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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: By the time the Spurs finished off a 103-77 demolition of the Pacers to a chorus of even more catcalls, even the visitors were feeling sorry for the hapless home team. ... The Spurs, who sport the NBA's best record, had targeted this game as a chance to measure themselves against a title contender. Instead, they treated the Pacers like so many of the lottery-bound opponents that have been victims during their winning streak. “Sometimes when you win a lot in a row, you think things are going to come easy,” Popovich said. “At some point, you need to get slapped so you can get back on the right road.” The stumbling Pacers were in no position to slap anyone Monday. By the time the game ended and the booing ceased, Indiana was left with more questions than answers. The Spurs, meanwhile, rolled on, doing what they do exactly how they have done it for 18 games and counting.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: There are certain aspects of a game that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will concede to the opposition. Rebounding is not one of them. It didn’t matter that the Bulls, outrebounded in six of their last 10 games entering Monday, still found a way to win four of those games. To Thibodeau, that’s flirting with danger. And with just eight regular-season games left after Monday’s win over the Boston Celtics at the United Center, that’s also a messy house going into the playoffs. ‘‘It’s been inconsistent," Thibodeau said before the game, in which the Bulls finished with a 48-45 rebounding edge. "We’ve been a very good rebounding team all season. You have to look at it in totality, and I think right now, actually, there were several plays [from Sunday’s win at Boston] in which we had good block-outs and we took off where one guy was thinking the other guy was taking it." But the recent trend is a head-scratcher, considering the Bulls entered the rematch with the Celtics ninth in the NBA with 44.6 rebounds per game and fifth in rebound differential with a plus-3.2 per game.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: At one point this season, LeBron James actually cared about the Heat finding a consistent rhythm before the playoffs. Now, James just wants his team to make to the finish line as healthy as possible. With the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings up for grabs on Monday, the Heat once again with an unconventional starting lineup and a secondary rotation. One thing is certain at this point for the defending back-to-back champions, everything will surely change between now and the playoffs. Dwyane Wade sat out his 22nd game of the season Monday against the Toronto Raptors and the Heat went with a starting lineup of Toney Douglas, Mario Chalmers, James, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem. It was the second time this season that particular piecemeal starting lineup has been used. In all, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has used 19 different starting lineups this season. “It is what it is,” James said.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: DeMarcus Cousins created a stir on the Internet on Sunday night. And he had fun doing so. Pictures surfaced of Cousins’ first “album” under the name Boogie Smooth titled “Misunderstood,” with the first single being a rhythm and blues groove titled “Emotional” featuring Chance The Rapper. Cousins even asked via Twitter on Monday if he could be any worse than Shaquille O’Neal or Chris Webber, who also dabbled in music during their careers. But Boogie Smooth’s career is all in fun. Cousins, who is friends with rap stars Drake and Rick Ross, is not about to become a part-time R&B crooner. Cousins laughed when asked about the musical project, as did his teammates. Coach Michael Malone even found the musical venture comical. “I was hoping that it wasn’t true because I don’t know if anybody would even buy that album,” Malone said. “I guess April Fools’ came a few days early, but DeMarcus keeps everybody on the edge of their seat.”

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Zach Randolph emerged from the locker-room shower strutting and singing a little ditty that had his teammates laughing. Randolph couldn’t carry much of a tune Monday night but he made music with the basketball in his hands and lifted the Grizzlies to a 94-92 victory over the Denver Nuggets in the Pepsi Center. The veteran forward got serious in the second half, bullying his way around the basket to ensure the Griz ended a two-game losing streak and get back into the Western Conference playoff standings. ... Memphis (44-30), Dallas and Phoenix now have identical records. Dallas owns the seventh seed because it has the tie-breaker against Memphis, which sits in the eighth spot because of a tie-break advantage over ninth-place Phoenix. The musical chairs promises to continue until the final week of the regular season when those teams play each other.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Lou Williams: The guard knows how to take over a game. He did so in the fourth quarter of a must-win for the Hawks. If the team had any hope of holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference defeating the lowly Sixers, at home, was a must. Williams delivered. He scored 16 second-half points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, on his way to 22 points. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers, right in front of the Sixers bench, late in the game to break open a 92-92 tie. “He deserved to be on the court,” coach Mike Budenholzer said.

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: Sluggish for much of the first three quarters, and with their star player having to go to the locker room to get seven stitches after getting elbowed in the first quarter, the Charlotte Bobcats gave little indication a comeback was brewing Monday night. But a tremendous closing kick – on both offense and defense – allowed Charlotte to beat Washington 100-94 and deny the Wizards a chance at clinching a playoff berth. The Bobcats (36-38) trailed by as many as 16 points and were behind 84-73 with 9:18 to play before closing out the game on a 27-10 run to delight a vocal crowd of 14,894 at Time Warner Cable Arena. ... It marked Charlotte’s fifth comeback this season from a deficit of 10 or more points; Charlotte trailed by 20 at Detroit on Dec. 20, by 18 against Milwaukee on Dec. 23, by 16 at Toronto on Dec. 18 and by 12 at Cleveland on Nov. 15.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Blake Griffin stood erect with his back up against the basketball stanchion for support, contemplating whether it was wise to push through back spasms that forced him from the game Saturday night in Houston or to rest. Griffin decided to rest rather than play against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. He probably won't play at Phoenix on Wednesday. The Clippers have seven regular-season games left before the playoffs start in about three weeks, and they want make sure Griffin is 100% healthy. "This part of the season is important, obviously, as far as [playoff] positioning and everything else," Griffin said. "The last two years in the playoffs, I've been banged up. I haven't been 100%. I don't want it to be that way this year. So I'm trying to be smart about it and I'm trying to be proactive and not do anything to make it a prolonged, healing process." Griffin suffered a sprained right ankle before the Clippers played Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, limiting his effectiveness. Over the last few weeks, Griffin has had his back wrapped up in ice and heat because of off and on back spasms.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Amar’e Stoudemire was held out of Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz, a decision Stoudemire claims was made before the West Coast trip that concluded with two games over 24 hours. Mike Woodson, though, said the veteran power forward was experiencing knee soreness. “I feel pretty good,” Stoudemire said. “We just want to make sure that it’s still strong for next month.” The Knicks return home to face the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday and don’t have another set of back-to-backs until the final two games of the season. Stoudemire, who has struggled with knee issues for the past two seasons, called Monday’s planned DNP a “maintenance and recovery day.” “I think he was a little sore and needed to back off,” Woodson said. “When he tells me that, it’s maintenance. It’s time to be cautious. We’ll get him ready for the Brooklyn game.” Stoudemire has been one of the Knicks’ best players during their recent stretch that has seen them win 11 of their last 14.

  • David Mayo of MLive.com: Pistons interim coach John Loyer suggested the playing rotation could change some in April as official playoff elimination draws near. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jonas Jerebko have regained their status in the rotation, while some of the younger players, such as rookies Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell, and Italian sharpshooter Gigi Datome, await their chances. "You'll see different guys throughout the lineup, which you kind of have," Loyer said. "But no drastic changes at this point."