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First Cup: Thursday

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs were dominant once more, crushing Golden State with 18 unanswered points after their lead slipped to seven en route to their 19th straight victory, 111-90 Wednesday at the AT&T Center. In addition to extending the ongoing franchise record, the 19-game win streak ties the 1999-2000 Lakers and 2007-08 Celtics for sixth longest in NBA regular-season history. The Spurs (59-16) also clinched their 20th division title since joining the league in 1976, trailing only those same franchises.

  • John Reid of The Washington Post: The celebration was barely underway Wednesday night at Verizon Center when the Washington Wizards’ best player made yet another great move. As the final seconds ticked off during the Wizards’ 118-92 playoff-clinching victory over the Boston Celtics, John Wall found Coach Randy Wittman on the bench and embraced him the way people do after accomplishing a monumental task. Leading the Wizards back to the postseason qualifies. From the depths of the NBA, the Wizards have reached heights they haven’t experienced in six years. They overcame obstacles — most of their own making — to finally provide what owner Ted Leonsis wanted: a trip to the playoffs. And Wall and Wittman were at the forefront of the Wizards’ long climb back. So it was fitting that the Wizards’ star and the man who pushed him hard to become one shared a private moment as coaches, players and many in a crowd of 17,770 hugged and high-fived while the Wizards completed a blowout that enabled them to achieve a goal they set in training camp. And as everything swirled around them, Wall kept it simple. “Thank you,” Wall told Wittman. “All the tough times I’ve been through ... [he pushed] me every day to get better and become a better leader.”

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Greivis Vasquez is good enough to be a starting NBA point guard. He has been one before, and likely will be again. He is big and smart and seemingly impervious to the pressure that goes with taking a big shot or making a big play. But he’s also smart enough to realize what’s important, what truly matters in the end. And even after his first start of the season for the Raptors, he knows what’s best for him and his teammates. “When I came here, I really humbled myself and understood it’s about winning more than about putting up numbers,” Vasquez said after taking over for the injured Kyle Lowry and helping the Raptors to an important 107-103 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night. “I could go out there and play 36 minutes and put up crazy numbers, but what about the playoffs? What about making winning plays?” That’s the kind of attitude that embodies this current group, and it was never more evident in their win over the Rockets despite the absence of Lowry and Amir Johnson, who left after three minutes with a tweaked right ankle. There is no moping, no excuse making; this team sucks it up and gets on with the business at hand.

  • George Willias of the New York Post: Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason. The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks (33-43) are a desperate team, believing they must win every game in order to make the playoffs. The Nets (40-34) are already assured of a spot, having earned their ticket to the postseason with a victory over the Rockets Tuesday night at Barclays Center. On Wednesday night, it was clear which team had something to play for and which team didn’t as the Knicks rolled to a 110-81 triumph that was never close. The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It is always a risk for fans to purchase tickets at this point in the season when teams are preparing for the playoffs. There's always a chance coaches will rest their superstars, causing disappointment in the stands. The one exception, however, is Miami Heat forward LeBron James. At least that what he claims. James says he plans on playing the remaining eight games as long as he stays healthy. After making that statement, he promptly "knocked on wood" at his locker with hopes of avoiding injury. "I have no choice," James said. "I don't plan on sitting out any of these (eight) games unless something happens. I'm going to be in the lineup." James said he would "probably not" sit out even if some of his teammates weren't out with minor ailments. Guards Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen, and center Greg Oden remained sidelined with their injuries for Wednesday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: On March 28, 2012, Kirk Hinrich, then with the Hawks, told the Tribune he would consider re-signing with the Bulls when he entered unrestricted free agency for the first time in his NBA career a few months later. Wednesday morning, almost two years to that day, Hinrich expressed a similar sentiment. “I like it here,” Hinrich said of his Bulls’ situation. “Obviously, returning home was a big factor in why I came back. I would like to stay here. But I don’t know what’s in their future plans. Right now, I’m just trying to enjoy it while I’m in it and take what comes later.” Hinrich turned down a more lucrative offer from the Bucks that summer of 2012 to sign a two-year, $8 million deal with the Bulls, returning to the city where he kept his north suburban home after the Bulls traded him to the Wizards in 2010 for salary-cap space. Like then, his free agency decision this summer will be based as much — if not more so — on fit as financial reasons. "At this point of your career, you want to be on a team that is a good fit and has a chance to be a winner," Hinrich said.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: It seems everyone has a solution on how to stop NBA teams from tanking games to improve their draft position. The discussion has picked up this season as the Philadelphia 76ers, who traded two of their best players for minimal return, tied the NBA record for consecutive losses at 26. ... Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, who is always looking to be at the forefront of new-age thinking, has a plan to keep front offices from doing all they can to pile up losses. Ranadive calls it the “V-Plan” and believes it would change how teams approach the season and the rebuilding process. “Part one is that we freeze the draft lottery order at the All-Star break,” Ranadive said. The rationale is if the lottery order is set then, teams would not have incentive to dump players at the trade deadline simply for the purpose of tanking. Ranadive’s plan also would feature a way to keep every team engaged to the season’s end by keeping them all eligible for the postseason. “Then part two is at the end of the season the top seven teams in the East and the top seven teams in the West make the playoffs,” Ranadive said. “And then for the eighth spot, the remaining eight teams (in each conference) have a college-style sudden-death playoff at a neutral place.”

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: I’d heard all around the league that the remarkable thing about the 76ers, considering how much they’ve been programmed to lose by management, is how they don’t look like a team that has quit. I’d have to say that’s accurate; they compete, they just don’t have much with which to compete. I thought Philadelphia’s Henry Sims was an NBA player when he was with the Bobcats for summer league in Las Vegas – smart, a good passer and not reluctant to be physical in the paint. But if you told me he’d be a starting center the second half of this season, I would have chuckled.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Even with Blake Griffin looking like he still wasn't 100% healthy because of back spasms and the Clippers falling into a 17-point hole in the third quarter, Los Angeles showed how much resolve it has as a team. Griffin played through his pain, Jared Dudley played hard and Chris Paul, Matt Barnes and Darren Collison gave it their all to help the Clippers defeat the Phoenix Suns, 112-108, Wednesday night at the US Airways Center. By winning their fourth straight game on this five-game trip, the Clippers clinched the Pacific Division, their second straight. “It was a lot of character,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “It was a character win for us.” And Rivers got that from all of his players.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters looked terrific playing alongside each other Wednesday. Now there is hope the Cavs’ 19th different starting lineup combination might be the last. Irving had 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds in his first game back and Waiters scored 26 points in the Cavs’ impressive 119-98 dismantling of the Orlando Magic to keep pace in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. The Cavs pulled within two games of the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot in the East, setting up a critical game Friday against the Hawks. “We’re still in the hunt,” Waiters said. “We still have a chance.” Irving was cleared to return following shootaround Wednesday morning and coach Mike Brown elected to try the combination with Waiters once more. Waiters has twice been removed from the starting lineup in less than two full seasons in the league, but most everyone is optimistic they can get it to work this time. “He’s my wing man,” Irving said.

  • Mark Montieth of Pacers.com: If this was the turnaround they had been desperately seeking, the darkness-leading-to-dawn moment that revives their hopes and dreams, it began on Tuesday, an off day, in the still of their locker room. The Pacers' starters met with coach Frank Vogel that day to try to put the genie back in the bottle of their season, one that reflected legitimate championship aspirations until about mid-February before going awry. After losing six-of-eight games and forfeiting their lead in the Eastern Conference, they had seemingly lost their mojo, their chemistry, their road map, something. It's not too much of a stretch to say the meeting was the turning point of the their 101-94 victory over Detroit at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday. While there was a general reluctance among the starters to divulge details, they did walk away from it feeling a shift in their emotional barometer. “We were able to have a great talk yesterday as a team and kind of build each other back up,” Paul George said.

  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: After no triple-doubles in his first five seasons, Timberwolves all-star Kevin Love has three in 71 games this season. His latest came Wednesday when he poured in 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in Minnesota's 102-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at Target Center. It was Love's second triple-double in four games. He had 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in three quarters March 28 against the Los Angeles Lakers. "It means that I'm more well-rounded," Love said of the feat. "Between coach (Rick Adelman) and Flip (Saunders, president of basketball operations), they asked a lot out of me at the beginning of the year, being able to facilitate and pass the ball. The fact that I've been able to do that is nice because it's just as gratifying scoring the ball as it is to make a good pass." Love moved into a second-place tie with Ricky Rubio for most triple-doubles in franchise history (3). Kevin Garnett had 19 triple-doubles, with three in the playoffs.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Recently, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw pulled his "billboard players" — Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried — into his office. He wanted to chat about leadership for the remainder of this season and beyond. "Just to talk to them about the step that I want to see both of them take, starting these last games, being the faces of the franchise," Shaw said. "Ty has already been paid. Kenneth is trying to get paid. And the expectations that come with both of those guys being the faces. Just trying to get them to understand that, not just in games but also in practice. Right now, it's like having a classroom full of whatever grade you want to pick, summer vacation is just right around the corner. It's the last week of school and everyone is getting antsy, but we still have to take care of business — and getting them to police that and keep it all in order so that (coaches) don't have to." How receptive was the duo to the meeting and increased expectations in leadership? "That's left to be seen," Shaw said.