First Cup: Monday

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLos Angeles.com: "Los Angeles' 120-106 loss to the Thunder on Sunday has the Lakers backed against a wall. It's about time. 'Maybe it puts us in a position that we need to be in where we have to [win],' said Lamar Odom. 'We haven't been in one of those in a long time.' The Thunder put them in a similar soul-searching mode following their 21-point win in Game 4 of the first round last April to tie the series 2-2. From that point on when the Lakers could feel the pressure of their season ending as losers, L.A. went on to win eight straight games in the playoffs and eventually beat Boston in the Finals. ... Suddenly, L.A.'s back-to-back games against San Antonio on Tuesday and Sacramento on Wednesday aren't just about resting starters in advance of the playoffs (as Bryant said the Spurs are likely to do). It's about fighting to make sure that 17-of-18 run wasn't in vain."

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "A week after trailing No. 1 San Antonio by one game in the loss column, Sunday's 120-106 loss to Oklahoma City dropped the Lakers to one game in the loss column ahead of the No. 4 Thunder. Of course, maintain their legendary cool, even if the Lakers have lost five in a row, what's the problem? They've already clinched a playoff berth! What's losing home-court advantage in a series, or two, or three, or all of them? Happily for them, nothing ever knocks Coach Phil Jackson off stride … Well, nothing ever did before this when he opened his pregame news conference, announcing the problem was 'a lack of urgency.' That's basketball talk for: 'We didn't (yawn) try very hard.' Let's just say there aren't a lot of coaches of two-time defending champions who ever held a session like this."

  • Darnell Mayberry ofThe Oklahoman: "On Sunday, he checked off a win against the Los Angeles Lakers inside Staples Center from his checklist. The 120-106 victory was the first time Durant and the Thunder notched a win here, one of only three places the Oklahoma City All-Star has yet to defeat the home team in his four-year career. But Durant wasn't focused on that minor milestone. 'It feels good. But we don't play this game just to say we want to beat the Lakers at home,' said Durant, who scored a team-high 31 points on 11 of 15 shooting. 'This was a step in the right direction. But we want to get to something bigger. It was kind of a statement win for us.' With it, the Thunder keeps pace with Dallas and the Lakers for a chance to improve its seeding with two games remaining. The Thunder, currently in fourth place, now trails both the Mavericks and the Lakers by one game. L.A. currently holds the tiebreaker over Dallas for the second seed, but the Thunder holds the potential tiebreaker over Dallas."

  • Darnell Mayberry ofThe Oklahoman: "We got our first look at how the new-look Thunder matches up with the Lakers. I’d say it was a mixed bag. There was an obvious improvement in physicality and athleticism by the Thunder. Kendrick Perkins was able to man-up on Andrew Bynum more than any other player we’ve ever seen. But Bynum and Pau Gasol were still able to do work on the inside, combining for 38 points (many of them contributing to L.A.’s 54 paint points) and 17 rebounds. Gasol, though, was held to four boards, and Bynum was held to 12 points, just two coming after halftime. The Thunder out-rebounded the Lakers 38-34. It could have been much worse. We’ve seen it when it was much worse. All things considered, the Thunder’s bigs get a passing grade."

  • Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Around here, of course, we always blame the Mavericks coach. And we could also blame Donnie Nelson, who handles basketball operations. But we certainly don't blame the players, and gawd knows, the media certainly doesn't blame the owner, despite Cuban being heavily involved in every player acquisition this team makes. Cuban is Jerry. Except Jerry is enough of a standup guy that he doesn't blame anybody but himself. Cuban blames everybody except himself. Last week, Cuban even blamed negative media on his team's woeful performance of late. He's now threatening to ban locker-room access to the same media parrots who have always given him nothing except butt pats. I'm still laughing over that one. And the parrots are now in shock. It's 'Un-American' to treat the media this way. Their pal Mark has turned on them. The first round of the playoffs is on the way. We will pass judgment on this team once the results are in. Evidence at the moment strongly suggests the Mavericks' ongoing problems will carry over into the playoffs. Evidence also strongly suggests these problems are linked directly to the overall talent level, and not the coach. In a daring, bold statement, I even blame the owner. (Beat me, whip me, blog me, Mark.) But, Rick, that's just my opinion. Nobody agreed when Evil Avery was fired, and nobody will agree now. I love you, man. You've got coconuts. But prepare thyself."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "Yes, the Celtics beat the Spurs in San Antonio recently. But in the past month, they have also lost to the Clippers, Sixers, Nets, Rockets, Grizzlies, Bobcats and Pacers. And now to the Heat, by 23 points. The Celtics’ total margin of victory in the first three meetings with Miami was 16. Disinterest from a veteran team preparing for a postseason run? No. Not this time. This is a disconcerting stretch from a once-feared rival. 'It’s very hard [losing like that], especially going into the playoffs,' Pierce said. The Heat spent much of the postgame talking about getting over the hump against the Celtics. That did happen. But it turns out the Celtics might have actually helped shove the Heat over that hump. Big brother just isn’t that scary anymore."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "Yesterday at AmericanAirlines Arena, it was like Frank Sinatra singing with the aid of a teleprompter. It was the last gasps from a great Celtics team -- unless something dramatically changes before Saturday. Like Sinatra in those final days, the Celtics were recognizable, but the show they performed wasn’t quite the same. They were good for 7 minutes and 32 seconds, when Kevin Garnett hit the fourth 3-pointer of his Celtics career to produce a 22-15 lead over the Heat. Then the Celtics didn’t score for the rest of the quarter. Then they recorded one field goal in the first five minutes of the second quarter. And they never led again, showing little emotion and much confusion in a 100-77 drubbing. There is frustration regarding this team. The Celtics are not themselves, or maybe they are themselves. Maybe this is what the team erosion over the past year has made them become. Maybe these are the players who will hit the court at TD Garden this weekend, realizing they eventually will be playoff prey. Miami ain’t scared anymore, and neither is Chicago. Both whipped the Celtics on national television in the last few days, each one an embarrassing performance by the men in green."

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: "So who had the Chicago Bulls in their NBA East Division champs pool? They are what NBA reality is all about despite the persistent media stalking in South Florida, The Greatest Team Ever, or so we've been told. Everybody still raves about the Big Three in Miami. Everybody loves the old-school style of the Big Three in Boston. But some people are simply clueless about the Big Three in Chicago. Meet Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, the leaders of the pack for the best team in the East. The Bulls beat the Orlando Magic to win their 60th game Sunday afternoon, only the sixth time in franchise history they've reached that milestone. Watch and learn, kids. The Bulls are bringing many teachable moments to the NBA."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Danny Granger would have drawn considerable defensive attention in the Bulls-Pacers playoff series even before making a comment that also will make him a marked man. 'Boston's a different monster,' Granger told the Indianapolis Star. 'They don't have the best record in the East, but they won championships. They know how to do it. They have four, five guys you have to worry about, from (Paul) Pierce, (Rajon) Rondo, (Kevin) Garnett and (Ray) Allen. Chicago, they go as Derrick Rose goes. If you make a concerted effort to stop Derrick Rose, you have a better chance to beat them.' The Bulls have been a self-motivated team all season, so they reacted mostly with a shrug to Granger's comment. In fact, Rose agreed with part of Granger's premise in brushing off a question about Sunday's game against the Magic serving as a second-round playoff preview. 'That's if we get to the second round,' Rose said. 'I'm not looking that far ahead. We haven't accomplished anything yet.' "

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "As for how the Grizzlies should approach those remaining two games, well, it's complicated. 'It gives me a headache,' said Shane Battier, and he went to Duke. What do you think it does to the rest of us? The way it works out, though, the Grizzlies can ascend from the eighth seed to the sixth seed if they beat Portland and the Clippers and if New Orleans loses to either Utah or Dallas. But do the Grizzlies want to be the sixth seed? What happens if the feared Lakers drop into the third seed? Then what's so hot about being sixth? Or, what happens if the Grizzlies can somehow manage to beat Portland but New Orleans defeats Utah tonight? Are the Grizzlies going to wait and see how New Orleans does against Dallas on Wednesday before deciding whether to try to win their own game against the Clippers later that night? 'We're not going to manipulate it,' said coach Lionel Hollins. 'We're happy to be in the playoffs.' That last part is certainly and emphatically true. The fans are happy and the owner is happy and the players are happy. The locker room is brimming with smiles these days."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "If Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had his way, every arena in the NBA would be due a makeover. If the league rules committee would allow it, he would personally travel to every building from the Staples Center to Madison Square Garden and scrub the 3-point line off the court himself. 'I’m old-school, I wish there weren’t any threes,' Popovich said. 'It would be more basketball-like to me.' Instead, each NBA gym comes equipped with an arc painted 23 feet, 9 inches from the basket at its apex, beckoning shooters to step right up and gamble for extra points. This season, the 3-point shot has been uncommonly good to the Spurs, who have made 671 of them, shattering the franchise mark of 625 and sparking the most prolific offense of Popovich’s 15 seasons. As the postseason approaches, it is a record some Spurs view with a strange brew of admiration and suspicion. 'We don’t need to fall in love with the 3-pointer,' point guard Tony Parker said. 'We can’t count on hitting threes. Threes can come and go.' Heading into the final two games of the season, the Spurs rank fourth in the NBA in 3-pointers made and first in accuracy (39.9 percent)."

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Oklahoma City has spooked the Mile High City. With two games left and a ton of movement still to come in the NBA's Western Conference playoff race, there's one move most people agree on: They don't want the Nuggets to play Oklahoma City in the first round. Two losses to the Thunder last week, and in particular the manner in which the game in Oklahoma City went down, have served as the deterrents. But the Thunder is the best matchup for the Nuggets from a long-term point of view. Everything the Nuggets have done since the Carmelo Anthony trade was with an eye to be championship-ready in the next few seasons. An influx of good, young players in conjunction with the core group has injected energy, enthusiasm and hope that a contending team can be realized sooner rather than later. Part of that is a maturation that only playing tough games in pressure situations can provide. If the Dallas Mavericks are the opponent, the one team of the top four that is "easiest" for the Nuggets to handle, it might get them through to the second round but might not be best in the long run for a young team that isn't likely to win a title this season."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "One step forward, two steps back. The Pacers were feeling good about themselves when they clinched a playoff spot last week only to have to deal more drama with Lance Stephenson when Frank Vogel demoted the rookie to the fourth point guard on the roster for violating team rules. The only Stephenson will have a chance to play again this season is if Darren Collison, A.J. Price or T.J. Ford get injured. You have to wonder if the switch will ever click on for Stephenson and if he’ll still be a Pacer when it does. He’s such a talented player who will help the Pacers IF he ever gets his act together. There are a lot of people who don’t feel Stephenson will get his act together. 'I’m not perfect,' Stephenson said. 'Once the mistakes happen I have to learn from them. I have to work hard and show everybody I’m learning and getting back on the floor.' In the meantime, Stephenson will watch as Ford likely gets extended minutes against Orlando on Wednesday."