First Cup: Wednesday

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Carmelo Anthony didn't have to deal with LeBron James on either end of the floor Tuesday night. It made his night much easier and infinitely more difficult for the Heat. Anthony shredded the Heat's defense and matched his career high with 50 points and led the Knicks to a 102-90 victory over the defending champs, who were without James and Dwyane Wade because of injuries. Late in the game, some Knicks fans at American Airlines Arena chanted "MVP" as Anthony attempted foul shots. He was the MVP this night as he carried the Knicks to their ninth straight win -- their longest since the 1993-94 season. … Anthony didn't do much wrong or miss many shots. Noted defender Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem could do nothing to stop Anthony. He finished 18-for-26 from the field, including 7-for-10 from three, and became the first Knick to score 50 since Jamal Crawford had 52 against Miami six years ago.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The maintenance program has officially started. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers sat out Tuesday night’s game against the Knicks at AmericanAirlines Arena. It was the second game in a row the three starters have rested with minor injuries. James, Wade and Chalmers also did not play Sunday against the Spurs. Officially, James skipped the season finale with the Knicks due to “tightness” in his right hamstring, according to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, and Wade was out of action due a variety of minor injuries. Chalmers missed his third game in a row due to a sprained ankle. “These are minor nicks and knacks that happen during the course of a season,” Spoelstra said. Of course, not every team in the league has the luxury of sitting its best players due to minor ailments this time of year. The Knicks, for example, hurried center Tyson Chandler back into the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game after missing 10 games with a bulging disk in his neck. The Knicks were a game behind the Pacers in the loss column for second place in the Eastern Conference standings entering Tuesday night.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: Shaquille O'Neal dominated the Staples Center court one more time Tuesday, in a halftime jersey retirement ceremony that perfectly mirrored his Lakers career. It was booming. It was poignant. It was funny. It had thousands of fans chanting and cheering. And Kobe Bryant appeared to blow him off. "Can ... you … dig … it?" asked O'Neal, repeating his trademark championship chant for a selloutStaples Center crowd that screamed its affirmation. Bryant apparently couldn't, as he chose to record only a brief video tribute that ran on the scoreboard at the start of the ceremony. It was as if he were in Russia instead of just 45 steps away in the locker room during halftime of the Lakers' eventual 101-81 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. "I would like to have been out there but I couldn't do it, this was just too big of a game," Bryant said afterward. "I had to stay back here [in the locker room] stretching and getting ready for the second half. Bryant laughed and added, "I appreciate you guys trying to start some stuff for old times' sake." Bryant briefly hugged O'Neal in the privacy of the tunnel at the halftime break before O'Neal took the court, but then the men parted ways, just as they did nine years ago to mark the end of one of the Lakers' championship eras. It's a shame Bryant couldn't have later walked those 45 steps and publicly congratulated O'Neal in front of the world, if only for a moment before returning to work. It was a long halftime. Together, as the best duo in basketball history, they won a lot of games. If Bryant is going to end his career as the face of the Lakers, then he needed to publicly, if briefly, represent them in this important connection with their history.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: If this was the end, and it had all the telltale signs, the Mavericks provided one more night of evidence that they simply are not playoff material this season. Mathematically, they remain alive. But after the Los Angeles Lakers controlled them all night for a 101-81 victory, the Mavericks must face the grim reality that their playoff hopes bit the dust at Staples Center. “We knew we were behind the 8-ball all season,” said Dirk Nowitzki. “This was a game we needed to have if we really wanted to make it interesting.” … The Mavericks lost the season series to the Lakers 3-1 and fell to 36-38, 2 ½ games behind the Lakers and Utah Jazz, who are tied for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With only eight games left, passing both the Lakers and Jazz is virtually impossible. Dallas has already lost the tiebreaker against both teams. The postgame locker room was despondent, to say the least. The Mavericks now find themselves needing a miraculous finish.

  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: The best teams often compromise the integrity of the product to rest and protect their players with the express reason of being fresh for the postseason — see San Antonio and Miami. The worst teams sometimes don’t play their stars simply because they don’t want to miss out on the possibility of moving one slot ahead of another team in the draft for a significantly better player. Wittman and the Wizards could get away with sitting Nene or Wall the next two weeks. Lord knows the organization, headed for the lottery for the fifth straight time, has not always done what’s right for the game the past five seasons. But finishing the job, making the league and themselves believe they have something here much better than 4-28, became important. Did they cost themselves a better player the last few months? Probably, but that’s okay. The last thing the Wizards needed was another 20-something, doe-eyed kid trying to figure his game and his new environment out at the same time. They need a piece or two to be a playoff team next season. One of those pieces became showing purpose and passion this season, right up until Game No. 82. Going all out for ninth place doesn’t sound very noble, does it? But from whence the Wizards came this season, it’s a building block for next year. After all the wrong, it’s doing the right by the game. And in the dog days of another lost season that’s something, no?

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: With just nine games remaining, the Bulls are being conservative with Joakim Noah, whose plantar fasciitis sidelined him for the sixth straight game, andMarco Belinelli, out for the fifth straight time. "They both have the type of injury where you don't want it to linger," coach Tom Thibodeau said. Belinelli, who has an abdominal strain, said he felt pain Monday when he tried to increase running. "This injury is the worst," he said. "You can play like five minutes and it can be worse than before. At least it's better than last week." The goal is to get them in game conditioning and rhythm before the playoffs start. Richard Hamilton and Derrick Rose remain out indefinitely.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: With his contract set to expire at the end of June, Lon Babby agreed to a two-year contract extension to remain at the helm of the Suns in what was an unconventional NBA front office format when he was hired in 2010. Babby, 62, tabbed Lance Blanks, who has one contract year remaining, to be his general manager and basketball expert while Babby was charged with remaining competitive for Steve Nash’s final two years and then transitioning to a new era this season. “I’ve had a wonderful career and I view this was a wonderful opportunity,” Babby said. “I knew it was an extraordinary challenge. Not every day is simple. It can be painful and difficult. I didn’t want to leave it at this stage. I may be like Moses. I’m on a journey to get to the promised land of a championship. I didn’t want to leave at the start of the walk through the desert. “... We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting. It doesn’t feel right to leave if Robert and the organization have faith in me when I feel like we’re about to start the climb up the mountain.” The Suns have gone 96-126 (.422) during Babby’s tenure. With the franchise’s second worst record ever this year, the Suns will miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season for the first time since 1986-88.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: By last fall, there were whispers Michael Heisley, who had decided to sell the Memphis Grizzlies, had more than a passing interest in joining forces with Kohl. Some NBA officials and insiders even contended Heisley would be part of the Bucks’ ownership group sooner rather than later, perhaps even this season. The scenario painted by some individuals was that Heisley intended on first becoming a Bucks minority owner with Kohl still in charge. Then, after approximately three years, Heisley would have the option of becoming the majority owner. According to some people close to Heisley and Kohl, though, the latter got cold feet and balked at the idea of relinquishing his franchise, just like he did in the summer of 2003 when it appeared he was on the brink of selling the Bucks to a consortium headed by Michael Jordan. Kohl, who purchased the Bucks in 1985 from Jim Fitzgerald for approximately $19 million, is apparently still receptive to bringing on an additional business partner. The possibility of the 76-year-old Heisley re-entering the Bucks’ picture is highly unlikely. Heisley suffered a debilitating stroke in February and remains in a Chicago-area hospital. I’ve been told he’s been in a coma for more than a month and the prospects of a recovery are extremely bleak.

  • Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times In a Manhattan hotel on Wednesday, the months-long battle over the fate of the Sacramento Kings will turn into a daylong debate. It looms as the most critical date yet in this saga. Representatives of a Seattle group hoping to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle and a Sacramento contingent attempting to keep the team there will take turns making their cases to a combined NBA relocation and finance committee. Each side will present its plan, and likely poke holes in the other city's efforts. The relocation/finance committee will talk afterward, then send a recommendation to the NBA's Board of Governors. The board will cast a final vote on the matter when it meets in New York April 18-19. "This is one of the biggest days of my life and a seminal moment for our city," wrote Chris Hansen, who will lead the Seattle contingent, in a note onsonicsarena.com Tuesday afternoon. Hansen also wrote that 44,000 Sonics fans put their names on a priority ticket waitlist established three weeks ago, including 32,000 in the first 24 hours. He said 268 put their names on a list for suites, and 983 businesses expressed interest in sponsorship opportunities. Those figures will be part of Seattle's presentation by a group that will include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, mayor Mike McGinn and King County executive Dow Constantine.

  • Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: Dueling teams of billionaires and mayors are heading to New York for a pivotal Wednesday showdown over the future of the Sacramento Kings. Before an elite committee of NBA owners, delegations from Sacramento and Seattle will present their arguments on the issue that's been making headlines for weeks: Should the Kings stay put or be allowed to move to the Pacific Northwest? The meeting, to be held at a Manhattan hotel, comes a week after the Sacramento City Council approved a non-binding term sheet for a new $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza - a crucial piece in the city's attempt to keep the team. The committee is likely to make a recommendation sometime this month. A final decision is expected April 18 or 19, when the league's Board of Governors, consisting of all the team owners, convenes in New York. … [Mayor Kevin] Johnson is also expected to be accompanied by three of the investors who are bidding for the Kings on Sacramento's behalf - Vivek Ranadive, Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle. Lobbyist Darius Anderson, who was instrumental in pulling the group together, also will attend.

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: I've heard NBA scouts complain for months that this year's draft will be weak at the top, which is one reason why Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel might be the No. 1 pick despite suffering a torn ACL during the college season. The 2014 draft should be different, thanks to a loaded group of incoming college freshmen. All of the top players are scheduled to play in Wednesday's McDonalds All-American Game at the United Center. Basically, this game could be a 2014 lottery-pick preview. Topping the list is 6-8 Andrew Wiggins, who grew up in Toronto and attended Huntington (W.V.) Prep. He's smooth, athletic with guard skills. I've seen him compared to many NBA superstars, but Tracy McGrady might be the best match. He's undecided for college, reportedly considering North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and Florida State. Then there's 6-9 Julius Randle from Texas. He's the main guy in Kentucky's loaded recruiting class, which also features twins Andrew (6-5 point guard) and Aaron (6-6 shooting guard) Harrison, 6-6 James Young, 6-10 Marcus Lee and 6-11 Dakari Johnson. Another player with draft potential is 6-8 Aaron Gordon from San Jose. He's also undeclared, but might be headed to Arizona. Analysts love comparing him to Blake Griffin and it does seem justified.