First Cup: Thursday

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: When that awful video footage went public, showing the Rutgers men's basketball coach throwing balls at his players in practice, verbally abusing them, shoving them and assaulting them with gay slurs, I did the oddest thing. When I read or heard people declare, "Mike Rice must go," I quietly added "Jr." to it. If you're like me you were eager this week to separate the son -- Mike Rice Jr. -- from his father -- Mike Rice Sr. One is a deranged coach who deserved to be immediately terminated for his actions. The other is the Trail Blazers' television analyst, a guy insanely proud of his son. I have only three words to say to Mike Sr.: Hang in there. I sent them to him via text. I sent them through his broadcasting partner, Mike Barrett. I'll tell them to Rice's face when I see him next. Because even as the father and son share a name, and both coached, I can't think of a less enviable position anywhere in this than the father who raised a child who is now humiliated and ruined by his own doing.

  • Harvery Araton of The New York Times: History is beckoning the Knicks these days, but which will be the more powerful calling, the individual measure of lasting greatness or the consummate joy of collective achievement? … It is no secret that collective achievement outweighs individual exploits on the most important scorecards, but that does not mean the heights King reached in the 1980s, or what Anthony did Tuesday night in Miami and on many other a night this season is not worthy of a starred archiving in the Knicks’ history book. But when the defensive intensity increases in the playoffs, the challenge for the Knicks will be to avoid deferring too much to Anthony, in the interest of finding and sustaining a delicate chemistry that would allow Anthony’s future Hall of Fame candidacy to evoke 1973-like memories of sharing, sacrifice and ultimate celebration. As LeBron James routinely proved last spring — and Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan before him — it can and has been done. Just not for four decades in New York, Monroe, Meminger & Co. will remind everyone Friday night.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: When the playoffs roll around, Deron Williams says he won’t need the high dosage pain killers that helped salvage his season. The point guard plans to ride this out cortisone-free. Having braced himself for continued ankle pain and a fourth round ofshots just before the playoffs started, Deron Williams told the Daily News on Wednesday that his treatments in February were so successful that injections aren’t necessary prior to the postseason in late April. It’s a welcome development for Williams, who is aware of the longterm dangers of injecting too much cortisone – a hormone steroid which, used liberally as an anti-inflammatory, can weaken cartilage in the joints, leaving it susceptible to damage or ruptured tendons. Doctors typically recommend athletes don’t take more than four injections per year, and Williams is happy he doesn’t have to test the limits with a fourth round. “That’s a good thing,” said Williams, who indicated in February that he “probably” will receive injections before the playoffs.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Grant Hill has 27 appearances, a 3.2 scoring average, career-low 38 percent shooting and no regrets about joining the Los Angeles Clippers. Hill expected to return to Phoenix for a sixth Suns season when he stayed in the Valley to train last summer. The Suns made a one-year, minimum-salary offer of $1.35 million and the Clippers came with a two-year, $4 million one while Oklahoma City and Chicago also pursued him. Hill, 40, joined the Clippers, began the season on the inactive list after suffering a bone bruise to his right knee, the one which underwent two arthroscopies since 2011 in Phoenix, and did not play until Jan. 12. Hill likely will not make it to that second contract year and opt to retire this summer. “Strong chance,” Hill said. “I’m leaning toward it. I want to get to the end of the year and off-season and think about it but I’m pretty confident that’s where my mind is right now. I’ve enjoyed it.” Except for a brief 2008 experiment under then-Suns coach Terry Porter, Hill always had started in his career until this season, when he often is not in the 10-man rotation.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Seven hours before tipoff, an arena quiet, George Karl envisioned nighttime at EnergySolutions Arena — an ear-popping crowd where "the whistle gets wild and crazy against you," he said. Oh, and Utah had won five consecutive games, fighting for a playoff spot. As such, the Nuggets' coach suggested that Wednesday's game would either be close in the fourth, or a blowout — in favor of the home team. So what happened? Well, let's put it this way — Timofey Mozgov played. The Nuggets blew out the Jazz in Utah, 113-96, thanks to stat sheet-stuffing games from numerous players. "It's not very often that this building is empty by the end of the game," Karl said. It was bananas. Danilo Gallinari scored a team-high 21 points, including a huge 3 in the fourth. Kenneth Faried had 19 points and eight rebounds. Kosta Koufos gobbled up 13 rebounds in 24 minutes. And even Evan Fournier, again, made major impacts as the backup point guard, and took advantage of garbage time, finishing with 18 points.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs guard Gary Neal could not recall the last time he played as many as 30 minutes, and no wonder. Until logging 31:28 against Orlando on Wednesday night at the AT&T Center, Neal hadn’t topped 30 minutes of court time since Dec. 15, in the 25th game of the season. “I can’t remember that far back,” Neal said, “but I think it must have been when Kawhi (Leonard) and Jack (Stephen Jackson) were injured.” Indeed, Leonard and Jackson were on the injured list when Neal scored 20 points in a win over Boston. A long run on the court Wednesday produced Neal’s highest point total since that Dec. 15 game. He scored 16 on 6-for-14 shooting, including 4 for 8 on 3-pointers. “I felt good on the court,” the third-year guard from Towson said. “It’s coming back. I’ve just got to keep grinding at it, keep working, keep getting shots up and fight to get the rhythm for the playoffs. “Our goal is the playoffs. That’s what we’re playing for and trying to prepare for. I’m trying to be sharp for the playoffs so I can do my job, which is space the floor and make shots.”

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Lionel Hollins made it clear Wednesday night before the Grizzles’ 94-76 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers that this end-of-season drive presents a different set of circumstances. The Griz began a three-game road trip trying to keep pace with the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers for the third seed in the Western Conference playoff standings. So when the subject of rest came up, Hollins said he’d play it by ear and limit minutes depending on the flow of the game. “I just want us to be playing well,” Hollins said. “Everybody is talking about the playoffs, but we still have (regular-season) games to play. We’re playing to win.” The Grizzlies’ starters certainly came out as if they wanted to dominate and then rest. Memphis (51-24) was never seriously challenged as the Grizzlies set a franchise record for wins in a season by earning their 51st victory. Memphis also guaranteed it would finish this season with the best overall winning percentage in franchise history, surpassing the .621 mark set in 2011-12. The Griz will finish this season with a winning percentage no worse than .622.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors have made a pact that everyone will grow beards until they clinch a playoff spot. No shaving. No trimming. "The worse it looks, the better it is for the team," David Lee said. From the looks of it, though, Andris Biedrins isn't on board. He looked cleanly shaven Wednesday. And the patch on rookie Harrison Barnes' chin looked well groomed. Jackson is even in on it. His shadow was turning into some rough real estate at practice, highlighted by some gray strands. But he had his facial mane neatened. There was talk about extended the beard pact through the playoffs. But Curry wasn't a fan of that idea. "This thing," he said at Wednesday's shootaround, scratching his grizzled neck. "I've already got lint all in it."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: The easy part for Brandon Bass always has been the scoring, and the Celtics forward didn’t disappoint with last night’s performance against the Pistons in a 98-93 win, scoring 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting. But defensive signal-caller is a new look, and sound, for him. “Hell, maybe the blessing is without Kevin (Garnett) we’ve removed the security blanket,” coach Doc Rivers said of the sudden need for Bass to expand his role. “And Brandon, he has to be the talker on defense now. “It’s great. He was upset at someone early in the game because they were in the wrong position, and I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really new. And that’s really nice.’ That’s good, so maybe it’s a blessing.” Bass acknowledged that in the Celts’ current injury vacuum, he has indeed experienced a growth spurt. “I’d rather play with Kevin being out there,” Bass said. “He’s like a big brother to my little brother. But when your big brother isn’t around, it’s time to step up and grow, basically. It gives me the opportunity to grow up and play the big brother role.”

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: Let the Adelman talk commence. Wednesday’s victory in Milwaukee gave the Wolves their first winning streak since Dec. 15 and gave coach Rick Adelman his 999th career NBA victory. Friday’s game with Toronto will be the first crack at 1,000, something many of the players in the locker room were talking about. “Everybody is thinking about it,” center Nikola Pekovic said. “And I know we’ll all be honored to be a part of that.” J.J. Barea said the prospects looked good for getting Adelman his 1,000th this season, something that couldn’t be said a few weeks ago. But the Wolves are starting to play very well. They won their third straight road game for the first time this season and have won five of their last eight overall.

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: The Charlotte Bobcats will be in the NBA draft lottery for the eighth time in nine years after this season. But after a fifth win in six home games has them within two victories of 20 on the season, there’s little doubt Charlotte will at least be taking more momentum into this offseason that last. Wednesday’s 88-83 victory over Philadelphia continued the Bobcats’ recent strong play while also diminishing the 76ers’ flickering playoff hopes. “We were able to prove again that we’re very interested in the outcome coming down the backstretch,” said Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap, whose 18-57 team has won five of its last nine games overall. “Our guys are playing together. It was particularly a good night for us in terms of the character of the group of guys playing. Even the guys that didn’t get a lot of minutes played great.” As has been the case lately though, guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson led the way.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: There are fewer things on a basketball court that can put a bigger smile on a coach who values defence the way Dwane Casey does than a thoroughly dominant defensive quarter. Turn that into a dominant defensive half and it’s that much better. For the first time in weeks (although it felt like quite a bit longer) the Raps enjoyed one of those halves on Wednesday night as they held Washington to just 28 points while piling up 49 of their own to put themselves in charge of a game they would go on to win 88-78. Casey has been tormented by the Raptors defensive retreat this season and has made re-establishing that defensive identity that they valued so much a year ago a priority over this final stretch of games.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: After spending most of the last two seasons in the heart of the battle, from the near move to Anaheim through the handshake deal to remain in Sacramento and finally the Seattle-Sacramento tug of war to be decided by the Board of Governors meeting April 18 and 19, Garcia can’t begin to handicap how the competition will end. On Wednesday, the groups vying for the Kings — Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen are seeking to buy them and move them to Seattle; Ron Burkle, Mark Mastrov and Vivek Ranadive are bidding to buy them and keep them in Sacramento — made the presentation to a Board of Governors sub-committee, which later will make its recommendation. Francisco Garcia could not help but feel empathy for the fans who supported the Kings so faithfully through much of his career. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “One guy is saying this; another guy is saying that. I don’t know. I’d be sad (if the Kings leave Sacramento). It’s such a great city. They’re great fans. They’ve been supporting the team for a long time. “It’s great. It’s a great city. I have nothing but good things to say about Sacramento. I had a great eight years there.” He did return in time to get his first look at the infamous visitors’ locker room, having heard so much about it. “I was never in there,” Garcia said. “It’s pretty bad. I heard about it, but I was never in there.”