First Cup: Thursday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: "Home-court advantage -- check. A return of confidence -- check. A return of Udonis Haslem -- check. Everything checked out OK for the Heat on Wednesday in its 85-75 victory against the Chicago Bulls in Game?2 of the Eastern Conference finals. The series is tied 1-1 and now returns to AmericanAirlines Arena, where the Heat is 6-0 this postseason. Dwyane Wade blocked a desperation three-point attempt from Derrick Rose with less than two minutes remaining and fans began filing out of United Center early. LeBron James led the Heat with 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and five assists. He scored nine of the Heat’s final 13 points in a fourth quarter more about defense and heart and than a heroic offensive finish. 'Our job was to try and come in and win one on the road,' Wade said of starting the series in Chicago. 'We got that one that we needed so far, so now we go home and we have to take care of business.' "

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "The story changes now. It’s not about the Bulls defense or the Bulls rebounding or the Bulls’ depth. It’s not about the Heat’s stagnant offense or the lack of height up front or the lack of support for the Heat’s Big Three. It’s not about Chicago’s dominance of Miami this season. Now it’s about the Heat’s offensive adjustments and the Heat’s scrappiness and the power of three. It’s about the rediscovery of Udonis Haslem and with it, apparently, the strengthening of the Heat’s heart. It’s about the Heat suddenly looking dominant at the right time. With just one win. No, the Bulls aren’t a team that will fold under the pressure of playing on the road. And by no means does the Heat have a stranglehold on this series just by winning one of these games in Chicago. But that edge the Bulls had over the Heat after their fourth win in a row is gone now. And guess who was largely responsible for the Heat taking ownership of that?"

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "I don’t want to say Bulls fans were overly wound up Wednesday night, but when Miami’s Chris Bosh dunked, the guy behind me at the United Center screamed angrily, 'Guard him!' The score was 2-0. On the other hand, maybe he saw a future of dunks, layups and LeBron James dominance unfolding before him.Let’s call what happened Wednesday a market correction. Miami tied the Eastern Conference finals 1-1 with an 85-75 victory. No matter what Game 1 might have said, the Bulls are not 21 points better than the Heat. James and Dwyane Wade are not the bystanders they appeared to be in Game 1. They’re two of the top 10 basketball players on the planet. Chicago and its suburbs might have lost sight of that after Game 1’s blowout victory. No matter what you might have heard or seen this season, Derrick Rose is human. Humans shoot 7-for-23 from the floor. MVPs bounce back from bad performances. We’ll see how he and the Bulls respond Sunday in Game 3 in Miami. The excitement around town after Game 1 was more than a little out of proportion. Maybe people will calm down a bit now, and by that I mean maybe people will start thinking that getting 'Bench Mob’ shoulder tattoos might not be such a good idea."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Dennis Rodman continued his whirlwind 2011, receiving a standing ovation Wednesday night as he presented the honorary game ball before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. It's only the second time Rodman has returned to the United Center since helping the Bulls win three championships from 1996-98. Rodman also attended the ceremony to retire Scottie Pippen's No. 33 on Dec. 9, 2005. 'It brings back some memories, but it's not for me now,' Rodman said before the game. 'It's for the guys in there.' On April 1, the Pistons retired Rodman's No. 10 in a game against the Bulls. Three days later, Rodman earned induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He turned 50 on May 13. And then came Wednesday night. 'It has been crazy, man,' Rodman said. ' It just has been incredible that people still love you for what you've done in life. This city has been too good to me. I'm surprised this is even happening right now.' "

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "J.J. Barea's ability to impact a game is no secret to the Mavericks, because he runs circles around them in practice. But they know that since he looks like a little kid, most defenders probably don't take him seriously. 'The normal person would underestimate him in a sense that walking into the arena you wouldn't think he's a basketball player,' point guard Jason Kidd said. 'Just his look. If you look at him, you would say that he's not a basketball player.' Barea is listed at 6-foot in the Mavericks media guide. But even Dirk Nowitzki thinks that's inflated. 'I think if his head would be normal size he'd be only 5-4,' Nowitzki said. 'But his head is so big it makes him like 5-9 or something.' That 'boy next door' look has been advantageous to Barea, who stays in attack mode, despite his size. Even guard Jason Terry described Barea as a 'midget' whom he took lightly when he first had to defend him."

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "At a time when the Thunder is searching for answers — how do you slow the Dirk Devil and contain the Mavs' shooters, find some offensive help for Kevin Durant and square this best-of-seven series before it heads back to Oklahoma City? -- the most perplexing question is how to balance the need for more defense with the need for less fouls. Something that Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after Game 1 underscores the quandary. 'We thought we defended them as close as we can,' he said. 'Obviously, a little too close.' If the Thunder was too close Tuesday night and it needs to back off Thursday night, that begs a question. What happens next? Do the Mavs score 150 points? Does Nowitzki go off for 65 points? The Thunder talked Wednesday about the need to adjust, to be smarter, to be aware of how tight the game is being called. I buy the last two, but not the first. If I was the Thunder, I wouldn't change much of anything. I'd stay aggressive, I'd stay physical, and I'd pray for an officiating crew that swallows its whistles every once in awhile."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "Watching at the time, gathering all data, was Sam Presti. He was finishing the franchise’s last season in Seattle then, with the team on its way to the second-worst record in the league. It was supposed to be a two-player draft, after Rose and Michael Beasley. But, in the lottery, Presti fell to the fourth draft position. Presti reacted with a reach. After Memphis took O.J. Mayo with the third pick, Presti gambled on someone who was third in scoring on his college team. It was a masterful job of scouting. Beasley was traded, and Mayo nearly was. Westbrook has become an All-Star. For Presti, who Gregg Popovich once called the Spurs’ 'resident genius,' it was a culmination of research and personality evaluation. Presti had done his homework, just as he had in San Antonio when he was integral in the drafting of Tony Parker. The quality that Presti and his staff saw and loved in Westbrook is one that will be in play tonight: resiliency. Still, the same Westbrook that felt overlooked in college has reason to feel that way with Durant as a teammate. So maybe the same kind of conflict that drove apart Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett years ago in Minnesota surfaces in Oklahoma City. That’s where a smart general manager will come in. 'You good?' Presti will try to make sure."

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "Coming to a store near you -- the KD backpack. The accessory that will eventually hit shelves as part of the Thunder superstar's Nike KD III line has become all the rage during these playoffs. It's not just that Durant wears the backpack to every postgame press conference. He also leaves it on the entire time. With all the straps buckled and tightened in front, he looks like he's ready to hike across campus to geometry class. 'People say they like it. People say they don't,' Durant said. 'I'm going to stick with it.' Intended or not, he is doing one heck of an advanced advertising campaign for the KD backpack. ... It is unknown when the backpack with an embroidered KD logo will debut or how much it will cost once it hits stores, but a Nike backpack in Kobe Bryant's line retails for $90."

  • Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer: "No event invites conspiracy theories quite like the NBA lottery does. A year after losing LeBron James, the Cavs turning up with the top pick could, I suppose, seem league orchestrated. But only if you're Oliver Stone or those who suspect Osama bin Laden is not only alive but will prove it in a soon-to-air series of 'Just For Men' commercials. Would the same league fix the Patrick Ewing sweepstakes for the big-market Knicks, then conspire to reward little old Cleveland with two No. 1 picks in seven years? And why exactly? The Cavs cashed in the Clippers' No. 1 for the top pick. That offered a 2.8 percent chance, which is only 2.8 percent higher than my odds of getting hired as Chris Hemsworth's body double in 'Thor.' To think the Cavs were rewarded for losing James, you'd have to believe David Stern was greatly bothered by James' departure. Then you'd still need to take a flight of fancy on a magical unicorn to arrive at the believable conclusion that the lottery results were pre-determined. In fairness to Stern, he couldn't have stopped James and Chris Bosh from pledging Dwyane Wade's fraternity. That said, anybody think he's upset the Heat-Bulls is drawing record ratings? To think the Cavs were rewarded by the league for losing James calls for a suspension of disbelief not required since audiences settled in to watch Danny DeVito as Arnold Schwarzenegger's brother in 'Twins.' If the NBA wanted to see things made right for Cleveland, it didn't have to fix the lottery. Not this year."

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: "Now that the Clippers’ pick has turned into No. 1… well, Cleveland has the right to feel prettty smart. And the Clippers ought to feel queasy at the thought that they’ve just lost the chance to team Blake Griffin up with presumptive No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving. I’m sure Griffin isn’t feeling wonderful about it, either. But the real Clipper mistake, of course, was handing Baron that five-year, $65M deal all the way back in the summer of 2008. Terrible deal from the moment that one was proposed and signed. TERRIBLE. Bad deals like that one put enormous pressure on a franchise. They wear on a front office’s psyche. They get management folks nervous, and force risky moves just to be out from under the burden. And when you give up a lottery pick to get free… you risk possibly blowing a potential Blake-Kyrie tandem, which immediately would’ve lifted the Clippers into another level."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar deserves a statue outside Staples Center. If Magic Johnson has one, Kareem should have one, too. Period. That’s not what this post is about. No, this post is meant to point out the vastly different worlds we live in, even as we all share the same planet. Kareem told The Sporting News that he 'feels slighted' by not being immortalized in bronze. In a statement, he described himself as being 'highly offended' by the lack of public acknowledgment outside the home of the Lakers. Could you imagine living a life in which you feel “highly offended” because no one has built a monument in your honor? And in your exact likeness, no less? Could you imagine thinking so much of yourself that you’d be 'highly offended' by a lack of idolization? 'Highly offended,' because there’s no place for people to come and -- literally -- worship at your feet? We find such a characterization odd, particularly coming from someone like Kareem, who seems to think deeper than most. Just proves that even visionaries, at times, can sound very shortsighted."

  • Gregg Krupa of The Detroit News: "Looking back at the process, Karen Davidson said her sole disappointment is that she could not sell the team quicker. 'One always wishes it could have sold sooner,' she said, recalling that she announced in the spring of 2010 she hoped to have it sold by the start of the 2010-11 season in October. 'That's naivete. It's like selling a house, or something. It's always a much bigger deal than you think.' But much is serendipitous now, she said, because her big goal, finding the right owner and preserving her husband's legacy, is secure. What most pleases her is 'selling Bill's team to Tom,' she said. Gores, she says, is a man she likes and respects, who is a lot like her late husband. 'I can not tell you how certain I am that Tom Gores is the right person for this team, and he is going to bring a passion to this that others would not," Davidson said. "He is a man who is smart. He is a man who works hard.' In Gores, she said, the team will have an owner with zeal for the game, who understands how to run multiple businesses simultaneously, who is smart and engages people on an intensely personal level."

  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe: "It’s been a while since the Celtics have had to cash in with draft picks. Their starting lineup has been veterans-only territory since they assembled the Big Three. First-round picks Avery Bradley and J.R. Giddens have gotten their most minutes in the D-League. When Ainge says that Bradley, the team’s first-round pick last season, would be a top-five pick this year, it’s a compliment, but it’s also a testament to the depth of this draft. The Celtics have the 25th and 55th picks, and Ainge has been evaluating talent for weeks. With a 2012 lottery-protected pick from the Clippers, Ainge has a trade chip to work with should he decide to swing a deal. This offseason is the first step in determining the Celtics’ next direction. Will they try to position Allen, Garnett, and Pierce to make one more run at a title? Or will they come up with a new formula as they transition into an era without the three stars? Right now, they’re straddling the two options. Ultimately, they’ll have to choose one."

  • Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel: "If the league institutes an amnesty clause in the new collective bargaining agreement, there’s a chance the Wizards would use it to waive Lewis and the remaining $30 million on his contract (he’s paid $21.1 million in 2011-12 and could be bought out for approximately $10 million before the 2012-13 season). Of course, the Wizards could use the clause to undo the mistake of Andray Blatche’s contract (5 years, $35.7 million agreed to before this season), but it’s unclear if the Wizards view that deal as a mistake yet. So, if Lewis gets bought out, he’ll hit the open market and be free to sign with any NBA team. His family still lives in Orlando and he shares close friendships with many Magic players, so there’d almost certainly be interest on his end. Stan Van Gundy showed legitimate emotion when Lewis was traded and praised Lewis’ selfless attitude and work ethic, so the Magic’s coach would likely support Lewis’ return. But it would all come down to what Dwight Howard and the Magic’s highest decision makers wanted."

  • Kate Fagan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "The point of today's post is to paint a picture of how the franchise views Evan Turner, at this exact moment in time. We all have opinions about how Turner's rookie year went, and nobody believes it was earth-shattering, but I'd like to toss one idea out there that we haven't fully discussed previously. Turner went through the fire. Sixers coach Doug Collins didn't hand him anything. He had a handful of games where he didn't play, per coach's decision, and we'd be naive to think those moments didn't knock the wind out of Turner. But also, in an old-fashioned way, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. Because he impressed people with the way he handled himself last season. Nothing was given to him and in the long run there's belief within the organization that this will make him a stronger, more dedicated, more mentally tough player than some rookies who received 35 minutes a game, a starting role, and a prime-time spot on a 20-win team. So in answer to the most asked question: who would the Sixers draft if they could do it all again? I still think they draft Turner; I think people within the organization -- and I know I agree with this -- still believe he will raise to the level of a No. 2 pick, even if his rookie year numbers don't reflect that status immediately."

  • Marlon W. Morgan of The Commercial-Appeal: "But after winning the first playoff game, and series, in team history, the Grizzlies have sold their highest total of new season tickets since moving into FedExForum in 2004-05. 'I think it shows what an NBA franchise can do for a city,' president of business operations Greg Campbell said. 'I think it showed that this is an important element for the city of Memphis.' The Grizzlies have spent most of their 10-year history here struggling to capture the community's attention. They often played in a half-filled and largely quiet arena. But since beating San Antonio in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs for the franchise's first playoff victory, the Grizzlies have captivated the city, while turning FedExForum into one raucous venue. The Grizzlies sold out all six of their home playoff games. With more than five months remaining before the start of next season, vice president of tickets and sales Dennis O'Connor is expecting big things. 'The buzz is still there and people want to be a part of this team,' O'Connor said."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "As the calendar moves closer to the June 30 expiration of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, one thing is growing more clear. 'There will definitely be a lockout,' says agent Steve Kauffman, who for years represented players but now has coaches as his clients. 'The question is whether there will be (regular-season) games missed.' 'A lockout is going to happen,' says Frank Brickowski, one of six regional representatives for the NBA Players Association. 'After that, you draw a series of lines. You draw a line at training camp. You draw a line at the start of the preseason. You draw a line at the start of the regular season. And at some point, the final line is, do we lose the season?' Everything is a possibility at this point. 'I don’t have the answer to what will happen,' says Kauffman, who works for such names as Doc Rivers, Donnie Walsh, John Hammond, Rod Higgins, Ty Corbin, Paul Westphal and Monty Williams. 'I don’t know anyone who knows the answer. We just want it to be resolved.' "

  • Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel: "A prominent Milwaukee business leader said Wednesday that the community needs to discuss 'at an appropriate time' the idea of extending the Miller Park stadium sales tax as a way of funding a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. Timothy Sheehy, leader of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, a pro-business group, floated the idea at a civic forum. The idea of extending the stadium sales tax is not new, but it has never gained political and civic traction in a time of budget deficits, anti-tax sentiment and a struggling school system. In an interview, Sheehy said he already had begun to form a group of business leaders who have been meeting informally on not only possible extension of the 0.1% stadium sales tax as a means of financing a new facility, but other options. The group also wants to see if there's a way to sell naming rights at the Bradley Center's various entrances without giving up the name of the arena."