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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: It was soon after that when LeBron and Miami offered their reply to what Vogel meant as fiery oratory: Not yet, lil’ bro, Miami’s performance said. Not yet. See, sometimes, in real life, that decision to stop losing is not the little brother’s to make. Sometimes the big brother stays bigger, and stronger, and gets the girl, and keeps winning. So it continues in this Heat-Pacers rivalry, with Monday’s wire-to-wire dominance despite the injury absence of key reserve Chris (Birdman) Andersen. Miami’s 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series means Indiana must now win three consecutive games to avoid being eliminated from the playoffs by its nemesis Heat for a third consecutive season. That means the Heat are hugely likely to return again to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive season in search of a third straight championship. Big Brother isn’t just watching. Big Brother keeps winning. And the biggest of Miami’s brothers in arms, LeBron James, keeps reminding us – and now reminding Lance Stephenson – who’s in charge.

  • Scott Agness of Pacers.com: Having lost three straight games, the Pacers must win the next three games – two at home – to move on the NBA Finals. The difficulty level is high going against the greatest player in the world, LeBron James, and the rest of the two-time defending NBA Champions. NBA history, where only eight of 222 teams have come back from a 3-1 hole, backs up the tall task ahead of them. The Pacers, though, can’t think of it that way. They simply have to approach it one game at a time, but with the utmost urgency. Turnovers were the biggest issue in Game 4. They gave it away 14 times, which allowed the Heat to do what they do best—get out and score in fast break situations. Miami has scored more points off turnovers in all but one of their 13 games this postseason and have forced opponents into double-digit turnovers in every game.

  • Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: This time, Lance Stephenson didn’t have very many brash words. Late Monday night, shortly after the Heat’s 102-90 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals gave the two-time defending champions a 3-1 lead as the series shifts to Indiana, the Pacers guard sat at his locker and quietly answered question after question. He said he had no regrets for saying LeBron James had shown a “sign of weakness” by responding to his taunts early during Miami’s Game 3 win on Saturday. He also admitted he was trying to get into the four-time league MVP’s head, though his efforts clearly backfired. “He was in attack mode the whole game,” Stephenson said. “He stepped up tonight.” That was an understatement. ... Several of his teammates said they hoped Stephenson, a third-year player, would learn from the experience. They didn’t mince words either. “I don’t know if it affected him, but we’ve got to stay away from giving guys bulletin board material. They’re the defending champs. I don’t know if they need motivation…I think he’ll learn from it because he wants to play better,” said Pacers forward David West.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: But right as Durant began his interview, a Thunder PR staffer escorted a limping Serge Ibaka to an adjacent spot 20 feet away, announcing that the power forward was available for interviews. Cue the avalanche. Durant suddenly became an afterthought. A media flood descended upon Ibaka, abandoning one of the league’s brightest superstars for a chance to chat with its breakout star. “Absolutely,” a wide-eyed Ibaka said when asked if he was surprised by all the attention. “Yes, of course.” Despite his underrated importance to the Thunder and steady growth the past five seasons, Ibaka has remained under the radar. On a team with an international icon like Durant and a polarizing force like Russell Westbrook, the spotlight can be crowded. Attention is hard to come by. But when you’ve just had a week like Serge Ibaka’s, it’s impossible to avoid.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: The joke that began with Gregg Popovich's visit to the interview podium Sunday after the Spurs' Game 3 loss to Oklahoma City was still alive Monday morning. Manu Ginobili, like OKC's Serge Ibaka supposedly was before him, could be out for the rest of the playoffs. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. “We're doing all the tests,” a wise-cracking Popovich said before leading his team through a practice at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “One never knows. We've been surprised by part of what he's done recovery-wise, so we'll see.” Ginobili's left foot — sore for much of the postseason — is a nuisance, but it isn't expected to keep him out of a crucial Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night. Still, Ginobili's condition has given Popovich room to poke fun at OKC general manager Sam Presti — a former Spurs staffer — and his handling of Ibaka's injury and subsequent return.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: A large part of OKC's game involves getting to the foul line. In the first two games of the series, the Spurs were successful in keeping the Thunder from getting there. In Game 3, the Thunder's 31 free-throw attempts marked the sixth time this postseason they have topped 30. OKC shot 22 foul shots in the third quarter to the Spurs' zero, a prime reason the Thunder were able to extend their lead despite four field goals in the frame. There's not much the Spurs can do about officiating, but by being more locked in on defense — and not caught out of position so much — they can minimize OKC's trips to the charity stripe.

  • Andrew Keh of The New York Times: Andray Blatche has never been to the Philippines. He has no Filipino roots. Blatche is from Syracuse, N.Y., about 8,000 miles from Quezon City, where the Philippine basketball team normally trains. But Blatche, a 27-year-old reserve center for the Nets, is on the verge of becoming a Filipino citizen and a member of the national basketball team. The Philippine team contacted Blatche in January, and a few days later, the country’s House of Representatives introduced a bill to grant Blatche citizenship. The Senate of the Philippines on Monday unanimously approved the bill naturalizing Blatche. President Benigno S. Aquino III was widely expected to sign the bill, which would make Blatche eligible to represent the country at the FIBA World Cup in August and September in Spain. Chot Reyes, the Philippines coach, went on Twitter on Monday to express his delight. “Thank you Congress!” he wrote. One fan asked Reyes on Twitter how many N.B.A. players the program had contacted about representing the Philippines and why it had selected Blatche. “A lot,” Reyes wrote back. “Only he said yes.”

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Last year's trend was to hire up-and-coming NBA assistants for their first head coaching jobs. Steve Clifford in Charlotte, Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, Mike Malone in Sacramento, Brett Brown in Philadelphia, Brian Shaw in Denver and Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix. Shaw and Hornacek had played in the league before becoming assistants. Jason Kidd skipped the assistant part and went right to head coach of the Brooklyn Nets after retiring as a player with the New York Knicks. This year's trend hasn't really developed yet. The Cavs are reaching out to college coaches and aren't close to hiring anyone. So far, only two jobs have been filled. Golden State hired rookie head coach Steve Kerr, and Detroit hired veteran Stan Van Gundy as coach and president of basketball operations. If those hirings are the start of this year's trends, they're at the opposite ends of the spectrum.