First Cup: Thursday

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Don't let Derrick Rose fool you. Don't let his occasional lapses back into aw-shucks mode obscure what he calmly -- presciently? -- said way back on Sept. 27 during Bulls' Media Day festivities. 'Why can't I be the MVP of the league,' Rose famously said then. Now, he laughs off endorsements for the award from even Michael Jordan and steers such talk back to what he's all about -- winning. And that's why the humble approach to MVP is all an act. Rose wants to win the award -- and badly. He has said as much to confidantes. ... 'In college, people said to me, 'Why you going to Memphis? They're not going to do anything.' That just added stuff to the fire. And then, even when I went No. 1 in the draft, I wasn't even in the discussion for Rookie of the Year. You look at all the other people who went No. 1, they were automatically the people to be considered Rookie of the Year candidates. And I wasn't. All that stuff added on to the fire and I still remember the people who said it. I like proving people wrong. And that's why I said what I said (about MVP).' Hmmm. 'Stuff to the fire.' Does that sound familiar? Nobody compares to Michael Jordan and nobody ever will. But Rose is beginning to develop a similarly encyclopedic recall of sleights -- perceived or otherwise -- and missteps to fuel his already prodigious motivational levels."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Stan Van Gundy thinks the NBA's Most Valuable Player race already has ended -- with the results preordained in favor of Derrick Rose instead of Dwight Howard. 'I don't think it's wide-open,' Van Gundy said before his Orlando Magic faced the New York Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. 'The media seems to have made their decision and they're the ones who vote. So I think it's over. I just listen and read: I think it's over. Derrick Rose has it. I haven't really read or heard a media guy who is going another way at this point. I'd be shocked if he doesn't win it.' Van Gundy said nobody in the league impacts as many possessions as Howard does. Van Gundy added, however, that he 'would have no problem at all' if Rose wins. Asked about Van Gundy's comments, Howard praised Rose, who is his friend."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "The scoreboard says the Celtics lost to Memphis by three points last night. The stat sheet says they got hammered. The crew from 'CSI: Causeway Street' didn’t have to dust for fingerprints after this one. It was an inside job. The Grizzlies painted the Green blue, outscoring them by a whopping 52-26 in the paint. Memphis had 11 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points, while the Celtics had four and three, respectively. Is it any wonder they’re leaving the porch light on for Shaquille O’Neal? Or Jermaine O’Neal? Look, the margin wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the Celts hadn’t missed some easy stuff inside, but that doesn’t change the fact they didn’t put up the requisite fight."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Fear the beard? At the urging of small forward Quentin Richardson, the Orlando Magic have taken a cue from the world of hockey and said they've decided not to shave their faces until their playoff run ends, whenever that may be. 'It's one of those team things,'Richardson said. 'Togetherness. It's something fun at the same time. It's going to definitely look funny, I know.' The players said they collectively made the decision between Monday's victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Wednesday's win over the New York Knicks. 'We talked about doing something as a team,' center Dwight Howard said. 'We thought about the bald heads, but some of us -- myself -- don't look right with a bald head. Then we thought about letting our hair grow out; then [we realized] we've got a lot of guys who are going bald, so [it would] look funny with just patches in their head. So the beard is the only way to go. It'll be tough for me and the young guys to really get it going, but we're all in this together.' Growing beards is a tradition in hockey, with players from the eventual Stanley Cup champions often hoisting the coveted trophy with ragged facial hair. Rather than wait until the NBA playoffs start in mid-April, Richardson has started growing his beard with three weeks remaining in their regular season. Other players say they've doing the same. The NBA Finals typically end in mid-June."

  • Alan Hahn of Newsday: "Stan Van Gundy recognized the Knicks as 'a very good team with very good players, and so that's something that gets your juices flowing, because it's Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.' But, he added, 'Madison Square Garden to me? It's not one of the nicer places in the league. It has some history, but no more so than some others. Look, their last championship was in the '70s.' Perhaps Stan's perspective is skewed by the fact that he has most often been the enemy in this building over his coaching career."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "The advice probably sounds strange coming from the N.B.A.’s most famously stressed-out superstar. Jerry West -- Lakers legend and Hall of Fame worrier -- believes Knicks fans need to relax. Few people have explored the extreme highs and lows of competition as thoroughly as West did over four decades as a player and executive. He took defeat harder than most, tortured himself with unreasonably high expectations and pushed his health to the brink. So West is speaking from a unique place when he counsels Knicks fans fretting over the Carmelo Anthony trade to chill out. 'I think this is more of an adjustment period for all of them,' West said Wednesday. 'They’re trying to feel their way along.' He added, 'Expectations are not always met immediately.' The statement is particularly poignant coming from West, the architect of two Laker dynasties (in the 1980s and 2000s), and a star player on another (in the 1960s). Patience was never his strength. West’s teams lost in the finals seven times -- an experience that -- 'scarred me even to this day' -- before finally winning a title."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "With the aid of 63 points from Denver's bench, the Nuggets (43-29) defeated San Antonio (57-14), the team with the best record in the NBA. Yeah, they didn't have Tim Duncan, but it's not like they're last year's Cavaliers playing a game without James. This is a multifaceted team -- with numerous key players -- which just happened to be without its "key-est" player Wednesday. Entering this week, Nuggets forward Al Harrington had scored in double figures four times since the beginning of February (and two of those nights were 10-point outings). But on Monday, Harrington scored 15 against the Raptors and on Wednesday, he had 14 by halftime against San Antonio. He looked resuscitated. He was running the floor with purpose, attacking the basket with vigor, shooting jumpers with confidence. And when the night was over, Harrington had 27, including 5-of-6 3-point attempts. 'When I didn't play in the game in Miami, I kind of took some things personally,' Harrington said of the game last Saturday. 'I've just got to play with a chip on my shoulder, and when I play like that, I can be much more effective.' "

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: "A day after Dwyane Wade said it has been 'easy' for the Chicago Bulls because 'all the focus has been on us,' coach Erik Spoelstra said the attention on the Heat has been more than he expected even though 'we anticipated there would be a lot.' Spoelstra said Wednesday he gets 'daily updates' from the team’s public relations officials 'if there’s a [media-generated] story line that could impact the dynamic of the team. Probably every week or 10 days there’s something we’ve discussed as a team -- ‘OK, this is out there, this is nothing. Let’s move on.’ Whether it was something interpreted wrong from a player or staff or a story line that’s big out there for whatever reason. … With a lot of teams, when you go through something like that, it could get teammates to raise an eyebrow. It could be coaches losing trust. It could be players losing trust in coaches. That’s why this whole process -- while at times it was uncomfortable -- it has helped our resiliency and it has connected us stronger.' Five reporters from national media outlets have covered the team on a regular basis this season, compared with none in past years."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo recently delivered the message to his teammates. Now, he's making his play a public service message to opponents and fans. 'I'm back,' Mayo said after scoring 11 points off the bench Wednesday night during the Grizzlies' 90-87 win at Boston. 'My mind is clear.' Mayo, who had 11 points Monday in a win over Utah, reached double figures in scoring in consecutive games for the first time this month. Mayo said he no longer is thinking too much and is playing more in the flow of the game. 'I kind of lost my identity,' Mayo said. 'I think I got away from what got me here. I lost confidence for a while. But I'm back.' Griz coach Lionel Hollins is a believer. Hollins started Mayo in the second half and brought Sam Young off the bench."

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Doug Collins is a man who cares about a person's feelings, especially when it comes to his players. I thought the Battie Nocioni thing was part of a nice gesture. Instead, it proved that Collins cares more about winning than feelings. Rookie Evan Turner has seemed to have lost some of his coach's trust and that is not a good thing going into the playoffs. With Nocioni, Collins knows he will get toughness, playoff experience. And in Battie he has a big man who can defend, hit open jumpers and not allow any easy baskets, whether it be by fouling or just good defense. The mindset of the coach seems to have shifted slightly recently. Where he was a master of encouragement before and willing to ease his players through their mistakes, now he is taking no prisoners. He smells the playoffs right around the corner. He wants to have the best rotation working when the postseason begins. Even if it means the No. 2 pick in the draft is best suited as mostly an observer on the sideline. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Turner won't see any minutes from here on out, and there could be nights when matchups afford him to play many minutes. But it appears now that if push came to shove, Collins might rather have Nocioni out there in a street fight - which the playoffs certainly are."

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks' season may be fizzling, but they've already earned a place of distinction with team radio play-by-play man Steve Holman, who Wednesday called his 1,868th consecutive Hawks game. No Hawks team Holman has seen has been more difficult to understand. 'It's strange,' he said. 'It's been a little bit bizarre. Because when we're good, we're very good, and it seems like when we lose, we have some doozies when we lose.' Holman said he figured the team would not win as many games as last season, given the increased strength of teams in the Eastern Conference. And despite the Hawks' recent slide, he still maintained that the team is better than last season's version. He finds the Hawks' 18 losses by double digits a little puzzling, though. 'When you see those lopsided games like that, you shake your head a little bit,' he said. 'You just wonder how it happened.' "

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fell in love with the Chuck wagon for reasons that had nothing to do with character or intangibles. He has come to love those things, too, but Morey's initial fascination with Hayes was things we all should have seen. He loved Hayes' defense, how he could lock up an elite scorer and make life easier for those around him. Most nights, Hayes gives away six or seven inches and 50 or 60 pounds to other NBA centers, but he makes up for it by being fundamentally perfect with his hands and feet and by knowing what the other guy is trying to do. Just when we thought we knew Hayes and had seen all there was to see, he dramatically changes his game, becomes even better and more efficient and contributes even more to winning. That's what happens when a guy believes in himself, works relentlessly to get better and simply refuses to put a ceiling on what he can accomplish. Just when we'd run out of superlatives for the Chuck wagon, he does something to bring you out of your seat. His game has more offensive variety. His passing and free-throw shooting have gotten better. ... Hayes exited the game moments later to a huge standing ovation. His neat little line included 13 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. Morey again will be trying to remake the Rockets this summer, and no player will be untouchable. But wouldn't it be sad to see Kyle Lowry, Hayes or Lee go? They represent the things every professional organization would like its team to personify."

  • Jennifer Floyd Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I know Dirk will be a warrior-scoring Godzilla every game. I know JKidd will look more his age as the game gets all gummed up in the playoffs. I know Shawn Marion's full-court effectiveness will be chipped into by the slow grind that is the playoffs. I know Jason Terry will feast-or-famine us to death in the fourth quarter. I know Roddy B will have flashes of brilliance and flashes of being approximately 12. The difference I am hoping for has to come from Chandler. He has been bigger than Bynum once. And, well, everybody saw what went down last time. Why will this year be different? If this postseason is about Chandler and Dirk. Dirk scoring. Tyson defending. So another quick game of word association. Me: Tyson Chandler. Me: The Mavs' best hope."

  • Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun: "Vince Carter entered the NBA’s stage in the shadows of a work stoppage. He’ll soon enter free agency under the same labour cloud. In 1998, the Raptors became relevant with Carter as the cornerstone piece once the NBA and its player’ union struck a deal that featured a 30-game schedule. Carter has now become borderline irrelevant, his game almost as messed up as the system that runs the business of basketball. When he becomes a free agent, regardless of the system that’s in place, it’s anyone’s guess where Carter ends up playing. His scoring at a career low, his three-point shooting at a career low, Carter may be best suited as a role player coming off the bench next season."

  • Jason Reid of The Washington Post: "For almost six years, the Washington Wizards have patiently waited for power forward Andray Blatche to grow up. They have continued to support Blatche despite his actions that have embarrassed the franchise, rewarded him with two contract extensions and attributed many of his missteps to youthful inexperience. Now, the Wizards should do something else for Blatche: Trade him. It’s time for President Ernie Grunfeld to accept that Blatche should fade into Washington’s past because he doesn’t fit into the future that owner Ted Leonsis envisions. The Wizards should move on without Blatche for their benefit while moving him elsewhere for his, because he clearly needs a fresh start away from the District. There have been bad signs about their union from the start."

  • Chris Erskine of the Los Angeles Times: "Lawrence Tanter has been the Lakers' public address announcer for 28 years, and over that time you've probably heard him croon 'Koooo-Beeee Bryant' or 'Laker Girrrrrrls' hundreds of times. As the gold standard of NBA stadium announcers, he introduces the teams, then keeps you up on developments during the game. Simple, right? Not so much. His job involves reading hand signals from the scorekeeper and making sense of NBA refs. Try it some time. It's like serving tea at a bar brawl. Fortunately, Tanter is the classic old-school announcer, calmly dishing out stats, scores and substitutions with the rich, chug-a-chug rumble of an idling Harley. There's also a little Lou Rawls in that pitch-perfect voice. 'The PA gig has changed around the league,' the 61-year-old notes. 'It's morphed into a sort of cheerleader position. Dr. Buss has never told me to change, so I haven't.' For that, we can be thankful, because Tanter brings a big-market professionalism to his job -- a touch of West Coast cool. Indeed, it'll be a lousy day when Lakers games no longer feature that soulful 'voice of God' narration."

  • Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: "Shaquille O’Neal postponed his visit to Worcester today to continue to rehabilitate his sore right foot. O’Neal was scheduled to visit the Mercy Center with Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis and then be sworn in as a member of the Worcester County Reserve Deputy Sheriff Association. O’Neal will reschedule, according to Heather Walker, Celtics senior director of public relations. O’Neal hasn’t played since Feb. 1 because of an inflamed Achilles’ tendon. He was expected to be out only a week or two, but hasn’t responded to therapy."

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "Richard Hamilton’s 3-year-old son of the same name -- nicknamed 'Deuce' -- is old enough to know his father is an NBA player. But he might be surprised Friday when he finds out that dad is a television star, too. Hamilton will appear on the Disney Junior show "Imagination Movers" in an episode called 'Slam Dunk Solution' that will debut at 1:30 p.m. Friday on the Disney Channel. 'It’s going to be funny for him to see me on there,' Hamilton said. 'It’s fun. I think he’ll appreciate that more than me out here playing.' 'Imagination Movers' is a show that teaches problem-solving skills and is targeted at preschool-aged children. It features a band that teaches lessons with music. Hamilton, who taped the episode last summer, said it took longer than expected to put the show together. 'It took me from 7 in the morning till 12 at night,' Hamilton said. ... Hamilton said he might not have jumped at the opportunity to appear on a kids show early in his career, but now that he has children of his own and spends time with children while doing charity work, he was excited to take part. So what’s next on his schedule? How about a Nick Jr. show featuring colorful cartoonish live-action characters and cool music? 'That’s what we’re working on now,' Hamilton said with a grin. 'Trying to get on 'Yo Gabba Gabba.' ' "