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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Maybe one of these years LeBron James will grant the NBA its dream matchup and go head-to-head with Kobe Bryant in the Finals. Who knows, maybe James will be wearing a Knicks uniform when that happens. But for now, all we have is James going one-on-one with Larry King, which is not the type of made-for-TV event NBA commissioner David Stern wants to be selling in June. No one is buying tickets to see two guys who have nothing in common -- other than the fact that neither has won an NBA championship and that they both call themselves King. In James' world, Lakers-Celtics represents the warmup act to his free agency. In his mind, if you can't make the big game, you attempt to upstage the league's marquee event. That's clearly the motive behind James' decision to speak to the legendary talk show host Tuesday for an interview that will air Friday, the day after Game 1. As usual, James is coy about his free agent plans, saying only that Cleveland has an 'edge' over other clubs. That's akin to reporting that there is an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico."

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "The dynamics haven’t changed since the Bird-Magic Era. The Lakers have the glam coach, 10-time champion Phil Jackson. The Celtics have an underrated mentor in Glenn “Doc’’ Rivers, who seeks no undue attention, makes no inflammatory comments, and shrewdly deflects all praise toward his players. The fan contrast hasn’t changed a bit. If anything, it’s only gotten bigger. Boston fans still think LA fans are frauds (with the exception of the extremely loyal and eternally cool Jack Nicholson) and Laker fans still don’t understand why Boston fans care so much. There is nothing in the NBA like it. Truthfully, there is nothing in sports like it. Red Sox and Yankees fans are essentially the same people. That is not the case here. We’re talking Pluto vs. Venus. Orlando vs. Phoenix might very well have been a nice basketball series. But the league can have that anytime. It’s a lot more fun when it’s the Celtics and the Lakers. Welcome to Chapter 12."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "This is why Ron Artest joined the Lakers last summer -- to play for an NBA championship. It's why the Lakers signed Artest to a five-year, $33.9-million contract -- to put his physical defensive prowess up against small forwards such as Boston's Paul Pierce. It's all in place now, for Artest and the Lakers, as L.A. prepares to play host to Boston in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at Staples Center. Or not. 'It's not like [there's] no extra excitement,' Artest said after practice Tuesday. Artest, an 11-year veteran, is playing in his first NBA Finals. 'I've been excited since I was like 8 years old,' he said. 'It's not more I need.' It was partly because of small forwards such as Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Cleveland's LeBron James and Pierce, that the Lakers signed Artest."

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "The grouchy guy was back with avengeance. Kobe Bryant sat in a comfortable chair, behind a sturdy table, facing a throng of reporters and a slew of television cameras after the Lakers practiced Tuesday afternoon. He didn't smile. He didn't laugh. He didn't raise an eyebrow. He said little and revealed nothing. It could only mean one thing. The NBA Finals must be near. Bryant sank into a state of extreme grumpiness before and during the Finals last June. He wasn't exactly surly, but he didn't seem to be enjoying himself much. He bellowed after making big plays, pounding his chest and snarling. He admitted his young daughters noticed his mood change. Bryant averaged 30.2 points, led the Lakers to a four-games-to-one victory over the Orlando Magic and earned Finals MVP honors. He started to smile again only as the seconds ticked down and the final buzzer sounded on his fourth league championship."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Game 1 of the NBA Finals isn’t until tomorrow night, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers believes 'the games' already have begun. When Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson talked about the C’s 'smackdown' style and mentioned Kevin Garnett’s chop on the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard in the Eastern Conference finals clincher, Rivers believes he was simply trying to give the officials a road map to how this series should be called. Rivers smiled at the suggestion that his team is pushing the physical envelope. 'Well, we just thank Phil for the compliment,' Rivers said. 'That’s very nice of him to say. Whatever got us here. We’re not hiding from who we are and we’re going to be that. So that’s never going to change. We’ve said it from Day 1. We are who we are. If you like us, cheer for us. If you don’t, complain. But we’re not going to change.' As for Jackson targeting Garnett, who will have a big matchup with the softer Pau Gasol, Rivers smiled at that one, too. 'Well, I think it should be a compliment,' Rivers said. 'I think he picks the best player on the other teams or who he thinks is key, so I think Kevin should put that one right up there with his MVP trophy and everything else. I think Kevin should be excited about that. I think Paul (Pierce) and Ray (Allen) and (Rajon) Rondo, they’re going to be (upset) about it. They were hoping it would be them.' For his part, Garnett gets it. 'I think nothing of it,' he said. 'It’s Phil playing mind games. It’s all good. ... The West is probably known for a little bit or a lot more finesse. It’s just what it is.' "

  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe: "There’s the part of Rasheed Wallace that’s unapologetically transparent. The frosty postgame beers sitting in his locker. The Flyers cap in the Bruins city. The unstrapped, unorthodox Air Force 1 sneakers he has worn for 11 straight years, unless you count those six minutes in the first half of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals when he went without them. (Why? 'No story,’ Wallace said. 'I just left them at home.’) He is who he is. 'There’s no hidden meaning or underlying philosophies with him,’ Celtics teammate Ray Allen said. 'He’s just straightforward. Always.’ The question as Wallace’s frustrating regular season played out was whether he was the player the Celtics thought he was when they signed him to a three-year deal last summer. Was he the team-first player that became a championship-belt-carrying fan favorite in Detroit? Was he the referees’ worst nightmare whose follow-up to a 40-technical foul season in 2000 was 41 the next year? Was he the whip-smart basketball savant or the surly aging veteran? In truth, he was all of the above. But he was brought to Boston to help the Celtics return to the Finals. The Celtics were able to get there because the Wallace they’ve gotten in the playoffs has been the Wallace they expected."

  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: "There is but one argument for Phil Jackson as the greatest coach in the history of big-time pro sports in America, and surprisingly it has nothing to do with Michael or Kobe or even a record 10 NBA titles. It has to do with what I call the 'Knucklehead Quotient,' and if used properly in compiling a coach's true overall record the formula easily puts the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh in the NFL, Joe Torre and Casey Stengel in baseball and Scotty Bowman in the NHL. What do Ron Artest, Isaiah Rider, Dennis Rodman and the late Bison Dele have in common, other than being finalists for the Mount Rushmore of NBA Malcontents? Jackson got every one of those coach-killers, all of whose antics and behavior at some point detonated their own careers, to play on an NBA Finals team. All except Artest won a championship ring under Jackson in either Chicago or Los Angeles, and Ron-Ron could be two weeks or less away from making the Knucklehead Four a perfect 4 for 4. ... Like the Knucklehead Quotient, Jackson's ability to get Kobe and Michael to bend their wills to fit the needs of a championship team is vastly underrated. The No. 1 talent of a coach in large-revenue professional sports is the managing of egos, and no one has done it better than Jackson."

  • Dennis Brackin of the Star Tribune: "The Minneapolis Armory is largely forgotten, except for the folks who use it now as an indoor parking facility. Next time you walk past its open doors, stop to take a peek inside and ponder the history. The Armory is where the Lakers of George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard split the first two games of the 1953 NBA Finals against the Knicks before going to New York and winning three in a row. It is where the Boston Celtics of Bill Russell, Bill Sharman and Bob Cousy celebrated their 1959 NBA championship, winning the fourth and final game of the series at the Armory. And where the legendary Elgin Baylor played his first two seasons. And yet, many likely walk past and wonder why this aging building -- constructed as a Public Works Project in 1935 -- is still standing after so many peers have met the wrecking ball. The short answer is that preservationists won a lengthy court battle in 1993 to have the building declared a protected site, stopping Hennepin County's efforts to tear it down and build a jail."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Since the draft doesn’t look like it will yield a big man who can contribute now at pick No. 24, and Jason Collins and Randolph Morris both are free agents, the Hawks will need a center one way or the other. Let’s assume they won’t go the vet-minimum route this time and will actually use their mid-level exception to seek a starting-caliber center (neither assumption is safe, but let’s just say both are plausible). What kind of center could the Hawks expect to acquire in free agency this summer? First, let me say that trying to predict the market for free agents this summer is tricky. With so many teams potentially having so much cap space (and presumably a desire to spend the money) so-so players might find a strong market for their services. Add in the fact that the focus here is free-agent centers in a league where “quality big man” is usually near the top of the list of wants for most teams in the league, and it makes things even more unpredictable."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Kelvin Sampson always liked Jordan Crawford. After all, Sampson recruited the Detroit youngster and signed him to attend Indiana University. But Sampson left Indiana in February 2008 amid a recruiting scandal, and Crawford played just one season with the Hoosiers before transferring to Xavier. Now an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, Sampson was reunited briefly with Crawford on Tuesday as the 6-foot-4 shooting guard took part in a workout of draft prospects at the Cousins Center. 'Jordan is smart and tough,' Sampson said. 'He understands the game. In some ways his game may be more suited for the NBA; he's such a good pick-and-roll player. He's got great range, and the thing people don't realize is he's a very good passer. And he's a gamer. Some guys are made for these three-on-three workouts, but you put them out there five-on-five and the lights come on and they don't understand how to play. Jordan knows how to play.' He also knows how to dunk. Crawford became famous for his throw-down over LeBron James during a basketball camp last summer, a dunk that became a YouTube sensation."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Speaking of the No. 10 pick, Baylor's Ekpe Udoh looked pretty impressive during his workout Tuesday. He's definitely a high-energy player that doesn't stop playing until the whistle is blown. Udoh, who have averaged 13.9 points and 9.8 rebounds last season, has been projected by some mock drafts as the player the Pacers will select at No. 10. Hassan Whiteside and Daniel Orton did a good job swatting away shots in the paint. Wednesday will be a big day for workouts because the Pacers are bringing in some point guards. Eric Bledsoe (Kentucky), Avery Bradley (Texas), Sherron Collins (Kansas), Jordan Crawford (Xavier), A.J. Slaughter (Western Kentucky) and Willie Warren (Oklahoma) will be at the fieldhouse."