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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "The Grizzlies didn’t just defeat the Spurs -- the final was 104-86 -- they overpowered them with a breathtaking second-half run that made surrender seem like the only logical option. 'The second half was just incredible to watch,' said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. 'It was an incredible performance.' He could have thrown in a couple more 'incredibles' and it wouldn’t have been excessive. A No. 8 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs before. But has a No. 8 seed run a No. 1 seed right out of the building? 'The third quarter was weird,' said Spurs guard Tony Parker, which is one way to describe it. If 'weird' is synonymous with 'awesome.' And let us not waste another second before crediting the man who was responsible for the awesomeness, the aforementioned and often overlooked Hollins. ... Nobody is pretending the Grizzlies have clinched the series or anything. The last game is always the hardest one to win. OK, except for this franchise, when the hardest may have been the first one. But they sure came in a rush after that, didn’t they? Came in a glorious, head-spinning frenzy? 'I don’t know what to say,' said Michael Heisley. 'I think I might faint.' I believe that a whole town might catch him."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "The slogan is plastered all over billboards and buildings and the broad side of the bars on Beale Street. Believe Memphis! One win away from a stunning first-round upset, brought nearer by a bullying 104-86 victory in Game 4 on Monday night, it’s safe to say Memphis will believe anything now. As for the top-seeded Spurs? It’s difficult to know what to make of them, as they teeter on the edge of one of the greatest playoff pratfalls in NBA history. On his way out of FedEx Forum, veteran center Antonio McDyess had one idea. 'We’re playing like a bunch of wussies,' McDyess said. That analysis didn’t meet with much disagreement, not after the Grizzlies pummeled the Spurs 56-36 in the second half to assume a 3-1 series lead. In the third quarter, during which the Spurs committed seven turnovers and managed just 15 points, the Grizzlies -- energized by Tony Allen and Mike Conley -- did everything but mug them in a Memphis back alley. 'They put their foot on our throat and never let up,' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "On a summer night two years ago, the Nuggets won Game 4 of this year's playoffs. The Nuggets waited patiently until they made their move in the 2009 NBA draft, trading a future draft pick for the rights to the No. 18 pick, which they used to select North Carolina's Ty Lawson. 'We have a formula here where we track point guard efficiency,' scouting director Mike Bratz said at the time. 'He had one of the highest ratings in history.' And, in Monday's Game 4 Nuggets victory, 104-101 over Oklahoma City, Lawson had his best game as a pro, keeping Denver's season alive with incredible efficiency -- a team-high 27 points, three assists, just one turnover and 9-for-9 from the free throw line, including two with 6.2 seconds left that gave the Nuggets a five-point lead. 'Coach says that when I attack, it fuels the team,' Lawson said. 'Everyone was talking about us being swept. There was a lot of emotion involved in this game. This was the biggest game of my life right now, so I just wanted to come out and just played strong. And we all did.' The Thunder had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but Russell Westbrook missed a running 28-footer. And so the Nuggets retain a glimmer of hope."

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "Hey, at least they're better than the Knicks. The Nuggets avoided being swept out of the playoffs with a combination of grit, desperation and heart-stopping 3-point shooting Monday night. The game wasn't a lot prettier than the three losses to Oklahoma City that preceded it, but as it went along the Nuggets finally found the confidence to avoid bowing out as quietly as Carmelo Anthony's new team did the day before when it was swept by the Celtics. The transition game shut down, the Nuggets rediscovered their shooting touch from outside -- hitting 7-of-13 3-pointers after halftime, with three each by Danilo Gallinari and J.R. Smith -- to open up a fourth-quarter lead they were able to cling to as time ran out. The depth that served them so well after the trade deadline reappeared just in time to buy the Nuggets the chance to fight another day. Wednesday, in Oklahoma City, to be exact."

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: I don’t care who wins this Thunder-Nuggets series. I really don’t. Sports writers discover early on in their career that becoming a fan of a team is a no-no. It zaps your objectivity. It drains your sanity. Still, I’d just as soon the Thunder is finished with these guys as quickly as possible. The Nuggets’ whining is wearing me slick. Even though Denver delayed the inevitable with a 104-101 victory Monday night, it’s only a matter of time before Oklahoma City closes out this series. No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit, and the Nuggets aren’t going to become the first. But if the Thunder would just go ahead and take care of them Wednesday night, it’d be all right by me. What about you, Thunder fans? The excuses that have been coming from the boys in baby blue have been as plentiful as crisp spring days in the Mile High City. They started in the opening game of the series, and they haven’t stopped since. The Nuggets’ excuses are like Fran Drescher’s voice in 'The Nanny.' Annoying. ... I love Denver, a vibrant city with a fantastic downtown and outstanding restaurants. I love Colorado, a picturesque place with majestic mountains and stately scenery. I would visit here at every opportunity. But the sooner the Thunder can be done with this place’s NBA team and its irritating excuses, the better. At least after this Nuggets’ win, we won’t have to put up with any whining."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "The Mavericks had a serious show of resolve Monday night that put them back in charge of their first-round series against Portland. Welcoming Tyson Chandler to the playoffs didn’t hurt, either. The emotional and defensive catalyst came alive with a momentum-grabbing and perhaps series-swaying performance as the Mavericks romped in the second half for a 93-82 victory and a 3-2 lead over the Trail Blazers in the best-of-7 first-round match. The series continued to be a haven for the home teams, but that’s not all bad news for the Mavericks. The Game 5 winner of a series tied 2-2 has a 95-percent success rate through NBA history. However, the visiting team has yet to win, which means the Mavericks will have their work cut out for them in Game 6 Thursday at Portland’s Rose Garden. Chandler had just 16 points and 30 rebounds before Monday, but powered through the Blazers for 20 rebounds, including a career-best and Mavericks’ playoff record 13 offensive boards. 'I told coach today that I’ve been on weak side all series and I haven’t really been able to get involved,' Chandler said. 'So I figured that was one way I could get involved.' Mission accomplished."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Some bad blood is about to spill over into Game 6 of the Dallas Mavericks-Portland Trail Blazers’ first-round playoff series. And it all stemmed from when Monday’s Game 5 was unofficially officially in the books and the Mavs were on their way to a 93-82 victory and a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series. Blazers guard Wesley Matthews got upset when Mavs forward Brian Cardinal set a hard screen on guard Patrick Mills near midcourt with about 13 seconds left in the game. So, when Mavs guard JJ Berea was dribbling out the clock in a game that was all but history, he was closely and ferociously guarded by Mills. Once the clock struck 0:00, Matthews shouted some unpleasantries at Cardinal, Berea was shouting unpleasantries at Mills, Cardinal was shouting at Matthews, and so was Mavs guard DeShawn Stevenson. And Blazers coach Nate McMillan scoffed at the referees about Cardinal’s screen. '(Matthews) said something to Cardinal and I’m not going to let anybody talk to my teammates like that,’ Stevenson said. 'I said what I had to say and he walked away and we walked away.’ ... The Mavs won Monday, 93-82, and will play Game 6 Thursday night at 8 p.m. in Portland. If Game 7 is necessary it will be played Saturday night at American Airlines Center. With so much at stake, it won’t be surprising if play gets even more physical and tempers flare up once again.'

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "American Airlines Flight 860 from Portland to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport was delayed twice, and finally, called back to the gate on Monday when tornado warnings were followed by golf-ball sized hail that pounded North Texas. Saved this columnist a wasted trip. Dallas slammed Portland 93-82 in Game 5. The Blazers looked confused on offense, and were dominated on the boards. They turned from hammer to nail from the end of one game in this series to the beginning of the next. It's true that sports can suck you in one moment, and spit you out the next. Game 5 was a burp. Can we get an "pardon me" from the guys in red and black today? ... So yeah, we're back to that franchise identity crisis for Portland, aren't we? In the West, San Antonio is elderly. The Lakers are so gifted they're barely paying attention. Dallas is on a mission for Dirk. Denver is divided. Oklahoma City is all business. Memphis is busy pounding its chest. New Orleans really is a hornet. And the Blazers? Have they even figured out who they are? Do you know? I think I do. But then, I see a little more, and don't. Winning Game 6 at home will tell us a little about Portland on Thursday, but we aren't truly going to see the Blazers for what they are until we see who shows up for a potential Game 7 in Dallas on Saturday. Neither of those should end up a game anyone would want to miss."

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "Billups turns 35 in September and there's always a chance that he gets banged up next season and misses games. But after what they saw in the Boston series after Billups went down and Rajon Rondo dominated Games 3 and 4, no one can think they can hand the team off to Douglas. He's not a playmaker. Billups is the only logical choice to man the position. 'Everybody knows what he brings to the table when he's healthy, when he's playing,' Anthony said. 'He's a winner, a leader, a veteran, a guy a lot of people on this team look up to.' Anthony and Stoudemire look up to Billups. There probably isn't a free agent who would command that kind of respect. 'Quite frankly, it is important to have somebody at the position, especially playing with Amar'e and Melo, that has won and they pretty much have to respect,' Billups said. 'They have to respect the body of work. Those two guys are alpha males, and if you're a young player, you can't feel dominated. But they know they can't really do that with me.' Here's what they can perhaps do with Billups next season: Win a playoff game."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Indiana Pacers veteran big man Jeff Foster knows he probably won't be the most-liked person inside United Center tonight for Game 5 against Chicago Bulls. Foster has gotten a bad reputation in Chicago for his aggressive defensive tactics, including delivering a couple of hard fouls on Derrick Rose, the Bulls' franchise player. Foster's ready. 'It'd be kind of cool if I got booed,' Foster said, laughing. 'If they need a villain, it looks like I'm their guy. The Bulls have great fans. It should be a great game.' Foster fouled Rose hard on one of his countless drives to the basket during Game 1. Rose had words for Foster after the play. Foster had personal fouls on Rose and Bulls forward Luol Deng during Game 3 upgraded to flagrant-one fouls after a league review. 'He's not taking cheap shots,' Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel said. 'There are no plays out there where he's trying to hurt anybody. He's just playing hard-nose, physical, good basketball.' Foster doesn't believe his defensive style will cause officials to pay more attention to him. 'I'll continue to play my game, do what I do,' he said. 'Play hard and try to help my team win whatever way possible.' "

  • Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times: "After a season marked by thumb surgery and recent ankle and knee problems, it’s no wonder that being healthy is exciting. That has enabled Joakim Noah to get into a rhythm with his mid-range jump shot and his left-handed drives to the basket. He also is pumped about the Bulls being up 3-1 in the series and trying to finish off the Pacers tonight at the United Center. Most of all, he’s smiling because his grandfather will be at the game tonight. 'I’ve got my grandfather coming all the way from Africa,’ Noah said. ‘He’s never seen me play an NBA game, so that’s really exciting.’ Zacharie Noah, who has traveled from Cameroon, is 72, ‘but he’s still in great shape and is always ready to party,’ Noah said. ‘It’ll be fun. He’s never seen the UC. They don’t have a United Center in Cameroon.’ The Noahs will have a happy reunion, but Joakim said he hasn’t thought about what else he’ll show his grandfather in Chicago. 'I’m living in the moment,’ he said. 'It’s not about that right now. It’s not about sightseeing.’ "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "The only palatable headline for the Lakers coming out of Monday's practice would be the one proclaiming Kobe Bryant available for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series. 'He says he'll play,' Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. And that's where the kind words ended. Bryant doesn't want to undergo an MRI exam or X-rays despite the team's desire to see what's going on inside his habitually troublesome ankle. Perhaps he simply doesn't want to know the extent of the damage. He didn't talk to reporters Monday. There are plenty of disruptions beyond Bryant's playing condition. Rookie Derrick Caracter was arrested after an alleged altercation with a female employee at a New Orleans restaurant early Sunday. Four-fifths of the Lakers' training staff was told Saturday their contracts would not be renewed by the team. And who knows what's bothering Pau Gasol, who's been quiet in three of four games while averaging a puny 6.3 rebounds. Was it really only 10 months ago he put up 19 points and 18 rebounds in Game 7 of the NBA Finals?"

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Instead of withering under the pressure that some feel when taking big shots in big moments for a good team, Jamal Crawford has thrived under the glare. 'Everybody in the world knows he can score the ball,' Hawks forward Marvin Williams said. 'It doesn't matter what team you put him on. You can put him on the worst team or put him on the best team and he is going to do what he does. That's one of the special things about Jamal.' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The futures of coach Stan Van Gundy, General Manager Otis Smith and superstar Dwight Howard could be affected. An early ouster obviously wouldn't sit well with Howard, a five-time all star who can leave the Magic after next season as a free agent. He has had to carry the club this postseason, desperate for help from his lackluster supporting cast. Smith's reputation as a front-office executive who built a contender has taken a hit. His two blockbuster trades in mid-December dramatically changed the team, but not necessarily for the better, and improving the already expensive roster will be difficult. And Van Gundy will be under scrutiny if the Magic are dispatched in the opening round. They tumbled to a 52-30 record this season after back-to-back 59-win seasons under the fiery coach. He has seen his offense, which relies heavily on the 3-point shot, fizzle against the Hawks. Van Gundy said he spoke with his players on Monday about not giving into pressure with their season on the brink. He reminded them they've been a team that has dealt with various kinds of adversity, fittingly enough, from canceled games to illnesses to snowstorms. 'It's not an easy thing to do. We talked about all that stuff,' he said. 'We got to get our mind-set right.' "

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Are we seeing the maturation of Evan Turner at the most important time of the season? Perhaps, but most think it's just part of the process for him. His play at times this season has warranted Turner to be relegated to the bench for long periods of time. Even as the playoffs started, Doug Collins was still trying to figure out who would be that third sub coming off the bench behind Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams, and it appeared that Andres Nocioni had the upper hand on Turner. Then early in this series, Turner opened some eyes with his defense, especially on LeBron James. In a Game 2 blowout at Miami, Turner single-handedly kept the Sixers in the game early with his offense and finished the night with 15 points and six rebounds. After just a 7-minute stint in Game 3, Turner rebounded with Sunday's effort. Kind of a microcosm to his season, as up and down as a child on a new trampoline. 'You have to come ready and come prepared and be ready to do a lot of things,' Turner said after yesterday's brief practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. 'In my case, I play a lot one game and the next game, not play so much. So it's important that I always stay prepared.' "

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "On Sunday, Joe Maloof said his family was 'waiting to hear' from Stern and still reviewing options -- to stay in Sacramento or flee to Anaheim -- before deciding on a course of action. With the May 2 application deadline nearing, one other option is being considered: the threat of an antitrust lawsuit, though the Maloofs are not known as litigious types. Emotional, yes. Engaged, yes. But willing to sit in courtrooms for years listening to tedious legal testimony? To get down and dirty while the NBA is in the midst of intense labor negotiations? With a potential lockout looming? With fellow owners speculating about their long-term financial viability? Not likely. Among other things, the legal issues pertaining to a league's ability to govern franchise relocations remain unresolved. Experts spar about the matter ad nauseam. ... This modern NBA shuttle system is stoking a powerful national sentiment favoring Sacramento and depicting our community as the aggrieved party. If the Kings flee, Sacramento would be the only top-30 sports market other than Hartford, Conn., without a major league franchise. Ultimately, and almost as always, Stern will have a rousing say in the matter. Soon we'll hear if the Maloofs continue to listen."

  • Rick Bonnell The Charlotte Observer: "To the best of Rod Higgins’ knowledge, there’s nothing about the specter of an NBA lockout that would preclude him from dealing away or acquiring a veteran leading up to, or during the draft. Rod was a bit taken aback I’d ask the question, until I mentioned that’s different from what Marty Hurney, Higgins’ counterpart with the Carolina Panthers, is experiencing. If Hurney wanted to trade out of that No. 1 overall spot in Thursday’s NFL draft, he could accept only draft picks – not existing player contracts. Higgins knows of no such restrictions on what he could do, and that speaks to the difference in the two leagues’ calendars. The NFL holds its draft long after its season ends, and AFTER its free-agency period would have begun, if not for this lockout. The NBA holds its draft shortly after the end of its playoffs (June 23 this year). Free-agency wouldn’t begin until July (and won’t, unless there’s a miracle agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement). But in the meantime – the span leading up to the draft -- it’s business-as-usual, as far as Higgins knows. That could be important, because the Bobcats have two first-round picks: Their own (a lottery pick -- mostly likely ninth or 10th – that will be determined May 17) and the 19th pick (from New Orleans, via Portland). Maybe the best thing is to keep those picks, but if I’m the Bobcats I’m working the phones -- looking for young veterans or to unload a bad contract -- and one or both of those picks might be more valuable as a commodity."

  • Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "Joe Tait surveyed the crowd, perhaps a third clad in sweaters that seemed destined for mothballs. And this was a group that remembers what mothballs were for. While likely touched by the tribute, Tait saw another opportunity for one of his trademark zingers. 'Looking out over this sea of sweaters, we have the sheep and the goats,' Tait said. 'The goats are wearing what they normally wear and the sheep all slapped on their sweaters.' Monday's crowd of 323, second-largest of the year at the weekly gathering of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club at Tozzi's on 12th restaurant, roared with laughter. There was plenty more where that came from during Tait's 30-minute talk, which will be his last. Tait, 73, called his last game on April 13 after 39 seasons as the play-by-play voice of the Cavaliers. His 2010-11 campaign was shortened to five games by heart surgery. 'I was 3-2,' Tait pointed out, a miserable 19-win season concluded. .... Tait said Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto is compiling his stories for a book they hope can be released in time for Christmas. Tait will undergo surgery next week for a torn tendon in his left foot. But there's one part of his career he's not willing to give up. Tait said he will continue to do Mount Union football television broadcasts. 'Mount Union will have to drag me out of that booth kicking and screaming,' he said."