First Cup: Friday

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: Try as Thibodeau might to lower the flame on the burner, Thursday night’s game was everything a game between the best teams in the Eastern Conference is supposed to be — perhaps not aesthetically but at least emotionally. When C.J. Watson hit a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to help send the game to overtime, the United Center sounded like a Harley convention stuffed into a three-car garage. The Bulls went on to win 96-86. Sure. Just another game. Watson called it one of the bigger shots of his life, “if not the biggest.’’ “It was a big game on a big stage,’’ he said. “It’s a big win for us.’’ Every coach tries to sell the one-game-at-a-time philosophy, which was around when Aristotle was in the third grade, but nobody was buying Thibs’ stab at level-headedness. We might not have witnessed the greatest basketball Thursday night, but we did witness two teams that knew this was more than another game on another weeknight in the NBA. If it weren’t a big game, Derrick Rose would have been resting whatever it is that ails him. And after watching him struggle all night, that might not have been a bad thing. It wasn’t wrong to take a pass on the fiction the Bulls coach was selling. Thank goodness for that. Thank goodness for two teams taking it to each other as if it were a playoff game. Did it have meaning? It’s silly to think it didn’t.

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: We already knew the Bulls had better reserves. The biggest thing the first game between both teams at full strength proved was that Rose and Rip Hamilton need more time in the same backcourt. More rest only would add another layer of rust — a fact reinforced by Rose's shaky 1 of 13 shooting. More than anything, lingering injury issues have prevented Rose and Hamilton from jelling. To think those medical problems suddenly will disappear once the NBA calendar flips into postseason borders on blind faith. If Bulls officials honestly ranked team concerns as the regular season comes to a close, health might rank ahead of defense and rebounding. Last year the sight of Rose produced chants of "M-V-P!" This year, we think MRI. Rose has yet to play in more than 11 straight. Hamilton's longest consecutive games streak is five. Can the Bulls feel comfortable knowing Rose and Hamilton both will be playing by the Eastern Conference finals? Anybody in the Bulls organization who answers yes has a rabbit's foot in his pocket and a four-leaf clover on his lapel — and is fibbing. If the Bulls are lucky they never will need Watson more than they did Thursday. Healthy, I agree the Bulls will enter the playoffs more equipped than last year to beat the Heat. They improved more. They have more motivation fueled by last year's loss and a better head coach. They likely will enjoy home-court advantage.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, mauled Thursday by something called the Bench Mob. Here they are, with two weeks and nine games to play, virtually locked into a No. 2 seed, and left with little to accomplish until the regular season mercifully ends. Here wego, following a 96-86 overtime loss, wondering when and how they'll pull it together. And here's the thing about Thursday: it was there for them. That "signature road win" that Erik Spoelstra said Thursday the he sought. The win that eluded the Heat in Los Angeles, against the Lakers and Clippers; in Oklahoma City; in Boston; and earlier, here in Chicago. ... It is what it is. The Heat will not have home court in the Eastern Conference Finals, if its opponent is Chicago. And, yes, while Miami won here twice in the last Eastern Conference Finals, it has not passed any road tests of significance this season. "Guys fought until the end," James said. They did. And they can keep fighting for the next two weeks. But they will not pass Chicago. "It's not perfect," Wade said of their situation. "But that's sports." Thursday, sports hurt. Hurt bad.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The San Antonio Spurs were intent on scratching and clawing their way out of a funk. And Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay has the scars to prove it. “One of those games, man,” Gay said after the Grizzlies’ four-game winning streak ended Thursday night with a grueling 107-97 loss to the Spurs in AT&T Center. ... Lionel Hollins said he wished he could take back his decision to make substitutions when the Griz trailed 101-97 with 58.5 seconds left. At that point, Hollins inserted Gilbert Arenas for Conley, Pondexter for Mayo and Cunningham for Gasol. The Spurs had possession but the Griz didn’t need to foul. There was plenty of time on the clock to earn a stop, score and then start fouling with a two-point deficit. But Pondexter didn’t understand the circumstance and immediately fouled Ginobili, who buried two free throws to make it a six-point game. Hollins immediately went back to Mayo, Conley and Gasol as soon as Ginobili went to the foul line.

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: After watching his team humiliated on the boards in a convincing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night, Duncan guaranteed the Spurs would play with more effort against Memphis the following night. Duncan has been around the team long enough to know what he needed to say. But the Spurs’ captain didn’t need to mention anything to his teammates. And with a gritty second-half comeback, they fulfilled Duncan’s promise as they claimed a 107-97 victory over Memphis. “I didn’t tell them anything. I didn’t need to tell them anything about it,” Duncan said. “We can get playing ourselves, we refocus and come back and play better. We always do. It’s just the kind of guys we have.” Duncan provided a huge inspiration with a monster game that might have been the best of the season. Despite facing Marc Gasol, Duncan matched his season-high with 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and added two blocked shots. It was the kind of vintage performance that Spurs Nation has seen from Duncan throughout his career. One day, it will guarantee Duncan a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And it showed he’s also a pretty good leader, too.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: "I haven't seen anything like this," Adelman said of the Wolves' injury troubles. "The timing of it is the worst part. When Ricky went down, we were playing well. Then we had to go on the seven-game trip out west. During that time, we lost Pek, Michael, J.J. and Luke. I don't think people really understood how much Ricky meant to our group when we lost him. Luke stepped up for awhile. Then he got hurt." Ridnour, out since April 2 with a sprained ankle, might be in the same situation as Love. Do the Wolves really want to put them back in the lineup with the playoffs officially out of the picture? Before Thursday's game, reserve forward Anthony Tolliver injected a dose of reality when discussing the Wolves' injury problems. Tolliver, who said he exchanged texts with Love on Thursday before Love left Denver, viewed the situation as a final chance to make an impression on the coaching staff and management before the end of the season.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: It was as if Mo Williams had never been out, as if he hadn't missed the last 11 games because of a sprained left big toe. Williams scored 14 points off the bench on six-for-11 shooting, two for four on three-pointers Thursday night in the 95-82 victory over Minnesota. He also had five assists. He had not played a game in three weeks, but Williams was the same player he has been for the Clippers all season. Williams said credit for that goes to Clippers trainer Jasen Powell and his staff. ... With Williams back, Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro now has a deep backcourt. It's a given that Chris Paul and Randy Foye will start. But now Williams wants playing time as the first guard off the bench. Then there is Nick Young, the biggest of all the guards at 6 feet 7, and second-year guard Eric Bledsoe, who has become the energizer and defender for the Clippers. How does Del Negro plan to rotate five guards? "They all better play well," Del Negro said. "Whoever is playing well will be out there. So they better play hard and execute. And it's about winning. We'll make it work somehow." All of the guards played Thursday night.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: If the Mavericks had been more concerned with stats than a victory, they might have been able to get Jason Kidd his 107th triple double of his career. As it turned out, he finished a point shy, amassing 12 assists, 10 rebounds and nine points. Kidd missed a tough jumper in the final minute and also passed up a possible layup to kill more time off the clock. "At that point, I thought we needed to run clock,'' he said. He was right, of course. And Kidd wasn't upset in the slightest at coming up short of a triple double. His teammates seemed more concerned. "If we'd have known, we would have gotten him one or two more shots,'' Dirk Nowitzki said. ... The Mavericks were reminded just how much they missed Kidd when he was out for four games with a groin injury. "Never underestimate greatness,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "I don't care if that guy's 29, 39 or 49. He's going to do something to help you win.''

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: There's also way more than has been reported about the link between Odom and Golden State, and those details have many thinking the disgruntled forward is much more than "on the radar" or a "long shot" for the 2012-13 Warriors. Here's the key: Warriors assistant coach Jerry DeGregorio is as close as anyone to Odom. DeGregorio coached Odom in high school, college and the pros and has been like a father to him since Odom was a 16-year-old prospect from South Jamaica, Queens, N.Y. DeGregorio was the best man in Odom's September 2009 wedding to Khloe Kardashian. ... Warriors head coach Mark Jackson doesn't allow his assistants to speak publicly to print media during the season, but he talked Thursday about Odom. "He's a New York City guy who's had an outstanding career and is a champion," Jackson said. "He's going through something right now, and I don't know what it is. But I'm pulling for him, and I'm looking forward to seeing him back on the court next season." Maybe in a Warriors' uniform.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: I wonder if Corey Maggette has played his last game as a Charlotte Bobcat. Maggette will miss the last 10 games of the season with an injured right Achilles tendon. He leaves as this season’s leading scorer, at 15 points per game. And when you think about all the change likely coming this off-season, I could see Maggette being waived as the Bobcats’ amnesty provision. The Bobcats have the option to waive one player and no longer count his salary against their cap or a potential luxury-tax bill. Maggette makes about $10.9 million next season, the last on his contract. So the Bobcats could drop considerably under the cap by using the amnesty clause on Maggette. ... I’d think twice before waiving Maggette, in that he is still a dependable scorer when healthy on a team that is last in the league in scoring. He doesn’t have a good shooting percentage this season (37 percent) but he still has a knack for getting to the foul line. He’s been more productive this season than Thomas, Diop or Carroll. This could simply come down to which free agents might be willing to sign here over the summer and how much cap space it would take to get those deals done.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Pistons coach Lawrence Frank twice faced questions about the recent lack of production from center Greg Monroe. The drop-off was highlighted in consecutive blowout losses to the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic this week during which Monroe averaged only seven shots per game. Frank emphasized at Thursday's morning shoot-around and during pregame availability before the Pistons faced the Bobcats that a lot more was going on than the Pistons not calling Monroe's number. He insisted Monroe's big games come in the normal flow of the offense with Monroe making strong cuts and attacking the offensive glass. Whatever the cause of Monroe's decline, playing the Bobcats cured all ills. Monroe recorded 25 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes as the Pistons embarrassed the Bobcats, 109-85. "Greg's effort on both ends was at a high level," Frank said. "Again, I don't ever care about individual stats."

  • Dale Kasler,Tony Bizjak and Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: For the second year in a row, Mayor Kevin Johnson will parachute into New York in an 11th-hour attempt to keep the Kings in Sacramento. Johnson will meet with Kings owners and NBA officials today for what appears to be an attempt at peacemaking following weeks of rancor that threaten to kill a tentative plan for a new downtown arena. ... Johnson declined to comment about the trip. The mayor's staff, however, released an open letter from the mayor to the Maloof family late Thursday night laying out Johnson's parameters for today's meeting. In the letter, Johnson reiterated the city's stance that the Maloofs had agreed to a deal more than a month ago and said "under no circumstances will the city make material adjustments to the current terms of the deal. Put simply, we have done our part. And there should be no expectation in (today's) conversation that this deal is subject to further negotiation."

  • Editorial from The Sacramento Bee: The time has come for the Maloof family to sell all or part of their ownership in the Sacramento Kings. For the good of the league – and the good of a city and region that have been devoted supporters of professional basketball ever since the Kings first arrived – NBA owners must use their leverage to make this happen. As has been increasingly clear, the Maloofs lack the means and the will – or both – to pay for their share of a new sports and entertainment complex in Sacramento, even under terms that many would judge to be extremely favorable to them. Their financial status makes it difficult for them to field a competitive team, which means a franchise owned by the Maloofs will continue to drag down and distract the NBA, regardless of whether the team is in Anaheim, Seattle or another city.