First Cup: Tuesday

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "The word 'pathetic' is too kind. The Hornets scored 15 in the first quarter, 39 in the first half and while that constituted improvement for them, Denver was little more than amused - but, not threatened - by the flicker. The Nuggets led by 21 after the first quarter and 61-39 at halftime. No need subjecting anyone to an in-depth blow by blow of the wreckage. Figuratively, the score tells whose eyes were swollen shut, whose nose gushed like a faucet, who stumbled around looking for a mouthpiece that'd been knocked on the other end of the court. Literally, the meeker team will have the sorer ribs today, and the aching gluteus maximus. Denver elbowed New Orleans in the former and kicked it in the latter."

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets have been called names many times throughout the NBA franchise's checkered history. But never this one: Bullies. 'If you play aggressive and you play strong, you can be called a bully,' Denver guard Dahntay Jones said Monday night after a staggering 121-63 victory against New Orleans. 'So I guess you need a team of bullies, because that's a mind-set you've got to have. You've got to be mentally strong, you've got to be tough and you've got to bring the defense every night.' Denver beat the Big Easys, took their lunch money and chased the home crowd out of the building. Bullies. 'You don't see many games like that in every category,' Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke said after the most lopsided playoff game the NBA has witnessed since 1956. This was the rare victory that really did send a message, so let's hope Kobe Bryant and the Lakers caught the highlights on TV. Denver is acting like it will have something serious to say about who makes the Finals."

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "If the Lakers had blown this game, the onus would have been on Bynum. Yet with only practices on the schedule in the coming week, is there any way that he can get into strong enough playoff-playing shape to make sure this doesn't happen again? The Lakers reached the NBA Finals last year without him, and against a clearly depleted Western Conference there seems little doubt they don't need him to get that far again. But the kind of Lakers team that shows up in the NBA Finals depends on the kind of toughness and presence that Bynum can give them before then. Yet after one series, the most important celebrity in the Staples Center on Monday night could only be described with the most infamous celebrity announcement. Andrew Bynum has left the building."

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "As for the future, it is suddenly upon the Jazz, a significant stretch that cannot be bungled. Sitting tight and being cautious destroys the Jazz's credibility with fans who already suspect management is content with being decent -- they put up the good fight -- but not great, with selling tickets and letting it be. Actually, the Jazz might not have much of a choice this time, owing to the fact that so many Jazz players are either free agents or can opt out. Kevin O'Connor and Jerry Sloan will be forced to do something. Jerry Sloan defiantly stressed continuity in the postgame. But Deron Williams said: 'We've got to figure some things out.' Williams gets it. The Jazz now have their chance to make a difference, keeping the guys who have an inkling of championship material within them -- Williams, who else? -- and moving a good number of the rest. That much cried out Monday night, when the Jazz, in the present, walked away from their last loss, paying for their past, and staring straight ahead into an uncertain future."

  • Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Someone forgot to tell Zaza Pachulia that the Hawks were finished. Josh Smith, Mo Evans and Mike Bibby, too. Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson and sixth man Flip Murray didn't get the memo either. The Hawks dragged themselves back into AmericanAirlines Arena after back-to-back losses to the Miami Heat and evened their first-round playoff series with a gritty 81-71 win before a sellout crowd of 19,600 Monday night. Deadlocked at 2-2, the series shifts back to Atlanta for Wednesday's Game 5 at Philips Arena."

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "OK, very funny. Fess up. Whose bright idea was it to make the Heat's playoff motto, 'Back to Black?' Because that's just what Dwyane Wade's back did Monday before Game 4 of this playoff series. It faded to black, as if a season spent carrying a franchise on it finally was too much to bear. It just gave out. And it might have taken the best chance to advance in the playoffs with it. The Heat can overcome many things. Young players. Sporadic outputs. Even Michael Beasley disappearing off the edge, as he has in somewhat shocking fashion this playoff series. But when the engine of the Heat spends three quarters sputtering, and coughing, as well as complaining every few seconds to the referees about some perceived slight that only he saw, it doesn't bode well for the night."

  • Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: "The Trail Blazers broadcasters have harped on it. Fans continually bring it up. Finally on Monday, coach Nate McMillan addressed what has become a major talking point in Portland's first-round series against the Houston Rockets: Officiating. Despite the possibility of a fine from NBA executive Stu Jackson, who among other duties oversees officiating, McMillan without prompting criticized the officiating in the series. In particular, McMillan focused on the two games in Houston, both won by the Rockets. 'I don't want Stu to be calling me or anything like that, but if you look at the stat sheet and you look at the way the calls have gone the last couple games, it's not consistent,' McMillan said. ... 'Our guys, Greg and Joel, are getting called for touch fouls against Yao, and Artest and Battier are riding Brandon Roy every time he runs or he penetrates to the basket,' McMillan said. 'I'm just saying that it needs to be called both ways.'"

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Kendrick Perkins is without pretense -- about as plain spoken an individual as exists in the Celtics locker room. And when it comes to his opinion on how NBA referees treat his team, Perkins doesn't hold back. 'I don't think the refs like the Boston Celtics,' he said after yesterday's practice. When asked why, Perkins also was careful to indict his team. 'I don't know,' he said, breaking into a smile. 'We've got a lot of talkers on this team, if you know what I mean.' Perkins is one of them. He has developed a look of disbelief -- an aghast glare that mirrors the one patented by Tim Duncan following a whistle -- that accompanies just about every call."

  • Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee: "In these horrific economic times, it's pretty much a given that the fates of Lawrence Frank (New Jersey) and Jay Triano (Toronto), among others, are influenced by their respective teams' financial bottom lines. But the New Orleans Hornets' mortifying loss to the Denver Nuggets earlier tonight also left me wondering about Byron Scott. The former Kings assistant has a year remaining on his contract, and at huge dollars, I am told. But Tuesday's record-tying 121-63 defeat is the the type of performance that infuriates owners, send fans running for the exits, and has coaches nervously calling their agents within hours. Plus, there are offsets. One team fires a coach, the next team plays X amount, thus offsetting the former team's obligation. If Scott were to become available, would Geoff Petrie consider him? This could be interesting. Byron always says he eventually wants to coach two teams: the Lakers, where he began his career and won two titles, and the Kings, where he was an assistant under Rick Adelman for two seasons (1998-2000). He and wife, Anita, loved living here, and immersed themselves within the community. Plus, Petrie said he was interested in a few coaches who might be available at some point during or after the postseason. Nothing appears imminent, so who knows? Geoff Petrie is off on a scouting trip to Europe, and his staffers are said to be compiling a lengthy early list of potential coaching candidates. But the favorites have be ex-Kings (and Washington Wizards) coach Eddie Jordan and Paul Westphal, the former head coach of the Seattle Sonics and the Phoenix Suns. Think Petrie. Think offense. But that doesn't mean Scott isn't intriguing. The one-time Laker has several friends and admirers within the organization."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "There may be no more excruciating choice for an N.B.A. executive than deciding when to blow up a roster, especially a championship-winning roster. The Pistons started the process last fall, despite making six Eastern Conference finals in a row and winning the championship in 2004. Is it now the Spurs' turn to press the plunger? The Spurs, trailing the Mavericks, 3-1, after Saturday's 99-90 loss, could be bounced in the opening round for the first time since 2000. It is perhaps unwise to underestimate Tim Duncan and his mates. They did overcome a two-game deficit against the Hornets last year. But the Spurs no longer appear capable of such minor miracles, not without the injured Manu Ginobili, and not with the mediocre cast that now surrounds Duncan and Tony Parker, the Spurs' remaining stars."

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: "The cries of blowing up this franchise and sending Amaré Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal packing don't make sense, especially because their 2010 first-round pick belongs to Oklahoma City -- without lottery protections. Do you know how many games Stoudemire, O'Neal and coach Alvin Gentry had together last season? Two. And they won both. Don't you want to see what the three of them together can do, especially because Gentry's style is much more Mike D'Antoni than Terry Porter? It's as O'Neal said after the season: If 'we can get the same group of guys next year and start from scratch with the system everyone is accustomed to ... maybe we can go a little further. This team has a shot (at the championship).' This doesn't mean you don't build for the future. But you don't ignore the past and its truths, either."

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "As he begins his off-season quest for a better roster, Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo is beginning to sound more and more like Brian Burke, his Maple Leafs counterpart. Colangelo, once a builder of soft-as-Italian-cashmere finesse teams, is suddenly in the market for Burkean truculence, and perhaps his brain trust will find it in Berlin, site of this weekend's Euroleague final four. That's where Giorgos Printezis, the rugged Greek forward whose NBA rights are owned by the Raptors, will be attempting to help Athens-based Olympiacos defeat historic rivals Panathinaikos in Friday's semifinal. 'There's definitely an edge to him,' said Colangelo of Printezis, 24. 'He could very well fill that (need for toughness).' Nobody's saying the Raptors are set to offer Printezis a contract, and there are those who find it hard to imagine the player will be pried loose from the deep-pocketed owners at Olympiacos. But there are a couple of factors that make the 6-foot-8 Athenian desirable and a possible candidate for a jump to Toronto's NBA franchise. For one, the Raptors hold Printezis's NBA draft rights, acquired last year from San Antonio for a second-round pick, which means they're currently the player's only NBA option. For another, he's a European free agent at the end of this season, which theoretically means the Raptors wouldn't have to pay the typically pricey buyout to extricate him from his contract."

  • Tom Enlund of the Journal Sentinel: "The Bulls are now giving the defending champion Boston Celtics a competitive first-round series and are gaining valuable playoff experience in the process. 'Some of our players this year talked sometimes about this is kind of a playoff-type atmosphere,' said Bucks general manager John Hammond. 'Well, there's a difference between a 'playoff-type' atmosphere and an actual 'playoff' atmosphere in a playoff game. You have to experience that firsthand.' Bucks center Francisco Elson was a member of San Antonio's 2007 championship team and forward Richard Jefferson got plenty of playoff experience during his years in New Jersey, but the Bucks are largely a playoff-inexperienced team. That's why the next step in the Bucks' development as a team and an organization is to get into the playoffs because many of the Milwaukee players need to experience -- or get a refresher course -- in what the post-season is all about. That's what the Bulls are experiencing and they will probably be a better team for it next season."

  • Kyle Hightower of the Orlando Sentinel: "Unless you've been under a basketball boulder the past few weeks, then you've probably caught a sniff of 6-foot-11 California high school star Jeremy Tyler's decision to skip his senior year of high school to play professional basketball in Europe. Tyler's plan is to play overseas for two years before he can officially enter the 2011 NBA draft. It comes a year after Brandon Jennings opted to play for a year in Europe instead of attending college. It's another bold move that has caught flak from those on the side of the aisle who say that Tyler is being a foolhardy kid chasing money and throwing away his education. Meanwhile, those who think future NBA millionaires are being forced to be broke and spend a year bringing in money for college programs are calling the move brilliant. But whichever way you lean, it's hard not to applaud a guy who is taking full ownership of the commodity he has to offer -- his talent."