First Cup: Friday

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Miami’s emptying bandwagon over the previous three losses provided the Heat a chip that fueled the team. As Spoelstra put it, “No one likes to get dirt thrown on your face before you’re even dead.” I’m still not quite certain if the Heat rose to the occasion Thursday night or if LeBron James simply did to such a degree a team followed in his massive wake. I’m also not sure, either, if Miami can win a championship (or even Saturday’s Game 7) without more help for James from the likes of Wade. No matter for now, though. A season lives, because one man made it so.

  • Jason Mastrodonato Special to The Miami Herald: Every one of his first-half shots in Game 6 looked different, almost off balance, as if he wasn’t getting enough push from his lower legs. “He was expending quite a bit of energy [defensively],” Spoelstra said. “And we needed every part of that.” Said Wade, “My job early was to do my best to make it tough on [Rajon] Rondo.” But after James put up 30 points in the first half, Wade played better off of him in the second, moving more quickly underneath the basket and scoring four of his five field goals from the paint. “I was trying to wait for my opportunity,” Wade said. “I had a couple shots early that I missed that I would normally make, but I was able to stick with it.” This might not be the Wade that most expected to show up when facing elimination in the Eastern Conference finals. He is averaging just 21.2 points per game this series, far from his numbers when the Heat won it all in 2006. But he’s still finding ways to add value. Perhaps it’s time to alter expectations. Dwyane Wade isn’t the MVP. But he’s still Wade.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: They gave good effort. They really did. The Celtics fans leaned forward against the rail of Section 20, behind the media section, fully anticipating a series ending, fixing for a Heat funeral —screaming and shrieking from the start for their heroes, all while jeering and cursing the enemy with “Miami” and “6” in white across his chest. And, so, no, they didn’t go down easy, not even after LeBron James took a break from driving and dunking to stroke another jumper, this one in the grille of a powerless Paul Pierce. “You ain’t The Truth!” they taunted James, a reference to the fellow All-Star small forward he was taking apart. But, soon, it would all be too much. James wore them down, like he wore down the Celtics in a 98-79 victory. "When a guy comes out and throws a barrage on you like that, it takes some energy out of you,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. On this night, the self-proclaimed King James was fit to wear a crown.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The Heat’s players have been cast as national villains for two seasons now, but that’s not who Wade sees when he looks around his locker room. “I know every person in this locker room is a good individual person,” Wade said. “Whether you like us as a group, that’s for you to decide, but as individual people, that’s for you to decide. You can’t be necessarily worried about it. That’s the world we live in. And whether we helped cause that or not, it is what it is.” Wade inferred that a few players added to the team this offseason weren’t quite ready for the media crush and national backlash of joining the Heat. “I guess when you decide to sign up for this, especially after last year, you kind of should know what you’re signing up for,” Wade said. “When it’s great, it’s great. When it’s not, it’s not. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Ain’t no gray area. Ain’t no in between.”

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Something was definitely smelling foul Thursday night at TD Garden. The Celtics were lethargic at the beginning, inept in the middle, and outclassed in the end. The Celtics had no response to LeBron James’s heroics and now they are relegated to a potential era-ending Game 7 Saturday. And it’s a shame, too. Because from the early afternoon when traffic around the Garden resembled New Year’s Eve 1999, there was an anticipation for greatness, that Doc Rivers would lead this bunch of banged-up, aging warriors past the physically superior Heat and onto the NBA Finals. Yet the Heat were superior in their 98-79 Game 6 victory, the Celtics’ final lead coming at 4-3. James was magnificent, providing the type of mouth-dropping, critic-quieting performance that will resonate for years. That wasn’t the issue for the Celtics, who fully expected James to be super. The issue was they shrank under the pressure that James applied.

  • Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald: Rather than hang his head about Game 6, Paul Pierce embraced the challenge of going down to Miami for a do-or-die game. “Game 7, what more could you ask for? One game, you have an opportunity to go to the Finals, you’re on the road,” Pierce said. “This team has been about adversity all year long so this is not going to be nothing new. It’s been tough games all year long to get to the point we’re at and why wouldn’t it be tough now? Winning is hard, trying to get to the Finals is hard and this is as hard as it gets. I think we’re prepared for it.”

  • Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times: I thought I was over all of this. I've really enjoyed watching the Oklahoma City Thunder play this season. This is exactly the kind of team the NBA needs to promote. It is a young, energetic team that plays the game the right way. It is a team that has the heart of a champion. A team that wasn't bought with free-agent money like Miami. A team that looks poised to dominate the NBA for the rest of this decade. The way the Thunder practically intimidated the San Antonio Spurs over the final four games of the Western Conference finals was as impressive as anything I've seen in sports this year. But when it was all over, before I could flip off the TV, I saw bug-eyed Clay Bennett, the guy who stole the Sonics and moved them to Oklahoma City, hoisting the Western Conference championship trophy, and the volcanic anger I had suppressed through this playoff run boiled up inside of me again. ... We can be victims. We can throw things at the flat screen as we watch in sadness the beaming Bennett bask in the love he feels from his people. We can sink into a deep depression and ignore The Finals. Or we can become activists. We can employ our anger to lobby the city and county councils, to rally in Occidental Square on June 14, to push for this once-in-a-lifetime arena deal. Chris Hansen's deal is the best privately funded arena deal ever. If it doesn't get passed, Seattle doesn't deserve a team.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Ever since he took his talents to South Beach, LeBron James has often looked as uncomfortable as a flannel shirt on a tropical night, no matter how well he passes, rebounds or scores. Heat president Pat Riley knows he has a spectacular but fatally flawed roster. The Heat is not winning the championship this year. There figures to be pressure for a major overhaul. So, the Nuggets should pick up the telephone during the next month and make a trade proposal: Lawson, Gallinari and Afflalo for James. Karl tells me that's the core of his squad. But Denver would have a stronger chance to win a championship with a starting lineup of James, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. Of course, there's always the possibility Miami would scoff at trading James — or Dwyane Wade, for that matter — in return for Lawson, Gallinari and Afflalo. Then we would know the rest of the NBA doesn't hold Denver's talent in as high regard as the Nuggets do. You have a smarter idea to improve Denver's team? I'm all ears. It's easy to like what Ujiri has done in the aftermath of the Anthony trade. He preaches patience. And it might be heartwarming that 9-year-old Heat fan Jack Meyer would shout "Good Job! Good Effort!" to his basketball heroes, even in defeat. The Nuggets, however, have lived in a middle-class neighborhood of the NBA world since 1976. They've been to Dairy Queen, got the Blizzard. Am I ungrateful to think it's time to win a championship?

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Sam Vincent's plan also includes the DeVos family giving Phil Jackson a minority share of the team if he agrees to the deal. My question: Why wouldn't Jackson agree to this deal? Who wouldn't want to make $15 million a year for working one week a month and making six community appearances? Ah, I can just see Phil now wearing a Magic hard hat and cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Citrus Bowl renovation project. Puh-leeze. The Magic don't need any glitz or gimmicks; they need a real strategic-thinking GM who knows what he's doing and is going to be in the office every day. It's not an understatement to say this is one of the most important hires the Magic have ever made. Let's face it, the first major move the new GM may have to make is to trade Dwight, the greatest player in franchise history. Are you going to entrust such a monumental job to somebody who has no GM experience? The Magic need to hire somebody like Bower, who helped rebuild the Hornets despite serious fiscal limitations and having to relocate the team to Oklahoma City after the devastating hurricane leveled New Orleans. If the man can guide an NBA franchise through post-Katrina, he can certainly lead the Magic post-Dwight. Bower may not be a sexy name like Shaq or Phil, but he is a serious and solid candidate. At this critical juncture, the Magic don't need to make a splashy hire; they just need to make the right one.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Charlotte will have first dibs on the best player not named Anthony Davis in this draft, leaving Washington to pick from what remains. Certainly, other players — Kansas junior forward Thomas Robinson, North Carolina sophomore swingman Harrison Barnes and even Connecticut big man Andre Drummond — are expected to be under serious consideration for the Wizards; they are in dire need of a talent upgrade after finishing with the league’s second-worst record and out of the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. But the Wizards also need considerable help on the perimeter, as they ranked 28th in three-point shooting last season. And Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal could fill a glaring hole as the team continues its efforts to add the right pieces around former No. 1 overall pick John Wall. No matter where he lands, Kidd-Gilchrist said he knows that he won’t find the same level of success that he had in his one season at Kentucky, where he and Davis led the Wildcats to the national championship. He admitted that he’s not equipped to handle losing but would have to adjust. “I might cry some nights,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I just hate losing games.”

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets received confirmation from the NBA last week that Motiejunas may sign an NBA contract as soon as July 1, rather than when the moratorium period ends July 11. That allows Motiejunas to get his clearance from FIBA in time to play for the Rockets’ summer league team beginning July 13, or even to go through the Rockets’ summer camp. That summer schedule is considered especially crucial to the Rockets’ hopes he can contribute as a rookie. “The best for Donatas’s development is to have him working with our coaches this summer,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. Motiejunas, 21, seemed to be leaning toward the same goal. He has not yet made his decision about playing for Lithuania’s national team, which will begin training this month in Houston for July’s Olympic qualifying tournament. But unless assured a significant role on that team, he indicated he’d rather begin his NBA career with the Rockets.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings have questions for players. And guess what? Players have questions for the Kings. At least one, Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom, had already broken down the Kings' roster when he met with team officials Wednesday evening at the NBA draft combine. "I have a breakdown book (of NBA teams)," Johnson-Odom said. "I look at their roster. I figure out teams, like Sacramento. The one question I had (for the Kings) was what made Isaiah Thomas so much better than Jimmer Fredette? … They gave me feedback." A player that is intuitive and detailed? That's what the Kings need and are looking for during the draft process. The team began the interview process, meeting with three perimeter players and one power forward that also could play small forward in certain situations. One theme was consistent in their line of questioning: the Kings want to know how these players think on the court.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Bradley Beal has heard the whispers and in fact appears to share some of the same concerns about his size. As a result, he took an interesting approach at Thursday’s scouting combine, promoting himself as a combo guard to alleviate any concerns about his 6-foot-4 frame. Just the fact Beal measured in at 6-foot-4 should be a bit of a relief. He was listed as 6-3 at Florida and at least a few in the NBA were concerned he could measure in even smaller, which would affect his draft stock at shooting guard. Beal averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds during his one season at Florida. With most shooting guards in the league standing a good two inches taller, Beal must find a way to defend larger, explosive players. “I know I’m not the average height of a shooting guard, but that’s why I want to become a combo guard and start developing my ball handling more to become a point guard,” Beal said.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: One of the most intriguing players on the floor was Ohio State center Jared Sullinger, who could be in the mix when the Bucks make the 12th overall pick on draft night June 28. Sullinger was giving away no secrets in media interviews later at the downtown Marriott, not revealing which teams he would interview with in the next few days or work out for in the next few weeks. ESPN's latest mock draft has Sullinger going at No. 10 to the New Orleans Hornets, who also have the top overall pick and are expected to select Kentucky power forward Anthony Davis. The 6-foot-9 Sullinger was asked if he has been "picked on" by draft experts who aren't sure if he is too small to play center in the NBA and are uncertain if he fits as a power forward. "There's time where it happens, but it's the life I live and I'm kind of used to it," Sullinger said. Sullinger said his agent, David Falk, "has been keeping it hidden from everybody." "He's even hiding it from me," Sullinger said. "He said he might tell me tonight."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Sixty-three million. No, that's not the number of players the Bulls have worked out in advance of the June 28 NBA draft. Though, with only the 29th pick and thus the inability to dictate who falls to them, it may seem like that at times. That's the amount of guaranteed money the Bulls have committed next season for Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. Throw in a likely $3.5 million salary for restricted free agent Omer Asik, and the Bulls move closer to a luxury tax threshold projected to be near $71 million. This makes hitting on their lone draft pick all the more essential since the Bulls will be looking for inexpensive rotation players to fill out their roster.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Kentucky’s Anthony Davis has been declared the top pick in this NBA draft by proclamation. But there’s one prominent dissenting vote. Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson keeps saying, why not me? And he seems mildly annoyed at the way his protest is dismissed. Davis showed up for his media interview Thursday wearing a shirt that read, “Check my stats.” When that was passed on to Robinson (dressed conservatively in a tie and dress pants), he replied that if this is about statistics, then it’s obvious he should be the New Orleans Hornets’ choice with the top pick. So, would Robinson be miffed if the Hornets didn’t consider him? “I don’t need to be the first pick, just the best pick,” he said.