First Cup: Thursday

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "You want one symbolic shot, just one, for what the Heat did Wednesday night in Atlanta? There were bundles of silky shots by Dwyane Wade that would capture the scene on most nights. And Daequan Cook emerged from his weeks-long funk to be a catalyst in this 108-93 victory. Udonis Haslem, who isn't an offensive force, still hit the biggest shots of the night, two sweet jumpers after Atlanta had the Heat's lead down to five points in the fourth quarter. But this was one of those nights where numbers don't fully capture exactly what happened from Game 1's downer to this Game 2. Sometimes nights like this just happen, just as sometimes a shot happens like Wade's late in the game and too late in the shot clock for him to do much."

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "It's so easy to get drunk off one game, isn't it? A young team runs and defends like a title contender, Josh Smith looks like some lab creation, Dwyane Wade looks just ordinary -- suddenly you find yourself drifting and wondering: 'Can LeBron handle this in the next round?' Welcome to sobriety. If what happened Wednesday night wasn't a market correction, it at least was a wakeup call for everybody. It won't be easy. It won't short. And any assumptions that seemingly could be drawn after one game were blown to bits in Game 2. Three days after crushing Miami by 26 points, the Hawks were dropped by the Heat 108-93 to even the playoff series at one humbling apiece."

  • Peter Kerasotis of Florida Today: "They righted the ship. But the Orlando Magic are still not right. No offense to Courtney Lee, but when he is your offense ... well, that might be good enough to get past the Philadelphia 76ers, which Orlando finally did with a 96-87 win Wednesday night, but in the long run, it won't be good enough. And it's the long run -- you know, deep into this NBA postseason -- that these Magic men say they're built for. Lee, a rookie who has certainly impressed this season, really impressed Wednesday, leading Orlando with a career-high 24 points. After that ... 'We just couldn't get the ball in the basket, we're just not making shots,' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy groaned, again and again. '(Lee) just seems to be playing more free and looser than the other guys. Some of the other guys looked like they have the weight of the world on them.' Maybe not the weight of the world. But definitely the weight of facing an 0-2 deficit in the first round of the postseason, which is where the Magic would've been had they lost again last night."

  • Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Let us begin with the big picture, just because. The Sixers got on their charter flight last night with a split on the road in their playoff series against the Magic. They departed with the respect of everyone who thought this would be a walkover of a series. They came here unheralded and left with what are probably an equal number of possibilities and doubts. And that's OK. It really is. "We knew we weren't going to get blown out," point guard Andre Miller said. He was talking after the Sixers were beaten at Amway Arena by the Magic, 96-87. For the second straight game, the Sixers fell behind by 18 points in the third quarter. In Game 2, though, it was a distance too far. 'We came in here and got Game 1, like last year against Detroit,' said Miller, who had 13 points in the first quarter and 30 for the game. "I think we have an opportunity to go home and correct some of the things and see what happens . . . Our confidence is there and I think they respect us as a team. So we've just got to play a little bit harder, play a little bit smarter, and take it to another level once we get home.'"

  • Jim Armstrong of The Denver Post: "The Birdman was supposed to be a spare part after missing two seasons because of a drug suspension. Instead, he has emerged as a vital organ. The numbers don't tell his story, so I won't bother typing them. All you need to know is that, as we speak, he's the Nuggets' best rebounder and best shot blocker. What's that? You're right. As if that begins to account for his contribution. If Chauncey Billups is the keeper of the Nuggets' composure, Birdman is in charge of mojo. 'He has a daily spirit that's fun to be around,' George Karl said. 'I heard he had that before this year, but it was a little goofier because of his situation. I think it's gotten to be more serious.'"

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "As chippy as things have become during this season, Byron Scott thinks the NBA of his era was much more physical than the NBA of today. 'This is still pitty-pat basketball to me,' Scott said. 'This is not physical and aggressive basketball the way it was in the '80s and '90s. This is so watered down compared to then that it's unbelievable. I think Kobe (Bryant) said it best: some of the things that (Utah Coach) Jerry Sloan used to do and some of the things we did in the '90s, they wouldn't allow you to do now. From that standpoint, it's not really a physical game. I wish they would go back to some of those rules from the '90s. It would separate the men from the boys.'"

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "There will be plenty of noise tonight at EnergySolutions Arena, where Utah enjoys one of the league's most intense crowds, the fans seeming to adhere tightly to the team's season-long slogan of 'Life Off, Game On.' The Lakers took turns saluting Utah's home-court edge after Wednesday's practice. 'It's one of the noisiest,' Kobe Bryant said. 'Sacramento, when they were going good, it was tough ... that place is really a barn. Those two arenas are some of the tougher arenas to play in because of the way that the arenas are constructed.' Phil Jackson continued the architectural analysis, referring to the 'friendly confines' of the arena, built in 1991. 'The arena's so tight, the referees are backed right up into the fans on the baseline,' he said. "I think it's intimidating at times to opponents and to referees. I think it's a tough place to call a game.' Bryant, after giving appropriate consideration to Jazz fans, couldn't resist tweaking them. 'The more they boo me, the more they heckle me, the more they relax me, the more I play better,' he said. 'You would think they would know that by now.'"

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. The Jazz went 37-4 at home last season, but Deron Williams offered an honest assessment when asked if the Jazz are as good a home team now. 'Probably not with those last couple games,' Williams said. 'We're still a pretty good home team, we just had a couple slip-ups late in the s
    eason.' For all the talk about Utah being the toughest place to play in the NBA, the Lakers actually posted a better home record this season at 36-5. The Jazz's home record was tied with Denver and Houston for the league's fifth-best."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Tony Parker had no interest in escalating a war of words with Dallas center Erick Dampier. Addressing Dampier's pledge to 'put him on his back' in Game 3 of the teams' first-round series, Parker responded Wednesday by not really responding at all. 'I can't focus on that,' Parker said. 'It's San Antonio against Dallas. We all know they're going to come back strong. They're going to play very physical.' Parker slashed his way to 38 points in the Spurs' Game 2 victory, prompting Dampier to threaten the point guard with a hard foul the first time he ventures into the lane tonight. After a visit from NBA security, Dampier backed off his comments Wednesday, saying he had to intention of hurting Parker."

  • Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: "Mark Cuban's youthful appearance, drive and exuberance have changed little since, at age 41, he signed a letter of intent to purchase the Mavericks on Jan. 3, 2000. In reality, he is now 50, a married father of two girls, has an artificial left hip and according to Forbes is at least $137 million lighter in the wallet where the Mavericks are concerned. 'I'm not going to comment on our P&L [profit and loss] specifics,' Cuban said. 'But I have always said I'm in this to win, not make money.' For most pro sports owners, such a bottom line would be cause for alarm. In Cuban's case, the subject evokes a sweat-dripping shrug from atop the StairMaster outside the Mavericks' locker room, where he churns before most home games. Tonight his Mavericks host San Antonio in Game 3 of a best-of-seven, first-round playoff series that is tied 1-1. For some teams, extended playoff runs make the difference between loss and profit, or between profit and prosperity. Not so for the Mavericks. Even though this is their ninth consecutive playoff appearance, Cuban recalls finishing in the black only twice during his tenure, although Forbes reports it happened just once."

  • Mike McGraw of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald: "Every few years, someone from a Chicago pro team wins rookie of the year. So the crowning of Bulls guard Derrick Rose on Wednesday wasn't unusual, certainly not unexpected. But this one definitely was unique. The whole city should feel proud of this honor. Rose didn't drop into town from Wilmington, N.C., or Peekskill, N.Y., like the previous Bulls who won the honor, Michael Jordan and Elton Brand. Rose grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side. The skills he refined in Chicago also are being used here. Not only do the Bulls have a rising star on the roster, the city produced someone every parent can point to and say, 'This is how you should carry yourself as an athlete.'"

  • Frank Dell'Apa of The Boston Globe: "Forward Brian Scalabrine practiced at full speed yesterday and is expected to be available when the Celtics visit Chicago tonight in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series. Scalabrine, who has been out since sustaining a concussion Feb. 23, wore a protective headband during the workout. 'It protects me in the slight chance I get hit there,' Scalabrine said. 'I'm not going to go Rip Hamilton and wear it for the next 10 years, but you never know. One of our trainers jimmy-rigged it together. It could blow up -- stock options available. My head is not an issue. I've been allowed to work out and I feel good. I didn't even breathe hard.'"

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "Neither the Cavaliers or Pistons practiced on Wednesday, but there is no such thing as a true off day in the playoffs. The level of game review and preparation this time of year borders on outrageous, but is a reminder of the stakes at hand. Now in their fourth season and ninth playoff series together, the Cavs coaching staff and core players have a routine during the postseason. But just because it is familiar doesn't mean it is simple. 'As a staff and team, we have a nice system and flow,' Cavs coach Mike Brown said. 'What you have to remember is the playoffs aren't won after one win or lost after one loss.' Which is another way of saying, what always matters most is the next game."

  • Brian McTaggart of the Houston Chronicle: "Tracy McGrady, out since late February after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee, said in a radio interview on The Jim Rome Show on Wednesday his injury was 'devastating' and caused him to lose passion for basketball. During a more than 13-minute interview, the Rockets forward spoke about his rehab, the NBA playoffs and his team's series against the Portland Trail Blazers. When asked by Rome what was driving him, McGrady said trying to prove he's healthy. 'In dealing with the nagging injuries I've dealt with over the last couple of years, it's so frustrating,' he said. 'I bust my (rear) in the offseason, and I come into training camp in great shape, and this happens. I kind of lost the passion a little bit, but I got it back. I'm busting my butt every day to rehab and get myself back to the player I was. I'm changing things up in my training and dieting. I'm motivated.' Eight weeks removed from surgery, McGrady said he recently had his knee brace removed. He can walk without pain and is doing some squatting but said he probably won't start running for a couple months."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "Now the cat-and-mouse game begins. Houston pulverizes Portland in the opener. The Blazers make some adjustments and follow the game plan en route to a Game 2 victory. Both coaches will continue to tinker with strategy as they enter Friday's all-important Game 3 at the Toyota Center. The onus will be more directly on Houston's Rick Adelman, obviously disenchanted with what he saw on the Rose Garden floor during Portland's 107-103 victory on Tuesday."

  • Pete Thamel of The New York Times: "Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 high school junior whom some consider the best American big man since Greg Oden, says he will be taking a new path to the N.B.A. He has left San Diego High School and said this week that he would skip his senior year to play professionally in Europe. Tyler, 17, would become the first United States-born player to leave high school early to play professionally overseas. He is expected to return in two years, when he is projected to be a top pick, if not the No. 1 pick, in the 2011 N.B.A. draft. Tyler, who had orally committed to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville, has yet to sign with an agent or a professional team. His likely destination is Spain, though teams from other European leagues have shown interest. Sonny Vaccaro, a former sneaker company executive, orchestrated Jennings's move and has guided Tyler and his family through the process. 'It's significant because it shows the curiosity for the American player just refusing to accept
    what he's told he has to do,' Vaccaro said. 'We're getting closer to the European reality of a professional at a young age. Basically, Jeremy Tyler is saying, 'Why do I have to go to high school?''"