First Cup: Friday

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: So what will we call this? The LeBroiler? The LeBake? The same building that produced a snake this postseason followed up with an ecosystem to match. And when LeBron James was bitten, unable to move precisely when the Miami Heat needed him to, the night turned into a potentially sweltering piece of NBA history. After all, could an arena's electrical failure have swung a championship? The Spurs will say, as Tim Duncan did afterward, that the game changed when they stopped adding to a turnover total that was soaring nearly as high as the temperature. They will be partially right. And when Danny Green returned to the form he had in the 2013 Finals, a tight game became a rout in the final minutes. But nothing changed this night as much as the lack of a South Texas staple. When the air conditioning went away, and even luxury boxes turned into hot boxes, this was a throwback to the days of Boston Garden heat waves. What Gregg Popovich said at the end of third quarter initially summed up the situation. Both teams were stuck in the same conditions. No one had an edge.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: The Heat entered this NBA Finals seeming like a spectacularly unlikely, preposterously unbelievable underdog. The betting lines could say they were. The fan polls could say they were. The media experts could say they were. But wouldn’t LeBron and the champion’s pedigree of his team have something different to say? An hour before tipoff Miami’s top player called this night “an opportunity for our team to make a statement in a hostile building.” The unspoken statement might have been something like, “How dare you call the world’s best player and his two-time defending champions an underdog to anybody!” Instead the game served to justify who came into this series seen as the favorites. The San Antonio Spurs are that good. The thing is, the question of the conditions hangs as heavily over this result as the humidity hung inside the arena. Now, once again, the Heat’s resiliency will be tested.

  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune: Leave it to the Timberwolves to create the potential for an entirely new form of dysfunction. They have hired Saunders as their next coach. In a vacuum, this is a logical move. In the constant maelstrom that is the Timberwolves’ hierarchy, this was the only sensible move remaining. How long will it be before Flip Saunders the coach starts complaining about the roster Flip Saunders the team president handed him, and Flip Saunders the owner has to step in to broker a peace? Today, Flip will introduce Flip as the next coach of the Timberwolves, who will try to become the most successful coach the franchise has employed since Flip and try to save the equity that Flip has invested in the worst-run American franchise since Howard Johnson’s. Taylor has made Saunders more powerful in this organization than Gregg Popovich is in San Antonio’s. As an NBA coach, Saunders won 54.8 percent of his games. As an executive, Saunders has presided over one draft, in which he chose Shabazz "No, not him!" Muhammad in the first round. As a part owner of the Timberwolves, Saunders has done his best work. He has cozied up to Taylor, meaning he could draft Oto Osenieks and Maverick Ahanmisi in the upcoming draft and land a contract extension. Under the circumstances, Saunders and Taylor are making the right decision. But the circumstances are lousy.

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Another Thunder offseason is cranking up, which means a familiar tune is coming from some of the OKC masses: Amnesty Kendrick Perkins. But before the last season of his contract — the last chance OKC can wipe (but still pay) his $9.1 million salary from the books — Thunder GM Sam Presti told reporters at his exit interview on Thursday that’s it’s not likely to happen. “I knew I’d get that question,” Presti said. “I wish I had something clever to say there, but I don’t. We’ll look at everything, as we always do. But as we’ve said before, it’s not something that’s been considered to this point.” This season, Perkins averaged his fewest points (3.4) and rebounds (4.9) since the 2004-05 campaign.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: As mentioned here several times, if you can get a superstar, you do. It would take another round of roster overhauling and likely would need the Rockets to make some other moves to fill out a roster around them. But that is not the question since it assumes greater success building a bench with minimum salary players than the Rockets had last season. The questions remains whether the Rockets with two stars and a deep and strong rotation would be better than the Rockets with three stars, likely ill-fitting, and a short bench with more adjustments after another overhaul. I asked Harden that question yesterday and he offered the usual player perspective. “I think we have a lot in our locker room already,” Harden said. “A couple of smaller moves would be good for us. I don’t know if necessarily the big move would help us out a lot. We have a lot of great players in our locker room, a lot of young guys that want to get better and want to work. Maybe a couple small moves and we’re right where we want to be.”

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: On the Houston Rockets' interest in signing Dirk Nowitzki. Sefko: "Good grief. Of all the outlandish rumors that have come up, and there are a lot of them, this one's got to be one of the worst. Can you imagine Dirk saying 'OK, I'm going to go down the road to play for one of the arch rivals of the team that I grew up with and represent the whole franchise and the community? I'm going to go to Houston and I'm going to join Dwight Howard, who spurned me last year?' Come on, this doesn't make sense on so many levels. I've got a better chance of going and being a replacement jockey at the Belmont Stakes than he’s got of going down there.”

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: With all the hype surrounding the 76ers and their draft picks coming up later this month, many fans forget that their rookie of the year point guard, Michael CarterWilliams, had major surgery following the season to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Fear not, Sixers fans, Carter-Williams said yesterday he is ahead of schedule in his recovery, will be able to get the work in on improving his shot, and looks forward to see whom Sam Hinkie and company will select as his new teammates. ... "It's an old injury," he said. "I can't remember an exact date, but I've had it for about 2 years. My labrum was torn, and then it grew back in the wrong place, so it was really hurting. I was in a lot of pain."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: In a push to become a more productive player by next season, New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca is going to lean on Anthony Davis for help. Ajinca will train in Las Vegas with Davis next month while he prepares for the USA Basketball training camp before the team participates in the FIBA World Cup in Spain, Aug. 30-Sept. 14. Signed in December after playing two seasons for Strasbourg (France) in the Euroleague. Ajinca showed flashes of potential for the Pelicans this season. But in a number of games, he struggled to stay out of foul trouble and had problems matching up against stronger low-post players despite having a 7 feet, 9 inch wingspan. Ajinca was also slow to adjust to the quicker-paced NBA game and had problems with his lateral movement in the Pelicans' pick-and-roll defense. However, Ajinca hopes from working with Davis this offseason will help accelerate his development.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: When Chuck Daly was fired by Ted Stepien after going 9-32 during a frantic 1981-82 season in which four different men coached the Cavaliers, Bernie Bickerstaff, then a young assistant coach in Washington, picked up the phone and called his friend in Cleveland. "I told him to hang in there," recalled a chuckling Bickerstaff, now an assistant coach with the Cavaliers. On Thursday, more than 32 years later, Bickerstaff will be presented the 2014 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Basketball Coaches Association during Game 1 of The Finals in San Antonio. ... The Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award commemorates the memory of the late Hall of Famer who set a standard of integrity, competitive excellence and tireless promotion of NBA basketball over his outstanding NBA coaching career.