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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: The Heat’s path to a third consecutive NBA championship hasn’t gotten any easier or harder lately. But it does feel different. The chief road block to Miami’s fourth consecutive trip out of the Eastern Conference and into the Finals appears to have changed colors, from golden yellow to Darth Vader black. Looks for now like the cold Indiana Pacers are out. Looks for now like the hot Brooklyn Nets are in. And the Heat, bucking all trends, is as has been: Still the team to beat, unless or until you hear otherwise — despite Tuesday night’s 88-87 loss to the Brooklyn Nets here. This was maddening on a few levels. One is because LeBron James appeared to have been fouled on a blocked shot by the Nets’ Mason Plumlee — of all people — with less than two seconds left on what would have been a likely winning play by James. “It only matters if three people [the referees] think it’s a foul,” noted a smiling Plumlee. “So, we win.”

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Of course it was a foul. LeBron James should have been accorded a trip to the line with two seconds left after Mason Plumlee hit him on his right hand, as the Net rookie rejected the four-time MVP’s dunk attempt with the game in the balance on Tuesday night.But when you look at the final play of the Nets’ pulsating 88-87 victory at American Airlines Arena, the only opinions that matter belonged to Scott Foster, Brent Barnaky and Sean Wright. They swallowed their whistles, and it was one tough pill for James to swallow, as he stomped off the court with his fourth straight loss to the Nets this season. "We have great officials in this league,” Jason Kidd said. They sure were great for the Nets, with Plumlee getting another benefit of the doubt when he blocked Chris Bosh’s shot in the final two minutes and appeared to get away with a goal-tend. But the play they’ll talk about for the next few days, if not weeks, will be Plumlee’s final block on James. “I should have gone to the line to shoot two,” James said. “He grabbed my right hand. But what are you going to do about it?” There’s nothing he or the Heat can do. He watched the replay twice and twice he saw Plumlee get his hand. Doesn’t matter. He didn’t get the call.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Dirk Nowitzki passed another legend Tuesday night and hopped into some rarefied air en route to adding more pop and sizzle to his Hall of Fame career. With a game-high 21 points in the Dallas Mavericks’ 95-83 victory over the Utah Jazz at the Energy Solutions Arena, Nowitzki moved by the legendary Oscar Robertson and into 10th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 26,714 career points. Robertson finished his stellar career with 26,710 points. The performance by Nowitzki helped the Mavs sweep this critical four-game road trip and move to 48-31 on the season. It also enabled the Mavs to reduce their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to two games, meaning any combination of Dallas victories and Memphis Grizzlies losses equaling two will clinch a playoff spot for the Mavs. The Mavs, currently slotted for the Western Conference’s seventh seed, also inched to within one game of the Golden State Warriors (48-29) for the sixth seed. ... “To reach the top 10 is unreal — it’s been an amazing ride,” said Nowitzki, who was 9 of 11 from the field. “Passing the Big O, who obviously averaged a triple-double during one season, is unbelievable.”

  • Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: On Tuesday, Jeremy Evans took another leap of faith — putting a dozen or so of his paintings on display at EnergySolutions Arena for fans to see. "I’m excited," he said, "just so everybody can see it." Evans’ gallery on the arena’s concourse during Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks featured an eclectic mix of styles and subject matters. Next to a drawing of the LDS Salt Lake Temple was an airbrushed portrait of Tupac Shakur, complete with an actual diamond nose ring in the canvas. There was a portrait of his bride, and another of NBA legend Michael Jordan. Evans has been involved in art since he was young and has continued to work at it despite basketball taking over much of his time. Is he a better artist than a player? "That’s pretty tough," he said. "I feel like I have so much to grow in both areas. I feel like I can be great at both."

  • Brendan Savage of MLive.com: Andre Drummond double-double was his 53rd of the season. If he finishes the season with four more, he'll pass Bill Laimbeer (56 in 1985-86) for second on the Pistons' all-time, single-season list. Isiah Thomas is the club's all-time leader with 65 in 1984-95. Drummond leads all NBA centers in double-doubles and is second behind Minnesota's Kevin Love (60).

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks failed with a golden opportunity to close in a playoff berth Tuesday. They dropped a 102-95 decision to the Pistons at Philips Arena with the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference near their grasp. Their hold on the postseason is down to a one-game lead (two in the loss column) over the Knicks. Their magic number remained at three. The Hawks (34-43) had a two-game win streak snapped, including Sunday’s impressive win over the Pacers that moved them to the verge of the playoffs. The Hawks have five games remaining in the regular season. The Pistons, who have long been eliminated from playoff contention, snapped a 10-game losing streak at Philips Arena and tied the season series, 2-2. “I think it’s a good opportunity for us to cover some ground,” Lou Williams said before the game. “We are playing some teams that are fighting, just like we are. It’s an opportunity for us to protect home court and continue our playoff push.” Not on this night.

  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: Twice in the past three games, the Timberwolves have beaten teams that played in last year's NBA Finals. Tuesday, the short-handed Wolves beat the San Antonio Spurs 110-91 at Target Center. Friday, the Wolves topped the two-time defending champion Miami Heat 122-121 in two thrilling overtimes. Tuesday's game wasn't nearly as exciting, but it was convincing as the Wolves led by as many as 28 points. Out of the playoff chase, late-season progress is their goal now in addition to finishing above .500 for the first time since 2004-05. The Wolves (39-38) have to go 3-2 in the final five games to accomplish it. "It's something that we would like to show," said Ricky Rubio, who led the Wolves with 23 points. "That's why we want to end the season strong and build something for next year." Rubio made a career-high 10 field goals on 17 attempts, including a runner and a hook shot. "I was feeling good, so I tried everything I had," said Rubio, who added seven assists. Coach Rick Adelman was particularly impressed with his point guard's jump shooting.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: With an opt-out clause in his contract for 2014-15, the sense around Minnesota is that this could be Rick Adelman's final season with the Timberwolves, and perhaps as an NBA coach anywhere. If that's true, Tuesday might have marked the final meeting between Adelman and Popovich. With 1,041 career wins, spread between four teams over 23 seasons, Adelman, 67, is the only active coach with more than Popovich's 965. “He's been what I call a lifer,” Popovich said. “He's been in several different programs and made them all better. He's done a heck of a job where ever he's gone.” Adelman, meanwhile, believes Popovich should be in line to claim his third Red Auerbach trophy this summer. “He should be coach of the year,” Adelman said. “Even though he probably doesn't want it, I think he deserves it. They've had guys out, they've got 60 wins again, they've got the best record. It says a lot.”

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: If the Rockets’ remaining regular-season games are not already solely about playoff readiness, they soon will be. The team has all but clinched the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and the home-court advantage in the first round that comes with it. With no major chance to move up or down in the seedings, the focus turns to when Pat Beverley and Dwight Howard will begin working their way back to postseason speed from recent injuries. Coach Kevin McHale has not been given a target date for either Howard or Beverley to return, but he will consider giving some of his busiest players a night off. He even hinted that could come when his missing starters return, citing Wednesday’s game in Denver as a possibility. “We’ll look at tomorrow night tomorrow night,” McHale said of the potential to rest regulars, presumably James Harden or Chandler Parsons. “If some of our injured guys maybe have a really good day today in their rehab, maybe they’ll get a few minutes tomorrow night, so maybe you can rest a couple guys.”

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: His passes showed Steve Nash’s brilliance. His movement showed how Nash has maximized greatness out of a 40-year-old body. The “bite” that he described feeling in his hamstrings revealed his fragility. His uncertain future revealed the never-ending frustration surrounding Nash’s roller coaster through two seasons with the Lakers. On the same night Nash eclipsed Golden State coach Mark Jackson for third place on the NBA’s all-time assists list, he also revealed that this might mark the final game of a failed Lakers season that entailed a 145-130 loss Tuesday to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center. “Because I had a pretty good setback today, I probably won’t play again,” Nash said. “If I get a good recovery over the next week, I’d love to play again. A big goal for me was not to go into the summer injured. The fact that I had a setback today was frustrating.” But it was something he was well aware could happen. Heck, Nash even admitted that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni changed his mind to play him despite Jordan Farmar returning from a strained right groin injury that kept him sidelined for 11 games so he could reach the record. Nash even anticipated beforehand that he should sit out to ensure a full offseason where he appeared fully healthy.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: A byproduct of the bench playing so well was Kevin Durant finishing with 23 points in only three quarters of work. His 41-game streak of at least 25 points came to an end as the third longest in NBA history. Durant after the game didn’t seem to care one bit. “When I sit back after the season’s over, that’s when I’ll reflect on everything, what I’ve done, what the team’s done,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll appreciate it then, but now I’m just focusing on game to game and how we can get better as a group and how I can help the team get better. I was getting so many texts after every game, I’m glad that’s over with. I can just focus on the team. If we played well and I had 25 points, that would take away from how well the team was playing so I didn’t like that. If we lost, it was all about me scoring 25 points. I didn’t like that either. I’m glad we can just talk about the team now.”

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Ray McCallum is gaining plenty of experience. He’s played at least 43 minutes in the last eight games, a Sacramento record for a rookie, including 45 in the Kings’ 107-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena. The only guard the Kings have on the bench is Jared Cunningham, who joined the Kings on a 10-day contract last Monday. The Kings play at Portland on Wednesday, so it might be a good time to get a look at Cunningham, who could end up signing with the team the rest of the season and become a part of the team’s plans in the offseason. “We’ll kind of see how the game goes and the flow of the game,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “Obviously Ray played a ton of minutes tonight. That’s why I wanted to get him out at the very end with the game out of hand and playing tomorrow night.”