First Cup: Thursday

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "That Michael Finley is still doing such things might surprise some billionaires. The Mavericks waived him in the summer of 2005 partly because they sought luxury-tax savings, and partly because they thought his career was winding down. Besides, they had another veteran shooter, Jerry Stackhouse. But Stackhouse is the one who has gotten creaky. Finley won a title in 2007 while still on Cuban's payroll (in fact, according to the contract details, Cuban is still paying him). And Finley lost considerable weight, coming back this season looking as fit as he ever had. He's not close to being the scorer he once was in Dallas, but on a given night he's provided the Spurs with some punch. After going scoreless against Golden State in the previous game, for example, he followed with 17 points against the Hornets."

  • Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe: "The real games start Saturday, when the Celtics open a best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls. Most of us don't think the Celtics are going to repeat as world champions. Why? Because Kevin Garnett (sprained knee) won't be 100 percent and might not be a factor at all if things turn for the worse when he resumes practice today in Waltham. Two other reasons they won't win: the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers. Both are better than the Celtics. And both have home-court advantage over Boston. This feels like Cleveland's year just like last year felt like Boston's year. The Cavs have the best record and the best player. They went 39-2 at home. The only team in NBA history to go 40-1 at home was the 1985-86 Celtics. Some of us believe that team was the best in the history of basketball."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Though it's foolish to take anything for granted in the NBA, beating the Raptors appeared to be a very attainable feat considering the Bulls had won 14 of their 15 previous home games and were coming off a gritty victory Monday at Detroit. Instead, the Bulls were simply awful in a lopsided 109-98 loss. So instead of having their playoff fate in their control, the players and coaches were relegated to huddling around locker-room televisions a half-hour after the game watching the end of the Philadelphia 76ers' 111-110 overtime victory against what appeared to be the Cleveland Cavaliers' junior-varsity team. With the Sixers' win, the Bulls finished seventh and will face the defending-champion Boston Celtics instead of the Orlando Magic. There was nothing but a parade of long faces as everyone filed out of the locker room when the Philadelphia-Cleveland game ended. I'm not saying the Bulls would have defeated the Magic in the first round, but they definitely would have had a shot unless Orlando -- which had a losing record in April -- suddenly gets its act together. The Bulls have virtually no chance against the Celtics -- even if Kevin Garnett continues to be hobbled by a knee injury."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Portland is wonderful this time of year. Beautiful weather. None of that non-stop drizzle of the winter. Nice arena. Great downtown. Good people. The Rockets likely can hardly wait to get there. Besides, for an added bonus, they get to play a team that will be fronting Yao. All the time. Possession after possession. Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden won't have to read a game plan. They can ignore their coaches. They already know that they will be fronting Yao all game, every game, except when LaMarcus Aldridge is fronting Yao. The Rockets must decide right now that this is just what they want. As with the quick turnaround to head to Portland for the weekend instead of starting the postseason in Toyota Center, where the Rockets just posted their best home-court record in 15 years, the Rockets have to believe that the defense that they saw in Dallas on Wednesday and are certain to see in Portland and when the series shifts to Houston is just what they want."

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "You have to hand it to these Knicks. For a team that doesn't have a leader, a proven go-to option, a big-time scorer, a Top 75 player, a formidable shot-blocker, a lock-down defender or a coach who has a clue as to how to stop the other guy, they didn't do half bad in the first year of the Donnie Walsh-Mike D'Antoni regime. They earned their record, which ended up 32-50 after beating the Nets on Wednesday night to close out the season. The only Knick who had a good year sat in the stands. Walsh should get David Stern's vote for Executive of the Year, based on the fact that it took him only seven months to undo five years of Isiah Thomas' cap-killing mismanagement. It was always considered impossible around here, but by November, Walsh put the Knicks in a position to make a score in the great free-agent sweepstakes of 2010. That's no small thing, considering the two presidents before him, Thomas and Scott Layden, didn't find a way to get under the cap."

  • Tom Powers of The Pioneer Press: "Good riddance 2008-09. The front office likely will look different next season. But there were important lessons for anyone paying attention this season. For example: Once a head case, always a head case. I've seen it in all sports. A guy has the reputation of being difficult, yet an organization figures that he is either 1) misunderstood or 2) capable of being straightened out. Forget it. Once trouble, always trouble. I was reminded of that when Rashad McCants ran onto the court for the Kings on Wednesday night. 'Nuff said. Perhaps the most important lesson is that a coach, any coach, makes a lot less difference than people think. Frankly, Kevin McHale turned out to be a pretty good coach. The players knew he was in their corner and appreciated it. But they didn't do anything fantastic under McHale. The style changed, the practices changed, the approach changed. The results remained about the same. In the NBA it's about players, not coaches. McHale probably taught them more than they would have learned otherwise. But there are no NBA miracle workers. The team performed moderately better, but not so spectacularly that Early Bird needed a police escort to protect him from frenzied season-ticket buyers."

  • Ramona Shelburne of the Los Angeles Daily News: "The writing doesn't even need to be on the wall. Jordan Farmar, like anyone who has watched a Lakers game in the past couple of weeks, can see what's happening. His role is being reduced, while Shannon Brown's role is being increased - right before the playoffs, when rotations get shortened and rarely reversed once the second season begins. It's not the kind of pill that goes down easily, but Farmar said he's going to try his best not to let his personal situation affect the team. 'Whoever is out there doing it, as long as we get this ring, nothing else matters,' he said. 'Things aren't always going to go your way. But you have to keep trusting your work ethic, your teammates. We're all
    playing for the right reasons and every thing will work itself out.'"

  • Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee: "After being traded from Portland on Feb. 18 and suffering through a seven-week stretch in which played in just six of his first 22 games, Ike Diogu had 28 points and 13 rebounds in a repeat indictment of the decisions to bury him on the bench that came before. Since Diogu arrived, the word coming out of Kings practices was that he consistently produced and punished against the Kings' starting unit. But when it came time to use a third big man behind Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes, Kenny Natt often opted for Calvin Booth, a veteran big man whose pre-Sacramento season included playing in just one minute of one game for this very Timberwolves team that was nearly as bad as the Kings this season. While Diogu had 32 points and 11 rebounds in 41 minutes in Denver on Monday, his role increased out of necessity when second-year center Spencer Hawes went down in the first quarter against the Nuggets with a season-ending left knee strain. For a coach whose chances at retaining the position have been slim to start, it's evidence such as Diogu's case that have him likely to be let go in the coming days. While Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie referred to Natt's situation as 'unresolved' Wednesday afternoon, sources close to the team indicate that Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have made their opinion known that they would prefer Natt not return"

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "There was no joy in pulling off a prank that received nationwide acclaim on Shaquille O'Neal. Only fear. Louis Amundson had the final day of the Suns' season to get through but spent every hour of it in fear of retribution after he filled O'Neal's van with pink plastic-foam bits Tuesday. Amundson got up early Wednesday after a restless night with Shaq attack nightmares. 'I was really afraid for my life,' he said. 'Shaq's the last guy if you make a list of people you want to punk.' ... once Wednesday's film-room session ended, O'Neal and teammates tried to pin down Amundson to a chair as O'Neal broke out hair clippers. All O'Neal got was a chunk of Amundson's ponytail but did manage to shave off half of Amundson's left eyebrow, leaving him scraped up from the fray. ... 'I was really worried last night,' Amundson said after his stunt was captured on video by suns.com and shown on ESPN's 'SportsCenter' on Tuesday night. 'I was sick, like, I was physically sick. I never intended for it to get this much publicity. I was pretty scared.'"

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "In response to Kenyon Martin's flagrant foul Monday night, Kings co-owner Joe Maloof described Martin's actions as 'thuggery' to The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday and demanded that Martin apologize. But Martin had already apologized to Spencer Hawes personally after the Nuggets- Kings game. 'I was in my car and he was going to the bus,' Martin said after Wednesday's shootaround. 'I pulled right up to him, shook his hand and told him it wasn't anything dirty and I didn't mean to hurt him -- it was just a basketball play. I hit him on the arm first and foremost. It was a hard foul. It was just the nature of how he fell was what they called. I didn't get suspended or anything. It wasn't like I meant to hurt him. It wasn't malicious. If I meant to do it, I wouldn't have apologized.'"

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "For a 67-year-old coach who never has seen an obstacle that hard work couldn't overcome, Jerry Sloan sounded almost fatalistic about the Jazz's prospects in their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. Sloan called the situation 'pretty bleak,' described the Jazz as a 'little dent in the road' as far as the Lakers' championship aspirations, and sang the praises of a 65-win team with perhaps the best player on the planet in Kobe Bryant. 'They're a terrific team,' Sloan said. 'They pass the ball, they do about everything you would ask a team to do. They've got guys that can make big shots, guys that just know how to play basketball, make the game look simple.'"