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Venti First Cup: Wednesday

Suns vs. Spurs

  • Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News: "Officially, the Spurs will fly to Phoenix on Thursday, and they might even lose a game while they're there. But this series is over, as sure as disco and Bear Stearns are over, and for the Suns to deny it would make them look as silly as they would if they wore hotpants on Wall Street."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "... with the Suns in the lead, with Nash on the floor, with the two-time MVP in control, the Suns came apart and spit up another chance. Then, again, Nash was the victim. ... Nash won't get blamed the way, say, Tracy McGrady does. Nash is small and Canadian and a nice guy. He is also a friend of the planet; this week, he introduced a line of sneakers made from recycled materials."

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "Two of Mike D'Antoni's recent declarations -- he told fans to relax and stated his Suns were 'the better team' -- are beginning to sound like a man grasping for straws. And on nights like this, you have to wonder where this team would be with a viable bench. Instead, they must gather around Shaquille O'Neal's locker and look for guidance. He was a member of the 2004 Lakers who overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Spurs."

Raptors vs. Magic

  • Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun: "Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo launched an informal, typically low-key, but quite impassioned defence of his head coach, Sam Mitchell, yesterday, suggesting that the travelling Toronto media has been too hard on his bench boss during these early days of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Earlier yesterday, at the morning shootaround, Mitchell accused the media of being too hard on second-year forward/centre Andrea Bargnani. And T.J. Ford suggested the media has been too hard on T.J. Ford. And so it goes. Like most professional sports figures, Colangelo generally doesn't offer up an opinion until he's asked, but yesterday he couldn't resist, casually approaching a group of media guys as they hung around the court prior to last night's game."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "A solitary figure walking down a corridor of the Amway Arena here late last night, Chris Bosh shuffled along like a beaten man. No wonder. Bosh had just spent almost an entire game locked in virtual combat with Dwight Howard and a handful of other Orlando Magic players, thrown to the ground repeatedly, knocked into the basket stanchion by a Hedo Turkoglu flagrant foul, hit this way and that way and repeatedly. It was physical playoff basketball at its best and Bosh was feeling it. 'I knew the nature of the game, I knew I was going to have to play a lot, I knew I would have to get my fair share of Dwight and was going to have to make plays on offence,' said Bosh. 'It's my job and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's just tough -- you work hard and just come up a little bit short.'"

  • Pete Kerasotis of Florida Today: "It couldn't be this easy, could it? This is, after all, the NBA. The playoffs, no less. When you win Game 1 of a playoff series by 14 points, as the Magic did against the Toronto Raptors, you expect a counterpunch in Game 2. What you don't expect is the Magic taking that 14-point Game 1 victory and upping the ante with a 17-point, first-quarter lead in Game 2. Good grief, they so outplayed Toronto that the Raptors didn't even hit double figures until almost nine minutes into Tuesday night's game. Easy? Uh, no. Repeat after me, this isn't just the NBA. It's the NBA postseason, it's the NBA postseason, it's the NBA postseason."

  • Brian Schmitz and Tim Povtak of the Orlando Sentinel: "The future of Fran Vazquez, the Magic's No. 1 draft pick in 2005 who still hasn't played here, remains a mystery even to those who know him well. Both Toronto F Jorge Garbajosa and G Jose Calderon once played with Vazquez on the Spanish national team, and they have remained friends. 'Technically, he's a very good player, very talented, and he can do a lot of things,'' said Garbajosa. 'But to come from Europe and play in this league, you have to be strong mentally and very confident. Two years ago, he wasn't there. Maybe the maturity has helped him now, but I don't know what he plans to do.'"

Hornets vs. Mavericks

  • Peter Finney of The Times-Picayune: "The reason the Hornets wound up shooting 60 percent, the reason every member of the starting five scored in double digits shooting better than 50 percent, was the daylight created by the point guard's wizardry. Yes, as the losing coach put it, 'Chris Paul killed us' and 'the big thing was their other guys stepped up big and they really jumped out on us in the first quarter.' As the Mavericks tried to keep the ball out of Paul's hands, as they tried to trap him at every opportunity, he kept knifing through a forest of arms and legs, whipping the ball from sideline to sideline, and there it was, in the hands of David West (who made 11 of 17 shots, most of them wide-open jumpers), or Peja Stojakovic (8-of-13, including 5-of-7 from 3-point distance) or Tyson Chandler (4-of-7 inside) and Mo Peterson (5-of-7 outside). For the Mavericks, it was Paul's killer dose of poison."

  • Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune: "The Dallas Mavericks now know what it feels like to try to catch a rabbit."

  • David Moore of The Dallas Morning News: "Let me get this straight. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks wanted this first-round matchup?"

  • Jean-Jacques Taylor of The Dallas Morning News: "If the Mavericks lose this series to New Orleans -- and they're well on their way to doing so -- Mark Cuban must decide whether Avery Johnson can lead his team to a championship. A few months ago, the question would've been laughable. These days, it's legitimate."

  • Jaff Caplan of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The Dallas Mavericks have yet to tune up the fastbreak, and that's spelling major trouble for a team hurting to produce points in the half-court set. Jason Kidd, the veteran playmaker the Mavs acquired in February to better compete in the playoffs, has been a non-factor offensively and has struggled defensively to hang with Hornets point guard Chris Paul. 'I have to do what I do best,' Kidd said. 'I have to try to control the tempo and somehow try to get my fingerprints on the next 48 minutes of the game.'"

  • Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "... the Mavs don't deserve harsh name-calling or questions of manhood. That would be cruel and unnecessary ridicule. Why pick on the incompetent and the over-matched? Chris Paul -- all 5-foot-11 of him -- should be ashamed for this mean bully act. C'mon, man. Quit picking on people twice your size."

Wizards vs. Cavaliers

  • Ivan Carter of The Washington Post: "The Wizards, who were sloppy and disorganized at both ends of the court during Monday night's 116-86 loss in Cleveland, remain confident that they can turn things around and make it a competitive series. ... "We definitely feel confident in our skills and we know that we can get things done,' said center Brendan Haywood, who was ejected in the third quarter of Game 2 after being called for a flagrant-2 foul on James. 'When we watched the tape [yesterday], we realized that we made a lot of mistakes that aided them. And so, when you make a lot of mistakes to help the other team, you feel like, man, we cost ourselves the game.'"

  • Brian Windhorst of The Akron Beacon-Journal: "In his three years as coach of the Cavaliers, Mike Brown has shouldered his share of criticism. But his finest hours always have come in the postseason. Last year, he became the franchise's winningest postseason coach as he led the Cavs to the NBA Finals for the first time. In January, the organization gave him a contract extension and roughly doubled his salary, even though the Cavs barely stood above .500 at the time. One of the major reasons was his ability to maximize his team in the postseason. Now, after struggling to find a rhythm with his rotations and offense, along with inconsistency on defense in the weeks leading up to the playoffs, Brown's game plans and in-game decision-making are making a major difference in the Cavs' series against the Washington Wizards."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "If the Cavaliers are going to advance deep into the playoffs, they're going to need Daniel 'Boobie' Gibson. He's still not pain-free after his high ankle sprain, which caused him to miss 18 games this season. But after two games in the playoffs, he's averaging 12 points and 4.0 assists. He's shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from the 3-point line. 'I feel great,' he said."

Pistons vs. Sixers

  • Rob Parker of The Detroit News: "Before people hand those young-gun 76ers the series or count out the Pistons, remember that the Spurs lost Game 1 at home to the Nuggets last year, too. The Spurs won the next four games and, eventually, the championship."

  • Chris Silva of the Detroit Free Press: "While the Pistons might have lost their shooting touch and offensive rhythm in the latter part of the Game 1 loss to Philadelphia, their egos remain in tact. How else to interpret Chauncey Billups' declaration that tonight's Game 2 at the Palace isn't necessarily a must-win game for the Pistons? 'I hope that this doesn't happen, but if we were down 0-2, I still feel like we'd win the series,' Billups said. 'But I don't want to get there and have to prove you all of that.'"

  • Bill Khan of Booth Newspapers: "While Rasheed Wallace is capable of big performances, he's just as apt to defer to his teammates. The line on Wallace is that he could be 'the man,' but isn't comfortable in that role. Maurice Cheeks knows Wallace as well as anyone, having coached him for parts of three seasons in Portland. 'If you run X amount of plays for him, he'll find a way to get the ball to someone else,' Cheeks said. 'It's not a bad thing. You'd like a lot of guys to be that way. We always talk about NBA guys being selfish. Now we have a guy with the talent to be the star and he likes helping other people out.'"

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "... the problem is that the Pistons can play a lot better than they did on Sunday, and the Sixers really can't. ... Now the real work begins. The bear is fully awake, and he's in a bad mood. The Sixers, unfortunately, have to hang around and find out just how bad."

  • Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Eddie Stefanski says it's all about building blocks. 'The regular season was a building block for us, and Mo [coach Maurice Cheeks] and the players did a great job,' the 76ers president/general manager said yesterday. 'This is another step in the right direction.' He meant reaching the postseason, then winning Game 1 against the Detroit Pistons, 90-86, Sunday night. 'It was a huge step the other night from a confidence level,' Stefanski said, looking ahead to tonight's Game 2 in the Palace of Auburn Hills. The essential, immediate goal, though, has not changed. 'Just to get better every day,' Stefanski said."

Nuggets vs. Lakers

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "The Lakers expect more from the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 tonight. More defensive pressure. More adjustments. More size. More intensity. More reasons to believe this will not be an easy first-round series. 'You can't feel good about yourself just because you've won one game,' Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. 'I look forward to it going seven games. It's a tough team. Well coached. So we expect a hard-fought series.' Or as Lakers coach Phil Jackson put it, 'The pressure is still on us. We still have the pressure to win on our home court.'"

  • Kurt Streeter of the Los Angeles Times: "These are tough times. It's the economy, the war, the election, the environment. Pessimism rules. The doomsayers crow. But inside Staples Center on the day of a Lakers playoff game, where the cheap seats run $200, tough times seem far away. It's the flash and sizzle, the sexiness and the athletes. Even in a cavernous arena, it's the intimate vibe. Unique to L.A. With all due respect to the Angels and Dodgers, unique to the Lakers too. Inside the building Sunday, in the aisles and porticoes and seats, milled mothers and sons, lawyers and mechanics, chief executives and waitresses. Elation, sheer confidence, reigned. You could hear a steady mantra among the hopeful: The Lakers are headed to another title. Recession? What recession."

  • Woody Paige of The Denver Post: "Stan Kroenke is in danger of being the Tracy McGrady of NBA owners -- 'First Round' Stan. We don't know him well, but we do know that he won't be happy if the Nuggets don't beat the team from near his beachfront property in Malibu. Enjoy the Nuggets while you can at The Stan Can. Another playoff loss, and The Great Allen Iverson- Carmelo Anthony Experiment will not have produced in the postseason. A.I. and his $20 million could be traded. Marcus Camby and his $11 mil likely will be gone. Eduardo Najera will become a free agent, and others on the bench would be jettisoned. And more websites will clamor for George Karl's firing, despite the 50 victories. The preponderance of Kroenke's attention will be paid (ahem) to basketball in the next several days. And the Nuggets don't want to find out which is worse -- the dog's bark or the owner's bite."

Boston vs. Atlanta

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Another blowout would essentially confirm every doubt this callow bunch has clearly begun to harbor."

  • Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Leave it up to Mike Bibby to light the fire with the Boston fans. The Hawks point guard lit into Celtics fans before practice Tuesday, calling them 'bandwagon jumpers.' 'They were kind of loud at the beginning,' he said. 'But a lot of these fans are bandwagon jumpers trying to get on this now. I played here last year, too, and I didn't see three-fourths of them. They're for the team now, and they might get a little rowdy, but that's about it.' When asked if he thought they were fair-weather fans, joining the party only after the Celtics' offseason trades that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to town, Bibby didn't hesitate to pour more gasoline on the fire. 'You could say that,' he said. 'I remember them having bags on their heads [last season]. It's a different look. I guess that's what happens when you win.'"

  • Peter May of The Boston Globe: "On the night of Nov. 14, 2001, a rookie named Joe Johnson went for 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists against the Indiana Pacers in a 101-93 Celtics victory. Celtics basketball guru Leo Papile walked past the Boston locker room after the game, muttering, 'ROY, ROY.' As in, Rookie of the Year. 'I remember that game,' a seven-year veteran named Joe Johnson said yesterday. 'But I don't remember a lot more of my time here. My playing time here was very short. I really don't have any memories. It's like it didn't happen.' Johnson was a Celtic for 48 games in the 2001-02 season. He started 33 of them. That's not exactly 'very short' playing time but, like Chauncey Billups four years earlier, he was a lottery pick who left town before his first year was over and went on to bigger and better things."

  • Scott Souza of MetroWest Daily News: "Kevin Garnett made defense cool again in Boston. Celtics coach Doc Rivers preached it for three years. Captain Paul Pierce called for it for the better part of two lottery seasons. Last winter, Kendrick Perkins often seemed alone in his desire to embrace it within a locker room of recent McDonald's All-Americans. It took Garnett to turn a generation of players raised on dunks and 3-pointers on to the street cred that comes with making stops down the other end of the floor. 'You absolutely needed Kevin to change the culture here,' said Celtics coach Doc Rivers yesterday shortly after Garnett was officially named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. 'That's what people don't get about him. It's not just his play, it's the culture change that has just been an amazing difference.'"

Rockets vs. Jazz

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:"'Clutch City' is part of Rockets lore and includes the comeback from consecutive home losses to begin a 1994 series against the Phoenix Suns, but the best Adelman recalled was the tales of Silky Sullivan, the thoroughbred known 50 years ago as 'the Heart Attack Horse' for its many comebacks. Thinking that might not resonate in an NBA locker room five decades later, the Rockets coach had another message to deliver to his team before heading to Salt Lake City with a 2-0 deficit in its first-round series against the Utah Jazz. 'Physically, there are things you have to do, but mentally you have to get your mind stripped of what happened and get yourself positive for the next game,' Adelman said. 'There is no reason we can't win there. I think it's important our guys realize that. If you go in with a little doubt in your mind or you're thinking, 'Geez, we put ourselves in a hole here,' then you're in trouble.'"

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "They will play the next two games in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz were 37-4 during the regular season. Unless there's an earthshaking turnaround, this series will be over Saturday night. So I suggested McGrady stop being a good teammate and do the Kobe Bryant thing. Fire at will. That's what Michael Jordan would have done and probably LeBron James. It's not like people are going to think any less of McGrady. ... Playing it straight isn't working, but McGrady didn't see the brilliance in my suggestion. I guess it was too subtle for him. 'Why go out and take bad shots?' he asked. 'Then you're taking your teammates out, you're losing respect from your teammates. What does that get us?'"

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: "... the difference between EnergySolutions Arena and any other NBA playoff venue, including Houston: The fans are involved in every possession, start to finish, as opposed to responding only when things are going well for the home team. It's loud, it's rowdy, it's fun. I'm just asking for it to be a little more civil this year. My only complaint about the generally terrific atmosphere during last spring's eight home playoff games was that too much of the noise and energy was targeted at the other guys -- the opponents and the referees -- instead of supporting the Jazz. I'm not suggesting rules for patrons like those published at Augusta National or anything, just a little less hostility, OK? The derogatory chants, the booing of every call that goes against the Jazz and the taunts of visiting players are all part of the game; I understand that. It's just that I would rather have Salt Lake City known for relentlessly backing its own team, rather than attacking the enemies."

League-Wide

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "For now, Sergio Rodriguez wants to forget about his frustrating second season with the Trail Blazers. He wants to ignore the fear that his subpar season with the Blazers might cost him a spot on the Spanish Olympic team this summer. And he wants to put on the backburner his lengthy to-do list -- as outlined by the Blazers -- this summer: Get stronger, improve his defense and work on his outsid
    e shot. All of those thoughts and feelings will be addressed in due time, Rodriguez said, but not before he accomplishes his main summer goal: Rediscovering why -- and how -- he plays basketball. 'I want to have fun playing basketball,' Rodriguez said. 'I want to enjoy the game like I used to enjoy it.'"

  • Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The former Milwaukee Bucks coach is a terrific human being. But so are Terry Stotts and Terry Porter. Problem was, none was ready to be an NBA head coach, as much the organization's fault as anything. And in Krystkowiak's case, the front office was surprised that he wasn't tougher on the players in the little more than one season he lasted in the job. So here comes Skiles, the new sheriff in town, no more Mr. Nice Guy and all that. ... That is precisely what the Bucks need at the moment..."

  • Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune: "The Sonics could have financed a new arena out of their own pockets with the money they've thrown away on slew-footed centers alone. Compound that with similar fiscal atrocities around the league, and it's one obvious reason why the fundamental NBA economic system leads to annual operating losses in so many cities. Mistakes are uncorrectable in the NBA. They sit on the bench and gobble money. We can rightfully scatter-shoot blame for the Sonics' potential departure at a series of owners, personnel managers, politicians and Okie carpetbaggers. But the system is a primary underlying reason why sweetheart leases, luxury suites and public subsidies seem necessary. There's the soft salary cap, the cap exceptions, the practice of taking on huge salaries of dried-up players to clear room for future roster maneuvering. But mostly, it's an issue of guaranteed contracts that reward obsolescence by paying in the present for performances in the past."