First Cup: Thursday

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: So you think Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel had a difficult time getting over taking Roy Hibbert out in the third quarter of Game 2 against the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals? What he did in Game 1 — with Hibbert again — against the Miami Heat should have caused him to toss and turn in his hotel bed, pace the floor in his room and look at himself in the mirror most of the night. Vogel put Hibbert on the bench in the final seconds of overtime. But wait, it gets better. The coach did it twice. And both times the Heat, well LeBron James, scored. The last one cost the Pacers the opportunity to take the first game of the Eastern Conference finals.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: This was the game the Pacers had to have, nearly had, should have had. They controlled the tempo. They held the edge on the boards. They turned Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat into an MMA muscle-fest, replete with bloody noses, harsh words, knees to the nether regions and flying elbows ... And still lost. They had it where they wanted it, how they wanted it, slow and methodical and punishing. They limited Dwyane Wade, kept Chris Bosh under control, led by a point with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime ... And still lost. Miami 103, Indiana 102. In overtime. On a LeBron James drive and layup at the buzzer. This one hurts. “This one really hurts,” Paul George said later. Because it was right there. Because the Pacers let it get away, and they let it get away in part because of a curious coaching move, one that was more curious than Vogel’s ill-considered timeout in the Knicks series. … After the game, Vogel looked shell-shocked. “We’ve got to play better,” he said. “... You have to play a near-perfect game to beat this team. We played a very good basketball game, but we have to play better.” They need to coach better, too.

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: This is how this night went: Punch. Counter-punch. Heat take a small, second-half lead. Indiana battles right back. Indiana goes ahead. The Heat fight their way back. One lesson learned is if you give Indiana any room, any room at all, you will pay. RayAllen, the Heat's best foul shooter, stood at the line with just over 17 seconds left in regulation and a chance to seal the game. In the previous seconds, Wade ran down the lane to break the tie and Indiana's George threw the ball out of bounds. So here was Allen, ready to seal the game. He put up the first free throw and … Missed? He missed. … Remember, Wednesday night was supposed to be the start, the actual start, of the Heat's playoff push, too. Their first-round opponent, Milwaukee, was the weakest team in the field. Last round, Chicago could barely field a team it was so hurt. Indiana has enough pieces to be dangerous, if allowed. But if the Heat are who most of us think they are — "We're a great team," LeBron said a few days ago — then Indiana can provide some tense nights without a dramatic series. All you know is the Heat won an unwinnable game this first meeting. LeBron took the ball to the basket and a night that would have sat ugly for the Heat has them up 1-0. On to Game 2 we go.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Tony Parker’s three-day layoff between Games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference finals will include a precautionary MRI on Thursday to track the progress of his bruised left calf. Parker was initially injured 12 days ago in Game 3 of the conference semifinal series against Golden State, resulting in what he described as “by far” the biggest bruise he’s ever had. “The calf is doing better,” he said. “Doing the MRI…just to make sure. It definitely limited me in the limit me in the last (three) games against Golden State and those two games (against Memphis). “But slowly and surely I’m turning the corner. Those three days arrive at a perfect time for me, so I’m definitely going to use them wisely. I’ll be ready to go on Saturday.” Parker is averaging 18 points in five games since the injury, alternating two strong shooting performances (9 for 16 and 9 for 14) around three poor ones (6 for 17, 3 for 16, 6 for 20).

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: An ESPN report said Howard devoted part of a separate meeting with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak following his formal exit interview three weeks ago to lament how Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni made him feel "marginalized." Kupchak said that didn't happen. "Criticism of a coach did not come up," Kupchak said Wednesday in a phone interview. "Our coach did not come up." … Kupchak won't have clarity on Howard's future anytime soon. A source familiar with Howard's thinking says he plans to test free agency and has considered the Lakers, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Golden State. Nothing remains binding, though. The source added Howard's main concern involves "what team he feels has the best chance to win championships, has the best team and system around him." The source also stressed Howard has not and will not ask the Lakers to make any moves on his behalf. Kupchak acknowledged the team has made unspecified contingency plans in case Howard leaves. Either way, Howard can't officially re-sign until July 10 when a moratorium on NBA business is lifted.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers have begun their search for a new coach to replace Vinny Del Negro, with the hope that they can find someone who is capable of molding the team into a championship contender. But it will not be an easy task to find someone of that stature. Currently, there are only four active NBA coaches who have won an NBA championship — San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, Boston's Doc Rivers, Dallas' Rick Carlisle and Miami's Eric Spoelstra. Not only that, but only nine coaches have won an NBA championship dating back to 1987. Of course, Phil Jackson has 11 of those NBA rings, Popovich four and Pat Riley three during that span. That's how difficult it is to win an NBA championship. It will be up to the Clippers' front office to compile a list of potential coaching candidates, vet them, narrow the list down and then give the names to owner Donald Sterling.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Nerlens Noel is ranked No. 1 on most teams' draft boards. He's 6-foot-11 3/4, 206 pounds and is long. He has a 7-3 3/4 wingspan and a 9-2 standing reach. One can see why he led the NCAA in blocked shots at 4.4 per game. The Cavs were the only team in the NBA last year that didn't have a player average at least 1.0 block per game. Center Tyler Zeller was the team leader at 0.91 per game. Noel could be added to Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson to form a decent group of post defenders. Noel wouldn't be a starter, at least early on, but could be an energy player off the bench. There are drawbacks. First of all, he tore his ACL on Feb. 12. He said he's been told he could return to the court in December, but even that could be pushing it. … His weight of 206 pounds is slight for a shooting guard, much less a post player. Twenty-five pounds would need to be added once he comes to the NBA. Can he hold his spot on defense? Not at 206 pounds. Offensively, there's not much there. He can dunk and run the floor. Teams view him as a blank slate. Many believe he can be taught to shoot and score around the basket. For what it's worth, Gilbert and Grant both say the Cavs are not leaning toward anyone with the No. 1 pick.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Because of their clear intentions of making a huge run at Dwight Howard, the Mavericks will have to consider all options when it comes to assets on their roster. That includes the possibility of trading their draft pick to save the roughly $1.7 million that the pick counts against the salary cap. Doesn’t mean they will trade it. But they have to clear a few more million to make sure that they can offer Howard the maximum contract allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. It would be painful to give up the pick, but there’s a way the Mavericks could do it with a minimal amount of hurt. They owe the Oklahoma City Thunder a first-round pick before 2018. That pick is protected through the first 20 picks of the draft. But if the Mavericks don’t convey it by 2017, the Thunder gets the pick no matter when it is in the 2018 draft. The Mavericks are drafting 13th this year, which means it won’t go to OKC. But what if they went to the Thunder and said, we’ll give you that pick to complete the roundabout set of trades that ended up giving Oklahoma City the Mavericks’ pick (it went through the Lakers and Rockets). The Mavericks could get back a future second rounder and maybe a spare part off the OKC roster like the expiring contract of Ronnie Brewer. What comes back in return isn’t important. The key is the Mavericks would have satisfied that trade requirement by shipping the pick to OKC, wouldn’t be taking back any salary for this season and therefore would clear a nice hunk of cash to apply toward Howard’s salary.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: And on a warm Wednesday afternoon, the second day of rebuilding, the people within this Westmoore subdivision of Moore welcomed a much-needed symbol of hope. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. One day after donating his money, Durant traveled back to Oklahoma to give his time. He did anything and everything he could to bring a smile to as many faces as possible. He shook hands and gave hugs. He posed for pictures and signed autographs. Not once did Durant turn down a request, graciously scribbling his signature on anything he was handed. A pair of shoes. A hat. A Thunder mug. A team program. “I just feel for these families, man,” Durant said. “They don't have a home. All their things are gone. I'm just lost for words, to be honest.” … After giving $1 million to relief efforts, Durant, in that moment, turned and walked away as if he wanted to give $1 million more. His generosity, however, had served its purpose. “What he immediately said to everyone around him is ‘We got to do something,'” said Emmanuel Bailey, president of the Kevin Durant Family Foundation. “And so he, on his own, decided that he wanted to give $1 million. And, really, that was designed to motivate others to give. I think we're up to about $7.5 million now as a result of Mr. Durant's gift.” Durant said giving his time was a direct reflection of how the Thunder is a part of the community.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Amar'e Stoudemire’s agent said the veteran forward is unhappy with the way the season ended for him and the Knicks, but that Stoudemire believes he’ll play a bigger role next year. “You know Amar’e, he’s going to work as hard as he can during the offseason,” said Happy Walters, Stoudemire’s agent. “It was a tough year, but Amar’e is already looking forward to next season. He’ll be ready.” Woodson would not commit to making Stoudemire a starter next season. Carmelo Anthony’s best position is power forward and he finished third in the MVP race playing Stoudemire’s natural position. The Knicks shopped Stoudemire last summer and will likely try to do it again. But with two years remaining on his contract, Stoudemire may be the toughest Knick to trade.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The Knicks’ 1-2 scoring tandem was truly hurting in the ill-fated Pacers series. Not only did Carmelo Anthony play with what an MRI exam Wednesday revealed was a partial tear in his left shoulder, but The Post has learned J.R. Smith’s nightmarish playoff performance was partly because of a swollen left knee that contained fluid buildup. According to a league source, Smith likely will have his knee drained of the fluid in the next two weeks — the same procedure Anthony underwent in March. So Smith’s struggles weren’t only about his sharp elbow in the Celtics series, alleged hangover and viral infection. Meanwhile, Anthony’s MRI exam showed he had played in the playoffs with a small, partial tear in his shoulder, but the Knicks don’t expect him to need surgery, according to a league source. Anthony has been prescribed rest and physical therapy for a month to allow the shoulder to heal. Had the shoulder sustained a full labrum tear, surgery would have been required. Now it’s unlikely.

  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Enes Kanter's recovery from April shoulder surgery is ahead of schedule, his agent said Wednesday, but the Utah Jazz center may not be cleared to play until August. That means Kanter will not participate in the Orlando Summer League July 7 through 12, although Kanter's agent, Max Ergul, said it was unlikely the Turkish big man would have played that week even if healthy. The second-year center underwent surgery on April 10 to repair a tear resulting from a dislocated left shoulder suffered against Phoenix two weeks earlier. Kanter, who turned 21 on Monday, is in his native Turkey this week visiting family, Ergul said.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Wizards initially stated that he would be out for at least six weeks, but Beal is anxious to have another update in the next week or two, so that he can get back to doing what he loves most. He had his last X-ray almost a month ago, “so I’m probably due for a checkup real soon. I feel no pain, but the [stress reaction] is still there.” “It’s always frustration,” Beal said of being out. “But at the same time, I have to stay positive, make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. Making sure I’m able to take care of myself and just stay on top of it. Basically just being patient and when I get out there, I’ll get out there.” Beal has been spending his time mostly in St. Louis, relaxing and hanging out with family and friends. He stays fit by lifting with a personal trainer, riding a bike and swimming, and continues to maintain his shooting form by tossing up standstill free throws. “I’ll be hard-headed and shoot threes, but I still don’t jump,” Beal said. “Either my mom’s school or my school. I pretty much have access to any gym in St. Louis. They welcome me with open arms.”

  • Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe: James Pallotta, president of the soccer team AS Roma and a minority owner of the Celtics, presented a Celtics jersey to Pope Francis at the Vatican Wednesday. Pallotta was there to represent Roma in the Coppa Italia, a match pitting the team against city rival Lazio. The Pope was given Roma gear but also a Celtics jersey with the No. 1 and "The Pope" written on the back. Can banner No. 18 be far behind?

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: It doesn't appear the Pistons will wait on the Eastern Conference finals to finish to formally interview anyone else, although talking to candidates by phone shouldn't be ruled out. "That's not all we've talked to, those are the names you've gotten," said Dumars, before adding, "We've talked to a lot of people. I'm waiting on you to get the names out there." One intriguing name where there could've been mutual interest was current Hawks coach Larry Drew, with "current" being a day-to-day term, considering he's a coach in name only. The Pistons were impressed with how Drew took a team with nine expiring contracts to the playoffs, factoring in guard Lou Williams' season-ending injury and Josh Smith's impending free agency not affecting how the team performed. Drew's contract expires at the end of June, but Hawks management hasn't approached him about an extension and is talking to other teams. Drew doesn't have the luxury of reaching out to the Pistons and they would need permission from the Hawks to interview him, a different proposition than interviewing a team's assistant coach.

  • Ryan Lillis and Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: Thousands of Kings fans - plus a few former team legends and the core of the franchise's new ownership group - are expected to converge on downtown's Cesar Chavez Plaza Thursday afternoon for a rally celebrating the team's future in Sacramento. The rally will build off a big week for Kings fans. Team officials said Wednesday that their sales staff sold more season tickets on Tuesday than on any other day in Sacramento team history, other than day one, nearly 30 years ago. … The Kings also announced that seven members of the new ownership group - including managing partner Vivek Ranadive - are scheduled to attend the free Long Live the Kings Rally, which runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Ranadive will be joined at the rally by partners Paul Jacobs, Raj Bhathal, Mark Mastrov, Mark Friedman, Andrew Miller and Chris Kelly. Kings legends Mitch Richmond and Chris Webber will attend, along with current Kings Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas. Former players Scot Pollard and Bobby Jackson are also slated to be there.