First Cup: Friday

  • Marc J. Spears of The Boston Globe: "You have to respect Kevin Garnett's toughness. But if the Celtics hope to win another title during his time in Boston, the soon-to-be 33-year-old with three years and approximately $55 million remaining on his contract must let pride go and let the team know about his health. As loud as Garnett is on the floor, it's in the Celtics' best interest for him to be louder when he's not feeling right."

  • Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post: "It would be great if the NBA didn't follow March Madness into complete predictability over the next eight weeks, if the NBA stuffed its postseason, which begins this weekend, with one surprise outcome after another. It would cause quite a stir if appealing young teams like the Portland Trail Blazers or Chicago Bulls disrupted the playoffs, but they're still too unripe. It would make for a nice story if Yao Ming or Dwight Howard was the last man standing but it's pure fiction. Come the first week of June, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to play the Cleveland Cavaliers for the league's championship. The thrill will come in the adventure, in seeing who if anybody can scare the Lakers and Cavaliers along the way. And one of those teams, the defending champion Boston Celtics, won't be nearly as scary as fans of great basketball would hope because the great Kevin Garnett is lost for the playoffs with a knee injury."

  • Tom Knott of The Washington Times: "A Kobe-LeBron showdown is in the offing. David Stern would have it no other way, what with two-thirds of the NBA owners losing money and a potential labor-management meltdown on tap next year. The NBA could use a television ratings boost in June, which Kobe and LeBron would provide. The prospect of a Kobe-LeBron NBA Finals has strengthened in recent weeks because of injury developments deflating the championship hopes of the Celtics and Spurs, the would-be challengers to the Cavaliers and Lakers."

  • Chris McCosky of The Detroit News: "When you scan all the pundits and prognosticators, the Pistons aren't being given much of a chance to win a game let alone a series from the powerful Cleveland Cavaliers. Rasheed Wallace, your thoughts? 'It's going to be a good challenge,' he said. 'They've got a pretty good record, a pretty good home record and I know they are feeling themselves right now. So I guess it's going to be like David vs. Goliath.'"

  • Mike McGraw of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald: "The Bulls faced Boston without Kevin Garnett once this season and won 127-121 on March 17 at the United Center. Knowing that Atlanta pushed a full-strength Celtics team to seven games last year in the first round, this should give the Bulls a little more confidence heading into Saturday's Game 1 at the TD Banknorth Garden. 'It gives us a little confidence but we still have to play,' rookie guard Derrick Rose said. 'Knowing him, he'll play if his leg is broken. We still have to think he's going to play.' Teammate John Salmons shared the feelings of skepticism on Thursday at the Berto Center. 'I'll believe that when I see it,' Salmons said. 'Ask me that after we play them. I'm not buying that.'"

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Eastern Conference Finals. Bare minimum. Anything less and the Magic's playoff run will have been a failure. When you look at how things are setting up as the NBA playoffs begin this weekend, there's absolutely no logical reason the Magic shouldn't be playing in the conference finals and perhaps even bringing a franchise-first championship trophy back home to Orlando. ... Everything that could possibly go right has gone right. As a first-round opponent, the Magic drew the Philadelphia 76ers -- an offensively challenged team they are undefeated against this season. Even more importantly, they avoided the Detroit Pistons -- a team that perennially puts a Vulcan mind meld on the Magic and turns them into physical and psychological basket cases. ... But the biggest break of all for the Magic came Thursday when Doc Rivers, the coach of the defending champion Boston Celtics, announced that superstar Kevin Garnett will likely be out for the rest of the season."

  • Sarah Rothschild of The Miami Herald: "The mood was light as the Heat began preparing for Sunday's Game 1 of a best-of-7 playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. But don't mistake that for the Heat taking the postseason lightly. Co-captains Wade and Haslem set the tone by imposing a 'no-going-out policy,' since the Heat will spend three nights in Atlanta between Game 1 and 2. 'We got eyes everywhere,' Haslem said of enforcing the rule. Players can go out to dinner and don't have to be back at the hotel by a certain time, but Wade and Haslem are urging teammates to treat this as a business trip. 'It's time to focus,' Wade said. 'We had a year to go out. We have all summer to go out.'"

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "In his eighth season since entering the league as little more than a French layup machine, Tony Parker has built up an accompanying mid-range game that makes him, in the words of one rival coach, 'almost impossible to guard.' The proof is in the numbers. Parker, 26, has just completed his finest NBA season, setting career marks in scoring (22 points per game) and assists (6.9 per game) while shooting 50.6 percent from the field. He stands as Exhibit 1A of how the Spurs were able to survive nagging injuries to Tim Duncan and a season-ending one to Manu Ginobili to claim primacy in the NBA's most rugged division. 'It's been his best year,' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his All-Star point guard. 'He's carried us.'"

  • David Moore of The Dallas Morning News: "No one will say it out loud. Even if you lured a player into an inflammatory quote, he would quickly deny it. But don't be fooled. This matchup with San Antonio is what the Mavericks wanted. Misplaced confidence? It could be. We'll find out over the next 10 days to two weeks. An old saying comes to mind: Be careful what you wish for."

  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: "Remember when Tracy McGrady said, 'It's on me'? (OK, stop laughing. He tried. It wasn't his fault that the Rockets again failed to get out of the first round.) It's not too ridiculous to say that this year the Rockets' playoff fortunes are on Aaron Brooks. Oh, he's not the team's best player … or second best, or third best, or fourth best. But Brooks' play could determine the fate of the poor Rockets fans who haven't seen their team g
    et out of the first round of the playoffs since Brooks was 12 years old."

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "No one is immune to becoming mesmerized by the virtuosity of Chris Paul's on-court orchestrations. 'Even when I'm out there on the court with him,' said Hornets guard Morris Peterson, 'there are things he does when you just stop and say, 'Wow. How did he do that?' ' How, indeed, does Paul manage to visualize what's transpiring at such speed that he could, in the middle of a fastbreak while dribbling at full gallop, see Dallas guard Jason Terry in his way at midcourt, legs spread apart, and bounce the ball through Terry's legs, pick it up on the back side, take another couple of dribbles and throw a no-look pass to trailing Rasual Butler for driving slam dunk? 'It's unexplainable,' Butler said. As succinct but on-point an explanation as any."

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "There's nothing upsetting him, according to Andrei Kirilenko. Both Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and general manager Kevin O'Connor express no concern, either, even if the perception is that the team's highest-paid player is disengaged. 'That's just A.K.,' Deron Williams said. 'We know he showers faster than anybody on this earth probably. It's like Superman, he's like in the booth.' 'It's not like he goes around and doesn't talk to us all day,' Williams added. 'I have a great relationship with A.K. off the court. I don't think anybody thinks anything of it. We often talk about it, though, just how fast he gets out of there.' Kirilenko regularly is among the first to leave after home shootarounds and the first waiting for the bus on the road. He spends much of his time before games reading books at his locker, as well as on the bus after games. Kyle Korver answered 'never, ever' when asked if he had seen a teammate leave as quickly as Kirilenko after games during his years in Philadelphia. 'There's some guys that maybe got out of practice that fast, but never after a game,' Korver said, adding, 'He's a big reader. The guy reads. I don't know what kind of Russian spy novels he's reading, but he just gets into his books.'"

  • Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News: "'We just wanted to put ourselves in position where we can try to do something in the playoffs,' Andre Miller said. 'Boston is a team that people have in the conference finals. It's probably easier to go through Orlando than to try and match up with Boston, with Boston coming in with a lot of energy and trying to get through the first round as fast as they can.' ... Miller and the rest of the Sixers made sure to stress that they meant no disrespect to the Magic. They understand that they might not have an answer for Orlando's three-point shooting and Dwight Howard, perhaps the league's most dynamic post presence. Still ... 'I agree with 'Dre,' Thaddeus Young said. 'Orlando's a great team, but we definitely want to play them. Boston is fresh off a championship. That's the worst thing you can do is go play a team that just won a championship. They're going to want to get back and be hungry.'"

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Now, it's time to see if the blood, sweat and tears the Lakers poured into the past 10 months will pay off in the NBA championship that eluded them last spring. Their four-round dance to the title begins with a first-round matchup with the Utah Jazz. Game 1 is Sunday at Staples Center. 'It's a championship or it's a failure as a season,' Luke Walton said Thursday. 'All offseason that's what you think, then all season that's what you think about, too. You know, when you've got a very good team, those windows for championships only last so long. We're right in the prime of being one of those teams right now. We don't want to blow any more of those opportunities.'"

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "That motto Larry Brown loves to write into the scouting report, 'Play hard, play smart, play together…' ends with the reminder 'have fun.' It was fun, the Charlotte Bobcats said following their first season coached by Brown. But it's also appropriate that "have fun” reminder concludes the thought. The fun was in the journey; figuring out how to please so challenging a coach. 'He's very demanding,' said center Emeka Okafor. 'He has expectations of players and he'll keep pushing you because he can see what you can be.' The records weren't all that different between last season (32) and this (35), but the mood sure changed. Numerous Bobcats had misgivings about then-coach Sam Vincent. Negativity enveloped that locker room late last season. Brown can be quirky, but he makes players more attentive and precise."

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "The lottery has guaranteed the Bucks nothing except Bogut in the last 10 years, but if they pick high enough to draft a point guard, they should let Ramon Sessions go to free agency. Win the No. 1 and Blake Griffin becomes their first real power forward since Vin Baker. In any event, Charlie Villanueva is gone. With tax implications, the Bucks can't afford to even make him a qualifying offer. Luke Ridnour will be gone if they're able to move his expiring contract with Alexander as incentive. They should trade the lottery pick, too, if it falls below a certain point. At minimum, the Bucks will come back with Bogut, Redd, and Richard Jefferson as the centerpieces in the last season before Skiles and Hammond will have enough payroll room to rebuild the roster. Still, Redd is coming off a serious knee injury and will be 30 in August. Who knows if Bogut's back will be an ongoing issue? ... At best, the Bucks should have a playoff-type team for '09-'10 with the right coach. At worst, well, you know the drill. The Bucks have been reacquainting you with variations of the worst-case scenario for the better part of the decade. They're overdue for a break, but there's a lot to be said about changing your luck."

  • Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times: "A preview of Mike Dunleavy's message came Wednesday when he threatened suspensions should any player report to training camp out of shape. Did that message get through to his 19-win team? Season is over. I'm sitting here with nothing to do! Off to the gym. That was written by Baron Davis on his Twitter page Thursday. Davis, of late, has been saying all the right things. But unless he posts video of himself working out with a drill-sergeant type in the summer, the true extent of his commitment to get in great shape won't be known until camp."

  • Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun: "Basketball's past often gets overlooked by today's me-first generation of money-driven hoopsters. Trailblazers, the people who helped build the foundation for today's immense riches, aren't mentioned often or barely receive their due recognition. That is why the NBA Coaches' Association deserves credit for taking yesterday's step of honouring Chuck Da
    ly, the coach of the original Dream Team and the person many acknowledge as a pioneer. The timing of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award comes at a time when the NBA's post-season is poised to tip off, but also at a time when Daly is battling for his life having been diagnosed with cancer."