First Cup: Friday

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: It took some time, 4½ games to be exact, but the Indiana Pacers got LeBron James’ attention. They started to get it before the series, on a misquote from Pacers coach Frank Vogel that upset James for reasons we can’t begin to fathom. But they really got it in Game 4, when Lance Stephenson started feeling his oats and talked junk to The King — shaddup, Lance — when James fouled out, got fined for flopping and generally had a lousy evening in every conceivable way. Then came the third quarter of Game 5 of this Eastern Conference finals series, the Heat’s season on the line — shoot, the Heat’s not-one, not-two, not-three legacy on the line. And the best basketball player in the world decided it was time to be the best basketball player in the world, leading the Heat to a 30-13 Game 5-changing third quarter. And there was nothing the Pacers could do about it. Nothing. Just watch in wonderment and regret. Miami 90, Indiana 79. All LeBron, all the time.

  • Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald: On Thursday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Heat finally decided to take the basketball to the basket and in so doing took it to the Pacers in an intense 90-79 victory that sends the series back to Indianapolis with Miami ahead 3-2 in games in the best-of-7 series. Miami can secure its place in the NBA Finals if it again plays true to its trademark style. That is, LeBron James spinning around George Hill and banking a point-blank shot. That is, Dwyane Wade using the baseline as a springboard for a reverse layup. That is, James accelerating, magnetizing defenders and dishing to Udonis Haslem for a jumper from the corner. Miami can chop down the Pacers and prepare for San Antonio by harassing Hibbert into turnovers and timeouts and trapping West into dead ends. Or, Miami can drag this thing to a seventh game by allowing Hibbert to continue blooming into the next Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Miami can cause another wave of panic among its fans if it permits Indiana to impose its half-court will. If Miami pushes the tempo, the Pacers bend like palm trees in a gust. If Miami stays in attack mode, the Pacers don’t stand a chance. … Miami doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to play its game with fierce devotion. It’s not complicated: Attack the basket like it’s a championship trophy. “That’s what I came here for,” James said. “We have to go out and take it.”

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: As far as we know, Tim Duncan is not a Buddhist. But he practices many its most treasured principles — emotional equilibrium, selflessness, focusing on the moment at hand. Which is why he refuses to look back while the Spurs, set to compete for their fifth title, are still moving forward. “I don’t compare teams,” Duncan said Thursday when asked how this run ranks with the previous four. “I’ll figure it out if we’re blessed to win the championship. As of right now, we’re…right where we want to be, and we want to get four more wins.” Still, Duncan could not avoid reflection on both past and future when the assembled media horde questioned him about the reshaping of his body in recent years, and the impact it’s had on revitalizing a career that is now down to its final seasons. Thanks largely to his stone-faced demeanor, Duncan isn’t often characterized as being passionate or particularly competitive — something his head coach takes issue with. “Anybody who doesn’t credit him that way,” Gregg Popovich said, “is probably an idiot.” It was precisely those qualities, however, that motivated Duncan — with more than $200 million in career earnings, and a resume that ranks among the gaudiest in NBA history — to fight the effects of age rather than ride off into retirement. “The last couple of years, my game has declined and changed,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to let it go. I wanted to play as well as I can, as long as I can.” Duncan has spent the past two offseasons whittling his already slim frame down to 235 pounds, roughly 25 less than his highest playing weight. The lighter load afforded effective treatment on his balky right knee, which in turn let Duncan return to his customary place among the league’s elite.

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: With his purchase of the Kings expected to close today by 5 p.m., majority owner Vivek Ranadive will move quickly to announce Mike Malone as head coach but will take a more deliberate, methodical approach in selecting a general manager. Historically, this would be a major no-no. Incoming general managers want to choose their coaches and staffs, to ensure that philosophies are similar and shared, personalities mesh and the potential for a compatible working relationship exists. But around here, conventional thinking went the way of the Sonics; Ranadive already sprung one major surprise when he rescued the Kings. … The interest level of other candidates – including former Indiana Pacers general manager Larry Bird – is being explored. And while it might not be a deal breaker, there is some concern within the new ownership group that hiring too many Golden State types would cultivate the perception of the Kings as Warriors Lite. Regardless, Geoff Petrie's successor needs to be a pretty quick study. The prototype is someone who can recognize and overcome the limitations of a small market, understands the importance of having a strong presence within the community – crucial in a one-team town – and is willing to gut the roster long before groundbreaking ceremonies at the new arena site.

  • Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: But chances are a decision is still at least a couple of days away, and the timing may stretch into the early part of next week, at which point the Raptors would be expected to push hard for some finality, one way or the other. In the meantime there has been no urgency on either side, with all three parties — the Raptors, Nuggets and Ujiri — accepting a slower timeline. According to NBA sources contacted by Sportsnet, the Denver Nuggets executive met with Denver president Josh Kroenke on Wednesday and is weighing a lucrative offer from Toronto … But the meeting on Wednesday was just one step along the path that very well could end up with the Raptors landing a respected former employee and the NBA’s reigning Executive of the Year to anchor a new-look basketball operation. It was an important step, but not the last one. Ujiri met with incoming MLSE president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke in Denver on Friday where the Nigerian-born executive was offered the job with the Raptors opened up when Bryan Colangelo was relieved of his duties as general manager last week. Ujiri is described by those who know him as meticulous, such that even if he has a strong feeling about what his next move will be, he won’t execute it until he’s walked through all the issues at hand. And he won’t confirm his decision until he’s had a chance to meet in person with the various stakeholders. “It’s a life-changing decision,” said one league source of the situation. “And knowing him, if he leaves he’ll take his time and do it the right way.”

  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant will finally lose the walking boot, almost seven weeks after surgery to repair his torn left Achilles' tendon. Bryant was injured on April 12 in a win over the Golden State Warriors. He had surgery the following day. The Lakers' original prognosis for Bryant's recovery was at least six to nine months. If he's ready to play on the early end of that timeline, Bryant might make the season opener in late October. If he's delayed, Bryant might miss the first two or three months of the season. The Lakers guard has kept the world informed of his progress via Twitter and Instagram. Boot comes off today. Will be in a "medical mamba" shoe. I still need a lil heel lift for the achillies#progress #bearNtrouble.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: After undergoing minor surgery earlier this month to remove painful bone spurs in his left ankle, New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon tweeted Thursday that he is no longer wearing a walking boot. Prior to the surgery, Gordon said he had been dealing with bone spurs in left ankle since the February All-Star break. Now that his walking boot is no longer needed, Gordon is expected to remain in Los Angeles to do most of his rehabilitation work.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Jason Kidd said his plan right now is to return for his 20th NBAseason and be back with the Knicks. But Kidd said there still is plenty to consider before he makes up his mind. "I am thinking about it,'' Kidd said Thursday night. "I have to make a decision. We'll see what happens. Right now I plan on coming back, but the next couple of days or week or so I'm going to think about it and see if I should keep playing or if I should try something different.'' … There has been speculation that he might seek a buyout and play for another team. But he said he wants to remain a Knick and that money won't be a factor in his decision. "If I play, I plan on playing for the Knicks,'' Kidd said. "I don't plan on playing anywhere else. It's never been about money. The game is about winning. It's not about money. If I decide I'm going to leave, money is not going to hold me up.''

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: In two seasons, Tony Mitchell averaged 13.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.8 blocks in 31 minutes per game. After his freshman season, he was awarded Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and First Team All-Sun Belt. The 6-8 power forward is also the school's all-time career blocks leader. Quite a resume, if strictly referring to the accolades. North Texas underperformed last season, finishing 12-19 and 7-13 in conference play. Mitchell underperformed, as well, admitting he didn't get up for a lot of games during his sophomore year due to the team underachieving. It showed in his stats. His scoring was down from his freshman year, his field goal percentage dropped 13 percent and he brought down two less rebounds despite playing more minutes a game. “Last season I didn't play too well,” Mitchell explained to CSNNW.com. “I was up and down. I didn't give max effort each and every game like I should have. I”m just trying to show these guys that I can play each and every day hard and strong, giving max effort.” You have to commend the kid for his honesty.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The prized items plastered through two sets of rooms encapsulated everything that made Elgin Baylor an iconic Laker. His 1971-72 NBA championship ring rested behind a glass case. The wooden chair Baylor sat on when the Lakers honored him on March 22, 1969, dubbed "Elgin Baylor Night" at the Forum now sits in the center of the room. Baylor's Lakers warmup jacket rests on a rack on one side of the room. Baylor won't have those possessions anymore. He will auction 358 pieces of personal memorabilia beginning at 10 a.m. today at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting various charities he wants to keep private. Fans can purchase his championship ring (at least $40,000), that wooden chair (at least $1,000) or his warmup jacket (at least $4,000), among many other items. "It's been 41 years since I retired, but people were constantly asking me. I decided, 'Fine. I'll share some of this stuff,'" Baylor said in an interview with this newspaper. "I don't think it will be that hard. I'll still have my memories."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: To catch you up to speed on Utah Jazz legends, Jerry Sloan is still mentioned in job-opening rumors, Jeff Hornacek is the Phoenix Suns head coach and Karl Malone has agreed to mentor his old team's big men. Oh yeah, and John Stockton is now … an author!? Yes, really. The Hall of Fame point guard's autobiography "Assisted" — co-authored by Kerry L. Pickett, his junior high coach in Spokane, Wash. — will be released this fall. … Turns out, the NBA's all-time assist leader got an assist from Malone for the book, as the power forward wrote the introductory blurb — call it a "power foreword" — for his pick-and-roll partner of 18 years.

  • Rick Gladstone of The New York Times: Offended by criticism that Dennis Rodman’s basketball diplomacy was a marketing gimmick for their season finale on North Korea, the creators of “Vice,” a new HBO newsmagazine with a penchant for daredevilish themes, said Wednesday that Mr. Rodman had improved the program but was not even their first choice. At a preview screening of the finale, the creators said they would have preferred to have recruited another former N.B.A. star, Michael Jordan, whose autograph adorns a basketball presented to Kim Jong-il, the father of North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-un, by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright during her visit to North Korea in 2000 — when relations were comparatively warmer than they are now. “Jordan wasn’t interested,” said Shane Smith, the founder and chief executive of the Vice Media Group, the HBO partner that conceived the North Korea trip and helped persuade the authorities there to permit it. However, Mr. Smith said, Mr. Rodman’s ready acceptance of the idea turned out to be a blessing. “It fit right into our wheelhouse, because it’s absurd,” Mr. Smith said. Mr. Rodman, who played with Mr. Jordan on the Chicago Bulls but is perhaps known more for his lip jewelry and dyed hair, became the first American to meet with Kim Jong-un, who took over after his father died in 2011. Mr. Rodman’s visit in late February and early March became a bit of an international sensation and a new source of talk-show jokes. The “Vice” finale will be broadcast on June 14.