First Cup: Monday

Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News: World Peace is officially out, and Ron Artest is back. Maybe it was just for a moment, but that flash of his old self was ugly. It's absurd to mention World Peace and the player who wears No. 15 in the same sentence. There was nothing peaceful or loving or kind and gentle about that elbow that will cause those who watch highlights to wince every time they watch. General manager Mitch Kupchak chatted with World Peace but didn't share details of the conversation. Kupchak said he needs to watch it again. ... Kupchak expects conversations with Bynum periodically, but it was out of character with World Peace. Asked if he was disappointed, Kupchak said: "We hate to lose a player at any point and time during the game to ejection." One elbow doesn't take away all the good World Peace has done in three years with the Lakers. For the most part, he has been on his best behavior on and off the court and done wonders for the mental health community. But the egregious elbow set him back. Back to Artest.

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: They want you to believe they just missed shots. They want you to believe it happens and it's no big deal. The problem is those excuses no longer hold water. They ran their course long ago. The Thunder blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers inside Staples Center and fell 114-106 in a double-overtime decision that it had thoroughly dominating for the first three quarters. “We got cold when we needed to stay hot,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Sound familiar? Once again, a severe offensive drought doomed the Thunder. This time, it was a 9-for-36 shooting performance in the fourth quarter and overtime. This time, the Lakers outscored the Thunder 53-29 in the final 22 minutes. And this time, it all but sealed the Thunder's fate as the 2-seed in the Western Conference. “We were taking jump shots,” Brooks said. And tons of them…obviously with very few of them falling.

Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Mike Woodson's plan was to avoid resting any of his regulars because the Knicks still are fighting for playoff position. But when Tyson Chandler told his coach he needed a break, Woodson gave him Sunday's gameoff. He said how Chandler feels is more important than where the Knicks end up. "I think so," Woodson said. "For him, it is because he's going to log some big [playoff] minutes once we get started, he and Amar'e [Stoudemire] both. If he tells me he's tired, I believe that. I've got to respect that and let him rest." Chandler has played through wrist, groin and knee injuries, but the reason he sat out Sunday was that he was tired. He said he will play Wednesday against the Clippers and isn't sure about the regular-season finale at Charlotte. It depends on whether the Knicks are playing for something. "I want to be fresh for the playoffs," Chandler said.

Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: So let’s reaffirm with this when it comes to the Hawks: Nobody really knows what to expect when they open the playoffs next weekend against the Boston Celtics. Their direction is as clearly defined as a ping-pong ball in wind tunnel. But we can reasonably assume this: If the Hawks can get center Al Horford back for even a few minutes a game, it would be of some help. That’s starting to look like a strong possibility. When asked Sunday where he would rate his chance of playing in the playoffs on a scale of 1 to 10, Horford responded, “I would say a 7. I really want to play. I don’t know if it’s the smartest thing for me physically but I want to be out there and I feel like it’s realistic.” He also hopes to play in the regular season finale against Dallas on Thursday night. Should we expect much? No. But anything is something. Anything means fewer minutes that Josh Smith is asked to drop into the middle or the smallish Ivan Johnson has to play more elbow ball.

Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Blake Griffin moved gingerly about the Clippers locker room Sunday. The left side of his neck was sore enough to make any sort of turn or gesture an excruciating ordeal. The discomfort was a painful reminder of the foul delivered to him by Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez on Thursday. On the play, Lopez took Griffin out midair with a dangerous clothesline foul that sent Griffin sprawling to the ground and cost Lopez a Flagrant 2 foul and immediate ejection. Ironically, while Griffin took the floor in obvious discomfort Sunday against the New Orleans Hornets, Lopez was back in the lineup for the Suns on Saturday against Denver. It underscored the dilemma Griffin is facing as the end of his second regular season enters its final week. More and more opposing players are going at Griffin with hard fouls - and increasingly dangerous ones - in an effort to slow down the Clippers' aggressive power forward. And more and more, those delivering the blows are getting a slap on the hand by the NBA and quickly shoved back into their respective lineups. ... Reserve forward Reggie Evans, a noted tough guy, doesn't think that is the answer. In fact, he thinks the only real answer is for Griffin to respond accordingly once and for all. If Griffin wants the fouls to stop, according to Evans, he needs to take matters into his own hands and not rely on anyone else. "Blake is 6-10 and what, 240 or something? He's a big boy. He should know how to defend himself out there," Evans said.

Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: It’s been a challenge for Stephen Jackson to regain his shape since arriving in San Antonio last month. But through a lot of extra work over the last few weeks, the veteran forward is returning to the form the Spurs were looking for when they traded for him. Jackson took another step Sunday night, scoring 17 points in the Spurs’ 114-98 victory over the Cavaliers. It was his highest-scoring effort with the Spurs since joining them in a March 15 deal with Golden State at the trade deadline. Jackson iced Sunday’s game by erupting for nine straight points during a 41-second span midway through the fourth quarter. He sandwiched a three-point play around a pair of 3-pointers that pushed the Spurs to their largest lead at 102-82 with 5:11 left. “It felt good to knock down some shots and get a rhythm out there,” Jackson said. “The last couple of weeks have been great for me getting-in-shape-wise. My wind is great, it’s just about me being more confident and getting my legs up under me. Today felt good to go out and play a little bit.” Jackson is hitting 48.3 percent in his last three games after struggling through an 8-for-35 slump (22.9 percent) in five outings before that.

Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: An NBA playoff berth has been clinched, but the Nuggets insist their work isn't anywhere near finished. On the team's wish list: qualifying as the sixth seed in the West, getting Danilo Gallinari back on track and continuing to improve defensively. Sunday's 101-74 rout of the Orlando Magic at the Pepsi Center was a start. "We feel like we are getting better every game," said Nuggets center JaVale McGee, who had 17 points and eight rebounds off the bench. The victory strengthened the Nuggets' case to remain in sixth place, where they reside in the Western Conference. And they control their destiny in staying there. The Nuggets are half a game ahead of the Mavericks, who have one game remaining and are one game worse in the loss column. But to get there, the Nuggets must win both of their remaining games or win one while Dallas loses Thursday at Atlanta. And while Oklahoma City is next for the Nuggets on Wednesday, that might not be as challenging as it appears.

George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: A show of hands for anyone thinking the Orlando Magic are having seller's remorse over Dwight Howard? Another show of hands for anyone who thinks Andrew Bynum would look pretty good in a Magic uniform today? Bynum, the injury-prone and mercurial center for the Los Angeles Lakers, is healthy and playing some of the best basketball of his career. Since taking sworn dispositions between the parties is impossible, there's no way to determine whether the Magic were truly considering this deal or perhaps bluffing to force Howard not to opt-out of his contract this season (see dueling diva issues with Kobe Bryant). This much is true: Howard waived his opt-out clause, there was a few days of momentary bliss when folks like myself commended Howard for his loyalty, and then it's pretty much been a disaster from a psychological and physical standpoint since then. I suppose there are more toxic relationships out there, but you will likely find them on Jerry Springer, bodyguards and fists of fury optional.

Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald: When Dwyane Wade went down with a dislocated left index finger early in Saturday night’s loss to the Wizards, LeBron James wanted to come in and help his teammates. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, looking to rest his Big 3 before the playoffs, “put the plug on me,” James said. There was nothing that could keep James off the court Sunday night — not even a game that probably won’t mean much for the Heat when it comes to seeding in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Playing with the same intensity he has all season, James put on another MVP-worthy performance on Fan Appreciation Night, finishing with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists as the Heat rallied for a 97-88 victory that knocked the Houston Rockets out of playoff contention. “I love the game and that’s what it’s about,” said James, who scored at least 30 points for the 24th time this season, tying him with Kobe Bryant for the most in the NBA. “I just like being out there with my teammates, playing the game. I’m happy to contribute to get a win on this homestand.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: As the Rockets’ last mathematical shred of playoff fantasy fell, unable to stand up to the latest loss in the late-season swoon, the Rockets were not about to appreciate the symmetry of the defeat. It was unmistakable. The Rockets had stood up well to the Heat before the late pressure hit. They were quick and aggressive, moving the ball and shooting well. Chandler Parsons in particular was a bright spot, even amid the disappointment. It all started to look familiar and foreboding. With the game on the line, the Rockets on Sunday were like the Rockets this season — promising for a while but inept at the end. When they reached the point in the game and season in which their fate would be decided, they fell apart, crashing to a 97-88 defeat that officially eliminated them from playoff contention. ... For a third consecutive season and NBA-record sixth time, the Rockets could fall short of the playoffs with a winning record. But after another game like so many others, they could no longer feel as if they are close, even if they were in the standings.

Harvey Araton of The New York Times: Billy King’s decision last season to make a huge gamble on the Nets’ future on the free-agent-to-be Deron Williams could make the Nets, or break them, before they ever turn on the lights in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the N.B.A. schedule maker must have a cruel sense of humor. The 76ers will be the opponent Monday night for the final game in New Jersey. Not to be outdone, the Nets have announced that Coleman, Anderson and Morris will be among the former players on hand, and possibly Richardson, too. Howard Freeman, who now produces a balloon and music festival in North Jersey and considers himself a man of letters, D.H.A. (doctor of hot air), said he was also planning to attend. He wonders if the Nets will give New Jersey fans anything to help them remember 35 years of well-intentioned aspirations turned to ashes.