First Cup: Thursday

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Much to his chagrin, Manu Ginobili endured one of the more unusual moments of the 2013-14 season when one of his custom Nikes basically blew up in last month’s home victory over Detroit. Ginobili was none too pleased to answer questions about the mishap after the game, no doubt hoping to deflect poor press for his long-time sponsor. But he was a bit more open about the subject, going so far as to take responsibility during his regular column with Argentine newspaper La Nacion: "I never experienced anything like that, not even close. It was my fault. For the past several years I had two shoe boxes in the garage, no air conditioning, and here in San Antonio, now moving from 40 degrees to (warm weather). That combination is very bad for the material. I used a pair of these shoes and what happened happened." Lots of other little details in the piece, including the upcoming birth of his third child with wife Many and the Spurs’ remarkable consistency, which he compared to Ryan Giggs’ partnership in soccer with Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: While the Bulls stumbled, MVP candidate Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook put the Thunder on their shoulders en route to a one-sided finish and a 97-85 loss for the Bulls. It was a reminder of what true star power still means in the NBA and a reminder that with the playoffs approaching, the Bulls just don’t have that power. ... It has worked at times. The Bulls beat the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat last week, handcuffing LeBron James when it mattered most. Then, on Thursday, they held James Harden to just eight points — about 16 below his average — in a victory over the Houston Rockets. So there is a track record of success — in the regular season. The problem comes in the postseason in a best-of-seven series against a player such as James, Paul George or Dwyane Wade. ... There’s no doubt Noah has had a breakout year as one of the best all-around centers in the league, but the days when centers ruled the NBA ended years ago. As TNT analyst Steve Kerr said last year, this is the "Era of LeBron," where stars such as James set the standard over playing good team basketball.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Phil Jackson took in his first game as Knicks president and received a standing ovation when he was introduced. He stood and waved in appreciation and had to like the way the Knicks defended and closed out the game. Jackson also had to appreciate the way Carmelo Anthony lifted his and his teammates' play down the stretch. After nearly squandering an early 16-point lead, the Knicks finished off the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers, 92-86 last night at Madison Square Garden for their season-high seventh straight win. One day after Jackson said Anthony is a part of the future, he scored 34 points -- 20 of them in the second half -- and had five assists to help keep the Knicks' slim playoff hopes alive. "The teams that we play, we feel like they're in our way," Anthony said. "That's our motto right now." The Knicks (28-40) are four games behind Atlanta for the last playoff spot, but five back in the loss column with 14 to play. Six of their next seven are on the road, including a five-game West Coast trip, so the Knicks have an uphill climb. But they continue to show passion, urgency and resolve that was missing earlier this season. "These last couple of weeks we've been playing with that focus, that energy, that hunger," Anthony said.

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: There’s no place like home for the Nets. With their 104-99 win over the Bobcats Wednesday, the Nets upped their home winning streak to 10 games, giving them the longest active home winning streak in the NBA. They also became the third team — along with the Thunder and Pacers, who did it twice earlier this season — to win 10 or more games in a row in its own building. “We’re playing well,” said Shaun Livingston, who finished with 17 points. “We’re really not trying to focus on any streaks. … It’s all about one game at a time.” It’s the longest home winning streak for the Nets since current coach Jason Kidd was the team’s point guard in 2006, when the team won 12 straight at home. The Nets, who are 16-2 at home in 2014, haven’t lost in Brooklyn since being beaten by Oklahoma City on Jan. 31 — two days before the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. The Nets play host Friday night to the Celtics, one of the two teams to beat them in March.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Ray Allen received the ultimate sweet-and-sour parlay when he returned to the Garden as a member of the Miami Heat last season. On Jan.‚ÄČ27, the prodigal Celtic was feted with what has become the standard Jumbotron tribute. On March 18, the guard was booed every time he touched the ball. Last night, one day past the one-year anniversary of that uncomfortable night, Allen returned to the Garden for his only appearance of the season. He remains positive, even on the doorstep of more negativity. He was mildly booed last night as he scored 14 points off the bench during the Celtics’ 101-96 win over Allen’s Heat. ... He was struck by the photographic Celtics and Bruins mural that was put up on the walls of the hallway outside the home and visiting locker rooms. Allen could find his picture. Regardless of what some might think, he’s still remembered in a way more permanent than any snide response. ... But here’s something he didn’t watch — the video tributes for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. He still talks to Rivers. The other two continue to shun him with an Amish intensity. But Allen’s faith in his Celtics connection is resolute. He’d love to have his number retired, an experience he’s curiously never known on any level, including at UConn or high school.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Whether in the social media arena or at FedExForum, Joerger’s rotations continue to be a major discussion among fans. There was a noticeable group of fans calling for Joerger to insert reserve forward James Johnson into the game. Johnson didn’t play. “I can’t comment on stuff like that,” Joerger said when asked if he heard the crowd’s plea. The demonstration was similar to the cries for injured swingman Quincy Pondexter to see more time on the floor earlier this season.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Injuries have been a problem for me the last few years," Billups said. He has played in just 19 games for the Pistons, who brought him back for a second stint with the franchise when they signed him last summer as a free agent. Billups is treasured by the franchise — and the city — in nearly the same way he is in Denver. Going back to the Motor City was a no-brainer for him, and it could be where he stays after his career ends. He and Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars are close. Billups would like to move into the front office at some point after retiring as a player. There is better than a puncher's chance that place ends up being Detroit, where he had his greatest moments as a pro. He was asked how it has been being back in Detroit. "It's been great, actually," Billups said. "Obviously the team is not playing great — I feel like we've underachieved a little bit. But me being back with the people that love me so much and the fan base there has been great. Obviously I would look at that (going into the front office) if that opportunity came about. That's like my home away from home. They really adopted me there. Of course, (Denver) is always going to be my home. But Detroit is like my second home. So any opportunity that arose, I would obviously look at."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: They know what ultimately awaits them; some of them barely remember what it feels like, while some have never had the experience. It is what drives the Raptors most nights and, after another improbable victory stolen with resolve and hustle and aggression at winning time, Kyle Lowry spoke the words that few Raptors publicly will. It is the end game — a place in the NBA post-season — that allows them to find the fight and the will to grind out victories like the 107-100 triumph they took from the New Orleans Pelicans here Wednesday night. “It’s just toughness,” Lowry said after the Raptors seemingly willed themselves to win by outscoring the Pelicans 26-15 in the fourth quarter and outhustling them all over the floor. "We’ve got resilient guys in here, we’ve got professional guys who all they want to do is win games. We’re all in the same situation now where some guys haven’t been in the playoffs in a long time like me and Chuck (Hayes) and then you’ve got guys who’ve never been in the playoffs like DeMar (DeRozan) and the young guys. We’re in a situation where we want to keep pushing it and keep grinding to make our team better.”

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Too little, too late now to believe they will still play as May approaches for the first time in a decade, the Timberwolves must find their own playoffs wherever and whenever they can, such as Wednesday night’s tumultuous 123-122 overtime victory at Dallas. ... Starting point guard Ricky Rubio delivered his third career triple-double – and his second this season – with a 22-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound game, the likes of which haven’t been reached statistically on a Wolves team since a guy named Terrell Brandon did so in 2001. Kevin Love provided the game-winning shot with 17.1 seconds left in overtime, manufacturing it basically out of thin air before he bothered Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki enough so that the future Hall of Famer failed to answer with a winner of his own just before the final buzzer. “Our poor play at the beginning of the game is the reason it came down the way it did,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “Shame on us.” The Wolves remain 5.5 games behind both Dallas and Memphis for the West’s final two playoff spot with just 16 games left, but they tasted a bit of May in a game that swung wildly – and loudly inside American Airlines Center – from victory to loss and back again. Afterward, usually understated Wolves coach Rick Adelman called it one of his team’s best performances this season “by far.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are two of the better driving guards in the league. The Suns are the best team at scoring on fast breaks. But for those times when they are unable to get to the rim one of those ways, they turn to sixth man Markieff Morris.to get them as close as they regular get otherwise. The Suns lean on Morris' improved post-up and power game as a fixture of the offense. He counts on it for more of his scoring, making him more efficient than he was in first two seasons. Morris has taken more shots inside 8 feet this season than he did all of last season and converts them at 58 percent this season rather than 50 percent last season. Even this season, Morris has gone from averaging 5.1 points in the paint per game before the All-Star break to 7.6 points in the paint per game since the break, entering Wednesday night's game. "I'm more confident in it," Morris said of his post-up game.

  • Allan Brettman of The Oregonian:When Adam Fox drove by Compound Gallery early Wednesday afternoon, the line already was forming. "I better park," Fox thought to himself. "Now." The doors to Compound, Portland's mecca of sneakerhead-dom, would not open its doors until 7 p.m. But by that time, the thick band of customers snaked from the doors at 107 N.W. Fifth Ave., south to Northwest Couch Street, down Couch then around and up Northwest Sixth Avenue. Even Compound Gallery owner Katsu Tanaka did not expect a turnout so overwhelming for the launch of the Florist City Collection. The two-hour event featured an appearance by Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and Washington Wizards guard John Wall, signing the Adidas Crazy 1 basketball sneakers that had been crafted for the occasion. The Florist City Collection also includes socks, hats and sweatshirts with a springtime floral theme.