First Cup: Tuesday

  • Andre C. Fernandez of The Miami Herald: LeBron James gave the Heat a performance to remember. And then paused to give a 7-year-old boy a gift he won’t soon forget. James walked off the court Monday night at the Prudential Center shoeless moments after scoring the Heat’s final 17 points in a 101-98 comeback win against the host Nets. He then took off his shoes, autographed them and handed them Daniel Julez Smith, the nephew of singer BeyoncĂ© Knowles, who sat courtside with husband/rapper/Nets minority owner Jay-Z at the game. “Am I going to miss those shoes?” James said. “No, I got another pair. We came too far to take the foot off the gas. I looked at the scoreboard and didn’t know what I was doing individually. I knew I was making some plays though. I didn’t know I scored 17 straight.” The celebrity duo witnessed James’ fourth-quarter effort that salvaged an otherwise sloppy effort by the Heat, which won the second of back-to-back games. The victory in the Heat’s final game in New Jersey against the Nets, who will move to Brooklyn next season, was Miami’s third in a row.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Fittingly, this is the only way such a strange, surreal and bittersweet ride could end. The Magic must tell Dwight Howard not to play for them anymore this season…after days, weeks and months of begging him to do just the opposite. Crazy, isn't it? The Magic spent desperate hours realizing they might have to accommodate Howard's trade demand, then weathered an embarrassing public battle between their superstar and coach. Now they must go out of their way to protect him. There's nothing more critical now than protecting their top asset, not only for themselves, but for other suitors. Time to shut Dwight down for the season. Hopefully, the Magic and Howard already have decided on this game plan. They just haven't announced it. His health outweighs any puncher's chance the Magic have in the playoffs, especially now with injuries to Hedo Turkoglu and Big Baby Davis.

  • Bob Cooney of Philadelphia Daily News: With 7 minutes, 28 seconds left in the third quarter, Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson casually drove the lane and lofted a nifty lob pass to center Daniel Orton, who deposited an easy layup with nary a 76ers defender in sight. After the ball went through the basket, coach Doug Collins looked at assistant head coach Michael Curry and asked,"What do we do, coach?" It was that perplexing of a night. Before the game, the Sixers coach talked of his team's need to negate the three-point shooting of the Magic, particularly Ryan Anderson. He even thrust Thaddeus Young into the starting lineup to be quicker against an Orlando team that was missing star Dwight Howard (back injury) and his backup, Glen "Big Baby" Davis (right knee sprain). Collins spoke of not allowing the Magic to control the backboards and making sure that on pick-and-rolls the shooter always be covered. He said all the right things before the game, but somewhere between his mouth and the basketball court, all seemed lost after the first quarter, and the severely shorthanded Magic laid a 113-100 loss Monday night on the Sixers, who dropped into a tie with the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference. Both teams own 31-29 records, with the Knicks officially in seventh place, holding the tiebreak advantage, as they won two of three from the Sixers this season.

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: It’s hard to believe that Gregg Popovich could have planned a better start for his team’s opening game of a punishing road back-to-back-to-back than how it started Monday night in Golden State. The Spurs jumped out early and were able to cruise to a 120-99 victory over the injury-riddled Warriors. And it the process, San Antonio’s “Big Three” of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were able to get plenty of rest that should refresh them for the rest of the road trip as no Spurs starter played more than 19 minutes against the Warriors. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker combined to log 40:25 in playing time in Monday’s game. All of the trips are relatively short — they don’t leave the state of California — and they will catch the Lakers without Kobe Bryant and a young Sacramento team that had lost seven straight games and 12 of their last 14 before beating Portland Sunday night. “Pop made the call and it was the right call,” Duncan said about his extended rest Monday night. “Obviously we have three (games) in three days. We want to keep our energy up as much as possible and hopefully be able to play in every one of these games.”

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers clinched a playoff spot, doing so even before they tipped off Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center. For the first time in six years, the Clippers reached the postseason thanks to the Houston Rockets' loss to the Denver Nuggets earlier in the evening. Still, the fact the Clippers defeated the Thunder, 92-77, in a playoff-intensity contest — and particularly the way they did it — was significant to both teams. The Clippers have won four straight games — two of them against the Thunder, the Western Conference co-leader, in less than a week's time. The Clippers beat the Thunder by two points last Wednesday in Oklahoma City. Monday's victory clinched their season series against the Thunder, 3-1. ... "This game, a lot of it's about confidence," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said after his team won for the 12th time in 14 games. "When you beat good teams, it just builds your confidence. But I think our team has a lot of confidence right now."

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Two-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant said he will not sacrifice team play for a chance at a three-peat. “I've noticed playing in this league for five years that if you force anything, that's when bad results come,” the Thunder All-Star forward said before Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. “I never want to force nothing.” Durant entered Monday's game with a 27.8-point scoring average, trailing Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (28.1). Miami forward LeBron James was a distant third (26.9). Bryant has missed the last five games with a shin injury and possibly might sit out the remainder of the regular season. If Bryant does not play again, Durant would have to score 184 in the final six games of the season, an average of 30.7 points per game, to pass Bryant (28.075 to 28.071) for a third straight scoring crown.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Maybe Tom Thibodeau should start addressing reporters for his pregame remarks in a white lab coat, perhaps even don a stethoscope as he runs down the latest injury woes. Then, on nights like Monday, he can switch to maybe a cardigan sweater next to a comfortable couch, all the better to offer therapy for what ails the Bulls. Their stunning collapse in an 87-84 loss to the Wizards, who are just 7-24 on the road, dropped their lead over the Heat for the No. 1 seed in the East to 21/2 games. That it happened without the injured Luol Deng and Derrick Rose mattered little to Thibodeau. "We have more than enough to win with," Thibodeau said. "We didn't do our job. I didn't do my job. It starts with me. I have to have them ready." Rose sat for the 24th time, with, astoundingly, his fifth different injury, a sore right foot that developed overnight Sunday after he sank the 3-pointer to force overtime and played 41 minutes to beat the Pistons.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Nineteen minutes. That’s how long Darren Collison’s return to the lineup lasted. Collison is being shutdown for the time being because of problems with his groin, which caused him to miss the four games prior to Monday. It was obvious seconds after he checked into the game that Collison wasn’t comfortable on the court. “He doesn’t have his explosiveness,” Frank Vogel said. “He felt like it was pulling on him the whole night. He didn’t have the explosiveness to go by big guys in the pick-and-roll game. We’re going to give it a few more days to see if we can get him 100 percent.” The Pacers have five games remaining before the playoffs start the weekend of April 28. Vogel will have to decide if he wants to go back to Collison or stick with George Hill once Collison returns to the lineup.

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks are in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. If my blog people don’t do anything else, I hope you at least pause for a moment to enjoy this fact and think back to when it was not a given. Also remember how you felt when you heard Al Horford was out and the long series of injuries that followed. The Hawks put away Toronto once their help defense got in sync, they turned turnovers into scores or free throws and attacked the basket when all those Js they made early stopped falling. “I’m glad we were able to turn right back around and play this team where we could go ahead and get that sour taste out of our mouth,” Joe Johnson said. “We understand we are a better team that what we showed last night.” Not to burst that bubble, but add one more ailment to the mix: Zaza Pachulia’s foot injury is worse than initially thought and could keep him out at least for the balance of the regular season.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: The Nuggets' postgame locker room Monday night was a lounge. Players sat back in folding chairs and chilled out, satisfied after a job well done. There were jokes and stories told and general laughter from all corners. The postgame meal was fish, chicken and vegetables, hearty food after a hearty win for a team that, despite its inconsistencies, is now figuring out ways to come out on top. Moments earlier, those players had just put the finishing touches on a 105-102 win over the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. By many accounts from those in the Denver organization, it was the biggest road win of the season. By everyone's account, the magnitude of this win was easy to measure: H-U-G-E. "It was huge," Arron Afflalo said. "Play a team back-to-back, to get their best shot on their home court — Houston's a good team with some fiery players. It was an overall good game and I'm happy we're now able to have a two-game lead on them." And that was the point.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: George Karl's coaching career has had its twists and turns, its ups and downs. But for 20 years and running now, he hasn't had a losing season. When the Nuggets (34-27) defeated the Rockets 105-102 on Monday night, it ensured Karl his 20th consecutive winning season as a head coach. "It's a blessing," Karl said. "It's a gift of fortunately having good players and coaches and good people and fortunately some luck along the way." Karl, whose team is in the midst of a battle for a Western Conference playoff berth, has more important things to think about. "That's so minimal right now. Know what I mean?" he said of his long run of winning seasons.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: If the Rockets’ playoff hopes took a knockout punch on Monday – and as they fell out of the top eight a week after they had moved into a solid sixth it looks that way – it would be easy to point at the latest defeat of the losing streak. If the Rockets are lottery-bound again, it is not because of Monday’s loss. The Rockets now have the toughest road to the postseason of the teams in the fight for the final playoff spots. The Suns own the tie-breaker, at least at the moment, giving them eighth place with the Rockets ninth. The Rockets head to a road back-to-back in Dallas and New Orleans and still have to go to Miami where they will be playing their sixth game in eight days. The Suns barely have to pack a suitcase again this regular season. Utah, which faces the Suns in Salt Lake City April 24, is a half-game behind the Rockets and holds the tie-breaker. ... Their problem was that in the previous three games, the Rockets did not give themselves that chance. They might not have realized it at the time, but their playoff hopes were on the line then, too. They fell behind Utah by 18, Phoenix by 16 and the Nuggets by 23. They rallied in the first two of those games, but they did not lose those games when the comebacks fell short. They lost because they put themselves in position to need those comebacks. That was clear then, but even clearer on Monday when the Rockets played with the desperation lacking last week.

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: Al Jefferson spent his entire career working toward this. A night when no one could question his effort or intensity. A game when every one of his points and rebounds meant something. A relentless fight where Jefferson was the biggest, baddest player on the court. And then some. Big Al punched out the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, scoring a team-high 28 points and tying a career high with 26 rebounds, all while lifting Utah (32-30) to a thrilling 123-121 triple overtime victory at EnergySolutions Arena before a crowd of 19,363. The 545th game of Jefferson’s eight-year NBA career was his best. He topped it off by playing a game-high 54 minutes and 4 seconds — one of four Jazz players to eclipse the 52-minute mark. After the battle, Jefferson said he could’ve fought for 10 more minutes. Yes, he was tired. Yes, he’d left it all on the hardwood — his voice was hoarse, his body was covered in sweat and he was slumped down in a chair inside Utah’s exhausted locker room. But while Jefferson’s phone was drowning in messages and teammate DeMarre Carroll was swarmed by cameras and recorders, Utah’s starting center was calm and cool.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Delonte West drew a large crowd of reporters after Monday's 123-121 loss to Utah for giving Jazz guard Gordon Hayward an index finger to the ear. He called it a wet Willie, but it would be more accurate to call it a West Willie. With 3:40 left in the first half, West and Hayward got tangled up on the Jazz's offensive end. West gave Hayward a forearm push and then, after a foul was called, West strolled over to Hayward in nonchalant fashion and poked his index finger into Hayward's right ear and gave him a push. Guys get ear-holed in football all the time. But in basketball, it's a little rare. West got a technical foul and may hear from the NBA office in the next day or two for his actions. He also got booed relentlessly by the crowd after the incident "I was giving him a wet Willie, that's all,'' West said.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The offensive evolution of Shannon Brown this season does not get enough attention. Early in the season, Brown often would pass up an early good shot and wind up with a worse one. And that was the extent of his passing. Saturday's loss marked the first time in 12 games that Brown didn't score in double figures. He has been a better shooter, a better decision-maker, the lone isolation scorer besides Michael Redd and has mimicked Grant Hill's runouts and Jason Richardson's alley-oops. Brown said he was inspired by the All-Star Game and has been a different player since it.