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First Cup: Friday

  • Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post: "The NBA would be well suited to dump Atlanta, Miami and Orlando, and just hold on to the Celtics and Bulls for another month, best-of-15 series, winner to play Cleveland for the Eastern Conference championship. How do you get rid of one or the other when together they keep producing classics, when the athletic theater is almost too much to bear? It's become must-see TV, each episode more ruthless and more compelling than the previous. ... Asked if he was watching the series between the Bulls and Celtics, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, 'That's not Game 6, that's the 'Thrilla in Manilla,' Round 19.'"

  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: "When this thing went into overtime -- again -- we passed right through the realm of entertainment into the arena of classic. When Game 6 at the crazed United Center between the Bulls and Celtics went into double overtime, we reached the world of mental and physical exhaustion. And I'm talking about simply watching! Six overtimes, and counting, in six games? With overtime No. 3 on its way? Making seven total overtimes? Series tied, heading to Boston for the Saturday finale? If the NBA could produce more drama on a wooden floor, it would have to use gasoline and gunpowder. 'Whatever overtime it was,' Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward. He was trying to describe some key play, some key shot, but it was all a blur."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Ray Allen scored 51 points in 59 minutes of a 68-minute game. There are few words that can adequately describe how brilliant his performance was, how he found ways at the most critical times to beat a defense bent on stopping him. Were basketball an individual game, he would have been smiling as he walked down the United Center hallway in his fine suit. But the numbers that truly matter -- 128 for the Bulls, 127 for the Celtics -- eclipsed Ray's ray of sunshine. After scoring his career playoff high, Allen was left to think about the ones that got away. 'After the game, I was thinking about the plays I missed,' he said. 'When you are on the losing end, that's what you remember.'"

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Yao Ming let out that long, gust-of-wind sigh he does when a question strikes him as worth a few extra moments of consideration to ponder an answer. This one, however, had something extra on it, producing enough breeze to fly a kite. His sigh of relief was so pronounced, Ron Artest leaned into the microphone in front of him to mimic it. Yao was entitled. Yao wanted this so badly. He ached for it. Others might deny their desires. Few would risk revealing the pain. Yao left no doubt. ... when he was asked how much all this had weighed on him, he finally exhaled, in some ways revealing the answer before he even spoke. 'I cannot give you an example,' he said. 'I do feel the pressure.'"

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "Houston eliminated Portland from the NBA playoffs with a 92-76 victory at the Toyota Center. The Rockets get the Lakers. The Blazers get a fat lip. And the temptation today for the Blazers is going to be to wander into the offseason, forgetting what happened in this series. If the Blazers are going to evolve as a franchise, they need to remember what happened in this six-game wrestling match with Yao Ming and Ron Artest. They need to remember the sting of losing despite being the higher seed. And recall the joy of growth, yup. And they need to never forget the way Rockets fans pelted them with insults and cups. It rained confetti after the final horn. The Blazers need to burn the sight of all that falling scrap paper into the backs of their brains. They need to remember the cries of 'BEAT L.A.!' that started up in the third quarter of what amounted to a back-alley whipping. They need to know -- and they don't, because they left the floor and closed the locker room door -- that Artest took the microphone, and interrupted the celebration by asking the home crowd for a 'round of applause for the Blazers.' And so the postseason began with a polite golf clap led by Artest."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "You want to talk about an unlikely recipe for success? This was like the Magic making the most incredible Philly cheesesteak you could possibly imagine -- without the steak and the cheese. The Magic weren't just missing their franchise player -- suspended center Dwight Howard -- they were also missing injured shooting guard Courtney Lee. This was like Spock and Bones piloting the Starship Enterprise to where no man has gone before -- without Captain Kirk on board. And now the Magic are going where few Orlando teams have gone over the last decade -- the second round of the playoffs -- without Howard in the house. Dwight was not allowed in the arena and watched the game from a nearby hotel where he actually tweeted with friends on Twitter. Before the game, Dwight tweeted, 'my boys jus gotta play. Shoot and play d.' They shot all right. They shot the Sixers right out of the gym and right into summer vacation. They shot like they haven't shot in more than a month."

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Orlando is an eminently beatable team, and last night should have been a layup, but that isn't the way the NBA works. The game goes to the team that plays better, whether it's supposed to or not. 'We saw where Thaddeus Young said having Howard out would be very big for them,' Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. 'Well, you've got to watch that stuff in this league. This league will bring you to your knees. Our guys are laughing in the locker room. They're saying, 'All we had to do was get rid of Dwight's 24 points and 24 rebounds and we're fine.' ' Yes, it's hard to figure, and last night it was awfully hard to watch, too. It isn't how the Sixers wanted to go into the off-season, with the other team joking in its locker room, but they had the option of preventing it and couldn't do so. So, the total is still one playoff series win since the NBA Finals in 2001 for a franchise that continues to search for direction. Last night, the direction was nowhere."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "Things in the NBA are fragile, which makes the future difficult to forecast. But one season in, there can certainly be an argument that 'getting Mo' was the best player-for-player trade in Cavs history. Considering what the Cavs gave up -- just Damon Jones in the end because Joe Smith ended up back in Cleveland -- it may even outrank the Kevin Johnson-for-Larry Nance deal in 1988. Nance became an All-Star like Mo Williams, but so, too, did Johnson. That could be settled in the coming years, but for the present, both Williams a
    nd his teammates couldn't embrace the situation more. Not just from a basketball sense but from a personal standpoint as well."

  • Anthony Cotton of The Denver Post: "Moments before the opening tip of the opening game of their opening-round NBA playoff series against New Orleans, Nuggets guard J.R. Smith made a point to run down from his bench to the opposing one to give a hug to Hornets coach Byron Scott, a frequent antagonist during his days with the club. Rest assured there will be no such niceties with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Sunday before the start of the Western Conference semifinals. 'Naw. I'm not a big fan of his and I think everybody knows that,' Smith said. 'He's just another thing we have to get by on the way to the championship.' Cuban often sits courtside during his team's games, a spot that often turned out to be something akin to center ring when it came to Smith. The duo engaged in a running battle throughout the regular season, culminating in an incident during a Jan. 13 game at the Pepsi Center, when Cuban confronted Smith at halftime over an elbow the player allegedly threw at Dallas' Antoine Wright. After the game, Cuban demanded that Smith be suspended; he wasn't. Instead, the NBA fined Cuban $25,000 for his role in the altercation. Later, the owner placed an entry on his blog challenging Smith to a steel-cage, wrestling-like duel."

  • Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee: "Hiring Byron Scott away from the New Orleans Hornets. This is something to think about. Seriously. Today. Tonight. Tomorrow. While Geoff Petrie is overseas scouting Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings, his former Kings assistant is fretting about his coaching future, sneaking a dismal peek at the Hornets of 2009-10 and decompressing from a miserable playoff series against the Denver Nuggets. If you're Byron Scott, you want out. If you're George Shinn, you cut him loose. If you're the Kings, you place the call. Though the list of potential candidates for the Kings' vacancy includes several proven former NBA head coaches, Eddie Jordan, Paul Westphal and Bernie Bickerstaff among them, Scott is the obvious best choice. He would be the home run Petrie and the Maloofs have hoped would drop into their laps from the playoff bleachers, the dynamic, established and familiar presence who covets a change, and whose owner is thought to be similarly restless."

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Will Carlos Boozer remain with the Jazz? No. Even if Boozer opts in with the team, the Jazz will find a way to get rid of him, regardless of what's being said publicly now. They cannot afford Boozer, and having him stay on the roster, all while there are other players they want to sign, all while the payroll rockets into the luxury tax realm, does more damage than good. The late Larry Miller said he did not want his club to cross that threshold, but he also once said he would be willing to go there -- if it meant a championship was imminent. Having Boozer in the lineup doesn't guarantee that kind of result. In fact, it could hinder it, considering the way Boozer's teammates respond to him. Look at the way they played once he returned from his knee injury this past season. They got worse, not better. There is no proof for it, but there is a suspicion that Boozer jacks up the Jazz's team chemistry and that his presence hurts their cohesiveness. No argument here."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "Allen Iverson might not have worked out as a Piston, but he's still making cash registers ring. The future Hall of Famer and unrestricted free agent ranked fifth on the list of most popular NBA jerseys, according to a release from the league Thursday. Only jerseys for the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Cleveland's LeBron James, New Orleans' Chris Paul and Boston's Kevin Garnett ranked ahead of Iverson's red, white and blue No. 1. There was a spike in interest in the Pistons when the team acquired Iverson from Denver in a November trade that sent fan favorite Chauncey Billups to the Nuggets. Although many Pistons fans might want to set fire to their Iverson jersey after he was shut down with a sore back late in the regular season after complaining about coming off the bench, his ranking shows his name still can move merchandise."