanted to get into the business of sending out truckloads of doctors analyzing whether a player was actually nicked or bruised, and we understand the issue.' However, it sounds as if it will be left up to the teams to decide if they want their stars playing in meaningless games at the end of the regular season. 'I think it's a fair item for discussion,' Stern said. 'I'm not sure that the policing function is something that the league and the owners will want to get deeply involved in, but it's a point and I'll be expressing my views to the governors in the executive session.' "

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "One, it was not LeBron James' decision to sit the last four games. He didn't go ask to show off his wardrobe and shoe collection. It was the decision of Mike Brown and it is a decision Brown is prepared to live with. He will certainly be judged on the matter in the near future. Heard a lot of things and read a lot of things over the last couple of days talking about how Michael Jordan always played all 82 games and how James personally owed refunds to fans for not playing. One writer said he was not going to vote for James for MVP because James sat out several games at the end. Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant skipped games tonight, they apparently will not be on that ballot, either. Then David Stern said today he was 'troubled' that teams were resting stars for the playoffs. It is not a perfect situation -- which would have every team playing to the final seconds of game 82. But the NBA's premium product, and the time in which they make the most money, is the playoffs. For Stern to get on teams for putting too much emphasis on the playoffs is a short-term style of thinking that you usually never see out of him. For the amount of paying customers the Cavs disappointed by resting James, the number would be 100-fold if he played and was injured. People get fired over that kind of stuff. Just ask Vinny Del Negro, he's probably going to be fired soon for overplaying one of his guys, among other things."

  • Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com: "Michael Jordan may be the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, but clearly he still holds a specialplace in his heart for the Chicago Bulls. That was evident after the Bulls clinched the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race with a win over his Bobcats on Wednesday night. He walked into the Bulls locker after the game and offered congratulations to some of the players and coaches. ... Joakim Noah untucked his soaking wet jersey as he headed into the visitor's tunnel after the game, hugged Bulls PR spokeswoman Sebrina Brewster, and unleashed all the frustration of the last few weeks in a few moments. 'We're going to the playoffs,' he screamed. 'All this [expletive] and we're going to the playoffs. Let's go shock the world.' His words continued to flow a few moments later as he and Charles Oakley exchanged pleasantries both inside and out of the Bulls locker room. 'Now we're playing the Cleveland Cavaliers,' he said. 'Everybody thinks we're going to get our [behinds] whooped. And you know what, we're going to try and shock the world. That's what we're trying to do. That's pretty cool I think.' "

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "Boston went 3-0 against Miami this season, with all three decided by seven or fewer points. The Heat will travel for the first two games of the series, which opens either Saturday at 8 p.m. in Boston. Miami finished the season having won 12 of its final 13 games and likes its chances against the Celtics. 'We feel we're a different team now,' Erik Spoelstra said. 'All three games were competitive, so it is a little bit deceptive. You have to respect what they have done.' The Celtics are reeling entering the playoffs, having lost seven of their last 10 games. Still, their history and tradition make them formidable. But Spoelstra insisted there weren't any shenanigans involved in the decision to rest his top three players in a move that appeared to give Miami a shot at a more favorable first-round playoff matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Miami was 3-1 against the Hawks this season. 'It doesn't look right,' Spoelstra acknowledged. 'But we've got to look at the bigger picture. We legitimately have guys banged up. It really was an easy decision.' "

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "Boston won all three regular-season matchups with the Heat and, while the Celtics understand Miami is more than a one-superstar team, their ability to defend Dwyane Wade may decide how the series plays out. 'It's more than Dwyane Wade,' said Rajon Rondo. 'It's [Michael] Beasley, Chalmers, Jermaine O'Neal. I think [Wade] has a good supporting cast, but the bulk of it is stopping Dwyane Wade. I think that if we don't stop him, we can stop the other players.' And how do you try to stop Wade without losing track of his capable teammates? 'I don't have that answer,' admitted Rondo. 'Hopefully Doc does and I'll be waiting for it [at practice Thursday].' The Celtics stressed that they are ready for the postseason, regardless of the opponent. 'Yeah, we're ready. Definitely,' said Doc Rivers. When a follow-up question asked how Rivers felt going into the postseason, he quipped, 'What part of, 'We're ready,' don't you understand? We're ready and I believe we're ready. We'll find out anyway, but I do believe we're ready to play.' Boston's been here before. You could almost feel the atmosphere in the locker room shift into playoff mode. Players started to show a focus that's been lacking since Christmas."

  • Tania Ganguli of the Orlando Sentinel: "At the end of a regular season in which the Magic (59-23) barreled through opponents to the finish, Stan Van Gundy took some time to compliment his players. That’s correct. Stan Van Gundy pointed out the positives. 'They didn’t let any of these games go,' Van Gundy said. 'I just took a minute in there after the game, you know before we get on to the playoffs and the next thing in the next day or two, to congratulate them on a great regular season. Closing this out in 59 wins and the second best record in the league, you know not having a single team in the league win a season series against us, winning in every arena in the East… best record in the league, on the second half of the year at 33-and-eight.' He continued for several more sentences in a perfectly appropriate, if strange, moment of appreciation for what the Orlando Magic have accomplished so far. This from a guy who opened Wednesday night’s press conference lamenting a lack of defense at times. He can get so focused on what’s wrong that earlier in the season Dwight Howard met with him to ask that he be a little more positive. Hence the amusement from the players."

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: "Charlotte will travel to Orlando Sunday for a 5:30 p.m. Game 1 of a best-of-seven series that will televised nationally on TNT. Game 2, also in Orlando, will be played Wednesday night at 7 p.m. and the game will again be televised on TNT. The Bobcats’ home playoff opener -- Game 3 of the series -- will be on April 24 at 2 p.m., with Game 4 slated for April 26 at a time to be determined. 'I really believe the season’s starting,' said Charlotte coach Larry Brown, who will be taking the 18th team in 26 years of professional basketball coaching to the playoffs. 'I’m thrilled we’ve gotten into the playoffs. I think there’s a whole new feeling in town because Michael (Jordan)’s so committed.' Brown has consistently lavished praise on Jordan before and after the 47-year-old former University of North Carolina and NBA superstar became the Bobcats’ majority owner in late February. 'This is what you play for,' Brown said."

  • Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel: "Fill the Bradley Center with fans. Worry about replacing the aging arena later. That was the message NBA Commissioner David Stern delivered Wednesday in a teleconference with reporters from around the country in advance of the NBA playoffs. Stern was asked about the Bucks' performance this season, in which they made the playoffs, the team's financial state and the Bradley Center. 'I think that it certainly is up to the Bucks to fill up their arena before we spend a lot of time thinking about a new one,' Stern said. 'It's also fair to say that the powers that be in Milwaukee understand that the Bradley Center is reaching sort of the end ... It will soon be among the oldest non-renovated or replaced buildings in the NBA. But that's not an immediate decision. That's something people are working on and looking at there.' The Bucks drew an average of 15,108 fans per game at the Bradley Center this season, 281 fans fewer per game than last season. The Bucks finished 24th in the league in attendance, the same ranking they had the previous season."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The numbers say the Bucks are a much better defensive team than the Hawks, and that the Hawks are much better than the Bucks on offense. I’d say if the Hawks really are capable of turning it on for the postseason, they have more potential to be a better defensive team than the Bucks do of being a better offensive team. Sound about right?"

  • Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas.com: "Gregg Popovich swears that not dressing Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan for Wednesday's regular-season finale, won by the Mavs, 96-89, was all about resting his two most important players and not about playoff positioning. A Mavs win set up a Dallas-San Antonio series, while a Spurs win threatened to send San Antonio to Utah. So was it really about rest? 'The way it unfolded, it looks like they want to play us and so they got us, you know?' Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. 'You never know all the motivations. Airplane fuel is expensive, you know, it's a short trip.' So, Pop, why did you sit them after saying the opposite at the morning shootaround? They even warmed up before the game as if they'd play. 'Well, I'm tired of those guys. They haven't done a darn thing for us for quite a while so I wanted to send a message that we're a little bit angry at them,' Popovich pontificated. 'Hopefully, they'll start playing better this weekend.' The Mavs had expected a full-on battle. Insulted? 'I don't necessarily tell you guys everything I talk to the team about, and those guys in the locker room will have their own opinions,' said Carlisle, 1-0 vs. Popovich in the playoffs. 'I don't make a big deal out of it.' So, what was the deal, Pop? Did ya want Dallas? 'Yeah, we've beaten the Mavs so much lately that's who we wanted. I mean, come on. They've had their way with us for a while,' Popovich said after the Mavs' third straight win over his team. 'The real bottom line is that I'm paranoid about Tim being healthy and Manu being healthy for the playoffs. ... We're entering this playoff pretty healthy except for what happened to George [Hill], and I didn't want to screw that up.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Phil Jackson on Tuesday became the second person in the past two weeks to question the foul calls Kevin Durant has been awarded. Jackson told Los Angeles-area reporters that Durant, who leads the league with 10.3 foul shots per game, gets preferential treatment. ... Durant, before wrapping up the scoring title Wednesday against Memphis, had his chance to respond. 'I respect Phil Jackson,' Durant started. 'It really doesn’t matter, to be honest.' But the longer Durant spoke, the more his true emotions surfaced. 'Ever since KG said something, everybody’s been questioning how I get to the line,' Durant said, referring to Boston forward Kevin Garnett, who claimed after losing to the Thunder he thought he was playing, 'Michael (expletive) Jordan.' 'If you watch our games, you wouldn’t question it. The NBA should put us on national TV more, I guess.' When asked whether Jackson’s comment fired him up more, Durant, 'Yeah, it does.' 'Because it’s taking away from what I do,' Durant said.' ... Durant said he doesn’t think Jackson’s comments will have any influence on how the officials call the series. 'If the refs pay attention to that and change how they call things because of that, that’s terrible,' Durant said."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "Maybe -- just maybe -- if a team is experienced enough to guard against human nature, then the damage from such a letdown can be somewhat mitigated. Except the Oklahoma City Thunder is the NBA's youngest team. Not the youngest playoff team. The youngest team. So it'll be over fast, a trap door suddenly opening under the Thunder's currently happy but toddler-sized feet. The Lakers will sweep the Thunder. Serious basketball pundits everywhere are questioning the Lakers. Local Chicken Littles are running around and nervously glancing up at the sky. Those two worlds have collided and resulted in yolk falling on the heads of Ron Artest and DJ Mbenga. Nevertheless, the Lakers have nothing to fear for now. Long, lean Kevin Durant will turn out to be the longest straw the Lakers could've drawn. The defending NBA champs will get plenty of time to rest their boo-boos and improve in practice before having to be truly playoff-ready in the second round."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns lost two of three games this season to Portland, averaging only 98.7 points thanks in large part to Portland's physical, methodical style. Phoenix dropped its only game at Portland in December when Valley native Jerryd Bayless had 29 points. They split two games in Phoenix, losing in February when Brandon Roy was out and beating the Trail Blazers, 93-87, on March 21 in the only game they played since Portland acquired Marcus Camby. Roy sat out Portland's final two games after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Sunday but wants to play despite needing off-season surgery. 'It's going to be a hard-fought series,' Amare Stoudemire said. 'Portland has been playing well. They have got great guys who can score ball. Marcus Camby is one of the best defenders in the league, so it's not going to be easy. We've got to know them better than ourselves.' "

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "After losing a virtually meaningless game Wednesday to close the regular season, Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan made a bold statement about the first round of the playoffs: 'We have a shot,' McMillan said. 'I feel that if we play our style of basketball we have a chance to win.' That chance will come against the Phoenix Suns, a team the Blazers beat twice in three meetings this season. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is Sunday at US Airways Center, where the Suns have won eight in a row. 'We have a chance,' McMillan said. 'They are a very good team, we know that. We've had success against them, but they are probably one of the hottest teams if not the hottest team the last part of the season. So we definitely know what they are capable of doing.' "

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Well, the Nuggets will take it. After their dream of having the West's No. 3 seed died right around 'rockets' red glare' Tuesday night at Phoenix, the Suns beat the Utah Jazz 100-86 in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night. That prevented the Nuggets from falling to the West's No. 5 slot, where they wouldn't have had home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Now the fourth-seeded and Northwest Division champion Nuggets will host No. 5 Utah in the first two games of their first-round series, starting Saturday at the Pepsi Center. When the season began, the Nuggets talked about beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Confererence finals. They could get their shot at the Lakers, this time just a round early. And if the Nuggets are to win the conference title -- which coach George Karl said they could, back in the preseason -- they likely would have to get by the Lakers at some point anyway. But first up is Utah, a team Denver dominated 3-1 this season, including a 'how did they do that?' win in Salt Lake City without all-stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups."

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: "After 16 years, the NBA's Rocky Mountain rivals are meeting again in the postseason. Denver and Utah will meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs after the Phoenix pounded the Jazz, 100-86, in the regular-season finale Wednesday night. The Nuggets and Jazz finished with identical records of 53-29, but Denver claimed the Northwest Division championship and the No. 4 seed in the West by going 3-1 against fifth-seeded Utah during the season. The teams have not played in the postseason since the Jazz defeated the Nuggets in seven games in the 1994 conference semifinals. 'Denver is a team that has destroyed us all year long,' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. 'They have the ability to shoot the ball out on the floor and get into the open court. They've been a very good defensive team, also.' The Nuggets managed to hold off the Jazz for their second straight division title despite going 6-7 over their last 13 games. ... History? It should be on Utah's side. Since point guard Deron Williams' rookie year in 2005-06, the Jazz are 12-8 against the Nuggets, including 8-2 at home and 4-6 on the road."