First Cup: Thursday

  • Mike Heika of the The Dallas Morning News: "Mavericks GM and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson stopped by practice on Wednesday and had some interesting opinions on a lot of topics. ... Can you put into perspective what Dirk has done in this series? 'That guy has been through the stinking ringer. It's been tough. Its been really hard. But I'm not of the ilk that `Wow, all of the sudden that here is this new player.' This is the same Dirk that we have seen for 11 of the last 13 years. But he is hungry, he senses an opportunity, and he absolutely has put this team on his back…but he's done that before.' But doing with the injured finger and the fever, that's what make it like a Hollywood script. 'Yes, I think last night was one of the most inspirational gut performances in Mavericks history. That was our version of Willis Reed. If he doesn't tough it out and he doesn't come back, there is no way…I don't even know how he was standing that fourth quarter…We are here at 2-2 because of him.' "

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The undisputed leader of the Mavericks, Tyson Chandler is always diving for loose balls and tipping balls -- which he can't corral -- to his teammates. And he's usually the player making most of the hustle plays that could mean the difference between winning and losing. 'His enthusiasm, his energy and tenacity have been a big part of us being as successful as we've been to this point,' coach Rick Carlisle said. 'Ball's on the floor loose and he dives and he tips it to somebody, that's a place it's not going to show up [in the stat sheet]. He's the kind of guy you love to have around on your team because he's into winning, and he gets it.' Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson agrees. 'Tyson was really the missing piece for us. Obviously when we made the acquisition we felt good about it or else we wouldn't have done it,' Nelson said. 'The opportunity presented itself and we felt, No. 1 we love those kinds of players. We love a guy who is infectious, positive, locker room presence."

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Dallas guard DeShawn Stevenson said LeBron, 'checked out for the night.' Asked to explain, Stevenson said, 'I was surprised he wasn't attacking at all.' 'Weird,' he called it. That's not trash talk. It's truth. Everyone knows LeBronwasn't his normal self in Game 4 in a way no one can explain. One awful game even on this stage is one awful game. But two? When the ring he's chased dangles right before him? So, Thursday night, it's not just that he has to be himself. He has to be the best side of himself. He must be inspiring. His big talent must mesh with this big game, because after the last 11 months and especially after Tuesday this becomes the biggest moment. He'll show who he is. And what he stands for. ... LeBron came to the Heat because he wanted more help. He's got that starting with Wade and Chris Bosh. Now they need his help. 'He'll do something so great that what he did in Game 4 won't be a topic of conversation,' Wade said. Tuesday was the worst game of his career. Thursday decides if it lingers to his legacy. Your move, LeBron."

  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: "Winning is a magical mask. Hides the flaws and so much of the ugly. Puts a fixed smile on everything. So when you beat too-old Boston and too-young Chicago with an avalanche of late, low-percentage shots from the perimeter, even though your game is at the rim, even though every team in the league prefers you shoot from out there, here’s one of the many things that gets concealed behind that perma-smile right up until you lose: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, great friends, great teammates, great players, don’t really complement each other. This is not a knee-jerk reaction to one random loss. This is a season-long truth. And it isn’t even an indictment. It is a shining testament to their talents and temperaments that they remain favored to hold up the trophy in spite of this incongruity. Clearly, in attitude, in spirit, in kinship, in effort, these two are very much a team. But not in styles, not at all. Their games are two squares trying very hard, so hard, to become a circle."

  • Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post: "LeBron James should be careful not to listen to criticism from his inferiors, people who never played the game like him and don’t really understand how to win something. Young man, keep that mess out of your head. Everything you are doing and saying is right. Sure, James could hunt for offense a lot more aggressively -- if he wants to suck the life out of the Miami Heat. Maybe his critics would be happier if he went 3 for 30 and ruined the flow for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Since when does a refusal to overshoot when you aren’t knocking down shots qualify as poor leadership? And since when does a stat line of nine rebounds and seven assists qualify as a horribly passive performance? And since when is unselfishness a flaw? I’ll tell you since when. Ever since the sublime talents of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant deceived star worshippers into thinking that NBA greatness is defined by lone wolfness. Ever since their stunning scorer’s mentalities seduced their admirers into forgetting that without Phil Jackson, and his relentless insistence on sharing the ball, neither won so much as one ring. Not one. There is something off in the way James is being treated by his critics. Yes, he had a pass-first mentality and lacked aggressiveness in the fourth quarter of the last couple of games, as he himself admitted. But there is a weird overreaction going on here. James is being punished by those who found something unmanly in his decision to leave Cleveland and accept less money to share the limelight and the ball with Wade and Bosh in Miami. His failure to score down the stretch has been taken by his critics as proof of this central weakness. There must be something wrong with a guy who doesn’t want to go all ball-hog."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I thought this would be easy, pulling against LeBron James. Eleven months ago I’d worked up a disdain I figured would carry me through 2011 and probably 2021. But here Miami is, playing for the NBA title, and I have a confession: I’m actually starting to feel sorry for LeBron. He’s the best player in the world. He’s on the sport’s biggest stage. He’s hiding in the corner. ... That part about standing in the corner? I mean it literally. James stationed himself -- I say that because I can’t imagine this was an Erik Spoelstra ploy -- 25 feet from the goal. And stood there. In the infamous Game 5 against Boston last season, James was criticized by Cavs fans for not shooting. This time he barely moved. ... I thought it’d be amusing to see LeBron lose, but I don’t want him to lose like this. If Nowitzki and the Mavericks outplay him and the Heat straight-up, so be it. But this way feels wrong. It’s as if King James has, on the morning of his coronation, chosen to abdicate the throne."

  • Mike Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Is karma getting the best of LeBron James? James hasn’t been the same since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Bulls. That’s when he duped referee Marc Davis into calling a foul on Derrick Rose by feigning contact after Rose swiped at the ball -- and then winked in recognition of the ploy, which was caught by TNT’s cameras. ... Since leading the Heat with 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a 92-84 victory in Game 1, James’ numbers have dropped to 20-8-4 in Game 2, 17-3-9 in Game 3 and 8-9-7 in the 86-83 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 that tied the series at 2. While an admitted lack of aggression is a big key, there’s also this factor to consider: James hasn’t been getting many breaks from the officials since Game 5 against the Bulls, when he parlayed a bit of gamesmanship into a memorable comeback. Is James paying the price for that now? He averaged nine free throws in the Heat’s first three playoff series, including 13 and 11 in the last two games against the Bulls. But in the first four games of the Finals, he has shot a total of 14 free throws. For what it’s worth, Scott Foster, part of the officiating crew in Game 5 against the Bulls, worked Game 3 of the Finals. Davis and Greg Willard, the other members of that crew, worked Game 4. Suddenly, it seems, he’s being treated like just another player."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "At an age in which change for an athlete is rarely for the better, Nowitzki has continued to grow and improve in ways as remarkable as it was unexpected. He has become stronger in the low post, tougher off the dribble, unstoppable with a high-kick fadeaway jumper. He has spoken of the late-night workouts and how they have expanded his array of offensive options. Teammates speak of his growth as a leader. Even Haslem rolled his eyes and grumbled for the '99,000 time' about how much more difficult Nowitzki has become to defend since their meeting in the 2006 Finals. Yet as much as he has improved at a point when players can only hope but usually fail to remain what they were, Nowitzki -- who turns 33 this month -- has enjoyed a change even rarer than the late-career improvement of his game. He has changed his image, erased old and inaccurate labels. Five seasons after he was a runaway Most Valuable Player, he has become appreciated as he never was. 'It's like where have you been,' Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson said of the new perception. 'We're spoiled in Dallas to have a guy like that, to see him develop and get to the point he is today. It's really, really cool to be a part of. This is Dirk. We've been spoiled rotten.' To the Mavericks, Nowitzki is not answering critics as much as cashing in on dues paid, from the two seasons when the Mavericks were criticized for not choosing Paul Pierce in the draft and Nelson said Nowitzki was unsure if he'd make it in the NBA, to the postseason failures."

  • Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel: "The NBA has fined Gilbert Arenas for comments made on his Twitter account, NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday. The league did not specify how much the fine was for or which specific comments violated league rules. When informed of the fine, the Magic point guard took to -- you guessed it -- Twitter to express his frustration: 'yesthe nba has fined me....for being to awesome..so i can give you the shoes for FREE but gotta charge you for the jokes... i cant believe i got fined..how do i explain this to the lady at the bank...this is gonna take another 40mins... or i could just write a check and if theres a lockout just cancel the check it and maybe they will forget.....i think that will work..' Arenas, who's never been one to take himself seriously, continued to make light of the situation in his next Twitter messages: 'its okay it all evens it self out..i get fined from the nba........im stealing cable from my neighbors..so bam bam jackpot...hahaha'. "

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "At 33 years old, forward Kenyon Martin is no longer age appropriate for the Nuggets, who wear baby blue for a reason. K-Mart, guilty of being born in the 1970s, can probably kiss Denver goodbye. And is it time for Nuggets fans to say hello to either Kenneth Faried or Klay Thompson, both 21-year-old draft prospects? Seeing as Josh Kroenke recently celebrated his 31st birthday, it's hard for our local NBA team to field a starting lineup in which every player is younger than the team president. But the Nuggets are trying. ... No offense to Martin, a hardworking veteran, but he represents everything the Nuggets no longer want their players to be: 1) on the wrong side of age 30 and 2) vastly overpaid. Martin does not fit with the youth movement in Denver. If the veteran forward has little choice except to take a huge pay cut from the $16.5 million he earned during the final year of his contract with the Nuggets, it would make more sense for K-Mart to join a team on the verge of winning a championship as a free agent."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Brigham Young guard Jimmer Fredette has an invitation to work out for the Bucks but it's 'doubtful' he will accept, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Fredette is scheduled to work out Thursday for the Sacramento Kings, who hold the seventh overall pick in the June 23 draft. He also has workouts scheduled with Utah, which has the No. 12 pick (and also the third pick) and Phoenix, which holds the No. 13 selection. And he already has worked out for Indiana (No. 15) and New York (No. 17). Fredette led the nation in scoring last season (28.9 points per game) and shot 39.6% from three-point range. Perhaps the presence of 21-year-old Brandon Jennings as the Bucks starting point guard has something to do with Fredette's decision."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns' draft workouts begin in earnest Thursday with a group of players not targeted for their 13th pick in the June 23 draft. The group features Kansas State point guard Jacob Pullen and Purdue power forward JaJuan Johnson. The first group of candidates for the 13th pick are slated to visit Friday, with swingmen Klay Thompson of Washington State and Jordan Hamilton of Texas as part of that day's group. The most-loaded Suns workout appears to be Monday's, barring schedule changes. With teams allowed to work out six players in a group, the Suns have four candidates for their 13th pick planning to visit Monday. They are BYU point guard Jimmer Fredette, Kansas small forward Marcus Morris, Florida State small forward Chris Singleton and Texas power forward Tristan Thompson. The Suns also could hold a workout Tuesday and one during the week of the draft, which would feature Colorado shooting guard Alec Burks. Providence shooting guard Marshon Brooks also is scheduled to visit Phoenix and would be a candidate at No. 13."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "This much is known: The Cavaliers are likely going to drop their affiliation with the Erie (Pa.) BayHawks of the National Basketball Development League. Sources say it's still premature to say they're going to buy the New Mexico Thunderbirds and move them to Youngstown. ... The Knicks are in the process of purchasing the basketball operations of the BayHawks. Erie will end its three-year affiliation with the Cavs. Media reports in Youngstown say the Cavs' D-League team might play at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown. Eric Ryan, the Covelli Centre's executive director, told the Youngstown Vindicator he's spoken with the Cavs. 'Nothing is set in stone,' Ryan said. He said the Cavs contacted him about a month ago to explore the possibility of a connection."

  • Mike Brudenell of the Detroit Free Press: "Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva can make a triple look simple, but can he swing a bat? Villanueva gets a chance Saturday when he teams up with Lions receiver Derrick Williams to host the second annual celebrity softball game at Memorial Park in Royal Oak. Proceeds benefit the Mealz on D.Wheelz Foundation, which provides healthy lunches to Detroit fourth-graders, and the Charlie Villanueva Foundation, which raises awareness of the auto-immune skin disease alopecia universalis, which Villanueva has. ... Villanueva's team will include fellow Pistons Jonas Jerebko, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Austin Daye and former Pistons Rasheed Wallace and Rick Mahorn, among others. Williams' squad has many Lions and others from the NFL. 'Jonas told me he'd never played softball,' said Villanueva, who will play third base. 'But Big Ben (Wallace) is a big boy, and he'll bring some muscle.' "