First Cup: Wednesday

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: "Even before the Western Conference finals began, Suns forward Amar'e Stoudemire seemed to concede the paint to the Los Angeles Lakers. He told reporters that the length and athleticism of the defending champions would make it difficult for him to operate in the paint. That proved prophetic in the first two games, both Phoenix losses. But Stoudemire hasn't conceded anything since the series moved to US Airways Center, and his 21-point, eight-rebound performance Tuesday helped the Suns even the best-of-seven series at two games with a 115-106 victory."

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: "Eight days had passed between 3-point baskets for Channing Frye. One hundred and forty-nine game minutes had passed between 3-point baskets for Channing Frye. It felt like an eternity. And then it happened, a 26-foot, no-hesitation launch that swooped into the basket like a vulture grabbing prey. 'I just set my feet and let it ride,' he said. The crowd let out a collective sigh of relief. Chew on this: The Suns are heading to Los Angeles with a Western Conference finals series tied at two courtesy of a 115-106 victory over the Lakers on Tuesday night in Game 4. It was a collection of gritty efforts all around, but no story line was better than Frye's, whose slump became national news because of the giant stage on which it occurred. The heat was enough that it prompted Frye, who had 14 points and six rebounds, to gently scold the media Monday for focusing too long and hard on his struggles. Maybe, but it was hard to ignore the numbers: 1 for 20 vs. the Lakers coming into the game, including 17 consecutive missed shots. He might have felt slighted by the press, but he surely felt support from Suns fans. They went crazy after his first basket at US Airways Center. He made 4 of 8 shots, all from 3-point range."

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: "You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. It was bound to, had to happen.The Phoenix Suns shoot too well, are too deadly from 3-point range to go an entire series without getting hot from behind the arc. It was only a matter of time before Channing Frye eventually made a long-range shot -- or multiple ones -- and Leandro Barbosa got untracked. It was inevitable a Suns team that played the regular season as one of the best 3-point shooting clubs in league history, then used those hot hands to storm through the first two rounds of the playoff, would unleash that firepower on the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. That time arrived Tuesday in Game 4, and it did so emphatically and thunderously, with the Suns raining a storm of deadly daggers on the Lakers in a 115-106 victory to even the series up two games apiece. f course, it helps when the Lakers lose all focus and intensity on trying to defend them."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "Before we figure out where Phil Jackson is working next, maybe he should get around to coaching the Lakers first. You remember the Lakers, the team paying Jackson $12 million to make sure things like what just happened don't happen. For the second consecutive game, Jackson's team failed to exploit Phoenix's zone, resorted to unwisely trying to bomb with the long-distance Suns and lost a playoff game by nine points. Oh, yeah, and this time the Lakers couldn't even beat Phoenix's junior varsity. Was this 115-106 loss really Jackson's fault? No, it was a full team effort. The point here is everybody would be wise to start paying attention to what's happening now as opposed to worrying about what might happen five or six weeks from now. In case the rest of the world hasn't noticed, this series -- tied 2-2 -- has become genuinely interesting at a time when the NBA could use some drama on the actual court."

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "Kobe Bryant walked up to the postgame podium after the Lakers 115-106 loss to the Suns on Tuesday and launched into a diatribe, pounding away at his point so often even the dude from 'Memento' wouldn't need a tattoo to remember the gist of it. Bryant didn't care about how well he played. His brilliance was rendered irrelevant by his team's lack of defense. Mention No. 1: 'Our defense could have been much better, I think.' ... Mention No. 2: 'Coming up here, we lost a sense of urgency defensively. I think our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone.' ... Mention No. 3: 'I think it kind of flipped our attention to detail defensively. Our focus was on the other side of the floor, which doesn't win championships. So we need to get back to ground zero when it comes to that.' ... Mention No. 4: 'We lost the game because our defense sucked.' No explanation necessary."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Can you imagine the outcry if Vince Carter had performed so pitifully and the Magic had lost Game 4 and been swept out of the playoffs? Magic GM Otis Smith would have instantaneously been transformed from one of the league's most astute personnel evaluators back into the bonehead who drafted Fran Vazquez. All we would have heard from Magic fans is a steady string of, 'Why did we give up Hedo Turkoglu blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.' But Smith and Carter now get a reprieve in Game 5 tonight at Amway Arena. If the Magic lose, the season is obviously over. Worse yet -- and I don't think I'm overstating this -- if the Magic lose, Carter will be doomed to an eternal fate as one of the most underachieving players in NBA history. This is your time, Vince. This is your town. You grew up as a kid in Central Florida wanting to lead the Orlando Magic to a championship Well, this is your chance to help orchestrate the most historic comeback in the history of the NBA. Your team needs you now, Vince, in the worst way. ... This is it, Vince. The series is on the line. The season is on the line. Your reputation is on the line. Orlando Magic fans request the honor of your presence tonight."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The guy who teammates laud for his guts and gumption has a soft spot for a treat he held up in the din of the lockeroom. 'That's a Philly TastyKake,' said Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, a Philly guy. 'Nothing better.' Ah, his just dessert. Nelson had led Orlando to a season-saving overtime victory against the Boston Celtics on Monday night at TD Garden. At 5 feet 10, he sometimes was all that stood between the Magic and an embarrassing four-game sweep. He finished with 23 points and added nine assists, scoring six of Orlando's 10 points in OT. Get more stories like this. Sign up for home delivery today. But it was his clutch, back-to-back 3-pointers in the extra period that helped the Magic trim the Celtics' deficit to 3-1, setting up tonight's Game 5 at Amway Arena. 'He's got a lot of guts,' coach Stan Van Gundy said."

  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe "The Celtics have never really believed in the idea of adjustments, but in simply correcting the things they know went wrong. The flaws from Game 4 were execution -- particularly on the final play of regulation -- and energy early on. If Game 4 was about how the Magic would respond as they gasped for air down three games to none, tonight’s Game 5 is about how quickly the Celtics can correct the issues they so readily recognized after the loss. If they go into Amway Arena tonight and drop another game to the Magic, they will have resuscitated a team that was in critical condition. 'Game 5 is going to be a tough one back on their floor to play,’ Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. 'We’ve got to try to get another win in their building. That’s the goal.’ "

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "The numbers tell the story. Through the first three games of the series, the Magic averaged 33 plays per game out of the pick-and-roll and generated an average of 28 points per game, while shooting 35.6 percent from the floor. According to the magicians at ESPN's Stats & Information, in Monday's Game 4, Orlando ran 43 pick-and-roll plays, generating 47 points on 51.6 percent shooting. What's more, Jameer Nelson, who had been 8-of-22 shooting as the primary ball handler in the pick-and-roll through three games, finished 6-for-10 overall Monday. And even when he wasn't creating shots for himself off the picks, Nelson was generating offense by distributing as the defense collapsed on him. Priority No. 1 for the Celtics in Game 5 has to be defending the pick-and-roll better and not allowing Nelson to create so much havoc."

  • Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa of the Boston Herald: "Curse? We don’t care about no stinkin’ curse! Um, maybe ... Boston Celtics cheese Wyc Grousbeck said he’s not worried about the alleged Sports Illustrated jinx -- even after the jock bible slapped Rajon Rondo on the cover of this week’s issue. 'They put the Big Three on the cover before the ’08 season,' Grousbeck told the Track. 'And that worked out just fine.' True dat. But superstitious sports fans aren’t so cavalier about the cover curse. And actually, maybe Wyc had second thoughts too, because he rang back to add, 'So I hope this goes the same way.' "

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Before the Spurs recruited the Pistons to help them complete the pre-draft trade that brought Richard Jefferson to San Antonio late last June, they tried hard to pry Vince Carter away from the Nets. Offering the same players who ultimately were included in the three-team deal for 'R.J.' -- Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto -- the Spurs also were willing to send Roger Mason Jr. to the Nets to get Carter. Trouble was, they also wanted the Nets' spot in the first round of the draft, 11th overall. That made the Nets balk. According to Eastern Conference insiders, the Nets countered with a request for the draft rights to Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter, the Spurs' top pick in the 2007 draft and a star in the Spanish League. Convinced they would have a fighting chance to extract Splitter from Spain this summer, the Spurs turned their focus to Jefferson. ... The Spurs should be grateful the Nets asked for Splitter's rights. Jefferson will cost Peter Holt et al. $15 million next season, when he will be an athletic 29-year-old in the final year of his deal. Meanwhile, the Magic are on the hook for another $35.8 million for Carter, through 2011-12, when he will be 35."

  • Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: "There are no 'back channels,' unless you have spoken with the spirit of Red Holzman. You call Todd or Mitch, period. Or you suffer the consequences for your idiotic decision to go through the back, er, door. Anyway, Rod Thorn denies he’s reached out for Phil Jackson -- 'Not true,' the Boss said flatly, 'we never approached him.' -- but there’s obviously a much larger issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to Jackson, as ESPN explained. He could be, indeed, the most powerful LeBron James Magnet that exists right now. You already know Phil is making $12 million, and that the Lakers are going to ask him to take a huge pay cut -- Buss herself admitted that 'my dad made it very clear he doesn’t want to pay him what he’s been paying him.' So Jackson will look around this summer, win or lose. Now the only question is whether the four teams looking for both LeBron and a head coach -- specifically, Chicago, Cleveland, the Nets and the Clippers -- will hold off on their coaching decision until July 1, the first day of free agency. 'All of these teams think they’re in the hunt for LeBron, and that the right coach could tip it,' one Eastern executive said today. 'So they’re not in a rush: They sit with LeBron, show him a list, and say, ‘These are our candidates -- what do you think?’ I think it’s going to happen in Chicago and Cleveland -- and maybe with Jersey and the Clippers.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The early read on the June 24 NBA Draft? Strong on power forwards, moderate on small forwards, lacking at point guard, with many centers who aren't exactly measuring up. Considering point guard and center set up as two positions of need, it only makes sense that the Miami Heat is scouring every available option, including a presence at a four-day tryout camp in Minnesota that runs through Thursday. 'I would say this draft definitely doesn't have the point guard quality of last year,' Heat Vice President of Player Personnel Chet Kammerer said Tuesday. 'This year, I would say fours would be the strength of this draft, and maybe threes. Some of the centers, it was kind of disappointing when the measurements came out, of players we all thought were a little longer.' Kammerer is in Minnesota with Heat President Pat Riley and Adam Simon, who handles most of the team's international scouting. Twenty-nine of the 30 teams are represented."