First Cup: Friday

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "Just like that, everything is back to normal. No crying, a coach smiling, far less doubt, far less pressure. Just like that, the Heat supporting cast is capable again. Just like that, crunch time isn’t crumble time. Just like that, Chris Bosh is a member of the Big 3 again. A big man again. Just like that, it’s Phil Jackson who looks silly and Erik Spoelstra who looks like he knows his craft. Beating the Los Angeles Lakers can do a lot for a team. The Heat, however, might have gained more from defeating the purple and gold than any team this season. Than any team in recent memory. Breaking a five-game losing streak Thursday night against the Lakers, and sanity is restored. Hope is preserved. Confidence is renewed. 'What better game than this game to get back on track,' Dwyane Wade said after the Heat also ended the Lakers’ eight-game win streak."

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: "More than an hour after the Lakers' team bus had left the AmericanAirlines Arena, Kobe Bryant was still on the court firing up shots. He was still there minutes before midnight Miami time. Now I know what you're thinking, but no, they hadn't left him behind on purpose after he had turned the ball over twice late and missed his final five shots against the Heat. The Heat won, something considered impossible in recent weeks and they found the closer they seemed to lack. Who knew it would be Kobe Bryant? As he does, and it's worked and resulted in championships for the Lakers, he tried to take over Thursday night's game. But he turned it in favor of the Heat. Funny, too, because before the game Phil Jackson was talking about the style of basketball played by the Spurs and Celtics and how much he enjoys it. He said he does not like the brand of basketball played by Miami. ... Before leaving, I reminded him that he likes to increase the degree of difficulty on shots at times. 'Yeah,' he agreed. 'But this was not one of them. That was a good shot. I'll live with it. I take it hard when it doesn't go well, but I also try to learn from it.' That's when he thawed out his feet, took a shower and returned to the court to work up another sweat. 'It's my job to go out and work on things,' he explained, recalling he did the same thing something like seven years ago after a playoff game. It was hard to resist, though, as we parted ways. 'You didn't think you got enough shots in the game?' I cracked, and he got a good laugh out of that knowing just what I was suggesting: He could be a ball hog all he wanted with no one else on the court. Then they began turning out the lights, Bryant heading off to the weight room and yet another shower."

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire needed two weeks to figure out the immortal basketball question, "Which superstar takes the last shot?" while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade still can't get it right. When Anthony sank a pullup jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining to beat Memphis Wednesday it gave the All-Star smallforward more winning shots with his new team then LeBron and D-Wade have all season in Miami. For those keeping score, it's Melo 1, Miami Megalomaniacs 0. 'I do this,' Anthony said to the Grizzlies bench after his biggest shot since joining the Knicks. Indeed, he does do that. The basket represented Anthony's 15th game-winning shot over the last eight years, tied for most in the NBA over that span with Kobe Bryant. Luck, of course, plays a factor. Sometimes the ball drops in for you and, as is the case with James and Wade, most of the time it doesn't. ... When Stoudemire signed his $100 million contract he talked about doing whatever it takes to make the Knicks a winner again. And then on Wednesday night in Memphis he proved it by deferring to Carmelo. Does that make Carmelo more valuable to the Knicks because of his late game prowess? Perhaps. But it doesn't mean Amar'e is any less valuable, that's for sure. Ultimately, it could mean that if the Knicks and Heat do meet in the playoffs, Miami might want to avoid close games. Or else they could be hearing Melo saying the three words LeBron and Wade have been unable to utter all year. 'I do this.' "

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "So if this is soft, what exactly does that make the New York Knicks? Just 24 hours after having a clear lack of toughness in New Orleans, the Mavericks manned up for the fourth game in five nights and the show of force was more than enough to completely dismantle the new-look Knicks, 127-109, Thursday night at American Airlines Center. The Mavericks led by as much as 26 points in the third quarter and while the Knicks chopped away at that advantage the rest of the way, they never had a real shot at making a game of it. If coach Rick Carlisle was looking for somebody to make a tough statement, Shawn Marion answered the call. Marion came back from a nasty fall against the Hornets that forced him out of that game and responded with 22 points and eight rebounds. And his defensive work on Carmelo Anthony (5-of-15 shooting) was strong. 'That just shows you his toughness,' said Jason Terry, who had 21 points. 'To heal up and have the performance he did on both ends of the floor, it was tremendous.' "

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "One day after Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called out his team and described them as “soft’ after a 93-92 loss in New Orleans, owner Mark Cuban let it known that he disagrees with the comment. 'I don’t think I agree with it,’ Cuban said before Thursday’s game against the New York Knicks. 'I don’t think we’re soft at all. But [Carlisle] wanted to send a message, and the message got through.’ When players are called 'soft,’ they generally view it as an insult. Thus, when Carlisle met with his team prior to the game against the Knicks, he had to clarify a few things. 'I talked to them today about the game and about that,’ he said. 'I’m not going to go into details about it. “I reiterated to them what they’ve done over the last four weeks has been terrific. And we really have taken care of business.’ "

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets' massive losing streak in Phoenix may have just boiled down to being a massive George Karl losing streak in Phoenix. While the Nuggets had a desert drought of 12 consecutive tries, the venerable coach hadn't won in 16 tries. The last time he tasted victory in this city was December 1997 as Seattle coach. But the Nuggets weren't about to let that streak continue Thursday night. Instead they inflicted a streak-busting 116-97 whipping of the Suns at U.S. Airways Center. 'You don't like records like that,' Karl said. 'As old as I get, I still don't like places I don't play well in. And it comes at a good time -- we're searching for our personality, how we come together. And the three days of practice with this win, I think it's a good step.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Asked if he believes he will play again, Yao said, 'That's the direction. I cannot tell you now because I am still in very limited workouts. I still cannot walk on my full weight. I have to try on the court running up and down and then see how it's going. We need to go into workout, rehab, and this sort of thing. Let's go step-by-step.' His latest injury itself was not considered career threatening. It did have the potential to be the last straw. After so many injuries, surgeries and long, arduous rehabilitations, no one would blame Yao if he decided to live his life in peace and in one piece. Yao, however, just doesn't seem ready for that. He laughed again with his teammates on Thursday. He kidded about his weight gain after the surgery. He joked about having become unaccustomed to the bright lights in his eyes as he was surrounded by media at the Tux & Tennies Gala. He was not auditioning to step in for Charlie Sheen on 'Two and a Half Men,' but he was far from the despondence that he described in the months after his previous injury and surgery. 'When you lay on a bed and eat hamburgers and drink soda, actually your day is pretty easy, not too hard,' Yao said. 'One day, you realize you already gained 20 pounds. The tough part is always come back, always slowly start the engine again. The good side is I have experience. The bad side is I know how hard it is. I know how painful it is ahead of me.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "On Thursday, following his first practice with his new team, Kendrick Perkins substituted his menacing scowl with a few mini smiles. Try as he might, the Oklahoma City Thunder center just couldn't hide his happiness. Perkins had just returned to the court with a full complement of teammates for the first time since Feb. 22, when he sprained the MCL in his left knee in a game against Golden State. Two days later, the Thunder acquired him in a four-player trade with Boston. Thursday's session was the biggest step forward Perkins has made in his journey toward taking his place as the Thunder's starting center. And the big man was pleased with his first practice. 'It was kind of better than what I expected,' Perkins said. 'I was going all-out, testing it out. My knee is fine. It wasn't bothering me at all.' Not even the slightest discomfort? 'Not today,' he said. 'Thank God.' Perkins is officially listed as day-to-day."

  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe: "The communication between Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins was anything but unspoken. They barked loud and often, treading the paint like security guards. That’s the language Garnett is trying to teach Nenad Krstic, his new partner in the paint, even if Krstic will be in the Celtics’ starting lineup only until Shaquille O’Neal returns from his Achilles’ tendon injury. Their job is to watch each other’s blind side, and there’s a certain trust level that comes with expecting someone to be in a certain spot even if you can’t see him. Krstic, who was acquired in a trade with Oklahoma City two weeks ago, is still learning those spots. At times during Wednesday’s 108-103 loss to the Clippers, Garnett was waving Krstic into those spots. But the expectation is that over the final weeks of the season, Krstic will find them. 'He’s picking it up,’ Garnett said. 'But more importantly, he’s going really hard.’ ... For Garnett, it’s a matter of teaching Krstic. Perkins became the perfect protegĂ©, a carbon copy in their bad cop-bad cop routine. But Krstic is mellow in the locker room and relatively reserved on the floor. Bringing in Sasha Pavlovic, who sits in the corner locker next to Krstic, has helped open Krstic up, Garnett said. 'I just don’t know him,’ Garnett said. 'Trying to hang out with a guy, trying to get to know his tendencies on the court, trying to understand who he is in March of a season is a challenge at times. But it’s a challenge that we all look forward to.' "

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Ask anybody associated with the 1990-91 Bulls about that scintillating season, and be prepared to hear two things: No, it doesn't feel like it has been 20 years. And Detroit sucks. OK, so nobody actually said the latter. But as the organization prepares to honor the 20th anniversary of the first of six NBA championships and the start of one of sports' great dynasties, overcoming the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals en route to downing the Western Conference champion Lakers remained prominently on the principals' minds. 'For me, it was four years of hell,' Scottie Pippen said of vanquishing the Pistons. 'That was a huge relief, a guy who had suffered a migraine in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals the year before. It was a lot of joy, that breakthrough of finally beating your nemesis. And then winning that first championship was the most fun. It was new, so the celebration felt lasting.' The celebration begins again Saturday night during an extended halftime ceremony with former broadcaster Jim Durham serving as master of ceremonies. All 12 players, save for Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright, are scheduled to attend. Phil Jackson and some of his same staff members are chasing title No. 12 with the Lakers. General manager Jerry Krause is busy scouting baseball. But for one glorious night, most of the band will be together again."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Larry Bird said Thursday he stands by the interim coach. The reasons behind the Pacers' 3-9 record in the past 12 games stem from ongoing internal problems with the players, Bird said. 'We started off pretty strong with Frank, then they hit a lull. They had some problems internally and it took the wind out of them. That has nothing to do with Frank, that's on the players. The last 10-12 games, the guys haven't reacted the way you do as professionals,' said Bird, who was on hand to witness the lackluster 26-point loss at Minnesota on Wednesday. Team chemistry has been a concern all season due to the abundance of younger players and the absence of a leader. ... Things came to a head, however, during and after last weekend's loss at Houston. Veterans Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones took exception to comments made to them during the game by rookie Lance Stephenson. Jones had to be restrained from going after Stephenson in the huddle during a second-half timeout. Things carried over to the locker room after the game when a number of other players were involved in a heated argument. Stephenson, the team's second-round draft pick, is talented. But there are questions about the 20-year-old's maturity on and off the court. One of the Pacers' problems is the absence of a player who can mentor Stephenson and help him grow. 'Our problem is internally,' Bird said. 'I see what's going on inside the locker room. I've seen a lot of it all year. I tried to address it with different people at the trade deadline.' "

  • Jery Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "When the Timberwolves traded Al Jefferson to Utah last summer, he seemingly traveled from five consecutive losing seasons in Boston and Minnesota to one of the league's most stable franchises, a winner that offered a Hall of Fame coach and an All-Star point guard. Strange how things turn out sometimes ... In the weeks since the Jazz and Wolves last played in Salt Lake City, Sloan suddenly, shockingly quit after 23 years on the job. Thirteen days later, Utah traded Deron Williams to New Jersey before Williams had the chance to walk away as a free agent in 2012. 'A lot of changes,' Jefferson said before practice Thursday. 'A lot of changes.' So much for stability ... 'I never imagined Coach Sloan leaving,' Jefferson said. 'By the time I even accepted that or got over that, I looked up and that big trade went through.' And just like that, Jefferson and the Jazz have gone from a team certain to make the playoff to one that is chasing Memphis and Phoenix for the Western Conference's final playoff spot."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Removed from the starting lineup for the first time all season, Spurs forward DeJuan Blair was in no mood to speak with reporters after Thursday’s practice session. If Blair’s reluctance to talk indicated unease about being replaced by veteran Antonio McDyess for Wednesday’s game against the Pistons, he can expect to get a pep talk soon from a teammate who understands what it feels like to go from starter to reserve. 'I’ve got to say it’s not easy for a guy like him, starting for 63 games, being the center of the leader in the NBA,' said guard Manu Ginobili, well acquainted with coach Gregg Popovich’s tactical maneuvers. 'He’s young. He’s got to adjust, but he’s a great kid. He wants to win. He’s going to do good.' No Spur can relate to Blair’s discomfort more than Ginobili. A starter and key contributor from 2002-03 through 2005-06, he was asked to take a reserve role in 2006-07. Then, he came off the bench for the final 35 regular-season games in which he played, and all 20 games of a playoff run that ended with the team’s fourth NBA title. 'I’m never shocked by a lineup change with Pop,' Ginobili said. 'Probably with the record we have right now, you probably thought he would hold it. But he thought it was best for the team, and he went ahead and did it.' "

  • Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: "The Timberwolves' Kevin Love broke a modern-day NBA record Wednesday for consecutive double-doubles (points-rebounds), but if he were left-handed, he said, he might not be playing basketball. Mychal Thompson, the former Gophers great who was in town recently as radio analyst for the Los Angeles Lakers, talked about what a phenomenal baseball player Love was as a youngster. 'A Little League legend,' Thompson said. Thompson knew because his sons played baseball with and against Love and watched him pitch perfect games while growing up in Lake Oswego, Ore. Love passed up playing baseball in high school to focus on basketball despite possessing a fastball clocked at more than 90 mph as a ninth-grader. 'I always wanted to be like (future hall of fame pitcher) Randy Johnson because he was 6-10,' said Love, who also is 6 feet 10. 'But he was a lefty. If I was a lefty, I'd probably still be playing baseball. I still love baseball, and I always think about what if I were out on the mound.' "