First Cup: Tuesday

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets think nobody loves them. That explains why what amounted to an apology by the NBA was so right and so necessary. Hey, didn't Carmelo Anthony walk out on Denver so his wife could be one of the beautiful people sitting courtside in New York's Madison Square Garden? And, when you talk privately with members of the Nuggets organization, they clearly believe humble, loyal and immensely talented Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant is being groomed as the league's rising star in a system that makes pro basketball so popular with celebrity-obsessed America. Denver is nothing more than a nuisance in Durant's way. 'We've talked about it with our players: Don't let crutches or excuses stop you from thinking we can succeed,' Nuggets coach George Karl said. Right or very, very wrong, the shocked Nuggets were tempted to regard the refs' blind eyes to Perkins' obvious offensive goaltending violation late in a 107-103 victory by the Asterisks as a sign that big markets and big stars are what matter most to the NBA."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Roughly two hours after Kendrick Perkins declined to declare his basket dirty, the league did, releasing a statement acknowledging the officiating crew's error. ... You could make the case that two days later, the play is water under the bridge. And if you're tired of hearing about it, welcome to life after the regular season. The NBA playoffs are the place where everything becomes magnified. The no-call, rather than the captivating contest, was the topic of sports talk shows throughout the morning and afternoon on major television and radio networks, both locally and nationally. And the reality, no matter how much Thunder fans might not want to believe it, is that one sequence could have shaped this series. 'I'd say it affected it a lot,' said Denver point guard Ty Lawson. 'It would have been our ball. We could have went up three. It could have been a whole different story.' Emphasis should be placed on the Lawson's use of the word 'could.' The Nuggets on Monday weren't claiming that receiving a call would have changed the outcome. 'We could say that if they would have called it we would have gone on to win,' said Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. 'But who knows? The game didn't come down to that goaltending.' "

  • Mike Bianch of the Orlando Sentinel: "We’ll say it again: Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is a more dominating defensive player than Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. As every season passes and every Howard blocked shot is rejected into the stands, the more Ibelieve this bold statement made last season by Orlando Magic TV commentator Matt Guokas. Howard on Monday became the only player in history to ever win three successive NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, lending even more credence to what Guokas contended last year: That Howard is the greatest defensive player in NBA history. I’ll take it a step further: Howard is not only a greater defensive force than Bill Russell, he’s a greater defensive weapon than Dick Butkus, Ozzie Smith and the double-barrell 12 gauge. The oldtimers will say that Russell won 11 championships in 13 seasons, which is true. But that makes him the greatest champion of all-time; not necessarily the greatest defender. Joe Montana has many more Super Bowl rings than Dan Marino, but that doesn’t mean he was a greater passer than Dan Marino."

  • Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Derrick Rose’s sensational play is making him the Bulls’ brightest star since Michael Jordan. But the way he hurtles to the basket, Rose’s game also is reminiscent of another Chicago sports icon: Walter Payton. What Rose does often involves tough, physical stuff. But his teammates have full confidence that he can take it. ‘It’s playoff basketball,’ forward Carlos Boozer said. ‘When you’re the best guy on the court, you’re going to get the other team’s attention.’ Boozer even sees a positive from an experience standpoint. 'Those of us who have been in the playoffs for a long time and have advanced from round to round know it gets tougher the further you advance,’ Boozer said. ‘It’s good for him to see it now. Trust me, D-Rose is tough enough to deal with any of that. And our team is, as well.’ "

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "This much we know after two games of this first-round series: The Indiana Pacers can play with the Chicago Bulls. Stage fright? None. Lights too bright? Hardly. Intimidated? Please. Some of us (blush) thought this would be an epic mismatch. Instead, it's turning into an epic series, the Pacers growing in experience and competence by the day. The question, though, is whether they can actually beat the Bulls. Especially if Pacers point guard Darren Collison, who has been terrific in the game-and-a-half he has played in this series, can't return because of an injured left ankle. Make no mistake, though: This series, which the Bulls lead 2-0 after a 96-90 Game 2 victory over the Pacers Monday night, isn't over. It's far from over. ... Before the series, the Pacers put together what they called the "Red Squad,'' a group of reserves whose job was to defend the starters, harass and annoy and bump them and prepare them for the way that game is called -- or not called. Unfortunately, they couldn't replicate Derrick Rose. The Pacers can play with the Bulls. Now we find out if they can beat them."

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The Heat did exactly what they should to a young Philadelphia team in winning Game 2 on Monday 94-73. Put it to sleep early. Didn't let it wake up. And as the blowout kept blowing, their stars did something more, too. Something that said everyone's just passing time now to the next series. They reminded Philadelphia there's no hope. Late in the fourth quarter, up by four touchdowns, shoving Philadelphia down to historic lows, the Heat sent a message to the 76ers simply by who it still sent on the court. Dwyane Wade was there, migraine and all. Chris Bosh was there, blowout and all, controlling one of his 11 rebounds to go with 21 points. LeBron James was there, risk of injury and all, running the court hard on his way to 29 points. On a night they beat Philadelphia in the time it takes to microwave popcorn, the Big Three also made it hard for anyone to think it can take a single game off for the Heat."

  • Ashley Fox of the The Philadelphia Inquirer: "This is as close as you will ever hear a coach come to throwing in the towel, and Doug Collins' honesty is simply a reflection of the obvious. With Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat are as talented, explosive, versatile and deep of a team as there is in the National Basketball Association. At this point in their evolution, the 76ers are simply a young team trying to get better. After the way the Heat thoroughly dominated and dismantled the Sixers from the jump Monday night, leading wire-to-wire in a 94-73 victory that gave Miami a lead of two games to none in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series, the only thing Collins could do was point to the obvious. 'If they're playing great, they're a better team, OK?' Collins said. 'If they're playing on top of their game, they're a better team. They won 58. We won 41. That doesn't mean that we aren't going to play and compete and fight. But when they come out tonight and defend the way they did, and Bosh and LeBron play the way they did, and Joel Anthony gives them a lift defensively that he did, it's going to be very difficult for us to beat them. I mean, at halftime our starting front line had 10 points. Our top two leading scorers had eight. We can't win.' No, they can't."

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "What is it with some athletes and some cities? How is it that the fit can so often feel so right? You've got Babe Ruth in New York. You've got Stan Musial in St. Louis. Somehow, it wouldn't have worked the other way around. Mike Ditka winds up in Chicago. Franco Harris lands in Pittsburgh. Magic Johnson goes to Los Angeles. Joe Namath plays in New York. And now Zach Randolph stays in Memphis. For what should be the best four years of his career. 'He's our foundation,' said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, but Randolph is really more than that. He's the perfect player for this city. He's the hard-working embodiment of Memphis at its best. He's tough, he's generous and he takes a beating in the national press. Sound like any underdog city you know? So pay no attention to the experts -- and yes, there are a few -- who would tell that the Grizzlies overpaid to keep Randolph around. The guy is the franchise. Without him, the Grizzlies would be back to winning 20-plus games a year."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Gregg Popovich can be a stubborn man, the type to talk the sky out of being blue, but even he can’t argue with fact. Yes, Popovich has been forced to acknowledge, ever since upstart Memphis swiped Game 1 of this first-round playoff series Sunday, his Spurs team has a habit of turning postseason-opening 0-1 deficits into NBA championships. It happened in 2003. And in 2005. And again in 2007. Turns out, there’s a good explanation for that. 'Because we were better than the team we were playing,' Popovich said. In what was either a thinly veiled challenge to his team, or simply a matter of good public relations, Popovich then wondered aloud Monday if that were still true in 2011, against an eighth-seeded Memphis team targeting a monumental upset. 'We’ll see if we’re a better team than the team we’re playing,' Popovich said. 'If we’re not, they’ll win the series.' The Grizzlies drew first blood in Game 1, riding Shane Battier’s 3-pointer with 23.9 seconds left to a 101-98 victory at the AT&T Center that was the first in the club’s playoff history."

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "Kendrick Perkins needs to be more physical. Never thought I'd be writing those words, especially not during the playoffs. The Thunder big man is the quintessential tough guy. He's got the intimidating scowl, the bulging muscles and the menacing intensity, and while we've seen all of it repeatedly in regular-season games since he was traded from Boston to Oklahoma City, what we've really been waiting for was the playoffs. This was when Perk was supposed to take it up another notch. He was going to be that missing piece, that physical presence, that playoffs difference-maker. Then during Game 1 against the Nuggets, there were times when you wondered if Thunder coach Scott Brooks should stick with Nazr Mohammed and leave Perkins on the bench. ... 'Probably didn't have one of my best games,' Perkins said Monday afternoon. ... Perkins is supposed to be the missing link in the middle. He is supposed to be the permanent fix for a franchise that has only had temporary solutions since moving to Oklahoma City. Nenad Krstic. Etan Thomas. Joe Smith. Steven Hill. Johan Petro. Robert Swift. Those guys were brought in simply to fill the gap. Perkins was brought in to knock some skulls. No better time than the present."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "So does the fact that at the age of 35 in his 15th NBA season, Ray Allen managed to shoot career-highs of 49.1 percent overall from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3-point range. His previous combined field goal best was 48 percent two years ago. His previous trey top was 43.4 percent back in 2001-02 while on the Milwaukee Bucks. In a year when he passed the career 40,000-minute mark, Allen (40,808) managed to be perhaps the Celtics’ most consistent offensive threat. And if that milestone is a bit nebulous for you, know that Larry Bird played 34,443 minutes, Charles Barkley 39,330, Magic Johnson 33,245 and Jerry West 36,571. 'He’s hitting the ball farther in golf and he’s shooting better,' Rivers said with a shake of his head. 'It just makes no sense. Both are supposed to go the opposite way. At least in golf you can say it’s the clubs, it’s engineering. In basketball, I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s great. I hope he keeps doing it. It’s not coaching; I can guarantee you that.' Allen simply doesn’t understand that a shooting guard is not supposed to be doing these things at this stage of his life. 'Nobody told me that,' he said. 'There’s no age benchmark for me. I know what people expect from you, but the one thing I’ve always tried to do is give people what they didn’t expect. You know, don’t be too typical when it comes to living life, being the person I am and being the player I am. There’s always an opportunity to prove people wrong.' "

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "No doubt, it's a hot-button issue for D'Antoni. Stoudemire didn't touch the ball on the Knicks' final seven possessions Sunday. It wasn't all a train wreck, as Toney Douglas knocked down a 3-pointer with :37.8 left to give the Knicks their final lead. But otherwise, the late-game offense was a mess, with too many Melo misses and turnovers, and nothing from Stoudemire, who deserved at least one touch to see if he could pull the Knicks through. Stoudemire is playing good soldier here. He didn't complain Sunday or Monday about not getting the ball, even though he had Garnett thinking about filling out his retirement papers as soon as he walked off the court. In the end, the only way the Celtics could stop Stoudemire was if the Knicks forgot that he was on the floor. Melo knew Stoudemire was out there, but probably remembered that stat that had him closing out more games than anyone else in the last 10 years. Whoever came up with that one, do they also do taxes?"

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "This first-round match-up between the Hawks and Orlando has been intriguing for two reasons: 1) Atlanta, a significant underdog, won the opener in Orlando; 2) Howard, despite scoring 46 points in the game, seemed frustrated by the Hawks’ aggressive and physical defense inside, led by Jason 'Sluggo' Collins. Things boiled over to the point of Howard head-butting Collins while he had his back to him, throwing out his arms as if Collins had pulled him back to cause the contact. But there’s no evidence a pull ever took place, and Collins, briefly knocked dizzy, mused after the game, 'I’m ready for elbows and arms but I’m not ready for a head butt.' Collins laughed Monday when told Howard blamed him for the contact. 'Really? Hah! Wow,' he said. 'That’s interesting. I guess that’s one perspective on history. And then there’s the truth.' Collins said Howard was just frustrated 'because he had just lost the ball.' Then there’s this: 'Dwight’s gotta know: Every time he’s going across the lane or he’s running in transition, he’s going to get hit.' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Steve Blake will play in Game 2. So will the Lakers, presumably. They're certainly studying enough, spending two hours in video review Monday and enduring enough stops and starts at the hands of Coach Phil Jackson to cause a headache. 'We went over everything, pretty much,' Andrew Bynum said. The Lakers needed to after their 109-100 loss to New Orleans in the playoff opener. Chris Paul ripped apart their defense, Pau Gasol imploded on offense and their overall play was no better than 'speckled,' as Jackson called Blake's appearance a few days ago. Blake is over his bout with chickenpox and can only help the Lakers' effort Wednesday to stop Paul, who had 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and a brush with history in Game 1. It was the fifth time in 3,272 previous playoff games that anybody had as many points, assists and rebounds. Oscar Robertson did it twice, Magic Johnson and Walt Frazier each did it once ... and it had never happened on the road until Sunday, according to the Elias Sports Bureau."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "If the Lakers have any underdog spirit left in their complacent seats, they'd best tap back into it soon. To try and school the Lakers' know-it-alls, Phil Jackson put them through two-plus hours of Game 1 video study Monday before they even took the court for practice. Considering it is Jackson's postseason custom to edit movie footage into scouting videos, he obviously could've gone with 'Rocky II' – but Jackson has been using the Coen Brothers' 2010 take on the classic 'True Grit.' Jackson succeeded last season with Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds' footage, conveying to the finesse Lakers that the title would have to come via force. And there's plenty thematically from 'True Grit' to remind the Lakers and Kobe Bryant that even the most self-assured and fierce individual must be open to – and be provided with – the proper tough-minded help to survive a long journey. But for now, all the Lakers would be wise to realize that an NBA playoff game moves a bit faster than a Western movie. And it's time for the Lakers to get moving."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "I was glad to hear Nate McMillan talk Monday about how the Trail Blazers need to run more in Tuesday’s Game 2 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series with Dallas. I know, that’s not the Blazers’ game. Portland ranked next-to-last in the NBA in fastbreak points in the regular season with 10.2 per game. But the Blazers create more opportunities to get easy baskets for Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews when they run the court instead of walk it up. It’s not the kind of series, as Dallas coach Rick Carlisle puts it, where we’ll see a 'windshield wiper type of game,' with both teams racing up and down the court. This isn’t New York vs. Miami. But the Blazers struggle when a defense packs it in the halfcourt and dares them to shoot from the outside. They won’t always go 2 for 16 from 3-point range, as they did in Saturday’s 89-81 opening loss, but they ranked 21st in the league for a reason."

  • Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "With a 1-0 series lead, the Dallas Mavericks were the picture of a relaxed and loose team one day before the Game 2 showdown against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Laughing and jocularity abounded as the team wrapped up practice Monday. But the Mavericks are also an experienced and learned group who say their looseness doesn't take away from the sense of urgency they have for tonight's matchup at American Airlines Center. Although the Mavericks lead the series after a hard-fought 89-81 win Saturday, the prevailing attitude inside and outside their locker room is that they haven't accomplished anything yet. ... Mavericks star forward Dirk Nowitzki set the tone right after the game Saturday night when he said winning Game 1 didn't matter if they didn't win Game 2. Coach Rick Carlisle has continued to drive home the point the past two days in practice. 'I agree and he is right,' Carlisle said of Nowitzki's comment. 'We all know what is going on. Controlling home court is key. That is always a challenge. The team that wins the first game tends to let up. We have been working on not allowing that to happen.' "

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "At one memorable point in Bryan Colangelo’s end-of-season press conference on Monday, the Raptors GM referred to Andrea Bargnani, the club’s starting centre, as 'the enigma of enigmas, to you and many.' Colangelo called the Italian 'far from a perfect player.' And he was only getting warmed up. 'I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a better defensive player than he is. Can he be a better rebounder? Absolutely,' Colangelo said of Bargnani. 'And that becomes, I believe, a mindset. It’s something that we talked about. It’s a little late to be having this conversation now, as I indicated to Andrea post-season. We know he can rebound, but he doesn’t focus on it. ... That’s a desire thing. And that’s something he’s going to have to come to grips with.' For Colangelo, whose podium appearances often detour into marketing-brochure bafflegab, the realistic evaluation of Bargnani’s weaknesses amounted to a refreshing reversal of message. Colangelo’s Monday message, coming as it did with his contract set to expire and his franchise in a midst of a painful rebuilding process, went something like this: From this day forward, Bargnani, the jump-shooting 7-footer who was once the franchise’s coddled sacred cow, is going to be held to account along with the rest of the replaceable schleps."