First Cup: Tuesday

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "Within the past 48 hours, several longtime Kings fans, sponsors and former executives organized a gathering that is expected to be part protest, part lovefest for an NBA franchise that is probably scooting south before winter. Cesar Chavez Plaza, 10th and I streets, 5 p.m. today. Everyone is invited. ... Can the collectively raised voices accomplish something productive? Is there a chance the Maloofs, the league's 29 other owners and Commissioner David Stern be convinced the NBA doesn't need a third franchise in Southern California? That the Kings belong to Sacramento? Probably not, but this sure seems like a healthier alternative to overdosing on antacids. 'If we learned anything from our experiences, it was that in the absence of a solution to the arena problem, none of this matters," said Brian Robinson, co-founder of the Save Our Sonics campaign that unsuccessfully fought to keep the team from relocating to Oklahoma City from Seattle in 2008. 'The Maloofs know the fans love the Kings. You could throw tomatoes at them, and they would still know fans love the Kings. Any action has to be designed to apply the political pressure.' ... Contacted earlier Monday in Seattle, Robinson recalled a similar protest/peace gathering his grass-roots organization held in June 2008. About 3,000 residents were lured to the grounds of the federal courthouse, including then-King Spencer Hawes. There was chanting, cheering, pleading. There was hope. In the end, the Sonics still left. 'It will make the fans feel better,' Robinson said. 'But a new building is all that matters.' "

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Artis Gilmore's inclusion in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2011 added an even more distinct Bulls feel to the already reported inductions of Dennis Rodman and Tex Winter. But there is one Bull who yet again didn't get the Hall call because, stunningly, he never even has been named a finalist for consideration: Jerry Krause. It's way past time for this oversight to change. Think what you want about how much blame Krause should take for the dynasty's end, even if myriad factors created more than enough blame to share. Ridicule him, if you feel you must, for lack of social graces or occasional verbal missteps. Then look up at the United Center rafters, where six championships banners hang. Or travel to Springfield, Mass., and stroll through the Hall of Fame itself. ... In 2004, Krause resigned from the voting panel and said he never would again set foot in the Hall of Fame until Winter earned induction. Winter is in. Krause should be too."

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "This might come as a shock to some basketball observers, but Bulls center Joakim Noah carries a healthy respect for Dennis Rodman, the often eccentric rebounding machine who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame later this year. 'I love Dennis Rodman,' Noah said Mondayat the Berto Center. 'He was always a hero of mine growing up. Every time I see him, he shows me a lot of love and a lot of words of encouragement.' It might be a stretch to call Noah and Rodman pals. They have made a personal connection, though, which was renewed last Friday when Rodman had his No. 10 jersey retired by the Detroit Pistons during halftime of a game against the Bulls. 'Even during the ceremony, with everything going on around him, he comes by the bench and talks to me for a minute,' Noah said. 'He did that for me in Chicago. I’ve seen him a few times around. He’s an unbelievable guy. There are not a lot of guys who go out of their way, especially from the older generation, to show love the way that he does.' "

  • Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News: "The foolishness won't end until the season ends, and that can't come quickly enough. In case you wondered whether the Pistons still were dysfunctional and immature, here comes Rodney Stuckey with another blast of nonsense. Stuckey isn't nearly good enough -- not even close -- to warrant diva status, but with the Pistons these days, that doesn't matter. At one point, Stuckey represented the future. Now, he looks like just another selfish guy who wants to go. If I'm team president Joe Dumars, I'd suspend Stuckey longer, then pass on re-signing the restricted free agent, or sign him and deal him. Stuckey was benched Sunday in Boston because he refused John Kuester's request to re-enter in the fourth quarter last Friday against Chicago. That was the night Detroit honored Dennis Rodman with a classy jersey retirement. Ah, the irony. The unspoken motto for Rodman and the Bad Boys: Do whatever it takes. The unspoken motto for these Pouty Pistons: Do whatever they please."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "It’s accepted now that worry lines will be very much in fashion around the Celtics until Shaquille O’Neal can get back into the lineup and stay there. To that end, Doc Rivers offered encouraging news yesterday by saying the big man could return by the weekend from the right calf strain he suffered in Sunday’s win against Detroit. Word from inside the Celts is that the biggest task is reassuring O’Neal that this latest injury is not serious and not the harbinger of a larger problem. Shaq had missed the previous 27 games with a sore right Achilles tendon, and the fact he had been in an immobilizing boot for a week may have contributed to the calf tweak. In just 5:29 on the floor, O’Neal exhibited his great value to the operation -- so much so that his teammates should be willing to do what’s necessary to have him back when the need is greatest. The talk that Shaq must be fully ready by the start of the playoffs is misguided. If the Celtics cannot win a first-round series without Shaq (or with him in a limited role), then there may be no point to their championship dreams anyway. 'We don’t have to rush him,' Ray Allen said. 'But there is going to be a point where length is going to be important and we need him.' "

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "There is nothing inspiring about the Knicks’ 38-38 record, nor the three-game winning streak that got them to this point. They needed overtime to beat a depleted Orlando team, then slugged out a victory over the lowly Nets before bullying the abysmal Cavaliers. The Anthony-led Knicks have yet to play with the sort of fluidity, selflessness and aesthetic joy that the Stoudemire-led Knicks displayed before the trade. That team was not dominant by any stretch, but it had an identifiable star, a willing supporting cast and a clearly defined mission. The Knicks kept the ball moving and the pace frantic. At their best, they won 13 of 14 games and pushed seven games over .500. They were young and evolving, which made their triumphs all the more enjoyable for a long-suffering fan base. When the Knicks acquired Anthony, they traded youth for experience and modest hopes for unreasonable expectations -- as if the mere appearance of two star players would ensure instant title contention. In all likelihood, the Stoudemire-Anthony Knicks will lose in the first round, just as the pretrade Knicks would have. But one imagines that Gallinari and Chandler would have exulted a little upon clinching their first playoff berth and that the Garden might have enjoyed a little exhilaration, rather than simple relief."

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Lakers games and practices normally draw a large pack of print, Internet and radio and TV reporters, but their numbers have increased even more since shooting began on the new reality show starring Odom and his wife, Khloe Kardashian. Odom shrugged when asked about being shadowed by a crew of camera and boom microphone operators. He's used to such intrusions, especially when he's out in public after a tough loss like the one the Lakers suffered Sunday. 'You know, you're at the club and TMZ is right there in your face, like, 'Why didn't you box out, Lamar?' ' Odom joked, referring to a pivotal play late in Sunday's loss, when he failed to block out Denver's Kenyon Martin, who sank a clinching layup."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "The most challenging aspect of Shane Battier's reunion with the Grizzlies has come on the offensive end of the court, where his productivity is noticeably less than what he provided to the Houston Rockets. In the 18 games since Battier joined the Griz at the February trade deadline, his scoring average, shooting percentages and shot attempts have dramatically decreased from his days in Houston. He's also playing nearly seven fewer minutes on average. But Battier prides himself on efficiency, which he hopes to improve before the end of the regular season. 'I haven't shot the ball the way I've wanted to,' Battier said Monday. 'I have to make shots. It's on me. I'm still trying to understand how to fit in the system. A lot of the teams I've played on have been inside-out. But we haven't found ways to play inside-out. In the playoffs, we're going to have to. In the playoffs, people take away the paint. We're going to have to hit some jump shots.' Translation: Battier isn't afforded the opportunity to launch corner 3-pointers the way he's accustomed to. Conversely, the Griz aren't used to looking for that shot given how they've lacked consistent long-range shot-makers this season."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "The Orlando Magic face a dilemma over the next week. Should the Magic go all-out in their final five games of the regular season even though its playoff seeding is all but certain and attempt to build momentum for the postseason? Or should the injury-ravaged team attempt to give its players as much rest as possible? A crystal clear road map doesn't exist. On one hand, 15 of the last 20 NBA Finals champions and runners-up finished their regular seasons with winning records over their last 10 games. But last year's Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics took a different route. The Lakers closed out the year with a 4-6 record, while the Celtics went 3-7. The franchises reached the Finals, seemingly proving that a team can flip a switch after a regular season ends and catch fire in the playoffs. 'The Boston Celtics can get to Day One of the playoffs and turn it on,' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. 'They've been there before. They've won a championship. They know what it is. Other than [Nenad] Krstic and [Jeff] Green, their core is the same guys. They know what to do. The San Antonio Spurs can do it. The Lakers can do it. The rest of us can't do it. We don't have the background. We don't have enough guys that've been there and done it. We've got to go in [to the postseason] playing with great intensity and energy. We just do.' That explains why Van Gundy would like his team to play better Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks than it did in a loss Sunday night to the Toronto Raptors.' "

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "They called Jamal Crawford 'The Difference' because his scoring punch off the bench helped jolt the Hawks to 53 victories last season. Now things are just different for Atlanta's shooting guard. There are fewer big scoring games that made him a fan favorite and Sixth Man Award Winner last season. There are more nights where he hardly shoots at all, can't find his rhythm when he does or generally appears passive on the court. Crawford said there's been tension this season between his instincts and his altered role in coach Larry Drew’s offense. He's a natural scorer off the dribble who sometimes has to be a playmaker when he has the ball and seek scoring chances without it. ... When the Hawks traded for Crawford before last season, then-Hawks coach Mike Woodson carved out a narrow role for Crawford: Come off the bench and, above all else, score. The Hawks ran pick-and-rolls and isolation plays for Crawford to that end. Crawford's defense was unsteady as ever but he was so good in his specialist role that he was a net plus for the Hawks. 'I was an attacker, period,' Crawford said. 'You are putting teams on their heels the minute you come in the game.' ... The uneven season could mean financial penalty for Crawford, who is in the final year of a contract that pays him $10.1 million this season. He asked the Hawks for a contract extension last summer but was rebuffed and also had his trade request denied. Crawford said he's not worried that his declining production will affect his value if he becomes a free agent this summer. 'I think I should be commended for not trying to [force things],' he said. 'A lot of people on their contract year take a whole bunch of shots. I've actually gone the other way.' "

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "To quote every single Nuggets fan in the entire Milky Way: 'OK, sure, but how will they do in the playoffs?' That's the question surrounding the team with the third-best record in basketball since the all-star break. The new-look Nuggets have knocked off the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics. Their defense is intense. Their rebounding is astounding. They have a swagger that's fueled from winning and teamwork, not from shoe contracts and reality shows. OK, but the playoffs? Well, tonight they'll get a little taste of the postseason. Friday too. The No. 5 Nuggets twice play the No. 4 Thunder, the team Denver likely will face in the first round. And while there's still a possibility that the Nuggets can catch Oklahoma City and nab home-court advantage -- the Thunder is three games up with six games left -- more realistically, these two games will simply be litmus tests. 'Another win would be another statement,' Nuggets point guard Raymond Felton said, in reference to Sunday's statement win at the Lakers. 'We'll try to make them all the way for the rest of the year, if we can.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant has never won inside the Pepsi Center. It's one of only four venues in which the Thunder's star still hasn't defeated the home team. But if Durant wants to see his team hang onto fourth place in the Western Conference, he might want to make it a point to mark off the Mile High City from his list Tuesday night. Suddenly, the Thunder is in a tight race with Denver for the fourth seed in the playoffs. At stake for the winner of said race is the Northwest Division crown and home-court advantage in the first round. The Thunder takes a three-game lead into Tuesday's game, but the Nuggets are red hot, having won their last six, including a gutsy win Sunday against an even hotter Los Angeles Lakers team inside Staples Center. Then there's this. The Thunder hasn't won at Denver since March 28, 2007. ... 'I hope we get the first one. But it's no added pressure,' Durant said confidently."

  • Jennifer Floyd Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Nothing died Sunday in Portland, despite contrary reports. Nothing that was really ever real anyway. What we witnessed with LaMarcus Aldridge and his Trail Blazers slapping an already wobbly Dallas Mavericks bunch around was just further indicators of a team limping through yet another April for another date with yet another premature postseason ejection. The Mavs are not contenders, not for anything of any weight. The Ben and Skin radio boys like to claim proprietary rights to 'One And Done Boys' as a Mavericks nickname. By all means, it is yours, boys. In light of recent events in LA, San Fran and, most recently, Portland, that nickname seems overly optimistic anyway. The Mavs already have clinched a postseason spot, so we have at least a playoff series to muddle through. Plans for anything beyond a trip or two to Portland, or whoever ends up as the No. 6 seed, seem dicey, at best. All signs point to 'The Done and Done Boys' or 'The Looks Like 2007 Boys' as being better monikers. Or just 'The Mavericks' fits, too, because with a stack of 50-win seasons and very little playoff cha-ching to show for them, Mavs basketball has come to epitomize amazing regular season, disappointing postseason."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Rockets guard Kevin Martin did not describe himself as 'a scorer.' The term he chose was slightly different, but with a significant distinction in its implication. Martin is, he said, 'the scorer,' as if that refers more to his job than just his ability, a designation more than description. That, he said, is why with the season on the line, he consistently has led the Rockets' surging offense and late-season turnaround that have kept the team in unlikely playoff contention. With the roster thinned at the trade deadline and the rotation shortened since, roles became clear. Responsibilities grew essential. Martin's job, more than ever, has been to score consistently. 'Kyle (Lowry) knows I'm the scorer, so he finds me,' Martin, 6-7, said of the point guard and the chemistry they developed. 'There's no secret about that.' Martin has led the Rockets in scoring in 10 of their last 11 games heading into tonight's matchup against his former team, the Sacramento Kings. He has averaged 27.3 points per game in that stretch, moving to ninth in the NBA in scoring with an average of 23.4 points per game."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Sunday’s slump-busting 114-97 win over Phoenix brought laughter back to the Spurs’ locker room. Players joked and cut up, basking in the end of a six-game losing streak that had begun to wear on all of them. Leave it to Tim Duncan, the team’s captain and emotional touchstone, to bring the room back down. 'This,' he said, 'was a good start.' Translation: Hold the champagne shower. There is work to be done. Now that the worst losing streak of Duncan’s career is over, the Spurs must set about the business of the rest of the season. More than simply holding onto the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Spurs hope to use their final five games, beginning tonight in Atlanta, to establish momentum heading into the playoffs. 'We’re just going to play out the season, and whatever happens happens,' Duncan said. 'We want to start playing like we want to play. That’s what matters.' "

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Dwight Howard would love to host an episode of 'Saturday Night Live' one day. But there have been plenty impediments. Of course, the biggest hurdle is that SNL's producers usually prefer to book Hollywood stars and famous musicians as hosts. Another obstacle is that Howard's playing schedule is too rigid and 'SNL' needs its hosts in place for almost an entire week. But a lockout would free up Howard's schedule and make an 'SNL' gig a remote possibility, an upgrade from no possibility at all. Howard's successful recent guest spots on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' and 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon' may have enhanced his chances."

  • Mark Viera and Pete Thamel of The New York Times: "While some agents said they were seeing the typical number of players entering the draft without representation -- a move to preserve their eligibility, should they decide to return to college -- the potential lockout has factored into some agents’ discussions with potential clients. Last year, 80 underclassmen entered the draft; 29 later changed their mind. 'I think it will have an effect, and it should have one,' the agent Mark Bartelstein said, noting the consequence of leaving early and being sidelined by a lockout. 'That’s a disastrous thing for a player in the development stage of his career. It is an issue, and something I’ve raised with coaches and families, and that’s part of the equation, I think.' The N.B.A.’s draft advisory committee, which provides feedback to players about their draft status, will not be affected by the threat of a lockout. A spokesman said it would still provide guidance to players about where they might be selected in the draft. N.B.A. executives, however, still do not seem sure whether to expect a similar or different group of underclassmen making the professional leap. The draft will be held June 23 at Prudential Center in Newark."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Former Indiana Pacers coach and current radio color analyst Bob 'Slick' Leonard has never been so happy about having broken ribs. He knows there's a chance he wouldn't be alive without the broken ribs. Leonard suffered the injury when medical staff frantically tried to revive him four times after he suffered a heart attack on the team bus following the March 13 game in New York. 'I truly feel blessed to be alive today,' Leonard said in a recent phone interview. 'They thought they lost me. (Trainers) Josh Corbeil and Carl Eaton beat me up pretty good that night, but they saved my life.' Leonard said team president Larry Bird arranged for a plane to transport Leonard's wife, Nancy, to New York to be with him, and also for their return to Indianapolis. Television analyst Quinn Buckner stayed by Leonard's side during that fearful night. Center Jeff Foster referred to it as 'one of the scariest moments' he has experienced. Leonard, 78, had two stents inserted into his heart at a New York hospital before returning to Indianapolis. 'I probably wouldn't be here today if I was out by myself that night,' Leonard said. 'It's a miracle.' "