First Cup: Monday

  • Lacy J. Banks of the Chicago Sun-Times: "After seven years of rejection by the Basketball Hall of Fame, former Bulls assistant Tex Winter, 89, finally will get in. So will Dennis Rodman. And sources say Chicago native and 76ers great Maurice Cheeks also will be inducted Aug. 12 in Springfield, Mass. 'It’s been a long time coming, and it’s well deserved,' Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. 'Not only because of the tremendous impact he had on the NBA and the championships he helped win, but because he also had a great college coaching career. It’s just sad that it didn’t happen when he could really enjoy it.' Hall of Fame forward Scottie Pippen agrees. He regrets this wasn’t done before. Winter suffered a stroke two years ago, basically leaving him speechless. 'It’s about time they decided to induct Tex,' Pippen said. 'They should’ve done this years ago.' It was Winter’s triangle offense that Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson implemented with the Bulls and Lakers."

  • Gary Peterson of The Oakland Tribune: "When the Class of 2011 is announced Monday, Chris Mullin will be among its members. Of course, at this rate the official announcement will be an anticlimax. Over the weekend, ESPN reported that Tex Winter, coach and architect of the triangle offense, had made the grade. The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that coach Dick Motta failed to receive enough votes. Meanwhile, Dennis Rodman, while in Detroit to have his No. 10 retired by the Pistons, reported that he was golden. Leave it to the bad boy among Bad Boys to scoop the club that just admitted him as a member. So where does Mullin fit in? There are indications the Hall is weary of being criticized, not only for some of its curious decisions (don't get us started on Dick Vitale), but also for its lack of accountability. Hall chairman Jerry Colangelo is pushing to release vote totals this year. That would be a first. But it would be a hollow gesture if the Hall of Fame, ostensibly serious about shoring up its credibility, admitted Rodman on his first try while leaving Mullin on the outside looking in for the fifth consecutive year. You just don't do that to a player with a more complete game and more comprehensive body of work. Look, it's the Basketball Hall of Fame, all-inclusive. It's not just the NBA Hall of Fame. Or, for that matter, the College Basketball Hall of Fame, or the Olympic Basketball Hall of Fame or the Attention-Getting Hair Statement Hall of Fame. With his distinctive crew cut, though, Mullin would qualify on all counts."

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "The MVP race is down to two candidates. Derrick Rose has one serious competitor to fend off in the final six games of the regular season. It’s not Orlando center Dwight Howard and certainly shouldn’t be Miami’s LeBron James. The one player with a legitimate chance to beat out Rose is an oldfavorite, Kobe Bryant. Bryant seemed to fall out of the picture early in the season based on a perception the two-time defending champs were underachieving. The Lakers spent much of the season trailing San Antonio and Dallas in the Western Conference standings. But since the all-star break, the Lakers have gone 17-2, even with Sunday’s loss to Denver. They’ve got an outside chance of catching the Spurs for the overall top seed. ... Statistics and team success are not necessarily the reason Bryant could win the MVP award. It’s possible voters could view this as a lifetime achievement award, maybe rightfully so. During 14 seasons in the league, Bryant has been named MVP once. That’s one less than contemporaries Steve Nash, Tim Duncan and James, even though Bryant has a chance to match Michael Jordan with his sixth championship by the end of June. Are voters ready to crown Rose the MVP at age 22? He would be the youngest in NBA history."

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "The security guards who work the lower corridors of the Air Canada Centre seemed shocked and delighted by the rarest of occurrences on Sunday night: An NBA player volunteered to help them keep the peace near the luxury suites. Yes, there was a game to play in less than an hour. But Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic centre, spared a handful of minutes to set up an impromptu checkpoint outside the visitors’ locker room. Howard did his best tongue-in-cheek impersonation of a power-drunk rent-a-cop. He hassled media-badge-wearing reporters just because he could. He let others pass because he could. And when the security-guard shtick got tired, he moved on to fresher material. 'There’s a show after the game. My show,' Howard said. 'I’m an adult entertainer.' That’s not necessarily a stretch, of course, since Howard, the impossibly muscled seven-footer, is fond of parading shirtless around NBA arenas while wiggling his derriere to a beat only he can hear. And perhaps there’s something about his vane goofiness that doesn’t help his case when it comes time to parse the candidates for league MVP."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "As the losses piled up to unthinkable heights, and the Spurs’ once unapproachable lead in the Western Conference dwindled to next to nothing, Matt Bonner found himself looking back in time and across an ocean for perspective. Playing for an Italian team, Sicilia Messina, as a professional rookie in 2003, Bonner not only endured a losing streak longer than the one the Spurs ended Sunday with a 114-97 demolition of Phoenix. His team finished dead last. 'It wasn’t my fault though,' Bonner said. 'The team went bankrupt, and a couple guys stopped showing up.' Say this much about the Spurs’ six-game losing streak, the club’s longest since 1996-97: At least the checks still cleared. The frustration-venting that occurred Sunday at the AT&T Center was more priceless than any paycheck for the Spurs, even if it came at the expense of a Suns team now eliminated from playoff contention. ... 'Losing six in a row, after winning so many games all year, wears on you mentally,' Bonner said. 'First and foremost, (it was) get the win, end the losing streak, and try to build off that confidence.' For Bonner, Sunday meant something else. For the first time in a while, being penniless in Italy did not feel like the good old days."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "The thumping heart of the Nuggets beat his thumping heart with his fist, as a stunned Staples Center crowd watched in awe, wondering who these guys were with all the gall. Kenyon Martin and his Nuggets teammates showed up in L.A. and beat the Lakers on their home court 95-90 on Sunday afternoon, thanks to Martin's offensive rebound tip-in with 11 seconds left, following a missed Nene free throw. The Nuggets (47-29) are an improbable 15-4 since trading Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, after the biggest win of their season -- defeating the Lakers (55-21), who entered Sunday's game 17-1 since the all-star break. 'You hear about the Lakers and Dallas,' Denver's Raymond Felton said of the top teams in the Western Conference. 'But you've got to talk about the Nuggets too.' Sunday's win clinched a playoff spot for Denver, now three games behind No. 4 Oklahoma City in the standings. 'There's no question that we're excited about trying to figure out what we're going to be,' Nuggets coach George Karl said of his revamped squad."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register Asked about the ramifications of this loss -- and the chances for home-court advantage in possible series against San Antonio or Chicago definitely took a hit -- Kobe Bryant laughed … pretty close to uncontrollably. He smiled big and called a reporter a 'smart-(aleck)' for asking a later question about San Antonio. Indeed, it had been just 40 hours earlier in Utah that Bryant had actually said this about securing a higher seed and home-court advantage over the Spurs: 'It means nothing.' The reason he dared set that bar so low is that he had this ground-zero summation for where the Lakers stand: 'We’re right where we want to be.' ... The Lakers have regained their confidence and swagger. They’ll take the game from someone or possibly give it away. It’s on them -- not anyone else in this league. It’s actually a better place than the Lakers have been at any point in recent years. They couldn’t be absolutely sure what they had two years ago after blowing the previous NBA Finals to Boston. Last season, as we’ve already discussed, they were just trying to patch it together to the end. This season, they know. They already know. So, if you ask about everything else? It means nothing."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "The basketball was launched 60 feet, landed on a TV camera atop the basket, and bounced hard toward the crowd, but Lamar Odom was still upset. He failed to box out Kenyon Martin, allowing the Denver Nuggets' forward to slip in for a tip-in with 11 seconds left in the Lakers' 95-90 loss Sunday. 'That's twice this year,' Odom muttered to a reporter as he ambled across the locker room 30 minutes later. Indeed, Odom allowed San Antonio forward Antonio McDyess to score with a similarly late tip-in two months ago. The Spurs mobbed McDyess, celebrating perhaps their biggest victory this season. The only action on the court at Sunday's was Odom slinging the ball in frustration from one end to the other. Odom was mad at himself. He also hoped to get some help from Ron Artest, who was on the other side of Martin. 'Me and Ron have been playing basketball all our life and we didn't communicate on that last free throw,' Odom said. 'We were supposed to squeeze [Martin], know what I'm saying?' Said Artest: 'I guess [Martin] punked us. Or he cheated. One or the other.' "

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: "Heat forward Mike Miller admits he feels a little guilty. He was supposed to be in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Instead, the likable shooter could be considered one of the NBA’s biggest individual disappointments of the regular season. The significance of that statement is not lost on Miller, who has struggled this season due to injury. 'You do feel guilty at times because you want to be able to do more and help but I have to make sure I’m healthy for the stretch we have left,' Miller said. At this point, that’s the most important thing -- that Miller is as healthy as possible for the Heat’s playoff run. He has played in only 36 games this season because of injuries, including torn ligaments in his thumb, a nasty series of blows to the head and, most recently, a bruised right knee. After missing the Heat’s first three games of road trip, Miller played extensively Sunday against the Nets."

  • Barbara Barker of Newsday: "LeBron James considers himself a fan and a student of the game, so it was no big surprise Sunday when he said he has been paying close attention to the teams jockeying for the lower playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference. What was a surprise is that James doesn't care whom Miami plays in the first round. 'Doesn't matter,' James said before a 31-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist effort in the Heat's 108-94 win over the Nets. 'I don't care, personally.' Well, he should. The one team that could give the Heat a series clinched its playoff berth Sunday night right across the river from here. Knicks-Heat is the one first-round series every Knicks fan should want to see, and with less than two weeks to go in the regular season, it remains a distinct possibility. Of all the Knicks' possible first-round opponents -- the Celtics, the Heat and the Bulls -- Miami is the most intriguing for historical, matchup and story-line reasons. The teams have a lot in common. Each boasts a pair of players among the top 15 in the league. Each lacks size. And each is composed of new players who are struggling to understand their roles and trying to jell. OK, maybe it would be more accurate to say the Knicks have two of the league's top 15 players in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire and Miami has two of the top three in James and Dwyane Wade . But that only lends some David-and-Goliath excitement to the matchup."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "I suspect both sides left the Rose Garden pleased with themselves under the circumstances. Portland got victory No. 45. Dallas gave up no secrets. Fans got a Chalupa. Bliss. Which brings up a point: These two teams are a perfect first-round postseason date. If there ever was a conspiracy theorist in the NBA offices -- one with a soft spot for first-round matchups -- we'd get the Mavericks and Blazers in the opening round. Both sides are well-coached. Both sides have star players. Both sides believe they're the better team. Both sides suffer from bouts of bizarre inconsistency. There are great fans in both Dallas and Portland. And the series would be a lock to go seven wild games, culminating in Dallas for a spirited, ratings-heavy, do-or-die Game 7 in which both sides flexed every imaginable tactical move. Basically, the game we didn't get on Sunday. The hope here is that Portland understands the Mavericks allowed them to play Slap Jack on Jason Kidd's forehead. The Dallas reserves showed spunk, but that was it."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: " If Dirk Nowitzki needs any extra data for his claim that Tyson Chandler is the Mavericks' MVP, all he needs to do is run the game tape of Sunday night's debacle. Chandler missed the game with a lower back contusion and while Brendan Haywood had 11 rebounds and put in a hard night's work in many respects, it was clear that the absence of Chandler makes a huge difference on the Mavericks, particularly at the defensive end. ... As Nowitzki said, the Mavericks don't have any real reason to panic right now. They lost three games in a row, but they have no chance to catch the Lakers and now with the third seed looking like a lock, they will likely rest some of their key players in the final five games. 'Worried is a bit much,' Nowitzki said when asked if he was worried. 'You go through ups and downs in a season. Obviously, it's a little late in the season to go through a down. That's a little disappointing. But it could be worse. It could be in the playoffs. We need some home cooking now. Hopefully, we'll have Tyson back and then we got to go for it again. We got to play better, get more out of myself. Jet hasn't been there on this trip. J-Kidd's got to make some shots. Just all across the board.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "If nothing else, the Rockets showed again they will not go quietly. In the first quarter, Kyle Lowry was barking at Atlanta’s Zaza Pachulia, accusing him of an intentional elbow that opened a six-stitch gash on Lowry’s upper lip. By halftime, Rockets coach Rick Adelman was shouting at everyone, demanding a defensive effort he was not getting. But by the time the Rockets had turned things around, rallying from a 14-point deficit to a 114-109 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday at Toyota Center, fans were chanting 'MVP, MVP,' a Kentucky blue-hued salute to Chuck Hayes and, in a way, to the Rockets’ stubborn pursuit of the last Western Conference playoff spot. 'You can say what you want to say about this team, dissect the wins how we want,' Rockets guard Kevin Martin said, 'but at the end of the day, we’re just a pretty darn good basketball team.' But the Rockets’ playoff chances were reduced again, even with their seventh consecutive home win moving them five games over .500 for the first time this season. With the Hornets’ win Sunday, the Rockets trail Memphis and New Orleans by three games with just five left."

  • Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times: "For fans and media, the Bulls’ magic number is four. All the Bulls need to do is win four of their remaining six games, and they’ll have the best record in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs. If the Heat and Celtics each lose a game -- and the Celtics still play in Chicago and Miami -- even a 3-3 mark would do the job. Considering that the Bulls have 20 losses, one more than San Antonio, the best overall record in the league also is very much in play. And the Lakers only have 21 losses. For the Bulls, though, there’s no magic in those numbers. There’s only a process of honing their game so they’re ready to handle whatever lies ahead. 'It might sound crazy, but I’m just worrying about over here,’ guard Derrick Rose said. 'Our destiny’s in our hands. We’re trying to finish strong and win every game.’ Rose was pretty much speaking for the whole team."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Zach Randolph was an All-Star snub and might be hard-pressed to win any postseason honors this season. However, Hollins considers Randolph the Grizzlies' most valuable player with the franchise on the verge of locking up its first playoff berth since the 2005-06 season. 'Of course, he's our MVP,' Hollins said of Randolph. 'Ever since he's been here we've been a good team. Last year we didn't have enough to get over the hump. We didn't make it to .500, but we were pretty close. We made a 16-game improvement, and now we're on the cusp of doing something special.' Hollins said management would be remiss not to work out a contract extension with the 6-9, 10-year veteran. The Griz recently presented Randolph's agent, Raymond Brothers, with the framework of a four-year deal. Both sides continue to report they are involved in constructive contract talks that should lead to a deal. ... Hollins said he always believed that the black hole label placed on Randolph was unfair. Hollins argued that Randolph was always asked to be a primary scorer with is previous teams. In Memphis, Randolph readily accepted that there would be nights when he'd have to sacrifice scoring to counter defensive schemes."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "The last thing the Thunder needs to run into in the postseason, it seems, is an opponent that implements and executes a zone defense. Fortunately for Oklahoma City, the Denver Nuggets, the Thunder's current first-round opponent if the standings hold, use little to no zone. But Portland, which is in sixth place and only three games behind Denver, mixed in a zone throughout several stretches of the last two meetings. And, like Phoenix, it bothered the Thunder. The Thunder's struggles against a zone have largely been caused by the same problem that plagues many young teams. OKC has grown hesitant the moment a team switches. The Thunder sends too many passes around the perimeter rather than exploring possible gaps within the teeth of the defense. Those passes are a good show of patience, but they generally lead to a 3-point shot that plays right into the defense's hand."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "The Bucks could play the 'what if' game but it won't change their status on the outside looking in at the NBA playoffs. Milwaukee trails the Indiana Pacers by three games for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot following Indiana's loss at New Orleans on Sunday night. But any combination of Bucks losses and Pacers victories totaling two will eliminate the Bucks. Indiana also gained a tiebreaker with Milwaukee by virtue of its 89-88 victory over Milwaukee on Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse. ... Milwaukee could have dramatically changed its position with victories over Charlotte and Indiana last week, but instead lost a pair of one-point decisions. The Bucks missed their last 11 shots, including three in the final seconds, in an 87-86 defeat to the Bobcats. And Drew Gooden missed an off-balance three-pointer in the final seconds after a designed play broke down against the Pacers. 'It's just a little too late,' Bucks center Andrew Bogut said after the team's 93-87 overtime victory against Philadelphia on Saturday. 'If we could have got those a couple weeks ago it would have been nice.' Bogut was asked if he ever thinks about how the Bucks would have fared if Gooden and some of the other players who missed extended time had been on the court. 'We can't look at it that way,' Bogut said. 'I have a page or two of 'what ifs' for the season. There's a lot of things that could have worked, that could have changed, but we've got to live with reality and push forward with what we've got.' "