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First Cup: Friday

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald "There was every reason to believe the Heat was playing Game 5 with the knowledge that this was just one of three close-out games, not the 'must-win' that LeBron James claimed it was after the Heat took a 3-1 series lead Tuesday. And then it happened. The most dizzying display of shut-your-mouth the NBA has seen in some time. The most incredible outside-shooting display from players whose strength is well inside the three-point line. The most remarkable and sudden three-minute turnaround the league has seen in some time, if not ever. Possibly as stunning as Reggie Miller scoring eight points in 11 seconds to shock the Knicks in 1995. ... It might take you three times watching this one again to figure out how it happened. It might take you a day or two to even think about the Mavericks because that ending is worth about two days of savoring. But you got it. The Heat is in the Finals again, ready to take on the Mavs again. If you’re looking for an edge, there is this: The Heat already had the more impressive come-from-behind victory on the road in the conference finals. Dallas made up 15 points in five minutes against the Thunder. The Heat made up 12 in 3:14 against the Bulls. Advantage Heat. And with Wade and LeBron wearing the jersey, isn’t it always advantage Heat?"

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "I seen it, but I still don’t believe it. Astonishing. Simply astonishing. And no matter what is up with Dwyane Wade’s left shoulder, the man still has his own way of shouldering burdens. And LeBron. And Bosh. A Big Three? You darn well bet a big three. Did I say wow yet? Wow. Really, wow. Wade had six first-half turnovers and reached nine in the third quarter. That left shoulder sure has been getting a lot of treatment. But right now, who cares?"

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "This is the way it should’ve ended for the Bulls, with miles and miles still to go. They’re not a championship- caliber team yet. You can’t amble through the playoffs without having paid any dues, unless you’re the Heat, which piled on talent. The Bulls don’t havethat kind of talent, and for all the heart and teamwork and effort they showed this season, it’s still about talent. Derrick Rose is a wonderful player, but he has very little to lean on offensively. LeBron James has Dwyane Wade. Wade has James. Rose has ... somebody help me here. Carlos Boozer? We’ll get to him in a moment. You couldn’t help but be reminded of the talent disparity in the final minutes Thursday night, in the way you can’t help but be reminded of the mallet that just hit you in the head. James and Wade looked at each other, nodded, went to work and surgically separated the Bulls from their hearts. The Heat won 83-80, moving Miami into the NBA Finals against Dallas. The Heat won the series 4-1, which is as it should be, too. The Heat is that much better."

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "Blame Rose for turning the ball over with 52.9 seconds and the game tied at 79. Or for missing a free throw with 26.7 seconds left that would have tied the game at 81. Go ahead, rip Rose for not creating a better shot to tie it at the buzzer than a 26-foot prayer over two defenders. The short lesson of the Heat earning an NBA Finals berth with an 18-3 run to finish the game is this: Rose didn't give this game away as much as LeBron James took it. To make Rose the primary villain for the Bulls blowing a 12-point lead with 3 minutes 14 seconds left understates James' role as the hero. To focus on what Rose didn't do on offense in the final minutes ignores how the Bulls, as a team, disappeared on defense. Sure, Rose made mistakes. But James made the Bulls pay for them because nobody could stop him. 'When your team looks at you down the stretch and says we need you to hit shots, you gain confidence in yourself too,' James said. Say this for James. He talks big. He plays bigger."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Jason Terry expects that ride will end with the Mavericks hoisting the NBA championship trophy. The trophy similar to the one tattooed on his right biceps. Dirk Nowitzki and Terry are the lone Mavs players remaining from the '06 season. The criticism those two have endured since that season's failure have cut deep. That's why Terry said this is 'for Nowitzki, for Mark Cuban, for this city. To have another shot at it after five years, we're ready this time.' So ready that Terry and his teammates have remained even keel. They're only three-quarters of the way to their appointed goal, and they want that last one-quarter in the worst possible way. 'We're happy, but honestly we have to say the job is not done,' Terry said. 'And when you feel like that, it's just so much more left in us. It's so much more basketball in us to be played that I can't be super excited right now.' Not now. Not yet."

  • Jennie Carlson of The Oklahoman: "Another day, another round of criticism for Russell Westbrook. Shocking, I know. The latest scuttlebutt surrounding the Thunder point guard involves what he supposedly didn't do after Game 5. He didn't shake hands with the Mavs after they clinched the Western Conference Finals. He didn't stay on the court to exchange pleasantries. He didn't go to the postgame interview room. Really? This is what fires up some people? This is getting out of hand. Listen, I'm all for putting blame where blame is due, especially when it involves athletes who make millions of dollars a year. I've even called out Westbrook during these playoffs for some poor decisions. But this blog-based brouhaha about Westbrook's postgame activities goes too far. Most of it isn't fair, and worse, some of it isn't true."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "If not for Twitter, it would be very difficult to know how anyone in the Lakers' family felt about Mike Brown being named to coach the team. Magic Johnson and Lakers All-Star forward Pau Gasol both used Twitter on Thursday to speak out about Brown. Otherwise, not one of the Lakers who was contacted by phone or text message responded to requests for reaction to the hiring of Brown on Wednesday to succeed Phil Jackson. Johnson focused on Jim Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel, in his reaction to the news. 'For Jim Buss, this is a bold move hiring Mike Brown and I hope it all works out,' Johnson posted on his Twitter account. Gasol said on Twitter: 'I'm excited about our new coach, I hope he can lead us to more titles.' Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, who was a candidate for the head coaching job, remains in contention for the head-coaching job with the Golden State Warriors. He had been endorsed by several of the Lakers' players to become their head coach."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "I asked Rich Cho what they planned to do with Roy just 48 hours before the general manager was fired by Allen. He didn't answer, but he laughed nervously. I could feel him shaking his head at the mistake that the Vulcans made in negotiating a contract that had no insurance and no clauses for the possibility of injury despite Roy's chronic knee issues. You can't reasonably predict what the Blazers will do. There's a fracture between the smart, hard-working people who run the day-to-day operations at One Center Court and the wild-eyed schemers who call the shots from the circle around Allen. Me? I don't for a second believe that Roy will retire. I don't think he believes he's done, nor would any physician who examined him. Again, Game 4. Period. End of discussion. But I do believe that Roy's pride is the true wildcard. I still believe Roy can play at a high enough level to make keeping him worthwhile. I believe developing a new role for him is not only the best option, but also the only option. He'd be overpaid in each of the next four seasons, but at the very least they'd get something in return. But I don't think the Blazers view Roy as part of the plan, and given that they're married to him, they seem intent on trying to do something dramatic. And maybe, foolish."

  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: "The Knicks do have a coach -- Mike D’Antoni -- under contract for next season. But the team president, Donnie Walsh, who hired D’Antoni, is not signed beyond June 30, and all basketball-related matters moving forward would seemingly begin with him. Asked Thursday if plans had been made for an announcement on Walsh, a Knicks spokesman said, 'We have nothing planned right now.' When Walsh and his staff were in Chicago recently for the N.B.A.’s annual draft camp, it might have been assumed that he would be back next season. But asked by a New York Post reporter about his job status, Walsh said: 'I’m not going to be premature with this. I’ve told you the same thing. When I know what I’m doing, I’ll tell you.' Despite news media speculation that a new contract for Walsh is a formality, fans may recall that such was the case with Rod Thorn and the Nets last year at this time. He left abruptly after the June draft and wound up in the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office. The lack of urgency and transparency on this rather important issue created a vacuum in communication when season-ticket holders needed every morsel of information they could get."

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "Calling all NBA experts: Dust off those resumes. The Raptors are in the market for a new executive. The only catch, and it’s a doozy, is that experience is required -- serious experience. While Bryan Colangelo, the Toronto president and general manager, said the title and role of his new hire is yet to be determined, he acknowledged the ongoing reorganization of his front office could even involve bestowing his GM title on someone else. 'I’m thinking about bringing in a high-level basketball person to strengthen our management team,' Colangelo said. 'If I brought someone in and a GM title was part of it, it would be a fairly high-calibre person, probably someone with GM credentials already to their name. It’s all in development right now ... I could bring in one, I could bring in several new people.' Colangelo was speaking on Thursday after CBSSports.com reported that the Raptors were seeking a replacement for Maurizio Gherardini, the vice president of basketball operations whose contract expires June 30. Colangelo disputed the report, saying that while he has yet to address Gherardini’s future -- 'I’d like to have (Gherardini) back,' he said -- the search for new blood isn’t a push to fill a soon-to-be-empty office. The idea is to bolster an executive team that remains a man short since the August departure of assistant general manager Masai Ujiri, who left to become GM of the Denver Nuggets."

  • Editorial staff of The Sacramento Bee: "A highly anticipated study offers some assurance that a new arena in downtown Sacramento is doable. But it leaves many, many unanswered questions – most significantly how to pay for it – and there's not a lot of time. Under the reprieve granted this month by the NBA, Sacramento has until March 1, 2012, to have funding secured. Otherwise, the league is almost certain to let the Kings leave town. ... It's not just financing that has to be worked out. There needs to be more analysis of whether an arena can share a site with a planned transit hub. If not, the city will have to haggle with the railyard's owner, Inland American Real Estate Trust. Under the proposed timetable, the new arena would not open until the 2015-16 season. That would mean the Kings would play four more seasons at Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena). If so, would the city and team need to upgrade the arena? What would be the cost, and who would pay? Also, it is not too early to plan what would happen to the existing arena site. Natomas is too important to Sacramento to let it deteriorate. It was always going to be a heavy lift to make an arena happen. This week's report reveals what kind of political muscle -- and creativity -- will be required."