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First Cup: Friday

  • Bill Plaschke of Los Angeles Times: "Typical Fish. At the end of the most indelible game of his enduring Lakers career, Derek Fisher disappeared. He was swallowed by the long limbs of Lamar Odom, the long embrace of Andrew Bynum, the long hair of Sasha Vujacic. His bald head was hidden in somebody's warmup jacket. His short arms were wrapped in somebody's giant ones. After both tying and winning a game that will propel his team to an NBA championship, he was immediately enveloped not by camera lights but teammates, lost not in glamour but love, the most unassuming Laker never even having a chance to pump a fist. Typical Fish. Don't worry, after what happened Thursday night in front of a crowd that was stunned into silence, you'll see him again. After his two jaw-flooring three-pointers led the Lakers to a 99-91 overtime victory against the Orlando Magic in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, you'll now officially be seeing him forever."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "They've taken their fans on a wild, wondrous journey since October and defied the kind of odds this postseason that gets you in Ripley's and makes Vegas blush. The Orlando Magic now will have to top their own comeback act, dipping deep into the well of improbability to drink in a championship. After falling to the Los Angeles Lakers 99-91 in a bitter overtime loss on Thursday night at Amway Arena, the Magic trail 3-1 in the NBA Finals. The Magic not only must buck history heading into Game 5 on Sunday -- no team has ever rebounded from this deficit in the Finals to win the title -- but they must get past perhaps an equally formidable obstacle. Kobe."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "This should have been a triumph. When the legs all around him seemed gone 45 minutes into a tie game, Howard went 'Superman.' He blocked two shots. He beat the Lakers down the floor to score a three-point play. He got to within the shadow of the rim, forcing the Lakers to send him to the line with a chance to put the game on ice and tie the series 2-2. That's when Superman turned into Nick Anderson of the '95 Finals. He bricked both free throws, allowing Derek Fisher's 3-pointer to tie the game. The Magic were never the same. They missed their remaining regulation shot and 6 of 7 in overtime. Howard finished with 21 rebounds and nine blocked shots, but just 16 points because he made just 6 of 14 free throws. He works on his foul shooting, and works and works. After almost everyone else was gone on Wednesday, Howard stayed behind to shoot free throws. But even beyond his failings at the line, there is so much he could add to his offensive game."

  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: "The grimace. The clenched teeth. The whole I-Am-Not-a-Benevolent-Person-on-the-Court act. Heck, Kobe could resurrect the sagging, frozen-meal industry by himself. By signing on with Swanson he could debut, 'The Angry Man Dinner.' It's as if he doesn't want to merely defeat Howard and the Magic; he wants to disembowel them. Once genteel this time of year, friendly even, as he flashed his telegenic grin chatting amiably with whoever crossed his path. Now the mad Mamba looks like he wants to take your lunch money. Meet you behind the cafeteria. Dunk maliciously on your children. Charles Oakley said so eloquently once, 'If it ain't broke, don't break it.' So what was wrong with the player who could close the door on a team with his shot and lull everyone to sleep with his smile? Smacking his gum and looking away on the bench in Game 4, after Fisher's second three-point bomb put him on the cusp again in overtime, Kobe Bryant will soon feel the Larry O'Brien Trophy in his hands. But I still long for the day when he leaped into Shaq's big arms like the kid who balanced watching 'Skip to My Lou' videos with all those Michael Jordan tapes, not the seen-it-all veteran who no longer leaves practice with the Spice Girls blaring out his car speakers. I really miss that guy. Is it too late to ask for that Kobe Bryant back?"

  • Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer: "With a year remaining on his deal, it's difficult to imagine LeBron James telling ownership he believes it's time for a coaching change. If the Cavs don't win with James next season, it very well could be. But that's next season. This is two months removed from the greatest regular season in franchise history. I once sat through a news conference in Atlanta when madcap Braves owner Ted Turner fired Bobby Cox as manager. When asked about the managerial search, Turner said, 'Well, I'd hire Bobby Cox if I hadn't just fired him.' That's the definition of change for change's sake. What about the Cavaliers' situation would make anyone feel it's time for a change? That somebody in the organization might find Pat Riley's cologne intoxicating? Brown has shortcomings for sure, particularly on offense. When Barkley says the Cavaliers don't play fast enough and don't put enough pressure on defenses, he's on to something. But Brown's defense -- until the Magic series -- had become a signature brand that James finally embraced this season. Brown's defensive adjustments in series past made the Cavs a tough out. They just didn't come close to working against Orlando."

  • Brian Hendrickson of The Columbian: "Nobody seemed sure of what to make of Jerryd Bayless last summer. Heads cocked when the Portland Trail Blazers selected the explosive scorer from Arizona. Why take a shooting guard when they already had an All-Star in Brandon Roy? What about the need for a point guard? How did Bayless fit in? But the 19-year-old rookie gave a cold, intense stare on the day he as introduced, and knew deep inside exactly how he would fit. 'I know my natural position is point guard,' he said. And now the Blazers appear to be sold on that future as well. Because while fans have debated over how Portland could land a lottery-caliber point guard in this month's NBA Draft, or speculated about trades and free agent signings that could anchor their long-term future at that position, the Blazers have quietly invested their confidence in Bayless and structured their summer plans to start refining the raw rookie into their future point guard. t started this week, when teammate Greg Oden joined Bayless in Phoenix so the two could work out together and start developing their chemistry. And it will continue during next month's summer league, when Blazers coach Nate McMillan expects Bayless to run the team as its full-time point guard."

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "I'm convinced Marcus Thornton is the guy for the New Orleans Hornets.Admittedly, there's a bias for the former LSU shooting guard. Having seen more of him than of the other draft prospects the Hornets have worked out, and having fallen hard for the way he played and competed in games en route to becoming the SEC Player of the Year last season, the personal preference previously has
    been stated. But after watching the little bit of the workout that the media was allowed to see this week during his New Orleans visit with five other candidates, Thornton only confirmed the belief that if he's available when the Hornets pick at No. 21 in the first round of the NBA Draft, they should take him and consider themselves fortunate."

  • Richard Obert of The Arizona Republic: "The last guy you'd expect to see on skates is 7-foot-2, nearly 300 pounds, bakes cakes, has a crew cut and a Texas twang and still believes he can play in the NBA. On most Wednesday nights, Greg Ostertag can be found in the Ice Den in Scottsdale, playing forward in a no-checking, men's hockey league. 'I had a hat trick,' he said of a recent game. 'I go out and play hard. We try to win.' Hockey was his childhood love in Duncanville, Texas, before he grew into basketball, a future that led him to two Finals Fours with Kansas and 11 NBA seasons, 10 with the Utah Jazz, before retiring three years ago. Now settled down in Scottsdale with his wife Heidi and their three children Ostertag, 36, gets his kicks on the ice and in the kitchen and longs for the game that provided a life of luxury. 'I know I can still play,' said Ostertag, whose wife is from the Valley. 'It's just a matter of getting back into shape. I can still play. I can put in 10 or 15 minutes a game, get some rebounds and block some shots.' Ostertag is not serious enough to ask the Suns for a tryout. He figures with Shaquille O'Neal around and Robin Lopez having just finished his rookie season, they don't need him. But somebody does, he believes."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "To those who see the NBA as glorified street ball -- all improvisation and chaos -- consider this: Bobcats assistant coach Dave Hanners has a summer project, cataloguing every play the team ran last season. That resulted in a 420-page playbook for next season. Larry Brown is known for running a spectrum of plays with all sorts of variations. In reviewing the video from last season, Hanners found 80-plus 'ATOs.' That's the abbreviation for 'after timeouts,' as in something Brown drew up in a huddle. This is why Mike Gminski said before last season that dumb players have little or no chance of succeeding with Brown -- there's just too much data to absorb to get away with lacking concentration."