First Cup: Friday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Heat forward LeBron James finished second this week in voting for defensive player of the year, and he wasn’t happy about not winning. “It sucks,” said James, who never has won the award although he has been MVP three times. “It sucks. It sucks.” Memphis center Marc Gasol received the trophy after finishing 14 first-place votes ahead of James … James was asked if his strong candidacy for other awards — notably the MVP — hurt his chances. “I don’t know,” he said. “It definitely sucks, though. Finishing second? Who wants to finish second?” The advanced statistics show that James was slightly more dominant defensively last season. Does James believe he did his best work this season? “Probably,” James said. “I mean, I guard everybody on the floor. I don’t know if there’s one player in NBA history who’s guarded one through five (positions).”

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, who are perceived as the team’s best players, were throwing up brick after brick in games not to remember. Ellis, who can opt out of his contract after the season and is hoping to hit the jackpot as an unrestricted free agent, misfired on seven of his nine field-goal attempts. Jennings, who also hopes to pad his bank account this summer as a restricted free agent, was equally inept. He made a mere five shots in 15 attempts. For the series, Jennings has connected on 16 of 50 shots – a putrid 32 percent. This isn’t what Jennings had envisioned for himself or his team. If you recall, it was Jennings who, several weeks ago, brazenly said he wanted to take on the Heat in the playoffs. Jennings said he liked how the Bucks matched up. Then, just days before the commencement of the playoffs, Jennings did a Muhammad Ali impersonation and, brazenly again, predicted the Bucks would shock the world and win this series in six games. Jennings and Co. will be incredibly lucky to stretch this series to six games, which it most assuredly won’t. Jennings isn’t the sole reason the Bucks are in such a serious quandary. There are plenty of culprits. Ellis, for instance, managed seven points in Game 3, well under his team-leading 19.2 point regular-season production. … “I know my head is still high,” Jennings said. “I’m going to play until the buzzer is over. This team has to stay together.” For, in all likelihood, one more game.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Decades from now, when Tom Thibodeau's coaching legacy has been fully written, a Chicago fan may stumble across the box score from the Bulls' 79-76 victory over the Nets and smile knowingly, a nod to Thibodeau's reputation as a defensive tactician. A young fan in Brooklyn might peruse the same sheet and, much more simply, scream, "Man, the Nets stink!" The truth, at least on Thursday night at the United Center, existed in both schools of thought. The present reality — for fans of both teams everywhere — is the Bulls grabbed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series after a shockingly inept first-half stretch from the Nets that negated their late rally and the Bulls' almost equally shocking collapse. After a strong start, the Nets somehow missed 25 of 26 first-half shots and scored four points in 13 minutes, 45 seconds bridging the first and second quarters. Still, the Nets whittled a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit to a one-possession game and lost only when C.J. Watson's open look at a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer missed everything under a late contest by Joakim Noah. "We did what we had to do," Carlos Boozer said. "In the playoffs, you have to win in different ways. Nothing is perfect."

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Even after the Nets’ shooting went cold, they had a chance to reverse the course of a rough week and salvage another brickfest. But like most everything the Nets hoisted up Saturday, the shot from C. J. Watson was off. Waaaay off. “Did I think it was good? No,” Watson said. “It felt good. I got a good look.” Watson’s air ball at the buzzer of a 79-76 defeat to the Bulls wasn’t the problem. After the Nets shot 35% – missing 25 of 26 during a stretch in the first and second quarters – they were lucky to be sniffing Chicago. But Watson’s potential game-tying shot off a broken inbounds play sealed Brooklyn’s current reality: the most expensive roster in franchise history is trailing the series 2-1, closer to getting bounced in the first round. “We got to win on Saturday (Game 4),” Deron Williams said. “That’s it. We’re very desperate. That’s the perfect word. We need to play with some desperation.”

  • Ron Higgins of The Commercial-Appeal: During the individual pregame warmups, Zach Randolph was the last of the Grizzlies to leave the floor. He stayed extra long, working on his post moves, flipping in shots from both sides of the basket. Then, he went out and did it to the Clippers. The veteran forward had a turn-back-the-clock performance, going for 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Griz to a 94-82 game 3 victory in a first-round Western Conference series. The win cut the Clips series lead to 2-1 with game 4 set Saturday afternoon in FedExForum. … Randolph n his night: “Most definitely I wanted to come out and start aggressively. I wanted to be quick, hit my first few shots and stay aggressive. You know they double-teamed me, triple-teamed me, so just go fast.” On the wrestling with Blake Griffin: “It’s a physical game out there. Rough play is part of the game. You take it how it comes.”

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: If you want to insist on remaining positive, this game proved only one thing: The value of the home-court advantage. And the Clippers still have it. OK, so maybe it also demonstrated what a difference former Clipper Zach Randolph can make when he's aggressive and free of early foul trouble. Randolph scored 27 points and had 11 rebounds, while his wrestling mate Blake Griffin had 16 points but only two rebounds. "It was probably my fault," said Chris Paul when asked what went wrong. And no reason to argue. He had eight points but also five turnovers, and the other Clippers followed his lead. "I think [the Grizzlies] played desperate," said Chauncey Billups, after the announcement that for their own security, all players must take the bus to the hotel, which is located across the street from the arena. "Their season was on the line tonight, and it took us too long to adjust to that physicality," Billups said. "It's time for us to show a little urgency." Amen. And does he understand a loss Saturday means the Clippers will definitely have to return to this crime-infested city? "We do understand that," said Billups. And I sure wish I could walk faster.

  • Jim Baumbach of Newsday: No matter how appealing a scenario it was, the Knicks tried hard Thursday to avoid the temptation of envisioning themselves going up to Boston, winning twice and sweeping the Celtics. That, they insisted, is too far down the line to be thinking about right now. Instead, the Knicks insisted their focus is only on Game 3 Friday night, and with good reason. With this best-of-seven first-round series moving 200 miles north up I-95, the Knicks expect to be greeted by a more determined Celtics team in front of one of the NBA's more raucous crowds. At Celtics practice Thursday, Paul Pierce described the Celtics as "a desperate team now," which is exactly what the Knicks said they are preparing for after taking the first two games in New York. "I expect a team that's going to fight, make some adjustments," Carmelo Anthony said after practice. "They're home, so a lot is going to go into that emotionally, physically. We have to be prepared for whatever they're going to throw at us and just build off these last two games." Anthony said he would be "super-duper-happy-excited" if the Knicks won two and completed the sweep in Boston but stressed the importance of not looking too far ahead.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The goal Friday at TD Garden is to simply win Game 3, to inject a hint of doubt and insecurity into the minds of the New York Knicks, who have played two rather average games yet walked away with resounding victories. While Celtics coach Doc Rivers has lauded the composition of his team, even after the season-ending injury to Rajon Rondo, eventually he understood that it was flawed, and the cracks from lacking a floor leader are evident. Using Paul Pierce as a point forward not only leads him into more unforced errors because he is playing out of position, it hinders his ability to defend and post up when he is trying to start the offense. Rondo’s value has increased exponentially over the past few weeks, as the Celtics have realized through trial and error that Avery Bradley is not a true point guard; that issue should be put to rest for coming seasons. The impressive contributions from New York’s Raymond Felton in this series only emphasize the Celtics’ weakness at point guard and how Rondo’s absence has forced several players to adjust their roles.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: The sweet myth perpetuated by the Nuggets is they have no stars. So Iguodala got a ticket to the Summer Olympics as a member of Team USA by being the ninth caller of a radio contest? His salary of $14.7 million ranks among the top 25 in the NBA. Imagine the griping and moaning if the highest-paid player on the roster of a Nuggets team stumbling out the postseason gate were Carmelo Anthony, rather than Iguodala. This much is certain: If Josh Kroenke learned anything about the basketball business from his father, Stan, it's that it makes zero financial sense to pay a premium price for a team unable to do damage in the NBA playoffs. Facing a little adversity against Golden State hardly qualifies as a hardwood crisis for the Nuggets. But now we will find out if Iguodala is a money player. If he is not, then you can bet Iguodala will be making his money somewhere else in the league, if he truly believes his worth is anywhere near $15 million per year. Beat the Warriors, Mr. Iguodala. Or be thinking of the next NBA city you might want to call home. No pressure.

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Stephen Curry is still on the big seesaw, even now at this most important and exasperating moment of his career. Happy, then hurt, great and then gimpy. Game 2 glory in Denver to tie the series 1-1 and then ... A left ankle sprain that kept Curry out of practice on Thursday and put his status in some doubt for Friday's Game 3 at Oracle Arena. … He said he couldn't have played if the game was Thursday, but Curry added that the team's careful approach to his ankle injuries in the last few regular seasons leaves more options open to get healthy quick now. That includes maybe (for the first time) taking a painkilling shot or two. Curry's right ankle is the one that has required multiple surgeries; he has rolled his left one, but never has needed surgery for it. "Just trying to manage the swelling and hopefully get it right by (Friday) night," Curry said. Still, after twisting the ankle during his 30-point outburst in Game 2, returning to action, and then suffering from a lot of swelling afterward, there's no way to know if Curry can be close to his usual self any time soon. The greatest players, though, figure out how to get through something like this when everything revolves around them. And the Warriors' playoff hopes absolutely revolve around Curry. And now, his recovery.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: The most underrated factor in a 58-win Spurs season that surprised many was their 79.1 percent free-throw shooting, most accurate of the Gregg Popovich era. Through the first two games, their success at the line has continued: 31 of 39 foul shots (79.5 percent). Meanwhile, the Lakers have made only 25 of 37 (67.6), and Popovich hasn’t yet gone to full Hack-A-Howard. One of the league’s worst foul shooters, Howard has gone to the line only 12 times, making only six of those. Making free throws is a bigger deal on the road than at home. If the Spurs want to take that unbeatable 3-0 lead, they must to their part to keep the foul line differential going.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The Lakers have tried nearly every tactic in overcoming how the Spurs have defended Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. They've force-fed the ball inside. That led to turnovers. The Lakers have taken outside shots. Many have fallen short. They've kept passing the ball in hopes of throwing the Spurs off-balance. That just wasted the shot clock. So with the Lakers entering today's Game 3 of their first-round series against San Antonio nursing a 0-2 deficit, Howard has tried another strategy. The Lakers center openly accused the Spurs, namely Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, of flopping when he was called for two offensive fouls in the Lakers' Game 2 loss Wednesday in San Antonio. "I got a lot of my fouls on the offensive end just posting up," Howard said. "I thought the flopping rule was going to be put in this year. But I guess that's up for next season." The NBA announced harsher penalties during the postseason for repeat offenders, including a possible suspension after the fifth transgression.