<
>

First Cup: Thursday

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was in no mood to poke slumping superstars with sharp sticks on Wednesday, chalking up the continued struggles of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as much to bad luck as anything his own team is doing to contain them in taking a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. “It’s never one thing,” he said after the Spurs’ 112-77 victory in Game 2, during which the two combined for a paltry 30 points — a subpar night for Durant alone, let alone paired with his All-Star teammate — on 40 shots. “I’m sure at times we guarded them well, and I’m sure at times they had open shots they didn’t make. It’s always both of those things. It’s never one.” Whatever the split, the Spurs will surely take it. Durant finished with 15 points, tied for the second-lowest total of his MVP season and the fifth time in six meetings the Spurs have held him below his league-leading scoring average. Westbrook was even worse, scoring 15 points on 7 for 24 shooting. It marked the 24th time in 29 career meetings with the Spurs that Westbrook has shot below 50 percent, and his ninth-worst shooting night of the season.

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Following the Spurs' 35-point win on Wednesday, the worst Thunder playoff loss in OKC history, San Antonio forward Boris Diaw was asked why things came so easily for his club. And within his answer, he had a telling tidbit about the Thunder's effort. "I think they gave up on this game a pretty early," Diaw said. "And we kept it going."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Been here before, the Thunder kept saying. Been down 0-2 to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Everyone wanted to hark back to the salad days of 2012, when the Thunder stormed to four straight victories to reach the NBA Finals. Heck, the Spurs kept saying it, too. But here’swhere the Thunder never has been before. Beaten this badly. Undressed like this. Whipped 112-77 Wednesday night by a San Antonio squad that made the Thunder look inept offensively, two days after doing the same to the Thunder defense. This doesn’t feel anything like 2012. “We’re disappointed,” Scotty Brooks said of the shellacking at AT&T Center. “It definitely doesn’t feel good, and it shouldn’t. We got our butts kicked.” You can’t blame this on Serge Ibaka’s strained calf. Sure, Ibaka would have helped with the again-porous defense, which has allowed the Spurs to score at least 30 points in five of the seven quarters that matter in this series (the fourth quarter Wednesday night was a virtual preseason game). But instead of correcting the defense in Game 2, the Thunder just added offense to its fix-it list.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: In the wake of the Cleveland Cavaliers yet again winning the NBA Draft lottery, the piling on has begun when it comes to speculation regarding Miami Heat forward LeBron James, who can become a free agent in the offseason. That brought TNT analyst Charles Barkley up to bat during ESPN Radio's SVP & Russillo show Wednesday. "I've always thought he was going to go back to Cleveland," Barkley said. "Nobody dislikes LeBron. I think LeBron made a huge mistake with that 'Decision' crap. He's come back and since admitted that. That's the only thing people hold against LeBron. He's a great player, a great person. I hope he goes back to Cleveland. Those fans in Miami are not real fans, those fans in Cleveland are real fans. I've always hoped he would go back to Cleveland. That would be a great way to finish his career."

  • Scott Agness of Pacers.com: Paul George’s status is critical for the Pacers, as he is responsible for guarding LeBron James for virtually the entire game. James is shooting better than 50 percent in the first two games of the series, but he hasn’t exploded for any more than 25 points. Indiana has had to lean on its starters heavily in the series with four of them playing at least 40 minutes in Game 2 (David West’s time was reduced to 34 minutes because of foul trouble). Along with Paul George needing time to recover, having three days rest right now should be a positive overall for the team. Lance Stephenson has been a big factor in the series, to the point where Heat coach Erik Spoelstra moved Norris Cole on Stephenson in the fourth quarter of Game 2 to keep him from penetrating. Roy Hibbert has had to play big minutes (40 per game) and is averaging double-double numbers — very encouraging for the Pacers.

  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: While he didn't say which way he will vote, Mark Cuban spoke openly about racial prejudice and said he might have to be a hypocrite regarding Sterling when Cuban himself admits to having his own prejudices. "The thing that scares me about this whole thing is I don’t want to be a hypocrite,” Cuban said. “And I think I might have to be.” Cuban admitted to being "bigoted in a lot of different ways," saying that "none of us have completely pure thoughts." “I’ve said this before. If I see a black kid in a hoodie at night on the same side of the street, I’m probably going to walk to other side of the street," Cuban said. "If I see a white guy with a shaved head and lots of tattoos, I’m going back to the other side of the street. If I see anybody that looks threatening, and I try not to, but part of me takes into account race and gender and image. I’m prejudiced. Other than for safety issues, I try to always catch my prejudices and be very self-aware.” Cuban also sat down with Inc. Magazine for an interview, saying that bigotry and prejudices are things that need to be controlled.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Wolves owner Glen Taylor championed Sam Mitchell for the job the last time around, when Adelman was hired in 2011, and is believed to favor him again. Now the team’s president of basketball operations, Saunders also has discussed the job with, among others, college coaches Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg as well as former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, according to two league coaching sources. It was Joerger himself who replaced Hollins in Memphis last summer and now finds himself caught up in front-office tumult that saw Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash let go Monday. ... After all that upheaval, going home to a franchise that could be forced to trade star Kevin Love still might look pretty good. The Grizzlies are expected to seek compensation if the Wolves intend to hire Joerger, although the source who had knowledge of Joerger’s interview didn’t expect the issue to be a deal-breaker.

  • Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News: Everybody's definition of a good player is different. That said, the numbers suggest that a typical NBA team in a typical NBA year has a bit north of a 40 percent chance of drafting a good player with a top-five pick, and maybe a 25 percent chance with a pick from 6-10. The odds of hitting the daily double - getting two good players - is about 10 percent. Those are broad, rough numbers for finding this mythical good player. And for picking an excellent player? You probably want to cut those numbers in half. It explains why this whole tanking thing is hardly an automatic solution. But if Hinkie is right, and this is not a typical NBA year and there are more good players in the draft than usual, the potential improves. Still, that is only a part of the equation. Hinkie is the biggest part, as we are all about to find out.

  • Jeff Call of the Deseret News: Former BYU center Shawn Bradley, a No. 2 overall pick in the 1993 NBA draft, was known for being "posterized" on a regular basis during his professional career. But Bradley might be having the last laugh. The latest 30 for 30 documentary short series by ESPN and Grantland takes a look at what Bradley has accomplished since he left the NBA. He's a vice principal, a mentor, a coach and a loving husband and father. Bradley shares the difficulties he's faced being 7-foot-6 and dealing with the NBA lifestyle. He also talks about the aspects of his life that are most important.