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First Cup: Thursday

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "The guy who supposedly doesn't care carried them. The guy who some believe is just renting the uniform owned it -- the moment, the night, and the town, roaring as Lamar Odom roared during a 103-94 Lakers victory. 'Just gutting it out,' he said. Just throwing it down, he did, the basketball and the gantlet, with a late push that led to 19 points, 14 rebounds and a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. 'I just tried to pick up my effort, energy, and I guess sometimes when you do that, sometimes it spreads,' he said. Yeah, it spreads, sometimes even from here to Orlando or Cleveland. The Lakers are now one win from their second consecutive conference championship, and five wins from Odom's first NBA championship, and don't you think he knows it? Walking slowly and painfully through the Staples Center tunnel to his car late Wednesday, he stopped suddenly when I asked whether he was close enough to feel it. 'I'm 29, I've been playing 10 years, I've been through so much,' he said quietly. 'I don't know if I'll ever get this close again.' Anybody still wondering how bad he wants this? Anybody still wondering how much he needs this?"

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "How arrogant are the Lakers? Thanks for asking. So arrogant that they feel free to change the lyrics of the national anthem. Now, fans cheer different parts of the anthem for partisan reasons all over. In Baltimore, they cheer the 'Oh' in 'Oh, say' because of the Orioles. In Houston, they cheer the rockets' red glare because of the Rockets. But in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, singer and actor Tyrese Gibson changed 'our flag was still there' to 'our Lakers were still there.' I think we can all agree that's just not right. Up the road, on the sound stages of Hollywood, such arrogance is guaranteed its comeuppance, but not until the last 10 minutes of the movie. And let's be honest: If you were writing a script in which the world was ganging up on the underdog, you would have the referees conspire against them, too. With Game 5 tied after three quarters, the Nuggets had attempted 23 free throws to the Lakers' 19. In the lopsided fourth, the Lakers got 16 more. The Nuggets got seven. Denver coach George Karl lamented that the playoffs seem to require coaches to lobby the referees publicly, as Lakers coach Phil Jackson did after Game 4. He was fined $25,000, but it seemed to work for him in Game 5. So Karl, after lamenting this necessity, proceeded to do the same. 'It was a very difficult whistle to play,' he said. 'No question about that.' "

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Why was Shaquille O'Neal sitting courtside at the Magic's huge Game 4 overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night? Who sent him an invitation to the party? He was more out of place than Rush Limbaugh dancing the night away to the Dixie Chicks at Barack Obama's inauguration ball. Can you believe it? The guy who destroyed the franchise 13 years ago when he bolted for L.A., actually showed up at the amped-up Am on a night when the Magic and their fans were raucously relishing their resurrection. I realize it's a free country and Shaq, a 7-foot-1, 350-pound man who lives in Orlando during the offseason, has every right to go wherever he darn well pleases. But my question is this ... why? Why would a player who has torn down Orlando's franchise both symbolically and semantically show up at the Magic's biggest home playoff game in years? ... Seriously, the only way Shaq should have shown up Tuesday night was if he promised to be the halftime entertainment. Instead of an acrobat on a unicycle, Shaq should have taken the court wearing a bib and carrying a knife and fork -- all the better to eat the bitter, caustic words he has had for Magic superstar Dwight Howard and Coach Stan Van Gundy in recent months."

  • David S. Glasier of The News-Herald: "Everything the Cavs accomplished this season -- NBA-best regular-season record of 66-16, 39-2 at home; first overall seed in the playoffs; eight straight victories to open the postseason -- would be overshadowed by a loss tonight in front of the usual sellout crowd of 20,562 at The Q. Even if the Cavs stop the bleeding tonight with a victory, they face an uphill battle not just against the Magic but against the weight of NBA playoff history. Only eight teams have erased a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series. Cavs coach Mike Brown was keeping the faith Wednesday afternoon as his players completed a light workout at the team's practice center in Independence. 'I still have confidence and trust in this team. This team is together,' Brown said. 'They're determined. I can't knock the effort I've gotten in the four playoff games against those guys. Orlando has shot the (heck) out of the ball and hit two big shots at the end of games. 'You don't ever expect to be down 1-3. You know it can happen. That's part of life. We're looking forward to Game 5,' Brown added."

  • Chris Perkins of the Palm Beach Post: "Rafer Alston, an amicable 6-footer with a New York accent, has a past dotted with arrests, questions about his character and doubts about his basketball skills. And that one-game suspension he served in the conference semifinals against Boston for smacking guard Rajon Rondo on the back of the head didn't help matters. When you consider that backdrop, it's somewhat amazing that Alston will start for the Magic at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in Cleveland. In fact, Alston's ability to outplay Cavaliers guard Mo Williams is a big reason the Magic is on the verge of upsetting the team with the NBA's best regular-season record."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "The Birdman will be a free agent as soon as his Denver Nuggets finish, in victory or defeat, their NBA playoff push. Should the Thunder make a play for Chris Andersen? The Birdman is just what the Thunder needs, an interior defensive presence. Despite making just one start and averaging just 20.6 minutes per game, the Birdman placed second in the league in blocked shots, his 2.5 per game trailing only Dwight Howard's 2.9. Andersen is the new Dennis Rodman. The young Dennis Rodman. Rodman eventually became a kook and more trouble than he was worth, but the early Rodman was a wonderful, unique player. ... Would Thunder general manager Sam Presti take a flier on Birdman? No. Presti would sign Andersen only after the most intense research into the Birdman's rehabilitation. My guess is, Birdman is not worth the financial risk. Maintaining fiscal sanity, so that the upcoming big contracts for Kevin Durant and Co. can be offered."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "A lot of point guards are on the Mavericks' list,just as there were a lot of them brought in last week for workouts. That doesn't mean any of them will be on their roster in September, when training camp opens
    . One point guard that already has been linked to them through various reports is Spain's Ricky Rubio. He is expected to be either the second or third player taken in the draft, after Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. To get the 6-4 Rubio, the Mavericks would have to persuade Memphis (No. 2) or Oklahoma City (No. 3) to take part in a trade. 'He's the most highly anticipated point guard to come out of Europe – ever,' Donnie Nelson said. 'Tony Parker didn't have quite the same resume until he hit the ground over here.' Part of the reason why the 18-year-old Rubio has been linked to the Mavericks is because he is often called a young Jason Kidd. It would be intriguing to have him work with the 36-year-old Kidd for a season or two before taking over for him. There is no evidence that the Mavericks are in any serious discussions with the teams near the top of the draft order. But starting today, at the Chicago camp, all the personnel executives will be gathered at one place, meaning plenty of talks will take place."

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: "Jim Kelly, the Raptors senior director of player personnel is in the midst of scheduling, rescheduling, and re-rescheduling his next few weeks as he tries to ensure the Raptors get an up-close-and personal look at as many players of interest as possible. The problem is that quite often his efforts seem to conflict with those of the agents and the players they represent. 'It's a real challenge just to get guys to come up,' Kelly said from the NBA draft combine in Chicago, where he and the Raptors braintrust, seven in all, including president and GM Bryan Colangelo, have assembled to get another look at some of their options in the draft. It widely has been speculated that Pittsburgh power forward DeJuan Blair will be among those attending Toronto's next private workout next Thursday at the Air Canada Centre, but Kelly can't say that for sure. It's still a week away and things could, and very well may, change by then. 'At this point I can't say for sure that we have everyone we want to see in a workout assigned to a date,' Kelly admitted. 'It's a moving target.' Kelly is dealing with various agendas in trying to get this worked out. First there is the agent, who Kelly readily concedes is just looking out for his client, but who wants to control the workout process and perhaps influence the draft in that way. 'Agents are in control of less and less these days,' Kelly said. 'They can't control salaries (of players entering the NBA via the draft because those are slotted by the league). Maybe they look at these workouts as something they can control.' "

  • Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee: "The NBA's Be-Careful-What-You-Wish-For event began here Wednesday, when representatives from around the league came on the scene that has changed so much since the last time around. Predraft camp -- which relocated from Orlando, Fla. -- no longer includes the playing of basketball. After years of complaints from teams that the elite prospects hardly ever attended, the element that kept them away -- the scrimmage -- was removed, and the cast of characters is almost full again. But it's a tease, really, like seeing LeBron James sitting courtside at the dunk contest and knowing he won't participate."

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: "The only thing guaranteed at the NBA Draft Combine is that Knicks team president Donnie Walsh will be in Chicago today and finally will meet Davidson guard Stephen Curry, as well as other lottery hopefuls. In a more scaled down-version with a name and location change, the NBA Draft Combine -- formerly known as the pre-draft camp -- has moved from Orlando to Chicago for a two-day event beginning today. ... USC shooting guard Demar DeRozan and explosive point guard Brandon Jennings, who leapt from high school to Italy last season, also are drawing interest from the Knicks. The Nets will select 11th."