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First Cup: Friday

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "At 6 feet 8 inches, he could be an overpowering staff ace or a fearsome closer. Imagine the possibilities. Tracy McGrady has. 'I love baseball right to this day more than I love basketball,' he said, lounging at the Knicks’ hotel here earlier this week. 'I love it. I love it.' Before he was a seven-time N.B.A. All-Star, McGrady was indeed a power pitcher, and a very good one, during his teenage years in Auburndale, Fla. His fastball reached the low 90s. His dream was to pitch at Yankee Stadium. Some years ago, McGrady even asked his agent, Arn Tellem, to look into a one-day stint on the mound, perhaps in spring training. 'I told him if I was to give it a shot, that’s what I’d want, to go up there and at least pitch one game,' McGrady said with a bright smile. 'Just give me one shot.' It would have been like a visit to a fantasy camp, which in an odd way is what McGrady is essentially doing with the Knicks."

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "Dwyane Wade has been asked to be a scorer at times, a facilitator at others and even a decoy on rare occasions. But with seven games remaining and the Heat in fine-tune mode, the timing of Wade's custody battle and Miami's playoff push hasn't been ideal. But he insists his personal issues won't be a distraction. 'I just want to continue to show that I'm not lost or caught up, at the end of the day, of this being all about me,' Wade said. 'I have to do what I feel is right for my kids more so than anything. You don't pick when that is. I would hope to get it all resolved [soon]. But the way this has been going, I don't know.' "

  • Jim O'Donnell ofthe Chicago Sun-Times: "At the Skokie corporate office of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, he, Jerry Krause, head coach Stan Albeck and Michael Jordan were battling over whether His Royal and Ascending Airness would be allowed to return from a broken foot for the remaining four weeks of the 1985-86 season. Reinsdorf and Krause were urging restraint. Jordan -- then in his second season with the Bulls -- adamantly wanted to resume his flight toward the NBA moon. A small consortium of orthopedic doctors was being consulted periodically via speaker phone. Albeck could only wish he wuz' in Peoria -- where he would return after getting fired eight weeks later. The relevance to today? It was the evening when the phrase 'limited minutes' was once and forever embedded into the lexicon of the franchise. This weekend, 'limited minutes' might share equal billing with ''Chicago Bulls'' on the marquees tonight at Washington and back at the United Center on Saturday against Charlotte. Then, as now, the team was chasing the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. This weekend, supreme energizer Joakim Noah might continue his limited-minutes return from plantar fasciitis or might make his first start since February for the upstreamers. Slip-slasher Luol Deng might return in a limited-minutes scheme after missing 11 games with a strained right calf. Kirk Hinrich is questionable. Acie Law and Chris Richard can go. A city waits."

  • James Christie of the Globe and Mail: "The arithmetic of getting to the NBA playoffs seems straightforward for the Toronto Raptors. With eight games left in a 12-day span, for both the Raptors and the Chicago Bulls, and a two-game lead in the race for the last payoff spot, it should come down to who has the most comfortable schedule – and that favours Toronto. 'We have to stay solid in what we do, definitely not fall into bad habits, like not playing hard,' said Chris Bosh, eyeing the next two games the Raptors have against non-playoff teams, at Philadelphia Saturday and at home to Golden State Sunday. 'There’s tons of things to look after on defence -- closing out, blocking, rebounding, boxing out. We want to keep winning on our minds and know what position we are in. I don’t care if we’re playing a Little League team, we’re going to try and win the game.' "

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Lost in New York City and all but headed home to Europe only six weeks ago, Darko Milicic now by the day sounds more and more like a man who believes he has found a home in Minnesota. 'I like it here,' he said after the Timberwolves practiced Thursday. 'There's nothing they've done to not make me stay here, but you never know. If these guys want me to stay, be on the same page for next year, why not stay here?' Of course, there's the little matters of negotiation and money for a 24-year-old center whose contract and $7.5 million salary expire after this season, which has only seven games left. 'You never know, it's the NBA,' Milicic said. 'You never know what will happen in the summertime, how things can go. Next year? Until I sign it, I can't tell you if I'll be here or not.' "

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks did nearly everything right Wednesday. They were efficient on offense and determined on defense while winning their ninth consecutive game at Philips Arena. The Cavaliers present an even stronger challenge, starting with their dominance at home and the Hawks’ problems on the road. The Cavaliers are a league-best 33-4 at Quicken Loans Arena. The Hawks have lost three in a row and seven of nine on the road. The Hawks need to win four of their five remaining road games to meet Woodson’s goal of finishing above .500 away from home. The Cavaliers are by far the toughest road opponent remaining among a group that also includes Charlotte, Detroit, Washington and Milwaukee. 'They’ve lost at home before, right? So anything can happen,' said Hawks center Zaza Pachulia. 'It’s going to be tough, especially on the road. But if we are beating the [NBA] champions, that means you are good enough to do anything. We need to play with the same kind of intensity we did [Wednesday].' "

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "When the doors to practice opened for reporters Thursday afternoon, the Cavaliers were taking free throws. It was not the first time they'd done so Thursday. Coach Mike Brown admitted he had increased the number of foul shots for his team, which ranks last in the league in free-throw shooting at 72.1 percent (1,432-of-1,987.) 'We picked some different times to shoot free throws,' Brown said as the Cavs prepared to play host to the Atlanta Hawks tonight. 'We usually just shoot them at the end, but we shot them at the beginning, we shot them a little in the middle and we shot them at the end. We did something a little different at the end of practice today.' The poor free-throw shooting hasn't cost them a game. Yet. But they certainly didn't do themselves any favors by making just 29 of 45 free throws (64.4 percent) against the Milwaukee Bucks in Wednesday's 101-98 victory at The Q. 'The game might not have been as close if we'd have knocked those free throws down,' Brown said."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "The Rockets hoped some of the improvement and discipline needed would come with time in the offense and with one another. The Rockets have had 21 players on the roster this season with 10 of their current 15 players not with the team before the 2009 trade deadline. With their late-season injuries, they are playing three rookies. 'It's valuable for us young guys, just to give us more experience out on the court,' guard/forward Chase Budinger said. 'We're still getting used to each other, getting out there, finding each other's hot spots so we can come in next year and have that good chemistry.' But the teams that contend for titles rely even more on their style and systems when things get tough. The Rockets are searching for that sort of determination, with every opposing run offering a chance to make the improvement that seems close, but so far, just out of reach."

  • Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman: "During their first two seasons, Kevin Durant and Jeff Green went a combined 43-121. That’s what has made this season’s remarkable turnaround all the more gratifying. But it might mean the most to forward Nick Collison, who has played his entire career with the Sonics/Thunder. 'I’m proud of Nick, Jeff and Kevin,' said coach Scott Brooks. 'They went through some tough times. They’ve stuck together. They’ve hung together and continued to believe if they worked hard things would improve. They were always about winning team basketball, which isn’t easy when you’re losing.' "

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Samuel Dalembert never anticipated a season like this. Besides the losses and the misery surrounding an awful season, Dalembert has had to cope with the devastating earthquake that shattered his native Haiti on Jan. 12. Also around the same time, a good friend was involved in a serious car accident that came dangerously close to paralyzing him. Dalembert made two trips to Haiti, where his father is still living. He brought back his half-brother and half-sister to live with him so he could provide a better life. He has visited the White House to talk with President Obama and Haitian President Rene Preval about what more needs to be done to help the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A chronically sore shoulder and an aching hip have all been with Dalembert throughout the year, yet somehow he is putting together one of the most consistent of his eight seasons. 'Losing is terrible and everyone feels bad about it,' Dalembert said at a recent practice. 'I think this has been a tough year for everyone. For me, I don't want to really single things out. Everybody has things that they need to work out. I have things that I need to work out. But we are like a second family to each other and we will work them out together.' Dalembert's stats aren't eye-popping, but are exactly what is expected of him -- 8.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2 blocks and a career-best 54.2 shooting percentage."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Emblematic of the Suns' best chemistry in the Steve Nash-Amar'e Stoudemire era, forward Jared Dudley has become a part of the media for 'JMZ' videos he posts on his @JaredDudley619 Twitter account. Similarly to how he has carved a niche on the court with defense, hustle and 3-pointers, Dudley has drawn almost 19,000 Twitter followers despite being the Suns' eighth-leading scorer. Dudley is a locker-room character the Suns have not had since Eddie House and his iPhone videos have become a request with teammates. On JMZ, which Dudley also calls JSPN or Louis Amundson calls ESPN Ocho, Dudley takes on a broadcast interview persona or records videos to show Canadian fandom for Nash or teammates' fashion and homes. 'It's like CNN, except for basketball,' Dudley said. 'It's different from TMZ with how they did Tiger (Woods). I do only positive stuff. The only time I do negative is outfits. If you have a negative outfit, it should be shown. With the money these guys make, they should look good at the arena.' "

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Darius Songaila scored six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, and was essential in helping the Hornets come back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit. Did anyone else notice that it was Songaila -- and not starter Emeka Okafor -- who got the big minutes at center in the final period? Songaila looks at his former team and hardly recognizes it, since the Wizards dropped several sticks of dynamite on the roster in February. 'It's a couple of guys left,' said Songaila, who spent the previous three seasons in Washington. 'It's another team right now.' The funniest, little-reported detail of the Wizards trade with Minnesota was that Songaila didn't know anything about it for nearly a week. Songaila was up in the mountains of Idaho hunting black bear and had no cell phone reception, so he missed some frantic calls from Ernie Grunfeld and assistant Tommy Sheppard informing him of the move that brought Mike Miller and Randy Foye to the Wizards. 'We were in the mountains and when we got back into town, in cell phone range, I got all the text messages and all the voice mails and stuff like that,' said Songaila. Songaila hunts every summer, a hobby that he picked up after moving from his native Lithuania to North Carolina, where he played college basketball at Wake Forest. Songaila admitted that he didn't have much luck on his hunting retreat. 'Not last year, no.' "

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Mike Dunleavy is ready to roll out the red carpet and be the unofficial host of the Duke Blue Devils during the Final Four this weekend. Dunleavy and Indiana Pacers teammates Dahntay Jones and Josh McRoberts will be in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday -- and they hope again on Monday -- cheering on the Blue Devils as they attempt to win another national championship. 'It's cool that the tournament is not only here in Indianapolis, but Duke's also part of it,' said McRoberts, who spent two seasons (2005-07) at Duke. 'I'm going to have a handful of people staying with me at my place.' Duke, the lone No. 1 seed remaining in the tournament, plays West Virginia in Saturday's second semifinal. Dunleavy, who was one of the stars on Duke's last championship team in 2001, is hoping the Blue Devils take on the hometown Butler Bulldogs in the championship game. Butler plays Michigan State in Saturday's first semifinal. 'All the teams are playing really well, but I think it would really be exciting for the city and the NCAA to have a team like Butler in the finals against Duke,' Dunleavy said."

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Lounging in a locker room chair with his Warriors jersey hanging behind him, Vladimir Radmanovic was recently asked the significance of his No. 77, and two telling answers were offered. 'Just a number,' Radmanovic said, fully aware he's the only player in the league wearing the number. 'That's typical Vladimir Radmanovic,' center Ronny Turiaf said with a befuddled grin as he whisked past. Radmanovic is an enigma, and that might be exactly what he's going for. He peacocks an image of an aloof athlete who makes zany hairstyle choices, sees basketball as more of a children's game than a business and is unfazed by quarrels with coaches. Then, when he has people focusing on his oddities, he quietly pursues a mission to help displaced children in Serbia. ... Radmanovic has actually given the issue a vast amount of thought to go along with hours of time and energy. He has raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for orphanages in his homeland, but he realized money would never be enough on its own. So he teamed with International Orthodox Christian Charities to work on sustainable answers. They have started a greenhouse, a culinary academy and a laundry business -- with each project making money for orphanages while giving older orphans their first jobs and training."