Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "To some of us, Devin Harris' inability to develop into a capable, dependable NBA point guard stands as one of Avery Johnson's notable failures. ... In the end, Avery, as teacher, was a surprising disappointment for this franchise. The decline of Josh Howard has to be prominently laid at his doorstep. ... Avery is no fool. He knows how to play the public end of the coaching game. But for him to imply that Dirk Nowitzki was the one who provided the impetus to get him fired is a low blow. Nowitzki, if anything, emerged as a proud leader of this fractured team. That was him on the floor in New Orleans, giving everything he had for 48 minutes."
Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News: "Yes, there will be some offseason moves. But unless guard Allen Iverson stunningly opts out of the final year of his contract and bolts to free up $20.84 million, there doesn't look to be much relief for owner Stan Kroenke's wallet. The Nuggets this season had a payroll of about $82 million, about $14 million over the NBA's dollar-for-dollar luxury tax threshold. Barring the unforeseen, the payroll will continue to soar. Counting Iverson, the Nuggets will have eight players with guaranteed contracts next season totaling more than $78 million. Because they want to keep restricted free-agent guard J.R. Smith, need help at point guard, have the No. 20 draft pick and must have at least 13 players on the roster, they're staring at a payroll approaching $90 million, which would be about $20 million over the projected tax threshold for 2008-09."
Krista Jahnke of the Detroit Free Press: "'Philadelphia gave us a hell of a series,' coach Flip Saunders said. 'They woke us up, and they probably made us a lot better going into the next round because of the things they did and the things we did to get back on track.' Believe it or not, Saunders said he was happy the series wasn't a sweep, at least from a preparation standpoint. 'From a heart standpoint, you'd rather have a four-game series,' he said. 'But preparation for the team, this series probably helped us prepare more for Orlando. There's no question ... our guys understand what we have to do to exert our will and be successful.'"
Chris McCosky of The Detroit News: "A few days ago, after the Pistons had lost Game 3, the buzz in the newspapers, on the message boards and on local sports talk radio was the end was near for Pistons coach Flip Saunders. Now, the national buzz has Saunders among the candidates for coaching jobs in Dallas, Chicago and perhaps Phoenix. One city's trash is another city's treasure, huh? 'Maybe they know more than I do,' Saunders joked. The reality is, Saunders' contract with the Pistons runs through next season, and any decision regarding his future would be made after the end of the playoffs."
Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The 76ers had something in common with their fans last night. They didn't show up, either. It had been an interesting opening-round playoff series against the Detroit Pistons, but by the time Game 6 rolled around, a fair number of the paying customers didn't believe the home team could force a deciding game. And, apparently, neither did the Sixers. Both were right. 'They clamped down on us,' coach Maurice Cheeks said. Uncharacteristically, the Sixers came out without their standard willingness to compete. They didn't exactly roll over, but close enough, and the Pistons don't need much of an opening to take control of a game."
Sam Donnellon of the Philadelphia Daily News: "The paradox is this: Several young Sixers grew leaps and bounds after Kyle Korver was traded away to the Utah Jazz in December. Thaddeus Young got far more minutes. Lou Williams benefited. Rodney Carney's young career was reclaimed. Reggie Evans became a semicult figure, his name chanted appreciatively as the Sixers took Game 3 here last Friday and grabbed that now infamous double-digit, first-half lead here on Sunday. Maybe they're not even here without all those extra minutes that Korver's departure provided. But the last impression about this team, the lingering one amid a 100-77 blowout loss in an elimination game last night, is that Korver might have made a difference for them. Because the Sixers starved for an outside shooter in this series. Rasheed Wallace had two more three-pointers than the Sixers' entire team. The Sixers were starved for points at times the way they were right after Korver was traded -- when it seemed they were headed for a lottery pick, not this stage."
Ivan Carter of The Washington Post: "So, are the Wizards a better team without Arenas? There's no clear answer. Except for a 10-minute span in Game 1 where he made four three-pointers and poured in 14 points, he didn't have much of an impact on this series because of limited playing time. The keys to Wizards wins this postseason have had little to do with Arenas."
Rick Noland of The Medina County Gazette: "The Cavaliers must have all taken some chaser before they went to sleep Wednesday night, because they insisted Thursday afternoon there was no hangover from their 88-87 loss to the Washington Wizards in Game 5 at Quicken Loans Arena. 'We woke up this morning and saw smiles on everybody's faces,' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said at Cleveland Clinic Courts. 'We're ready to go.'"
Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer: "Now that the Washington Wizards are a two-hit wonder looking for three, they are as dangerous for what they lack as for what they have going for them. No Gilbert Arenas means more of Caron Butler, a better player who now has no good reason to defer to Agent Zero's injured reputation as a basketball assassin -- especially not with
Double Z, Wally Szczerbiak, trying to stay in front of him."
Rockets vs. Jazz
Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: "Rockets-Jazz, Game 6, is tonight. Should be exciting, right? If you can stay awake, that is. Tipoff is set for 9:30 p.m. Again. Just as it has been two other times in this first-round playoff series. This is ridiculous. They might as well go right from the postgame interviews to Wolfman Jack. You have to wonder by keeping them up past midnight to see the endings of playoff games, if the league is at all interested in creating new, young basketball fans."
Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "The Utah Jazz might be the NBA's most physical team. They're shoves and elbows and hard body contact. This is no knock on the Jazz. They play the way almost every NBA coach would love his team to play. They work officials the way Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux worked umps. They do what they do so consistently that they eventually get the calls. Otherwise, a whistle would blow every 20 seconds and the game would last four hours. The Rockets know this. They're not looking for any breaks. They're simply looking for refs that will call the game the way the rule book says it should be called."
Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune: "There's no shortage of reasons the Utah Jazz are facing the Houston Rockets in tonight's Game 6, instead of resting up and preparing themselves to meet the L.A. Lakers in the second round. But if you want as good an explanation as any, you should look no further than the Jazz bench, which was a huge strength earlier in the series, but has since become almost as much of a detriment, seemingly overnight."
Brad Rock of the Deseret News: "One thing seems certain: The Jazz need Boozer to be bodacious. Now. Before this thing really gets out of control. The Jazz-Rockets series continues tonight with Game 6. If the Jazz win, they move on to play the Lakers in the next round. If they lose, it's back to Houston for a Game 7 on Sunday, and you know how dangerous that would be. Paging Carlos Boozer. Mr. Carlos Boozer. You have a call on line one."
Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: "The Jazz will be counting on their 'vicious' fans -- regardless of smiling habits or religious affiliation -- to give them a Game 6 boost tonight at 8:30 when they try to wrap up this first-round playoff series against the Rockets. 'They got our back, no matter what,' said Jazz center Mehmet Okur. Likewise, the Jazz players have their vocal fans' backs. Though others have been critical of various antics and catcalls, the Jazz are big fans of their boisterous fans who have played a role in their 38-5 home record during the regular season and playoffs. 'It's going to be a great crowd like they always are,' said Jazz point guard Deron Williams. 'We definitely feed off the crowd. The crowd is a big reason for our success.'"
Doug Robinson of the Deseret News: "On any night in EnergySolutions Arena, there are enough signs to fill the Republican Convention, most of them held aloft by women. Kyle, we love you. Kyle, will you marry me? From two young girls: Kyle, will you wait for me? From two older women: Why go for two when you can go for three? Local souvenir stores are running out of children's size XL No. 26 jerseys -- the size women buy because there are no jerseys made in their sizes. ... Korver's female fans are different than what you might expect from the NBA arena. For the most part, these are not groupies in provocative, come-hither clothing. These are grandmas, housewives, grade-school kids and teens, ranging in age from 7 to 60 (to wit, the sign in the ESA: 'My grandma thinks you're hot.')."
Hawks vs. Celtics
Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe: "It is Game 6. The Celtics lead their first-round playoff series, three games to two. And yet tonight's hoop joust with the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena amounts to a proverbial must-win game for the Green Team."
Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Mike Woodson can be a nice enough guy. He just hasn't been a particularly smart guy of late, in large part because of speculation on his job security. This isn't a subject that should come up during a playoff series, let alone a club's first playoffs in nine seasons. It wasn't a subject any reporter likely would've broached Wednesday when the Hawks, in the most remarkable story of this or most postseasons, were coming off consecutive wins over the 66-win Celtics and were preparing for Game 5. But Woodson, even if unintentionally, kicked open the door to the subject. Answering a question about Josh Smith's future, Woodson, for no apparent reason, began, 'At the end of the season, if I'm the coach ...' Oops."
Mark Davis of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The hometown guys are in the NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics. The decisive game may be tonight when the Hawks and Celtics play Game 6 here in the best-of-7 series. Tip-off is 8 p.m. The Celtics are up one game after waxing the Hawks' tails in Boston Wednesday night. Our guys have got to deliver tonight or put up their size 18 sneakers for another season. Or would that be glass slippers? If ever a team qualified as Cinderella, the smudged toiler who needed magic to get to the ball, surely the Hawks are it."
Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks pride themselves on their resilience. No one thought they'd make the playoffs after a two-month swoon before the February trade deadline. And no one thought they would get very far against Boston, which had the league's best record, in their first-round playoff series. So they're counting on everyone counting them out for tonight's Game 6 against the Celtics at Philips Arena."
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Robert Horry's teammates are confident there is another big playoff moment coming for the man known as 'Big Shot Rob.' 'You never know what's going to happen,' point guard Tony Parker said, 'but I know I'd rather have him on my team.' Horry can only hope his farewell season ends better than it began. In the back of his mind, he envisions one last parting shot. The ball will find him in another clutch moment. He will uncoil that familiar shooting stroke. What happens next, one can only guess. Horry says he knows. 'But I can't tell you, because it will mess up my book,' he said."
Tim Povtak of the Orlando Sentinel: "Dwight Howard doesn't even consider this a rematch. The Orlando Magic will open the second round of the NBA playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Detroit against the Pistons, virtually the same team that swept them so rudely a year ago. But he sees no comparisons. The Magic are too different this time. 'Last year was last year. It will have no bearing. I'm not concerned about what happened before,'' Howard said Thursday. 'We're better now. We won't back down from them.''"
Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "In all of the hullabaloo and hoopla surrounding the Magic's first real playoff success in 12 years, you barely saw the man responsible for so much of it. General Manager Otis Smith stayed in the background, as always, taking it all in and taking none of the credit. In fact, Smith didn't want to be interviewed for this column because, as Magic media relations guru Joel Glass explained, 'He doesn't really want to talk about himself. He prefers you write about the team.'"
Jonathan Abrams of the Los Angeles Times: "It's the triangle offense, now available in version 3.0. These days, Kobe Bryant offers an alley-oop Pau Gasol's way and the two can exchange roles the very next play. Luke Walton posts up, then drifts out for a three-point shot, or Lamar Odom ducks and dives his way to the rim for enough double-doubles to fill his heart's content. The part-mystical, part head-scratching triangle offense is functioning quite smoothly with Gasol completing the Lakers' trifecta. Possibly more so than ... Michael Jordan's championship days under Phil Jackson? 'Since we've had Gasol, it's a very good comparison,' said Tex Winter, a Lakers consultant and a pretty smart person to ask on the subject because, well, he is the offense's innovator. 'It's not necessarily a guy like Kobe or Michael Jordan that oftentimes makes the difference in this. Sometimes, it is the post man or someone else.'"
Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "If the MVP trophy ends up in Kobe Bryant's hands for the first time in his career next week, then it might have had something to do with the superstar guard's increased trust in his teammates this season. Bryant has struck the proper chord between shooting and passing this season, and that's made his teammates better players, according to Lakers guard Derek Fisher. 'He's trusted me making big shots,' Fisher said Thursday. 'He's trusted (Pau) Gasol making plays down the stretch. He's trusted Lamar Odom. He's trusted (Jordan) Farmar, Sasha (Vujacic), Ronny (Turiaf) and everybody who's been out there."
Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: "Normally, we prefer to take a lighter perspective here at The Heat Index. There's enough angst out there. However, occasionally we hear something that really sets us off. Like suggestions that began popping up Wednesday that the Suns ought to trade Steve Nash, for instance. Now that's annoying. ... Would the Suns have averaged 58 wins a year over the past four seasons and made two trips to the Western Conference finals without him? Not on your life. Will the team have another back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player again? Highly unlikely. Don't ever forget that the Suns won 29 games the season before Nash returned to Phoenix and they won 62 the next season. It sure wasn't Paul Shirley who turned them around."
Craig Morgan of the East Valley Tribune: "The Suns' exciting style has captured the Valley's heart and has generally translated into good attendance over the years. 'You can take all the statistics and flush them,' (Jerry) Colangelo said. 'No matter how we played or who we drafted or what the outcomes, at the end of the day, for the 40 years we have played, we have the third-best record in the history of the NBA.' It's a nice stat on which to hang the organization's hat. But, as Colangelo well knows, success in American sports is not measured in winning percentage. It's measured in titles."