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First Cup: Monday

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "LeBron James is as big of a target as they come, literally and figuratively, so he was not only welcoming of the change of pace that saw Wade become option No. 1 against Boston, but he took advantage of the situation Sunday. Part of what makes James great is his all-around ability. So even though he did launch a few jumpers that would normally be considered ill-advised, James restrained himself on the offense. He expended some of that extra energy blocking a pair of Celtics shots, the more impressive being a first-quarter chase down of a streaking Rajon Rondo. He also managed a couple of steals. And that’s not even including the solid defense at all five positions at some point. ... It’s not necessarily a less-is-more approach, because all of those “other things” are just as important to the Heat’s success as his scoring would be. But it is a new approach against these Celtics. One that doesn’t include continuously banging his head against a wall of defenders and still coming out defeated. It’s very possible James will find a way to put up spectacular scoring numbers in a game or two this series. But if Sunday’s Game 1 was any indication, James won’t attempt to score for glory’s sake. He’s open to adjustments, for winning’s sake."

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "It was hell. As expected. It was thrown shoulders. It was errant elbows. It was the Heat's James Jones shouting to one referee, 'HE HEAD-BUTTED ME!' and Boston's Kevin Garnett shouting to another ref a minute later, 'DID YOU SEE THAT KICK?' It was flagrant fouls and screaming expletives and, ultimately, climactically, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce in a freight-train collision along the baseline that sent tremors through AmericanAirlines Arena. And it was just Game 1. The way to survive is to hold yourself together. 'That's what we did,' Wade said after the Heat's 99-90 win. It's what Boston didn't do. What Pierce, specifically, didn't. That's a twist on this relationship from earlier this year. That's what was so revealing about this game. This time, it was the veteran Celtics, the champion Celtics, the Celtics who love the bully pulpit, whose mind went squish. 'We didn't handle it well,' Boston coach Doc River said of the in-game emotion. ... Sunday showed the Heat of November isn't the Heat of May. They have hiccups at times. But they also are capable of assembling a day that can win on the scoreboard and get in opponents' mind. Until Sunday, Boston was the king of that. 'As the series progresses, I think it will get more physical,' Bosh said. 'It is Game 1.' And what a game. Collisions. Elbows. Taunts. Exactly as advertised. The difference was the Heat stood up to big brother this time."

  • Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe: "It ... cannot ... happen. The Celtics are supposed to be the composed veterans. The Heat are supposed to be the young bucks, the fragile frauds who need to be schooled in how it’s done in the playoffs. So how come Paul Pierce picked up two technical fouls and got himself ejected midway through thefourth quarter of yesterday’s 99-90 Game 1 loss to the Hype Masters of Miami? We don’t know Pierce’s explanation because the captain was nowhere to be found in the losers’ locker room. A team publicist said he would be available to comment today. Not good enough. You want to be a champion? You want to be talked about the same as Russell and Bird and Havlicek and Cooz? Stick around and take your medicine like a man after you act like a stupid tough guy on the court. We thought we were over this stuff with Pierce. He is 33 years old. He’s been in the NBA since 1998. He was MVP of the Finals in 2008, for gosh sakes. What’s the excuse for losing his cool twice in the fourth quarter of a game against a team that’s always waiting to choke if you can keep things close?"

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Of all the words that will be spent describing the Celtics Game 1 loss to the Heat yesterday, one stands brightest in the Florida sun: Deserved. As in they got what was coming to them. The Celtics knew exactly what it would take for them to beat the Heat. They also knew what would lead to a defeat. And somewhere along the line, they chose the latter. If it had just been a matter of missing shots and having the Heatians win the hand-to-shot combat, the 99-90 loss could be understood. Things like this do happen in a playoff series. But the Celtics knew better, and they played as if they didn’t. When you are as allegedly wise as the Bostonians and you’re playing against a team that can out-run and out-jump you, composure is king. It is incumbent that you play to your brains. But yesterday the Celtics were stuck in the cerebral mud, as their younger foe frolicked around the Port of Miami."

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "There's a dry-erase board mounted near the back entrance to the Oklahoma City Arena. A question was written on it Sunday, especially for the playoffs. 'How much does a human heart weigh?' it said. My guess would be about 12 Grizzlies. Thirty-six hours earlier, the Grizzlies had been walking down South Main in Memphis, high-fiving throngs of besotted fans, celebrating Friday night's emotional Game 6 win over the San Antonio Spurs. So there wasn't a chance they'd be ready to play Oklahoma City at noon Sunday. There is resilient and then there is just nutty. Except, there they were, 21/2 hours after tipoff, quietly congratulating one another after a resounding 114-101 victory. Question: If the Grizzlies can handle the Thunder this deftly, think it's time we put them in charge of Mid-South weather generally? This was ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean incredibly impressive. It's one thing to steal Game 1 from the Spurs when you've been tanking, er, resting, for a few days to prepare for it. It's another thing to come into this building on 36 hours rest and flat demolish the league's darlings."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Rain swamped the Memorial Marathon. Cold struck the Arts Festival. The Grizzlies punched the Thunder in the gut. Bad MayDay in Oklahoma City. But the marathon finished. The arts festival was on its last day. The Thunder has to wrestle the Grizzlies at least three more times. The Boomers had better toughen up. That's what beat the Thunder 114-101 Sunday. Memphis toughness. The Grizzlies were tougher than OKC. Tougher with the ball. Tougher on defense. Tougher at the rim. 'We didn't have any energy,' Kevin Durant said. 'They played harder than us. They fought harder than us. It's a long series. We gotta come out with more fight the next game.' Mandatory, I'd say, if the Thunder wants to avoid a four-game sweep. 'They were more physical than us, from bigs to small,' said Kendrick Perkins, words that pained the Thunder enforcer to say."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Just two short seasons ago, the Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies finished with the exact same 24-58 record. Back then, both teams had accumulated extra future first-round picks and had or were positioning themselves for substantial cap space and you could have argued the Wolves' future looked brighter. Today, the Grizzlies just beat Oklahoma City (winners of just 23 games that 2008-09 season) in the opening game of the playoffs' second round. ... The Grizz are missing Gay's smooth 20 points a game, but as crazy as it sounds to say, they just might be grittier and more playoff tough without him. Have a Coach of the Year candidate in Hollins, who should have gotten more votes for the award than he did? He has gotten more out of Randolph than anyone could have hoped and has molded this team even without Gay. And they paid up. While the Wolves have the league's third lowest payroll, the Grizz have signed Gay to an $80 million-plus contract extension, Randolph to $65 million-ish deal and Conley to a $45 million extension. And Gasol and Mayo will be looking for their paydays, too, although it's likely the Grizzlies will trade Mayo, as they tried to do at the trade deadline, because they can't afford to re-sign everybody. Remember when these two teams were side-by-side in the race toward the future? Not any longer."

  • Lacy J. Banks of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Tom Thibodeau has said over and over this season that he doesn’t care about personal acclaim. He would have been well served by carrying a recording of himself saying, 'I don’t care about the NBA coach of the year award.’ But he’s a big reason the Bulls won 62 games in the regular season, the most in the league. He has his players prepared. Always. One of the fallacies about today’s NBA is that it has become more about strategy. There are no secrets on the basketball floor, the way there are on a football field. In Game 5 of the first round of the playoffs, the Bulls didn’t surprise the Indiana Pacers with a new wrinkle from which the Pacers could never recover. It’s not like that. It’s not like the NFL. What Thibodeau did this season was to get his team to play hard, especially on defense. Always. It was less about what he was telling them and more about their believing it. Winning helps in getting the message across. Thibs passed on the tendencies he saw on film. His players listened. That’s the difficult part for any coach. There’s nothing mystical here. He’s no Big Chief Triangle, as Jeff Van Gundy once derisively referred to Zen master Phil Jackson and the cultlike fascination with the triangle offense. There’s just a rookie head coach standing on the sideline for every minute of every single game, hoarsely yelling out instructions on every single pass of the ball. It’s an approach that could get very old on a losing team, but this isn’t one of those teams, is it?"

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "There's a lot for Drew to think about as he decides on his starters for the Eastern Conference semifinals. The first issue is point guard, where starter Kirk Hinrich isn't expected to play during the best-of-seven series. Jeff Teague could take Hinrich's place since he's best suited to defend Chicago's Derrick Rose. Drew said he's also considering starting veteran Jamal Crawford, who hasn't started a game in his two seasons for Atlanta. Drew and predecessor Mike Woodson have favored Crawford's scoring off the bench. ... Crawford would provide considerably more scoring punch from the start than Teague. With Crawford in the starting lineup the Bulls would have to account for five capable scorers on the floor at the same time. But Crawford usually is an indifferent defender as he focuses on scoring. That could cause problems for the Hawks against Rose. ... Drew said he hadn't ruled out a big lineup that most likely would include Zaza Pachulia at center. In that alignment, center Al Horford and power forward Josh Smith would shift over, and Marvin Williams would come off the bench. Pachulia is a good match against Chicago's Joakim Noah."

  • Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: " Beat L-A? History tells us that it's never been done. Not in this month, this league, these playoffs. Twenty-three years ago, though, we thought that, if nothing else, the law of averages was on the Dallas Mavericks' side. The Mavericks had Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper and Sam Perkins. They had the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, Roy Tarpley. They even had a real center, James Donaldson. Sooner or later, the thinking went back in 1988, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was going to retire, the Mavs were going to figure out a way to stifle Magic Johnson, and Lakers owner Jerry Buss was going to run out of leisure suits and blondes on each arm. The Lakers' dynasty would be over. Or so we all thought. The casts have changed -- and then some -- but the Mavericks' playoff frustrations against the Lakers resume anew tonight in Los Angeles. Beat L-A? The Vegas oddsmakers say the Mavericks can't do it. Los Angeles has the ultimate playoff weapon -- Kobe Bryant, with or without his apparently injured ankle. The Mavericks have, well, all that history. The Miami thing and all. Mavericks optimists see the two games that Los Angeles lost in its opening-round series against New Orleans, and they see a crack in the Lakers' platinum veneer. Maybe. But who on the Mavericks gets to play the role of Chris Paul?"

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "Now, introducing the Lakers' newest archrival … The Dallas Mavericks? If you can't recall the rivalry's great moments, you'd have to be 23 to have been alive for the last one. That was the teams' last playoff meeting … in the 1988 Western Conference finals. It took the Lakers seven games to beat the Mavericks, not that it was like playing the Celtics. The Mavericks' Mark Aguirre kept going to the Lakers' locker room after games to see Magic Johnson, until Coach Pat Riley had him barred. The Dallas owner was kindly Don Carter, who wore his cowboy hat sitting courtside, may have even slept in it and helped build a championship team, just in the wrong city. Before the 1986 draft, the Lakers, who had just lost to Houston's Twin Towers -- Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson -- agreed to trade James Worthy for Aguirre and rising 7-footer Roy Tarpley. Owner Jerry Buss pulled the trigger, personally, assuming General Manager Jerry West would be OK with it. When West wasn't, and in a big way, Buss asked Carter to let him out of the deal, saying he might lose his GM. Carter, whose duty -- to tell his secretary to say he was unavailable forever -- was clear, instead said no problem. Otherwise, there goes Showtime with the Lakers and Celtics tied at three titles each in the '80s. The Lakers went on to win two more in 1987 and 1988. Aguirre's career cratered. Tarpley's was truncated by drug problems."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "Matt Barnes reminded everyone about the '07 playoff upset, noting that the Warriors had 'laid out the blueprint on how to beat Dallas.' Then Barnes typed: 'PUNK'EM.' So is that what we're in for tonight? A good, old-fashioned Maverick punking? Another episode of Terry playing two-hand touch with Blake's kidneys? Another round of Barnes sport-coating Stotts? We can only hope, at least for the sake of generating interest. Hey, we're not advocating bad-boy basketball. We say play hard but play right. But we're also saying even the suggestion of antagonism is more titillating than anything Aaron Gray will ever do. So now it's Lakers and Mavericks for the first time in the postseason since David Robinson was the No. 1 pick and the Clippers were coached by Gene Shue. Yeah, it was that long ago. It was so long ago, in fact, that these teams had something of a budding playoff rivalry going. The Lakers and Mavericks met in the postseason three times in five years in the 1980s. We said something of a budding rivalry. The Lakers won all of those series. They'll win this one, too. But with Cuban, Terry and, don't forget J.J. Barea (a shorter, more annoying version of Sasha Vujacic), this should be entertaining. Now, if only the Mavericks could find a way to avoid playing the actual games."

  • Randy Youngman of The Orange County Register: "Monday is Decision Day --- and Deadline Day --- for the Sacramento Kings. The Maloof family, which has owned a controlling interest in the Kings since 1999, has until 2 p.m. Monday (Pacific time) to file an application with the NBA and formally make known its intentions to move the franchise to Anaheim in time for the 2011-12 season. Reached late Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas, Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said the family still was talking about its options and would not announce a decision until Monday. ... It has been a long, drawn-out process, with the relocation deadline already extended twice -- from March 1 to April 18, at the request of the Maloofs, and then two more weeks after the NBA Board of Governors meetings in New York. There are hundreds of pages of documents from Anaheim's proposed agreement waiting for signatures. Monday is Deadline Day."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "Over the course of the season, the Bobcats were better with Stephen Jackson than without him. They were 4-11 when he didn't play; you think that's a coincidence? This is something subtler, and I'm sure it's on the minds of both the coaches and the front office: Jackson is the best scorer in the franchise's history. Expensive as he was, he's earned his salary and then some, not only with his skills, but also with his passion. Still, here's the problem: When the ball hits Jackson's hands, it often stops. There's no swing from side-to-side, which is the only way you wear out an opposing defense. When Jackson is on - that night in Atlanta was spectacular - he's one of the 20 best players in the league. But as the last five games of the season illustrated (and, granted, they were 2-3 in those games) the ball movement was notably better in his absence. Nobody forced shots, nobody held the ball - 50.7 percent is not an insignificant number. I hope Jackson saw this, because at 33 he should adjust. He told the media, the coaches and the front office the day after the season that he doesn't want to leave. Translation: 'This isn't Golden State, and I'd like to see how this remake plays out.' Great. He makes $9.25 million next season and $10 million the following season. That's a lot of money, guaranteed, and it will be reasonable for management to expect some evolution. Brevin Knight and Derek Anderson did a lot for this franchise at the tail end of their careers by setting a standard for professionalism. That means mentoring, leading and not impeding the kind of ball movement we saw late this season. I know Jackson's heart is in the right place. I also know he's basketball-savvy. He should be able to adapt."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "There was a bit of good news for the Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment recently. The Palace and DTE Energy Music Theater were the top-two venues in the Midwest in terms of ticket sales and attendance in 2010 -- a solid year for PS&E. Which gives credence to the optimism PS&E president Alan Ostfield displayed April 8 -- the day it was announced that Los Angeles-based financier Tom Gores had reached a formal agreement with Karen Davidson to purchase the Pistons. The deal is on track to close by the end of the month. But a common perception for the Pistons and PS&E is that things are headed downhill because the Pistons are coming off three consecutive losing seasons and trying to attract an apathetic fan base. But Ostfield said last week that these things went in cycles, and considering the struggles on the court and the woeful state economy, prospects were bound to improve. 'Obviously the team struggled, but these things happen and this stuff goes through stages,' Ostfield said."