First Cup: Thursday

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If you want to write off Michael Jordan as the guy who shouldn’t be wearing a hockey jersey in Chicago when his NBA team is withering back in Charlotte, more power to you. If you want to conclude Rod Higgins is a paper-pusher whose job security hinges on being a Friend-of-Mike, I won’t waste breath debating you (though I think that defines over-simplification). Here’s what trumps all that: Larry Brown turned Jordan and Higgins into victims on national radio Wednesday. It was shabby and silly and petty. Somebody – I guess it’s my job by default -- needs to explain what really happened. LB says Jordan’s people didn’t have a “clue’’ and made him “sick’’ and were “spies.’’ Here’s what I saw: Rod Higgins (who I’ve had more than a few battles with) put up graciously with hundreds of hours of all the garbage that comes with being Larry’s personnel guy. Ask Billy King. Ask Donnie Walsh. You think I haven’t? Larry is a magnificent maniac. He has a savant quality when it comes to basketball, but he’s loopy; overreacts to whatever he last saw. Like a crab in the sand, searching for the next feed. I think there are a lot of legitimate reasons to scrutinize the Bobcats. I’ve written that regularly over the duration of their existence: Rudy Gay vs. Adam Morrison? Come on. Not trading up for draft rights to CP3 or Deron Williams? Yadda, yadda, yadda. But what Brown did on radio and what Sam Vincent did in the Washington Post is so self-serving, so childish, that it reflects far more on them than Jordan or anyone who works for the Bobcats. Rip them for what they deserve. Don’t exploit bad times to settle old grudges. It’s tacky.

  • Brian Schmitz, of the Orlando Sentinel: Stan knows that it does him no good at this point to scorch any more Earth. Attempting to paint a pretty picture of the 2011-12 Magic with Dwight and without Dwight would take a lot of imagination or flat-out lying, and Stan isn't built for either duty. I'm sick of it, too. "These kind of seasons happen," Van Gundy said. No they don't. These kind of things don't even happen on reality shows. Van Gundy wants to return for more and fulfill his contract next season, but Vegas won't even take bets. Publicly disclosing that management told him Howard wanted him fired will likely do him in — no matter whether Dwight stays or strays. Van Gundy can either sit on his stack of money for a year in Lake Mary or coach if he so desires. Unless Phil Jackson leaves his fly-fishing hole in Wyoming, Stan would be the best free-agent coach on the market. (Question: With Van Gundy under contract for another year, could the Magic possibly trade him and receive a draft pick from his new team? If you remember, the Heat got a second-round pick from the Magic in exchange for Stan because Van Gundy was under contract as a consultant.) Van Gundy might have some opportunities to work from some other team's bench.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Mike Woodson could be the next member of the Knicks ' basketball department to get a promotion. The Knicks ' newly minted executive vice president and general manager, Glen Grunwald, gaveWoodson a ringing endorsement Wednesday. Grunwald, who is Woodson's good friend and former teammate at Indiana University , said it will be an organizational decision on who coaches the Knicks next season and that he will give his recommendations. He stopped just short of saying he would recommend Woodson. "Woody's done a fantastic job," Grunwald said. "I can't give him enough credit for the job he's done. Normally, coaching changes don't result in such a dramatic improvement in the team performance, so I think that speaks very well of him. I've known Woody a long time. We've had our separations, different jobs and stuff like that. It's amazing to see how he's grown as a person and as a coach in particular. To see him firsthand working as a head coach is very impressive."

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: The Clippers needed a win in New York on Wednesday night to be assured of home-court advantage, but the Clippers decided they needed Chris Paul healthy more. With Paul sitting out because of mild groin strain, the Clippers staged a late-game comeback but fell to the Knicks, 99-93. The Clippers now must wait to see if Orlando beats the Grizzlies in Memphis on Thursday night, which would secure home-court advantage for Blake Griffin, Paul and the rest of the team. The Clippers trailed, 90-72, with less than 7:30 to play, but the Clippers stormed back into the game with New York’s starters watching from the bench. The Clippers closed to within one in the last minute, but J.R. Smith scored four consecutive points to ice the win for the Knicks. “We competed,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “The guys battled back. …We gave ourselves a chance.” The Clippers finished the regular season losing three out of four games with all three losses coming on the road.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The "We want Steve" chant broke out and grew in volume until the crowd was standing. A timeout stopped it and Nash did not return but the chant did. After sitting Nash out so long, Suns coach Alvin Gentry did not plan on playing him any longer but substituted him for a curtain call of 27 seconds, just long enough for him to dribble upcourt with a smile, make a turnover and leave with an index finger raised in acknowledgment to a thunderous ovation like the one that started the night when his turn came up during starting introductions. If that was Nash's last introduction as a Suns player in 10 seasons over two stints, it was met appropriately in front of a crowd of 17,172 that turned out despite the team's elimination on the previous night. Out of the race, the game still had meaning just in the potential of it being Nash's farewell, although he has said he will include Phoenix in the options he weighs as a free agent in July. "It was obviously amazing to get that type of reception and support," Nash said. "It's very special because it's not something I asked for or imagined. To get that kind of reaction means it's authentic, the relationship I thought we had. It really feels special. The fans have been phenomenal and it's meant a lot to me to play in a city like this as long as I have and to feel important to the fans and community. I just feel like a very lucky guy." Nash said he has "no clue" about his future and remains flexible on contract length even though he wants to play three more years. To stay, he would want to see the Suns improve their roster.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: With a 106-101 victory at Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Denver Nuggets did the Spurs a favor and clarified the playoff picture. Now, the top-seeded Spurs are hoping for a similar solid from the NBA office. The doings in Oklahoma locked Utah in as the Western Conference’s eighth seed, at last giving the Spurs a first-round opponent for which to game plan. Game 1 will be either Saturday or Sunday, after the Spurs fly back from their season-closer at Golden State tonight. That’s where the league office comes in. Spurs officials are hopeful the league will take into account the team’s brutal season-ending itinerary — which included eight games in 11 days and requires a four-hour flight home across two time zones after the finale — when setting the playoff schedule. But they aren’t holding their breath. “You can’t politic for that sort of thing,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “When they tell you to play, you go play.”

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: With his Thunder trailing the Nuggets by three points late in the game Wednesday night, veteran guard Derek Fisher launched a 3-pointer that had the follow-through seen after so many of his clutch shots. But the shot missed, and Denver's Danilo Gallinari grabbed the vital rebound. With seven seconds left, it was over. After free throws, the Nuggets escaped with a 106-101 victory that enables them to control their destiny. If the Nuggets (37-28) win tonight's regular-season finale at Minnesota, they will be the Western Conference's No. 6 seed in the NBA playoffs — and will play the third-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, arguably a more enticing opponent than the second-seeded Thunder. If the Nuggets lose tonight, they still have a shot at the No. 6 seed. Dallas plays at Atlanta. If Dallas loses, Denver is the sixth seed. But if Denver loses and Dallas wins, the Mavericks are sixth, and the Nuggets are seventh.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Speaking of JaVale McGee. He inexplicably tossed his headband into the crowd — as he checked in for the first time! Something is truly wrong with that cat.

  • John Rohde of of The Oklahoman: When Thunder center Kendrick Perkins started flirting with the NBA limit for technical fouls several weeks ago, he vowed to never reach No. 13, which would have drawn a one-game suspension. “I told you I wouldn't. You didn't believe me?” Perkins said with a smile before Wednesday's regular-season finale against Denver. Perkins was in the clear when he survived Tuesday night's 118-110 victory over Sacramento without getting slapped with unlucky No. 13. Even had Perkins been hit with a technical on Wednesday, he would not have been suspended for the first playoff game because the slate is wiped cleaned for the postseason. Perkins said the key to his survival is knowing when to back off. “It's kind of like a child knowing how much he can push his parents,” said Perkins, who has two young sons. “It's like, ‘Daddy done got mad. I'm gonna chill out right now.'” Perkins said he has reached the limit for technical fouls three times in his nine-year career, but has yet to receive a one-game suspension. He paid $36,000 in fines for his 12 technical fouls this season – pending future fines in the postseason, of course.

  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times: Ask C.J. Watson what owning the NBA’s best record for two straight years would say about these Bulls and he first mentions coach Tom Thibodeau. “It shows how Coach Thibs came in and changed the face of the franchise and the team,’’ the backup point guard said. ‘‘It’s good to have the best record in the East and maybe in the whole league, but we want more than that.’’ Players were thrilled when they received the text message that Thibodeau had cancelled Wednesday morning’s shootaround at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Several said they went back to bed — the best way for them to celebrate their accomplishment during this truncated season. ‘‘It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it also gives you your best chance,’’ Thibodeau said. The degree of difficulty was greater than last year, considering the Bulls lost 98 games to injury or illness compared to 61 a year ago. ‘‘It’s very impressive,’’ Watson said. ‘‘A lot of guys stepped up this year. It’s just the makeup of our team.”

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Pacers are taking a business approach into their first-round match up against the Dwight-less Magic this weekend. That means no bulletin board material Orlando players could use for extra motivation. Should the Pacers win the series? Without a doubt. I’m saying they’ll win it in five games during the playoff breakdown in The Star this weekend. You won’t hear any of the players saying that. The Pacers know the Magic are a 3-point barrage away from stealing one of the first two games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That’s why Pacers coach Frank Vogel probably went home after their loss to Chicago and started breaking down more film of the Magic. “I probably won’t sleep a wink tonight,” Vogel said. “I’m so excited. I’ve been peeking a little at Orlando, but I’m so excited to really bury myself in the film footage and dial into their tendencies and exactly what we need to do to beat that basketball team. I’m very much looking forward to it.”

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Game 65 of 66, with a playoff spot already secured and an opponent playing for nothing, had about as much intensity as a day at the beach. Still, the game had to be played and the Sixers JV was better than that of the Milwaukee Bucks, pulling out a 90-85 win. It was the fourth-straight win for the Sixers and improved them to 35-30. Though no one in the 76ers organization will say so, playing the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs is much more preferred than having to face the Miami Heat for the second-straight year. The win by the Sixers and by New York Wednesday means the two are still tied for the seventh spot in the East, though the Knicks own the tiebreaker. Should the Sixers and Knicks both win or lose Thursday, the Sixers will get the Bulls. If the Sixers win in Detroit and the Knicks lose in Charlotte, then the Sixers will play the Heat.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks second-year forward Larry Sanders returned Wednesday from a two-game unpaid suspension, the result of his emotional meltdown in the team's loss at Indiana last week. Sanders picked up two technical fouls and was ejected in the fourth quarter, and he nearly set off a melee between the teams before being dragged away by teammate Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Sanders pointed at Pacers forward David West before being pulled aside. It was the second time this month Sanders had been ejected from a game. In a recent interview, Sanders vowed to reform his behavior on the court. "I think the punishment was fair and everything," Sanders said. "My actions were out of line. I just have to control my emotions in situations like that. "Sanders said he wanted to apologize to Bucks fans for his actions.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards woke up Wednesday knowing they would finish the season with the second-worst record in the NBA. But they were far from discouraged or disappointed because as the season is winding down, the fun is just starting to begin. Following a 96-85 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards left Quicken Loans Arena as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. They have won five games in a row for the first time in more than more four years. After the game, the locker room was filled with jokes, laughter and fashion advice, as John Wall chided rookie Shelvin Mack: “What kind of jeans you wearing, Wrangler? You got those Brett Favres on.” Wall later claimed that he would continue to give Mack a hard time for his clothing choices on Twitter. “It’s just the fact that you’re winning. It feels good to win,” Wall said after finishing with game-highs of 21 points and 13 assists to go with seven rebounds and seven steals. “You can tell, the whole group is having more fun.”

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: The Cavaliers will finish with their worst home attendance since the season before they drafted LeBron James in 2003. But the arrival of the team's latest rookie sensation, Kyrie Irving, is increasing expectations and season-ticket renewals. The Cavs' season-ticket renewal rate already stands at 75 percent and is ahead of initial projections, a team spokesman confirmed. It's welcome news for a franchise that averaged 15,927 fans in the lockout-shortened season -- a 4,185 decline from last season, when they finished third in the NBA in attendance. The home finale against Washington drew 18,086 on Wednesday night. The decrease was completely expected after James' departure in July 2010 and a 19-63 record last season. The Cavs will finish 19th in a 30-team league, but they still outdrew three playoff teams: Memphis, Atlanta and Indiana. Heading into Wednesday's action, the Chicago Bulls (22,148) led the league, while the New Jersey Nets (13,961) were last. Cavaliers coach Byron Scott appreciates the support his team received, especially after perusing half-empty arena bowls in some NBA cities