First Cup: Thursday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: The Indiana Pacers are coming this way, for a second-round series that starts at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The Heat will try to reverse a trend that, during the season, went the wrong way. Over the course of four games against Indiana, Miami played four very different variations of coach Erik Spoelstra's squad. The Heat shot worse and scored fewer points in each successive game of the matchup, while each time allowing more. The 118-83 win on Jan. 4 was the Heat at its best, even without Dwyane Wade; LeBron James scored 33 with 13 assists, and the Pacers shot 34.8 percent. The 105-90 win on Feb. 14 was the Heat at its most resilient, romping out to a 35-point lead on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back. The 93-91 overtime win on March 10 was the Heat at its most cohesive, with James and Wade taking turns making critical plays. And the 105-90 loss on March 26 was the Heat at its weariest and sloppiest, as Indiana capitalized on a letdown – after Miami's loss to Oklahoma City – and six James turnovers to pull away in the third quarter. Now Miami will encounter a Pacers team that has gained confidence and experience from its first series victory as a group, even if that victory came at the expense of a depleted Magic team. Indiana will also be a relatively rested team, having finished its first-round work a day earlier than Miami, and having routinely spread minutes throughout a 10-man rotation. "This next series will feel like it's played in a cage, rather than a basketball court," Spoelstra said.

  • Neil Best of Newsday: In a season that defied logic, notably when a young guard named Jeremy Lin came from nowhere to revive the team, it made sense for a bench-warming guard who turns 34 Sunday to outscore everyone in the first 12 minutes, from Melo to Stat, from LeBron to D-Wade. All of which, much like Linsanity, was fun while it lasted, but didn't last for long. Then another season-long theme kicked in, and kicked the Knicks out of the playoffs: They simply were not quite good enough to be as good as they had hoped to be. That realization had sunk in long ago, but now that there are no more games after last night's 106-94 clunker, the Knicks are free to admit it and to talk out loud about what needs to happen next. "I think we have to have a better mindset going into the season,'' Amar'e Stoudemire said. "We definitely have to have a consistent season. This season has been up and down, coaching changes and so on and so forth.'' Said Tyson Chandler : "We need to have a nice flow in which everyone touches the ball. We've got to make sure we get other guys involved.'' Hmm. There is a lot to chew over in those comments, seeing as how they address two much-discussed issues: The Knicks' lack of a consistent roster and the propensity of their biggest star, Carmelo Anthony , to dominate the offense.

  • Ron Higgins of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies should be ecstatic that they won game five on Wednesday in FedExForum, 92-80, to stave off elimination and advance to a game six on Friday in Los Angeles trailing 3-2. But here's the problem. A Clippers' team, even with point guard Chris Paul being "held" to 19 points,with Blake Griffin sustaining a sprained knee in the fourth quarter, with the team shooting 37.1 percent from the field and getting outscored 48-26 in the paint, cut the Griz lead to six with 55.7 seconds left. A Memphis team that scored 57 points in the first half, thanks to rediscovering that center Marc Gasol and forward Zach Randolph can score with enough touches, had just 35 points in the second half. Gasol and Randolph scored 23 points and 19 points respectively, but in the second half they combined for just nine points on 0-for-7 shooting after going a combined 14-of-18 from the field in the first half. When asked why the disparity between halves, why didn't the inside duo touch the ball as much the second half, Griz coach Lionel Hollins pointed to the fact Gasol and Randolph didn't make a second-half basket. That's an off-the-cuff answer with no meat to it. ... The Grizzlies' biggest concern for game six is getting some sort of outside shooting. Once the Clippers cut off the passing lanes to Gasol and Randolph, the Grizzlies didn't get enough offense elsewhere to win comfortably. Rudy Gay made some huge plays in the final minute, including an impossible drive with 19.2 seconds left to give the Griz an 88-79 lead. But his offense was stagnant most of the game. If the Griz want to get to a game seven on Sunday in FedExForum, that has to change.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: The Clippers know they're going back to Los Angeles for Game 6 in their first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies. They just don't know how healthy their two best players will be Friday evening. Blake Griffin injured his left knee and Chris Paul strained his right hip flexor in the Clippers' 92-80 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday at the FedEx Forum. Both Griffin and Paul returned to the game but looked visibly uncomfortable. Griffin's injury occurred when he drove the lane on Marc Gasol, drawing a foul before landing awkwardly on his left leg, which flexed backward. The Clippers called the injury a hyperflexed knee before diagnosing it as a sprain. Paul, who missed the final game of the regular season, was noticeably bothered by the injury. Griffin will have an MRI today in Los Angeles. "The pain scares you most," he said. "It's not because it hurts; it's because you don't know why." Griffin said the knee stiffened on the court after he returned, but the pain felt different than the left patella fracture that kept him out his rookie season. Paul vowed to be on the court Friday for Game 6. "I'll be ready," he said, adding that both he and Griffin are "tough guys."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter was at the event and reported the following Hawks-related highlights from Michael Gearon Jr.'s speech. On media coverage of Hawks’ playoff series against the Celtics. “Did you see what Al Horford did last night? The timeline for recovery for his injury is another three months. He’s not even supposed to be playing and Josh [Smith] should not be playing. Zaza [Pachulia] can’t stand up, but if we can get past this round there is a chance that we can get him back. So this is a team that is overcoming adversity. I wish . . . some of the national media or even some of the local media, more the paper than the TV guys, recognize how hard these guys are playing based on how injured they are. On top of all that, we don’t get any calls, which I know everybody always hears. But I’ll give you a stat. Last night, we are playing this old physical team. They are old. I know what happens when you play basketball, old guys foul. [Kevin] Garnett is the dirtiest guy in the league. We are playing Boston last night and they had two fouls the whole first half. We had five times that and we’re athletic.”

  • Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: With Johnson starting in the backcourt instead of the 6-foot-4 Kirk Hinrich, the Celtics faced a matchup dilemma long feared when the 6-foot-1 Rajon Rondo and 6-foot-2 Avery Bradley were first paired as Boston’s starting guards. The result in Game 5 was Bradley, who has been playing with a sore left shoulder, logging just 18 minutes as Celtics coach Doc Rivers was forced to rely heavily on the bigger Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus in the backcourt. The problem Rivers is faced with when making moves in this type of chess match is that the board looked best if Boston could have kept it just like it was. The Celtics have been strongest with Bass and Bradley on the floor alongside Paul Pierce, Garnett and Rondo. It was when Rivers made Bass the starting power forward and moved Garnett to center that the team began its turnaround from a 15-17 record heading into the All-Star break. The Celtics are 23-10 this season, including the playoffs, with Bradley in the starting lineup, and were just 19-19 when he wasn’t. But if playoff series are about adjustments, Drew made one that worked for Game 5, and Rivers and his staff had to think long and hard about how they intended to counter it during yesterday’s day off. The Celtics are still in command of the series with the chance to end it on their home court tonight. But the Hawks changed the complexion of it on Tuesday night by presenting Boston with a big problem that doesn’t look like it is going to go away easily.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Less than 24 hours after his team's odds-defying win over the Lakers, Nuggets coach George Karl was still smiling. But he also was ready to move on. Karl has been here before, and as the coach in these NBA playoffs with the second-most postseason victories (78), he understands the Nuggets have plenty of work left to do. So Wednesday morning he went about the business of reeling in any players who had the look of letting euphoria take over and cause too much satisfaction. "We've got to worry about just controlling our happiness," Karl said, sitting in a conference room at the team hotel before flying to Denver. "The real serious games are coming up (tonight), and if we're fortunate to figure out how to win that game, then we get an opportunity to play an incredible seventh game." According to center JaVale McGee, Tuesday's 102-99 victory, which cut the Nuggets' series deficit to 3-2, was already a distant memory. "That game is forgotten," said McGee.

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: Closing time: the sequel. The Lakers got it all wrong in Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples Center, which is why they must play a Game 6 tonight in Denver as they make a second attempt to close out the Nuggets in their Western Conference quarterfinal series. Since they are still ahead 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, they have a margin for error. It's a small consolation, however. The Lakers' frustration was evident after they stormed back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter only to fall short in the closing seconds, tumbling 102-99 to the Nuggets and setting up match point No. 2 tonight. Game 7, if necessary, would be Saturday at Staples Center, but the Lakers weren't thinking about a winner-take-all game after squandering their first try at eliminating the Nuggets and advancing to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the next round. ... For openers, the Lakers need to shoot better than the 33.3 percent (15 of 45) they shot during the first half of Game 5, when they didn't take advantage of the Nuggets' 41.3 percent shooting (19 of 46) and trailed 49-43. What's more, the Lakers must ditch their customary languid style of play in favor of a more frenetic approach to Game 6. The Nuggets have won twice in this series just by outhustling the Lakers to rebounds and loose balls.

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: Each time you fail; the task seems to grow more difficult. A team that had jumped to a 3-1 lead does not want there to be a Game 7. If the Sixers think winning a close-out game is tough, they have no concept of what it would be like to face a re-energized Bulls team on the road in an elimination game. "I don't like the word desperation," Collins said when asked if that was his team's attitude going into Game 6. "Sometimes guys when they think desperate get out of their nature. I want there to be a real sense of focus about what we have to do. We have to meet their challenge . . . They imposed their will [in Game 5]. We hung around but they imposed their will, our guys know that. Collins has talked all season about how he wanted to "manage the extremes" of the highs and lows of his young team. Inherent in that is the understanding that players learn from experiences and use that to move forward. We find out Thursday night how much this squad learned from Tuesday.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune They have been called soft, overpaid and busts. They have heard criticism from countless corners outside the Bulls' locker room. By tuning such noise out, what Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have done serves as a microcosm of this Bulls' season. Both players have overcome adversity not just to persevere but succeed. "One thing about Carlos: He doesn't let that stuff bother him. He shrugs it off," Taj Gibson said. "That's what I admire about him. It falls off his shoulder and he gets ready for the next game. And he's the same every game. He's solid. He never worries about the negative. He's always consistent." A repeat of Tuesday night's performance would serve the Bulls well in Thursday's must-win Game 6, as their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals shifts back to Philadelphia.