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First Cup: Thursday

Magic vs. Pistons

  • Chris McCosky of The Detroit News: "One thing you have to know: If Chauncey Billups' strained right hamstring isn't right by Saturday, Rodney Stuckey will be. 'I'm good,' Stuckey said, when asked about the possibility of starting a critical Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. 'I ain't feeling nothing. I'm ready to play. I am just going to go out and do what I did today.'"

  • A. Sherrod Blakely of Booth Newspapers: "When dealing with an inside force like Dwight Howard, foul trouble is a given for your big men. But when they rack up fouls on one end, and few points on the other, it's a recipe for defeat. The Detroit Pistons know this all too well following their 111-86 Game 3 loss on Wednesday. Detroit used four different players to defend Howard, who had 20 points, 12 rebounds and a game-high six blocked shots. Those four Pistons -- Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell and Theo Ratliff -- scored a combined 11 points, with Wallace scoring all 11."TrueHoop First Cup

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "No matter what happens in the remainder of these playoffs, at least the Orlando Magic can say they contributed to the betterment of the NBA. They can say they sacrificed themselves for the sake of those who came after them. One small controversy for Magic fans, one giant leap for fankind. Even heading into Game 3 Wednesday night, all the talk across the nation was about how the Magic got clocked by the NBA's asinine and archaic replay rule -- or lack thereof."

  • David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel: "Maybe that blinking oil light was just what the Magic needed. It started flashing on the flight home Monday night. The plane began to shake, smoke was spewing out of an engine and Stan Van Gundy jumped into Jameer Nelson's lap and just wanted to be held. OK, that's not quite how it happened. But if Hollywood was producing this series, the story line would be the Magic faced death. After that, what's so big about facing Detroit?"

  • John Denton of Florida Today: "The Orlando Magic players, coaches and staff were never in imminent danger late Monday night when the team airplane was diverted to Cincinnati for an unscheduled stop because of mechanical problems. But that doesn't mean there weren't a few racing hearts and sweaty palms among the traveling party of 42 people. 'I wasn't worrying about the (100-93 loss to the Pistons); I was worrying about the plane,' Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. 'Basketball has nothing to do with me when I'm on that plane.'"

Jazz vs. Lakers

  • Rhiannon Potkey of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Carlos Boozer entered Game 2 averaging 15.9 points and 42.9 percent shooting in the playoffs compared with 21.1 points and 54.7 percent shooting in the regular season. He finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1 against the Lakers, but had seven turnovers and was saddled with the foul trouble. 'I have to maybe back off being physical a bit so I can stay in the game,' Boozer said. 'I am being too physical, I suppose. I don't know. I play the same way I have played all season, but getting fouls in these first two games. So I have to figure out a way to play my game without getting fouls.'"

  • Jay Drew of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller said he will not be in his customary courtside seat on Sunday when the Jazz play host to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the teams' Western Conference semifinals series at EnergySolutions Arena. Citing religious reasons, Miller said he won't even be in the building at all, regardless of the importance of the game, which also falls on Mother's Day. 'About 15 years ago, I decided [going to Sunday games] just didn't fit with what I wanted to be,' Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. 'It's just a personal thing.' Miller is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which admonishes its members to avoid non-religious activities on Sundays if at all possible."

  • Tim Buckley of the Deseret News: "With Kobe Bryant being awarded the NBA MVP trophy (for a second straight day) Wednesday, Jazz point guard Deron Williams was asked if that is something he thinks he might some day win. 'It's something attainable. It's possible,' said Williams, who after three NBA seasons still is looking to make his first All-Star Game appearance. '(But) I don't think about it. I just try to help my team win, and everything else will take care of itself.' When it came to the question of comparisons, however, Williams wasn't about to bite. 'I mean, he's got a different swagger,' the Jazz point guard. 'He's the best player on the planet, you know, so, I mean, I'm not gonna compare myself to Kobe. The guy's got three championships and an MVP under his belt.'"

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: "NBA Commissioner David Stern stopped by the press room before the game and said he had just met with the referees, I presume to remind them how excited he is about the upcoming Boston-L.A. Finals. For some reason when this game started, the refs called four fouls on Utah, none on the Lakers, and then tagged Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan with a technical foul. No need to make it so obvious, guys. If Stern is worried about a Lakers-Celtics matchup, he ought to be spending most of his time with Boston."

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "When do the playoffs start? Oh, this is them? Utah's bus hasn't caught on fire yet and none of the Jazz players has said the players and coaches have quit. Aside from that, their first two games against the Lakers haven't gone much better than those of the Denver Nuggets."

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "It turns out that breaking bread brought NBA Most Valuable Player Kobe Bryant closer to his teammates this season, and his teammates closer to Bryant. The Lakers forged a tighter bond with Bryant over breakfast, lunch and dinner during training camp last October in Honolul
    u, according to Lamar Odom. 'I won't take the credit,' Odom said, 'but in training camp we became tighter. I made sure we had a chef. We ate dinner, lunch and breakfast together every day at training camp. I think that was special. I think that's when the bond started.'"

  • Broderick Turner of The Press-Enterprise: "When the NBA officially announced that Bryant had been named MVP on Tuesday, NBAStore.com started selling commemorative T-shirts for $19.99. Bryant already has the best-selling jersey on the Web site and at the NBA store in New York since the beginning of the playoffs. Since January, the Lakers have been the best-selling team at both sites, and since the playoffs began their merchandise has had a combined triple-digit sales increase compared to last year at the same time."

Spurs vs. Hornets

  • Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News: "Given the chance to play for any NBA team and any coach this spring, Brent Barry chose to stick with Gregg Popovich. Had he gone somewhere else, he might have had to worry about suiting up for someone whose personality changed under the pressures of the postseason. But not with Popovich. 'He's an ass year-round,' Barry said, dishing out the kind of admiring, heartfelt compliment only his coach could appreciate. 'You don't get much change out of coach Pop.' And that's why, if the Spurs are showing any signs about how they're handling their first two-games-to-none playoff deficit in six years -- if there is anything to glean from their demeanor about attitude or their mind-set or their confidence -- those signs aren't coming from the top."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Like an NFL signal caller in the face of an all-out blitz, Tim Duncan has seen a steady stream of double-teams headed his way the first two games of the series. The objective has been to make Duncan give up the ball, and force any Spurs player not wearing No. 21 to beat them. So far, this approach has worked wonders for the Hornets. They own a 2-0 series lead, in part because their 'anybody but Duncan' plan has yielded fewer than 85 points in both games."

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up, and the Hornets back it up because they have their guard up. They've allowed an average of 90.9 points in seven playoff games. The defending champion Spurs, whose clockwork offense and savvy in the first round against Phoenix shredded a team allegedly built to beat them, have been held to 82 and 84 points in 19- and 18-point losses."

  • Katy Reckdahl of The Times-Picayune: "In his final weeks, Brian told his family that he knew he was going to heaven and that he wanted to meet Jesus wearing his Chris Paul jersey. Someone within the Hornets organization sent around an e-mail telling Brian's story. It caught the eye of Paul and Hornets owner George Shinn. Both cried. 'It was very touching to me. Tears welled up in my eyes,' said Shinn, who sent flowers and a letter to the family and offered to help with funeral costs. The family, overwhelmed with grief, was touched by his kindness but declined. The location and time of the funeral also are private."

  • Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune: "A sinewy 6-foot-8 rookie, Julian Wright makes an impact -- sometimes good, sometimes bad, but rarely is he irrelevant. As the main substitute for power forward David West, Wright has emerged as the Hornets' 'X factor' in the playoffs, a player with a rare combination of size, skill and athletic ability who creates havoc on both ends of the court with his non-stop hustle and unbridled enthusiasm. 'He's been terrific,' Hornets General Manager Jeff Bower said."

  • Mike Jones of The Washington Times: "Everyone knew Chris Paul was pretty darn good. Some even would have said borderline great. But with the way he has flat out embarrassed the San Antonio Spurs in the first two games of this series, there's no borderline about it. He's flippin' spectacular."

  • Jim Armstrong of The Denver Post "All right, so it's too little too late, but here goes anyway: CP3 for MVP! Chris Paul didn't win the NBA's MVP award, but, as these playoffs have proven, he should have. Nothing against Kobe Bryant, your basic player for the ages, but he hasn't had the kind of season Paul has."

Celtics vs. Cavaliers

  • Christopher L. Gasper of The Boston Globe: "Sam Cassell, who broke into the league during the rough-and-tumble mid-1990s, said the NBA is protecting Cavaliers star LeBron James in a way it never did with Michael Jordan. ... 'Wow. It's just different right now,' said Cassell yesterday following practice 'They gave me a flagrant-1 foul, and no way in the world was it a flagrant-1 foul. I'm going to call [NBA vice president] Stu [ Jackson] and see what he thinks about that. That's not a flagrant-1 foul at all. Back in the day, a flagrant-1 was bloodshed. Now, you can just grab somebody ... It's the new NBA.' Cassell added, 'I know Michael Jordan is sitting at home right now pouting because they didn't protect him. There wasn't no bigger star than him, and he took some banging. But he got through it. That's why he got considered the best player to pick up a basketball.'"

  • Patrick McManamon of The Akron Beacon-Journal: "LeBron James peeled back his upper lip. 'Want me to show you?' he said to a Cavs PR representative who had asked (at my request) where he was hit on Boston Celtics guard Sam Cassell's flagrant foul Tuesday night. James then revealed the cut that he received inside his mouth as he drove to the basket. 'People think I'm diving,' he scoffed. 'Maybe I need to get my eye poked out for people to know I'm getting hit.' Clearly, James hears the crowd and the comments, comments that state he overreacts and draws foul calls with Shakespearean antics. The cut was proof otherwise."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Attempting to determine how Cleveland will change its use of LeBron James in the wake of a 2-for-18, 12-point performance is like trying to figure out where the next bomb will land. But the Celtics had t
    o at least try heading into tonight's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. 'You can assume changes based on what they've done in the past, but I think we just have to focus on what we do defensively,' said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Only one change appears to be guaranteed: The Game 1 LeBron is assuredly gone, just as the Paul Pierce and Ray Allen of that same night have probably checked out."

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "Doc Rivers is especially pleased to have Cassell for the road games. Rondo was not horrible in Atlanta (a 12-assist Game 4, for example). But he was clearly better at home. Sam's pretty much oblivious to locale. The man is 38. He's not the complete package he once was, but he retains 100 percent of his moxie. Sam is here. That means Rondo will continue to watch during most big moments, and so will House. They brought Cassell in here to play the Games That Really Matter, didn't they?"

  • Branson Wright of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James had the worst shooting night of his career in Game 1 of the best-of-seven semifinal playoff series against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, but neither James nor coach Mike Brown is concerned. History is on James' side. 'He is who he is and it's as simple as that,' Brown said. 'He's human and he had a tough night. He hasn't had many tough nights in a row. Usually when he has a tough night, he bounces back the next game and has a pretty good game.'"

Leaguewide

  • Terence Moore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Michael Gearon Jr., among the team's eight owners with Atlanta Spirit, kept suggesting Wednesday from his Vinings office that the coach who nearly had his talented but flawed team do the impossible against mighty Boston in the playoffs isn't going anywhere. This ranks as the best non-firing in Atlanta sports history."

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "They are interesting again for the right reasons, because they play hard, have some talent, and are easy to root for. It is a likable bunch. Everyone appears to get along. They listen to what coach Maurice Cheeks has to say -- another departure from the past -- and there is promise for the future. You can put all that together, however, stir lightly, bake at 350 degrees, frost it elegantly, and the team was still 40-42 this season. Interesting, yes. Contending, no. On its own, interesting doesn't last very long, at least not in this town. Interesting better give way to good pretty quickly or it reaches an expiration date. No one realizes this better than general manager Ed Stefanski, who says, 'It's a big summer for us,' and is intent on making it a successful one as well."

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: "The Sixers will have about $11 million in cap space with which they can sign free agents or acquire help via trade. They have the 16th pick in what is considered a deep draft. The Sixers discovered who they were. The playoff series with Detroit gave them a taste of where things can take them."

  • Jim Baumbach of Newsday: "Yes, they've talked recently, the coach said. And, yes, Lou Carnesecca thinks Mark Jackson would make one helluva coach. 'He has the credentials,' he said. 'I think he does.' The number one thing, though, he needs to have good players. That's what has to happen first, before anything. If you don't have good players, you're not going to be a good coach. Good players, they make you a smart coach.'"