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First Cup: Thursday

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "The Spurs exited a timeout huddle late in the fourth quarter Wednesday, behind by three points and 1.7 seconds away from an early vacation, facing a thought that could have been unsettling if they to let it be. The game, the series, and their season had been placed in the hands of an undrafted rookie. Gary Neal drained a tough 3-pointer from the top of the arc to force overtime, where Tony Parker took over to lift the Spurs to a 110-103 victory in Game 5 that sent their first-round round series with Memphis back to the banks of the Mississippi. 'I once hit a buzzer-beater to win a state championship in high school,' Neal said. 'This feels a little bigger.' The win brought the Spurs within 3-2 en route to Memphis for Game 6 on Friday, not enough to make them feel free and easy, but enough to make the series interesting again. ... Facing elimination, the Spurs needed every bit of luck in their playbook to pull out an overtime win at home. They harbor no illusions that pulling off a sequel in Game 6 on the road will be easy. But, ultimately, the Spurs got what they came for on Wednesday. A new day. A new life. Fittingly, it was Neal -- a player whose entire season has felt like new life -- who gave it to them."

  • Geoff Calkins of the The Commercial-Appeal: "It’s like 'Groundhog Day.' If the Groundhog bit you. 'It hurts right now,' said O.J. Mayo. Of course it does. The Grizzlies were 1.7 seconds away from triumph. They were 1.7 seconds away from vanquishing the San Antonio Spurs and winning a playoff series for the first time in franchise history. They had a 3-point lead. The crowd was stunned, silent. 'We were already packing,' said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili. Memphians were already celebrating. And then, well, we’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we? In the role of Calipari: Lionel Hollins. In the role of Rose: Mayo. In the role of Chalmers: Gary Neal. Or Gary ##@!!**# Neal, if you prefer. He’s an NBA rookie who spent the previous three seasons playing in Europe. But he can shoot the rock, that’s for sure. He led all NBA rookies with a .419 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. It’s not entirely clear why he was permitted to get one off in these particular circumstances. Maybe the Grizzlies confused him with Curly Neal? ... 'We still feel good about ourselves,' said Battier. 'When we go out there (Friday) and the ball goes up in the air, nobody is going to be thinking, ‘Oh, man, I wish I made a play Wednesday night.’ ' So that is where it stands. After five games, the Grizzlies return to Memphis with a chance to defeat the top-seeded Spurs in front of friends, family and 18,119 frothing fans. 'I told the guys, ‘This is not the NCAA Tournament,’ ' said Battier. Thank Heaven for that."

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: "LeBron James referred Wednesday to the Heat’s first-round playoff series vs. Philadelphia as 'breakfast' for Miami, further explaining that the next round would be lunch, the round after that dinner, and the NBA Finals dessert. Of course any LeBron utterance is unduly analyzed, and this one was taken to come off as a bit presumptuous -- that James would have the whole meal planned out and his team dining sumptuously. ... How was breakasft? 'It was good!' said James, smiling. 'Now we’re preparing for lunch.' The thing is, this breakfast -- the essential meal that is supposed to get you started and give you energy moving forward -- didn’t taste all that great for the Heat, did it? Leaves a little bit of indigestion, maybe? You have to be concerned that if it was this tough getting through breakfast, how on Earth will the Heat survive the big lunch about to be served up by Boston? Is Miami ready to defeat the Celtics? 'We have no choice,' said Dwyane Wade following this one. ... The conference finals (presumably against Chicago) await the Heat-Celtics survivor, and then the NBA Finals. Beating Boston, though, is the minimum requirement for the Heat. Beating Philadelphia, desperately more than dominantly, meant nothing. The series up next will plainly define whether Miami has earned the right to think championship. The series just past leaves a doubt or two."

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: "It was worth it. I can't stop the pessimists from looking at the Sixers' 97-91 loss to the Miami Heat last night from saying a five-game playoff appearance is meaningless. I won't try to convince them this franchise is in a far different place from 2 years ago when it finished with an identical 41-41 record and lost in the first round to the Orlando Magic in six games. Because, honestly, if you can look at the Sixers, the growth they've showed this season, the way they competed against the Heat and still believe this organization has no hope, no argument will change your mind. 'If you're a franchise that is trying to put a Band-Aid on it and keep it in the playoffs every year to make it look like you are trying to compete every year, I can understand the cynicism,' Sixers coach Doug Collins said. 'But for us to do that this year, our guys are going to grow exponentially from that. 'Just the feeling of getting ready for playoff games, of seeing me trying to get them into better positions and make adjustments between games. It was fabulous.' The Sixers lost last night, but they also played their best game of the series. ... Rod Thorn built the New Jersey Nets into a franchise that made two NBA Finals. You have to trust he knows what he's doing. 'Teams are never the same the next year,' Collins said. 'I told the guys to appreciate being together for the last 8 months, because some of the guys won't be in the room next year.' But the most important ones will be. And for them, experiencing these playoffs was anything but a waste of time."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "When the Celtics take the floor Sunday in Miami to open their second-round series against the Heat, Rondo could have a similar impact on Mike Bibby, the aging point guard whose wheels aren’t exactly in prime form. But it also would be wrong to pin the entirety of the Celtics’ offensive success on Rondo. 'Rondo is key to us, but all of them are,' Rivers said. 'If Rondo’s playing well and Ray (Allen) isn’t, then we struggle. If Rondo is playing well and Paul (Pierce) and Kevin (Garnett) aren’t, then we struggle. It’s not just one guy. Rondo has the ball and he’s very important, but this really is a team in that everyone is really tied together. Each guy has to carry his own load.' That said, Rivers once again is satisfied with his engine. 'The ball movement, the simplicity of it, is really important, and that’s with Rondo handling the ball, but it’s also with everyone touching the ball and moving the ball,' he said. 'I just like the fact in the last two games that it was simple and it was nice.' The Celtics might still be playing New York, for example, if not for the return of Allen’s jump shot. Perhaps the ultimate sign of the C’s overall efficiency: Each of the Big Four led the team in scoring in the first round. Allen wasn’t as gun shy when asked about turning that corner. 'I believe we turned a corner,' he said. 'If the ball wasn’t moving for any one of us, it would be stagnant. On any team in this league, if you don’t share the wealth, it’s going to be tough on you.' "

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant's legend grew Wednesday night. Grew like a beanstalk. Grew like he must have grown as a kid back in suburban D.C. Grew like the Thunder's confidence every time one of his Kevinly shots found the net in crunchtime. Durant scored 14 points in the final 31/2 minutes to rescue the Thunder from uh-oh land. The Thunder beat Denver 100-97 to secure Oklahoma City's first playoff advancement. The Thunder moves on up to the Western Conference semifinals, and Durant moves on up the ladder of NBA superstars with his 41-point game. 'First time in the playoffs I felt this confidence,' said Durant, even though he opened this series with a 41-point game. Durant soared on this national stage. Sometimes with one hand (twice nestling those squeezably soft one-handers into the basket when the Thunder just had to have a basket, again with just nine seconds left to block J.R. Smith's 3-point prayer) and sometimes with two (for his Rifleman-quick release of a shot). Durant put his team on his back and this city into exhilaration. A playoff series won. The Western semifinals against San Antonio or Memphis awaits. 'Our crowd really won the game for us,' Durant said. 'They really pulled us through when we were down. Shows how much we are blessed to be a part of this great city.' Durant blessed to have OKC? How about OKC blessed to have Durant?"

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets' young roster appears to have two candidates for future stardom -- Lawson and Danilo Gallinari. It's too early to tell about either of them, but Lawson, especially, seemed to grow in stature as the series went along. Gallo showed the talent, but it flickered on and off like a light bulb with a short-circuit. It would be nice to imagine Nene reaching that level, but in the Nuggets' final game he had fewer points than the Thunder's Kendrick Perkins. Nene is what he is, which isn't bad, but greatness doesn't appear to be in him. No question it was a tough matchup for the Nuggets. Whether they would have given Dallas a better series we'll never know, but it's a pretty good bet. Still, when it came down to it, the Thunder had the best player, and the best player took charge. More often than not, that's what happens in the NBA playoffs. And it's a challenge the Nuggets will have to face next season, whenever that might be."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "If the Atlanta Hawks beat the Orlando Magic tonight, you can blame me, Magic fans. I have become the Hawks’ inspiration; their motivation; their spark and their spur. If the Hawks win this series, Joe Johnson should give me half of his bloated $100 million contract. ... According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s excellent Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham, a critical column I wrote about the Hawks after the Magic annihilated them Game 5 has become their fuel heading into Game 6. The gist of the column was that the Hawks -- a k a 'the Birdbrains' -- are an immensely talented team but somehow always revert back into being Team Dummy. And I firmly believe after watching them completely melt down against the Magic in Game 5 that they will now fold up like a $5 lawnchair and succumb to the Magic in 7. ... Cunningham went on to call me a flip-flopper because my opinion of the Hawks has changed throughout this series. He’s right, but I don’t think that makes me a flip-flopper; I think it makes me a keen observer of sports. I think everybody’s opinions of teams change throughout the course of a long playoff series. For instance, when the playoffs started the Spurs were considered championship material, but now that the Grizzlies have them one game from elimination, San Antonio is considered an old and flawed team. ... It should tell you something the makeup of the Hawks that they are more worried about the Orlando Sentinel heading into Game 6 than they are the Orlando Magic."

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "There is still a level of doesn’t-get-it-ness with Joe Johnson. Stars get paid the most because stars are expected to do the most, but that second part is seldom acknowledged by the Hawks’ guard. 'I don’t get all of the glory when we win, so I don’t get to take all the [blame] when we lose,' Johnson said before this playoff series started. Oh, Joe. This much is true: The Hawks did not lose game five to Orlando by 25 points solely because Johnson made only two of 12 shots, at least when we even noticed he was on the floor. They all stunk. But Johnson didn’t do nearly enough to prevent the loss -- or even collective team humiliation -- from happening. And yes, he does deserve a greater share of the blame than Josh Smith or Jamal Crawford or anybody else on the roster because more is expected from him. Such are the little inconveniences that come with a $123.7 million contract. ... Orlando likely won’t change defensive strategy in game six. How the Hawks respond will determine their playoff existence. How Johnson responds will further define his career. Because whether he likes it or not, there’s an expectation level that comes with salary and stature and he’s not meeting it."

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "Kobe rules, or Rules. The Jordan Rules were Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly's principles for guarding Michael Jordan, which became the model for any team of mere mortals facing someone like Jordan. Not that there was anyone like Jordan, until recently. At 32, Kobe Bryant is the closest thing there has been ... as opposed to Kobe at 20 when he was hyped as the next Michael with ads for the 1999 All-Star game picturing them facing off above the Manhattan skyline, like Godzilla and King Kong. Not that Bryant didn't intend to do everything Jordan had, but he soon tired of it, insisting he was the first Kobe, not the next Michael. For better and worse, it's true. As similar as they looked on the court, that's where it ended. Jordan was beloved and, once he won a title, could do no wrong. Bryant is enigmatic and, even with five titles, can do nothing that doesn't start an argument. Tuesday's performance, which was either heroic or the old okey-doke, can't be truly appreciated without knowing what Bryant went through. Of course, he's not saying. The Hornets swore to a man it was a trick. 'Did you see him limp one time?' Chris Paul said. Actually, someone said, he looked limited at first. 'What game were you watching?' Paul said."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "Closing out any game on the road is difficult. To close out a playoff series on the road takes real drive. But the Lakers did just that every chance they got last season: in Oklahoma City, in Utah, in Phoenix. It starts anew Thursday night in New Orleans. The Lakers used Bryant’s bad ankle as a crutch Tuesday night to help them take one big step already. And they showed killer instinct in feeding off Bryant’s second-quarter dunk to take the lead and never trail again. With the halftime lead, the Lakers began the third quarter and 'came out not flat, like we usually do,' Andrew Bynum said. Often the honest, unfiltered source in the Lakers’ locker room, Bynum also noted about this oft-complacent team: 'When were up by 10, we didn’t go backward.' The next step forward is a great leap. But it’s one Bryant and the Lakers have grown accustomed to taking."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: "Going into tonight’s pivotal Game 6 trailing 3-2, Coach Monty Williams wants his team to contend better with the Lakers’ physical play. He wants the Hornets to make more hard fouls instead of allowing the Lakers to drive to the basket, as Bryant did several times in Game 5. 'In my opinion, when we went to the basket, they were putting us on the ground,’ Williams said. 'At some point, you have to know how to make a playoff foul. With our team, we have to learn how to not allow (Bryant) to get that play off.’ "

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "All those glorious things the Dallas Mavericks did to win Game 5, they probably wish they could pack them in their luggage and take them on the court when they play the Trail Blazers in Game 6 tonight. But, like snowflakes, no two games in this first-round playoff series have been alike. Still, the Mavericks know if they come close to that rock-'em, sock-'em performance when they knocked off the Blazers 93-82 Monday in Game 5, they might be able to get out of Portland with a victory. So what intangibles can the Mavericks take from Game 5 and implement in Game 6? For starters, the Mavericks won the rebound battle 49-37, including a 20-9 advantage on the offensive end. And center Tyson Chandler stayed out of foul trouble. He had 14 points, a career playoff-high 20 rebounds, and a franchise-record 13 offensive rebounds. 'I think we had more fast-break opportunities, but that happens because of stops and rebounds,' Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. 'Portland's an extremely difficult team to run on because of the pace of the game, and they do a really good job of getting back. Being able to get stops, boards and get the ball into the hands of your point guards and playmakers is really critical.' "

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: "Wesley Matthews insists that LaMarcus Aldridge is going to 'step up' against the Mavericks in Game 6 tonight. But if you look at the Trail Blazer forward’s postseason thus far, he’s generally been stepping down. In fact, his stat lines from game to game in this first-round series vs. the Mavericks more or less resemble a downward staircase. Game 1: 27 points. Game 2: 24 points. Game 3: 20 points. Game 4: 16 points. Game 5: 12 points. Game six? You get the point. ... And in a league in which postseason success so often hinges on performances from its stars, one might think Aldridge would view tonight’s game vs. Dallas as a potentially distinguishing moment for him. He, however, does not. 'Nah, I don’t feel like this is a defining moment for me. I’m sorry if I should,' said Aldridge, whose team trails the series three games to two. 'It’s a team sport. I didn’t get here by myself. I feel like this is a defining moment for our team.' ... teammates don’t seem particularly concerned with the prospect of tired legs. As Matthews asserted Wednesday: 'I don’t hold ‘tired’ to LA. Whether he’s tired or not, he’s been getting it done all season.' "

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "In today's NBA, most guards, and certainly most point guards, are concerned with three-pointers, silky jumpers and dunks. Post ups are not sexy. Post ups do not lure shoe contracts. So where did Miller learn his post-up game. Before Game 2 Miller said he learned to post up as a youth on the streets of Watts and Compton in south central Los Angeles. He said he was 'chubby' as a kid, and he was often pitted down low against bigger, older players. I went back to him before Game 5, and wanted to know more about his basketball upbringing, in particular his schooling in playing the post game. That's when he talked about how as a kid he would pile into a van filled with adults for 'death wish' trips to rival neighborhoods. How his youth games rarely finished because of fights. And how he would listen to his family elders talk about the beauty of a perfectly executed team play, and never about the flash of a single player. It was the first peek inside Andre Miller that the private 35-year-old has ever afforded me. And now, I understand why he was so quick to bull-rush Blake Griffin on the court this season. Why he stood up to coach Nate McMillan last season. And why he is not about himself, but rather his team, when he plays. And most of all, I got a sense that before this Blazers season ends, Andre Miller isn't going to let it happen without a fight."

  • Tony Bizjak, Ryan Lillis and Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee "Despite a strong push by Sacramento officials to keep the Kings, the team owners remained uncertain Wednesday whether to stay in Sacramento next season or request NBA approval for a move to Anaheim, a source close to the situation told The Bee. The source said the Maloof family, which owns the team, held talks Wednesday with several top NBA officials, including members of the league's relocation committee. The Kings owners expressed appreciation for local businesses that have pledged $10 million in sponsorship support for next year, but also shared concerns about whether their finances can withstand several years of waiting for a new arena to be built, and whether Sacramento will be able to come up with an arena plan that is financially feasible, given past failures. NBA officials, in turn, told the Maloofs to stay in Sacramento. The source said it appears unlikely at this point that team owners will come to a conclusion before Monday, the day set by NBA officials as the deadline for the team to request permission to relocate to Anaheim for next season. Also Wednesday, NBA officials spoke with Honda Center representatives in Anaheim in what appears to be the league's last bit of fact- finding on the Kings relocation question. League and Anaheim officials declined to comment on those talks."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Though in many ways Mario Elie never left Houston, he met with the Rockets’ front office on Wednesday determined to 'come home.' Elie, who has kept his home in Houston since his days with the franchise’s Clutch City-era teams, interviewed for the Rockets’ vacant head coaching position on Wednesday, saying he is ready to recapture the successes from his playing days here. 'I’m very excited,' Elie said. 'I like their commitment to winning and bringing back the success of the championship years. We knocked it around for quite a bit, about three to four hours. Those guys are very sharp. They know what they want. I had a good time with these gentlemen.' Elie, who played five seasons with the Rockets before finishing his career in San Antonio and Phoenix, has been an assistant with the Spurs, Warriors and Kings. While Elie hopes to return to the Rockets, Rockets assistant coach Jack Sikma interviewed for the position hoping to stay. 'I feel good about it,' said Sikma, an assistant on Rick Adelman’s staff the past four seasons. 'I’m in more of a unique situation. I approach it as an opportunity to interview for a head coaching position. I thought it was a good exchange.' "