First Cup: Tuesday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: It was an irrelevant game made even more meaningless by the horrific nightmare in Boston. How pointless was Game No. 81 of the Heat’s season? Juwan Howard was in the starting lineup for the first time since 2010. Howard is 40 years old. During several timeouts, the Cavaliers’ coaches didn’t talk strategy, and didn’t talk about anything at all. They simply watched the clock, looked around at the arena and waited for play to resume. The Heat rested six players, including all five of its usual starters: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh. Wade, Haslem and Shane Battier didn’t even travel to Cleveland. But, of course, the Heat still won Monday’s game. Because that’s what this team does. The Heat defeated the Cavaliers 96-95 on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Miami’s penultimate game of the regular season.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: A season filled with uncertainty will close with this dose of clarity: The Bulls won't know their first-round playoff opponent until Wednesday's season finale. That's because the Bulls defeated the hapless Magic 102-84 on Monday night as both Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson returned to test their recoveries from injury and coach Tom Thibodeau said it's "a possibility" both players will be on minutes limits at the start of the posteason. The victory pulled the Bulls to within a half-game of the Hawks for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks close Tuesday at home against the Raptors and Wednesday at the Knicks. If the Hawks split or lose their final two games and the Bulls defeat the Wizards at home Wednesday, they will claim the fifth seed and open the playoffs in Brooklyn. Similarly, if the Hawks lose both games and the Bulls lose on Wednesday, they will earn the fifth seed via a tiebreaker. If the Hawks win out, the Bulls will open at Indiana regardless of what they do Wednesday. Similarly, if the Hawks split their final two games and the Bulls lose Wednesday, the Bulls draw the Pacers. Even more important than the opponent is the Bulls' health.

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: With 14.2 seconds to go and down one at Milwaukee, a game the Nuggets had to have to lock up a top four spot in the Western Conference, Ty Lawson surveyed the court and lofted the ball to Wilson Chandler. Chandler handed the ball backoff to Lawson who drove the lane, crossed over the defender, Monta Ellis, rose up and hit a shot that was arguably the most important jumper any Nugget has hit in the last three weeks. Lawson is back. His heel is not all the way healed, but that shot suggested his game is. Coach George Karl orchestrated that moment; all Lawson had to do was deliver. The play was designed to make a hoop hero out of his point guard and Lawson put the cape on and assumed the role. The degree of difficulty won’t go down as calculus level stuff. It was a 10-ish-foot jumper. But Lawson’s speed and quickness, which was in full display on the play, got him free for an open look. And in the process wiped away – or should have – any of the doubt about what he is and can be in the playoffs.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: That little “w” next to Oklahoma City on the standings page of NBA.com? It stands for clinched Western Conference. That’s what the Thunder did tonight in taking care of the Sacramento Kings. And now, for the first time in the franchise’s Oklahoma City era, the Thunder will have home-court advantage through the Western Conference Finals should the team advance that far. “It’s possible we’ll need it in a series, in every series,” said Nick Collison. “So it’s big.” Not only did the Thunder clinch the top spot in the conference, but OKC also won for the 60th time this season, marking the first 60-win season in Oklahoma City’s brief basketball history. “It’s shows that we’re improving every year,” said Thabo Sefolosha. “It’s a big number. There’s not a lot of teams that can do it, and to be part of that group and just to get to that number is big.” With a win in the season finale Wednesday against Milwaukee, the Thunder can finish with a .744 winning percentage. Win or lose, though, the Thunder will have increased its winning percentage in each of its first five seasons, from .280 in 2008-09, to .610 in 2009-10, to .671 in 2010-11, to .712 last year. Even with a loss Wednesday, the Thunder would finish with a .732 winning percentage.

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: The Jazz will be able to say they took the race for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot down to the final night of the season. Sorry, but that’s more of an indictment than an achievement. Thanks to Monday’s 96-80 victory at Minnesota, the Jazz will play Wednesday at Memphis, knowing they need to win and have the Los Angeles Lakers lose to Houston. Judging by the Lakers’ recent performance, including Sunday’s win over San Antonio without the injured Kobe Bryant, such assistance is asking a lot of the Rockets. When the Lakers’ Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks are combining for five 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter against San Antonio, there could be only one conclusion: The Jazz are cursed, right? No. You can blame an NBA conspiracy, the Lakers’ opponents or just plain bad luck for everything that’s transpired in April in damaging the Jazz’s playoff chances. Ultimately, this problem is their own creation.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: After couple years of having his fitness criticized while playing with the Wizards – and logging an infamous DNP-Conditioning last season – Andray Blatche was lauded for getting himself into shape during the summer before signing his one-year deal with the Nets. But the backup center was called out Monday by coach PJ Carlesimo for his conditioning, following a game when Blatche played 37 minutes and looked winded. “Dray was the only one I felt bad about (playing a lot of minutes). And frankly, he needs conditioning,” Carlesimo said “So I thought it was okay. He needs some conditioning and he obviously wants to play against (the Wizards) because he played there. … We thought Dray was going good and the conditioning is good for him.” This is less of an issue considering Blatche won’t play so much in the playoffs. But the 26-year-old admitted he wasn’t ready for the heavy minutes he got because most of the starters rested Monday. “It’s surprising when you play 37 minutes compared to playing 12,” he said. “It did catch me off guard. When you play 12 minutes, and then you go out there for 37 minutes, it caught me a little bit.”

  • John Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The 76ers continue to ward of questions concerning the impending end of Doug Collins’ coaching career in the Philadelphia later this week. Moments before Collins conducted his pre-game press conference prior to a meaningless game here against the Detroit Pistons, team director of public relations Michael Preston announced that Collins would not answer any questions regarding multiple reports in the last week that Collins will not coach the team next season. Collins has one year at $4.5 million left on his contract and he will not ask for an extension. The players have heard the rumors, however, and they are willing to talk about it. “It’s Doug’s decision from what I understand, and whatever he decides to do more power to him,” forward Evan Turner said. “I haven’t spoken on it with him.” “It is definitely the business of basketball,” forward Thaddeus Young said. “We have heard the rumors because they have been out there for months in some cases. But when I say it’s about the business of basketball, I mean, I don’t’ think there are too many teams that have that structure where they keep coaches for more than four of five years.”

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: Lawrence Frank looks like a boxer after a brutal 12-round heavyweight championship bout. He's a little battered and bruised. And, he won't admit defeat. Before the Pistons won their fourth consecutive Monday night, 109-101 over the 76ers, Frank sounded like he wants this fight to continue. He wants to go another round, another season. Rumors, however, say Frank's fight is over. That he'll be fired after the season ends Wednesday. Pistons owner Tom Gores did nothing to dispel those rumors when he gave Frank and team president Joe Dumars less than a ringing endorsement. "I expected to be in the playoffs so I am disappointed by that," Gores said. "When I said that last year, I meant it." Frank, meanwhile, is preparing for the regular-season finale at Brooklyn. … Pistons president Joe Dumars could be facing the end of his tenure, too. My guess is Dumars stays because, over the course of the year, he created the cap space for the team and drafted Andre Drummond, the franchise piece this team can build around. But this is Dumars' last dance. If he does not return the franchise to the playoffs he should be gone.

  • Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News: Joe Dumars' job also could be in jeopardy, and his situation is more complicated, the biggest test of Gores' two-year ownership. If judged solely on the current four-year stretch that includes a 111-200 record, multiple coach firings and one infamous player insurrection, Dumars should be dismissed. On the whole of his executive career, including the 2004 NBA championship and six trips to the Eastern Conference Final, he warrants another shot. But someone has to explain the losing and the fan apathy and the inability of anyone to firmly lead a once-proud franchise. Eventually, Gores will have to do something impactful, as he promised when he bought the team. If Frank was the owner's choice — not Dumars' choice — then Gores needs to admit his mistake and fire him. It's hard to trust Dumars to hire yet another coach, but Gores has to show complete faith, or get rid of both.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors played only about 4 1/2 minutes of playoff-caliber basketball Monday night, but that was enough to beat San Antonio's junior-varsity squad and move back into sole possession of sixth place in the Western Conference. Stephen Curry scored 11 of his 35 points during an electric 4 1/2-minute stretch in which the Warriors put away the Spurs for a 116-106 victory that had Oracle Arena's 32nd consecutive sellout crowd chanting his name during offensive possessions. Curry hit 7 of 13 three-point tries in the game. "He put on an incredible shooting clinic," Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. "I don't know who is in second place for the best shooter in the world, but he certainly has first place locked up." … Curry had 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists and is a three-pointer shy of tying the NBA's single-season record (269), set by Seattle's Ray Allen in 2005-06.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Chances are that most athletes did not even know Monday was the filing deadline for income taxes. Chances are that they did know how much they are targeted for taxes all year. For all of a pro athlete’s riches, an exorbitant tax withholding is a small price to pay to live the good life of playing games they love for money beyond dreams. But it can still be an alarming line on the check to see when an athlete gets taxed by states and cities for road games. “It was crazy. I was barely there and I was taxed $6,000 or $7,000,” Suns swingman Jared Dudley said of an Oklahoma City trip. Forty-one of 50 states and 5,000 local municipalities have laws allowing them to collect taxes on visitors, according to the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan tax research group. That includes 20 of the 24 states that have pro teams. A Suns game in cities like Philadelphia and Cleveland will get the players taxed by the city and the state. “Jock taxes” have become an effective way for governments to generate revenue without taxing their local constituents, much like how Arizona’s rental car tax helped build University of Phoenix Stadium. The genesis was a 1991 Illinois law that was a reaction to the Chicago Bulls being taxed for their road games in the 1991 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Joseph Henchman, the Tax Foundation’s vice president for legal and state projects, said any traveling business is increasingly subject to such tax targets, but athletes and celebrities became the easiest aims with accessible schedules.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If the Charlotte Bobcats ask the NBA for a name change, it would be at least 18 months before such a request was implemented. NBA commissioner-to-be Adam Silver met with the Observer and other print media outlets Monday during a visit to Charlotte. Much of his 20-minute interview addressed the possibility the Bobcats might switch their nickname to “Hornets” now that the New Orleans Hornets are switching to “Pelicans.” The Bobcats have done some market research but have yet to make a request with the NBA. Silver said he is fine with whatever the Bobcats decide, but that the team’s deliberate approach is the right course. Silver said this would be a “very expensive process for the team,” so it’s “a weighty process, not just what ‘X’ amount of fans say in an opinion poll.” Rather, it’s about whether a rebranding would be lucrative enough to justify spending millions on new uniforms, logos and signage.