First Cup: Monday

  • Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star: With 2:31 remaining in the game, they took their first lead. Then they won it by 10 — 96-86. I was there. I’m still not sure how they managed it. Two thoughts occurred simultaneously. First, Kyle Lowry is a remarkable basketball player. Second, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? This year’s Raptors team is the reverse of the historical Raptors. For the first 18 years of their existence (with a few small respites), the Raptors could defined as “A basketball team of middling to low competence whose marked characteristic is losing games they should win.” Now, in Year 19, we meet the Bizarro Raptors, the team that wins games they should by all rights lose. Toronto has now won 10 games this year after trailing to begin the fourth quarter. Last year, they did that three times. We can talk about a change in √©lan, and that exists. This team feels completely different. Guys who you thought you had pegged are different somehow. This must be what winning looks like. We haven’t had much exposure to it in this town lately. But most of it is Lowry. He isn’t the most talented player ever to ply his trade in Raptors colours, but he is emerging as the most important. He has become more than a star. He is a talisman. When he decides to win games, he can do so by himself.

  • Terry Frei of The Denver Post: As Washington guard Andre Miller was about to enter the game at the start of the second quarter Sunday, he and Nuggets coach Brian Shaw had a brief conversation in front of the scorer's table. It didn't lead to an embrace and an announcement that all was forgiven, but it was at least civil and ended with a touching of hands. "I just went over to him and said, 'Whatever it's worth to you, sorry that everything happened the way that it did, good luck going forward the rest of the season,' " Shaw said after the Nuggets' 105-102 victory over the Wizards. "He just kind of gave me a little pound and I don't remember what he said. 'It's no big deal,' or something like that." ... Miller said the Nuggets asked him to return during the injury siege that briefly left them with no point guards, but he declined. "I'd say I wish I could be out there with my teammates, but I just made the decision for myself just to stay away," he said. "I didn't want to bring any more attention to the organization or to the players to distract them from moving forward. So I just kind of stayed away."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Vlade Divac dropped into town this week to promote the Kings organization’s fundraising and awareness efforts for UNICEF’s clean water initiative, with particular emphasis on China and India. This is a worthy cause,indeed, and an easy call for the team’s iconic center. When it comes to kids, Vlade never flops. Throughout his long and illustrious career, one that began as a 7-foot wunderkind in the former Yugoslavia and reached its professional pinnacle right here in Sacramento, when his Kings came within a few free throws and several whistles of reaching the NBA Finals, Divac simultaneously advocated for children. If the local politicians needed a boost on an education initiative? If the NBA wanted a prominent player to promote its literacy program? If the league was looking for someone to explain the damage inflicted by guns in the street – not to mention the bombs landing in his homeland – they looked to Divac, whose humanitarian efforts earned him induction into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of the Fame and the NBA’s prestigious Walter J. Kennedy Citizenship Award, and virtually assured his election in 2009 as president of the Serbian Olympic Committee. ... What exactly can Divac do for Sac? For the Kings? Really, there is no need to ask.

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: The surreal state of the Lakers — they lose even when they win. They beat the Orlando Magic, 103-94, Sunday at Staples Center and ended a four-game losing streak with a career-high 28 points from Jordan Hill. But Pau Gasol couldn't finish the game, staying in the locker room at halftime after feeling dizzy and nauseated. He received three liters of IV solution, a sizable amount, and was to spend the night at a hospital for precautionary reasons. Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni theorized it was an illness or influenza though admitted he did not know what caused Gasol's discomfort. A concussion was ruled out. The Lakers also kissed away some ping-pong ball percentages Sunday. They were chasing, if you will, Orlando for the NBA's third-worst record, a task that became practically impossible. The Lakers aren't trying to lose on purpose. Too many players are in the last years of their contract to let that happen. And the NBA would frown upon such behavior if true. But the team with the third-worst record has a 15.6% chance at winning the No. 1 pick at the May 20 lottery. The fourth-worst team has an 11.9% chance and fifth-worst gets an 8.8% chance. The Lakers (23-46) fell further behind Orlando (19-52) and "vaulted" Boston and Utah (both 23-47). They now own the NBA's sixth-worst record, good for only a 6.3% chance at the top pick.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: One of the few things Mike Brown dislikes more than a small lineup is being reactive to what the opponent is doing. He swallowed hard and did both Sunday. It’s the only reason the Cavs left the Garden victorious. Brown went small – really small – for the bulk of the fourth quarter as a reaction to the Knicks’ small lineup. The Knicks really hurt the Cavs with their small lineup in the first half and Brown feared it happening again. So with 8:48 to play and the Cavs down 90-85, Dion Waiters returned to the game and Tyler Zeller exited. Suddenly the Cavs had three guards (Waiters, Jarrett Jack and Matthew Dellavedova), a small forward (Alonzo Gee) and a center (Anderson Varejao). Luol Deng soon replaced Gee and the Cavs had their lineup that stunned the Knicks. The Cavs pick-and-rolled the Knicks to death with Jack and Varejao. The Knicks’ defense was terrible everywhere, both on the perimeter (slow rotations) and in the pick and roll. “When teams go small a lot of times, they go small to play pick and roll,” Brown said. “They have one or two guys who can go make plays. And Jack was the guy who made plays for us when we went small. That’s why it was effective. It’s no secret. Hey, he made plays for us."

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: (Mavs owner Mark) Cuban also was asked about Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and what he thought the impact on the league could be if Prokhorov was somehow caught up in the ongoing conflict over Crimea. "I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know who he is friends with and who he’s not friends with and all that stuff, so I have no idea,” Cuban said. When asked again if he thought it could impact the league if Prokhorov, who is set to pay roughly $190 million in combined payroll and luxury tax commitments, and his assets were impacted in some way, Cuban couldn’t help but get in a joke at the expense of his occasional sparring partner in the press. “I mean, he’s tall but his jumper hasn’t been falling,” Cuban said, “so I don’t think it does [impact the NBA]. I’m not qualified to comment on that."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns reserves are used to the view from behind. The Suns have led after the first quarter in six of the past 17 games, making it a necessity for the Suns to have one of the strongest benches in the league. It was never more apparent than in Sunday's 127-120 Suns win at Minnesota, when the Suns' largest comeback of the season was spurred by reserves Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Ish Smith. After the Suns fell behind 49-27, Markieff Morris scored nine of the Suns' next 12 points during his 15-point second quarter that helped cut the lead in half by halftime. ... Led by Markieff's 25 points and eight rebounds for his 15th 20-point game, the Suns bench tallied 61 points to the Minnesota reserves' 20 points. It was the second best bench scoring total of the season but not too unusual for the reserves lately. The Suns' subs have posted scoring totals of 54, 54, 59 and 61 in four of the past five games.

  • Jennifer Brett of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The star of Friday night’s Atlanta Hawks game didn’t actually sink any shots. Instead, Robin Roberts, the “Good Morning America” host who has candidly shared with viewers her experiences with first breast cancer, then myelodysplastic syndrome, came onto the court during a break in the action to receive the “Be Greater” award presented by SunTrust. “Robin Roberts embodies every aspect of what it means to be a champion, and the Atlanta Hawks are honored to celebrate her courage, spirit and philanthropy,” said Hawks president Bob Williams. Before the game, Roberts teamed up with her friend and longtime colleague Sam Champion, now at the Atlanta-based Weather Channel, for a reception during which she discussed her health journey. “When I was first diagnosed with MDS, I was like, what exactly is that?” she said. “Having gone through the battle with breast cancer in 2007, I said I’m not doing this again. If something should happen, I’m just going to let it ride. I’ve had a great life. I’m not going to put myself and my family through that again.”