First Cup: Wednesday

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "The trip was to see their head coach, a simple enough jaunt for players to help keep George Karl's spirits high. What some Nuggets weren't necessarily ready for, however, was how much seeing Karl would positively impact them. It had a renewing effect. And for a Nuggets team that is playing better but still struggling daily to keep it all together, seeing Karl Monday was a beacon of light. It could have been just what the team needed to regroup and continue to get better in a tight playoff race. 'It was uplifting to see him and talk to him,' guard Chauncey Billups said. 'I told him I hope he hasn't been watching too many of our games lately.' "

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Those who remember the Jazz’s Dec. 31 loss in Oklahoma City probably regard the no-call on Kevin Durant’s three-pointer at the end of overtime Tuesday as karmic payback or basketball justice. Back on New Year’s Eve, the Jazz lost to the Thunder thanks to a loose-ball foul called on Paul Millsap by rookie referee Kane Fitzgerald, which sent Nick Collison to the line for the winning free throws in the final seconds. You don’t often see a game decided by one call but that was one. After what happened that night, the Jazz were owed a victory over the Thunder. That said, the no-call on Durant’s shot is what’s destined to be remembered from Tuesday’s game. 'I wanna know if the NBA will admit that the refs blew a call that potentially cost OKC a 2-seed,' ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons posted on Twitter afterward. 'That was a travesty.' It’s a shame that such a great game had to end with Durant, Scott Brooks and the Thunder’s entire team telling off referee Tony Brothers after the final horn. C.J. Miles clearly caught Durant on the arm as he went up for his three-pointer but no call was made. If you don’t think Durant wouldn’t have made the shot, you weren’t watching him score 12 points in the final 2:51 of regulation to erase what had been an 11-point lead by the Jazz. He even hit the rim with a 41-foot turnaround three-point attempt at the regulation buzzer. It’s also worth noting that Brothers and Bennett Salvatore made up two-thirds of the referee crew that worked Sunday’s Lakers/Spurs game, with Lakers coach Phil Jackson drawing a $35,000 fine for criticizing officials afterward."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Forget the final score. Even though theOklahoma City Thunder dropped Tuesday night's thriller at Utah, coming up short in a 140-139 overtime shootout, the message was sent -- to the Jazz and the rest of the league. This Thunder team is for real. And when the playoffs begin in 1 1/2 weeks, any team still thinking they will toy with the young Thunder will have Tuesday's film to take in, analyze and realize they could have another thing coming. In one of the league's toughest places to play -- where fans seated in the lower bowl began cursing one another late in the game while bickering over viewing positioning -- the Thunder showed off their most resiliency yet."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "Raptors guard Sonny Weems said the Cavs would rather play the Bulls than Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. The Cavs and Raptors have met four times this season. The Cavs won three and lost once. 'I think in the back of their minds they would a little bit,' Weems said. 'Every game we've played them has been real close. We're going to come to play.' The Raptors are 38-39 and trying to hold off the Bulls in a fight for the last playoff spot. Weems believes fighting to the end will give Toronto momentum if they make the playoffs."

  • Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun: "An inadvertent elbow to Chris Bosh’s face has suddenly pushed the Raptors’ playoff push on to the backburner. Suddenly, the future of Bosh becomes more important than whether the Raptors can hold off the Chicago Bulls for the eighth and the final playoff spot in the East. Suddenly, the future of the Raptors now comes into question. ... Bosh is the only post threat of any significance on the Raptors, who become even more perimeter happy without him. Bosh is a free agent this summer. On the surface, the only reason why Bosh would want to stay in Toronto is strictly financial. He stands to collect $30 million US more if he decides to re-sign rather than completely turn his back on the only pro team Bosh has known. A sign and trade is also a possibility, which will ensure max money for Bosh and at least will fetch the Raptors some pieces. Then again, if the Raptors aren’t interested in the players involved, they may just let Bosh walk away for nothing. All this is speculative, of course, but that’s what we’re left with in the wake of so much uncertainty and unknown."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "A long wait ended for the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, a playoff drought that extended back to the 2005-'06 season. Even without injured center Andrew Bogut, the Bucks showed the same defensive determination and teamwork that has marked their storybook season as they defeated the Chicago Bulls, 79-74, to clinch an Eastern Conference playoff berth. It was truly official when an elated Bucks coach Scott Skiles swapped high-fives with veteran Kurt Thomas, who started in Bogut's place and pulled down 14 rebounds while helping Milwaukee (43-34) defeat the Bulls, Skiles' former team. John Salmons also played a huge role in his first game against the Bulls since they traded him to the Bucks at the February trade deadline, as he finished with a team-leading 26 points while playing 44 minutes. 'We're just happy to get this win,' Skiles said. 'It wasn't a pretty game or anything. Our defense kept us in there and we were able to make some plays at the end. It's not that we want to take a deep breath and relax or anything right now. But from where people thought we were going to be at the beginning of the season and the way this group has come together, it's a nice accomplishment.' "

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "The Bulls’ 79-74 loss to Milwaukee was both befuddling and obvious. On one hand, it’s tough to understand how the Bulls could squander such a great opportunity. They missed a chance to tie Toronto for eighth place in the East, playing at home against a Bucks squad that just lost center Andrew Bogut for the season. The Bulls seemed to have some momentum with a relatively healthy roster and a 6-2 record since their 10-game losing streak. But the reasons for this result weren’t difficult to spot. And those shortcomings might foreshadow the team’s plans for the summer. More than anything, the Bulls’ utter lack of outside shooting killed them in this game. Without a 3-point threat to keep the defense honest, Milwaukee could stick with the plan of packing the lane to stop Derrick Rose’s drives to the basket. As coach Scott Skiles said after the game, the goal was to force Rose to 'play in a crowd.' "

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Doc Rivers, who is on the record as calling the practice of letting a player appear in his old city a 'high school' move, made an exception with Nate Robinson, who, like Marquis Daniels, had slid out of the rotation. 'He’s gonna play tonight,' said Rivers before the game, in which Robinson had five points in 13 minutes. 'I think the other guys would like to see him play.' The key is getting Robinson to play better defense and learn Tom Thibodeau’s complex rotations. It’s also a matter of Robinson finding a balance between his jump shot and the greater needs of the offense. 'The balance is when it’s going in,' Rivers said of Robinson’s shot. 'But you have to understand the balance of jump shot to the post. When we’re going from outside to outside, that’s not good. But he’s going to play,' he said. 'If Nate comes into one playoff game and changes it, that will be worth it.' "

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Cynics will suggest the Spurs threw caution to the wind and rushed Tony Parker back against the Kings on Tuesday night because George Hill sprained his right ankle in Sunday's win over the Lakers. The truth is there is no more cautious coach than Gregg Popovich when it comes to injuries. Parker played because the team's medical staff believed doing so risked no further injury. Popovich spent most of last week fretting about the most judicious manner in which to transition Parker back into the lineup once he was cleared. There is always a game or two needed for a player who has missed multiple weeks to re-establish rhythm; three or four to return to NBA game condition. There is also team chemistry to consider, and this is irrefutable: The Spurs played their best basketball of the season without their three-time All-Star point guard. ... To the notion that Parker's return might befoul the Spurs' recent chemistry, Lakers coach Phil Jackson offered a derisive sniff on Sunday. 'He's only been there nine years,' Jackson said. The irony of Parker's return is that Popovich's conundrum merely shifts. Now, it is finding the best way to transition Hill back into the mix once he is cleared."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Now the Hawks know what it’s like for the rest of the NBA on nights like this. The Hawks have had the best luck with injuries this season, but they couldn’t handle Charlotte without starting guards Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson. The Bobcats blitzed the Hawks from the start and turned back their late rally for a 109-100 victory Tuesday at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Hawks lost their fifth consecutive road game and seventh in nine and will try again for their 50th victory Wednesday at Detroit. The Celtics lost to the Knicks on Tuesday to remain a game behind the Hawks for third place in the Eastern Conference. 'Everyone goes through adversity,' said Hawks center Al Horford. 'We are having ours right now, but we’ll bounce back.'

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "NBA scouts and front office officials raved about his toughness, his high basketball IQ and that he's a 6-9 player with a guard's skills. Now Gordon Hayward is about to face a decision tougher than the half-court shot that just missed at the buzzer against Duke. The Brownsburg, Ind., native can return for his junior season at Butler or jump to the NBA. Hayward has been projected to go as high as No. 12 to late in the first round. 'At this point, he's kind of the guy that's the hot topic,' Indiana Pacers forward Josh McRoberts said. 'I would like to tell him what he can expect if he decides to come out or if he expects to stay.' Several Pacers have been in this situation. Mike Dunleavy enjoyed playing at Duke and didn't want to enter the draft after his junior season. He knew, however, he had to go because he was projected to be a top-five selection in 2002. He was the third pick that year. 'Fortunately for me, my dad (Mike Dunleavy Sr.) being in NBA circles, he was able to ask a lot of people where I was going to go,' Dunleavy said. 'I really enjoyed being in college and playing for coach (Mike Krzyzewski). But there was too much risk for me to return to school.' McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Roy Hibbert hurt their draft position by returning to school."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "With three 3-pointers in the third quarter, Rockets guard Aaron Brooks tied Rafer Alston's franchise record with 192 3-pointers. 'In the grand scheme of things, you just want to win basketball games,' Brooks said. 'I think it would mean a lot more if we were winning, going to the playoffs, were one of those eight teams. It's a great accomplishment. It won't increase my percentage, but it's a lot of 3s.' "

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "With the Heat (43-34) peaking as it heads toward the playoffs and carrying the league's longest active victory streak into Wednesday's game against Philadelphia, Udonis Haslem is among several Miami players who remain motivated by the doubters. 'They didn't give us a chance at all,' Haslem said, referring to several NBA season-preview articles, analyst and websites. 'So don't soften it up now by saying that they weren't sure what we'd do. They flat-out said we wouldn't make the playoffs. Get it right. I remember seeing all of it.' The Heat has won eight in a row and 14 of its past 17 games. Miami clinched a playoff spot for the sixth time in seven seasons with Toronto's loss to Cleveland on Tuesday night. Several Heat players have revisited some of the 2009-10 season projections. In ESPN.com's season preview, four of 10 'expert' analysts picked Miami to miss the playoffs and only two had it finishing as high as fifth, a spot the Heat holds with five games remaining. An NBA.com preview projected Miami to finish 41-41 as the eighth and final seed in the East, and to lose to Cleveland in the first round. Most previews raised concerns about the lack of upgrades last summer and questioned how much veterans such as Jermaine O'Neal and Quentin Richardson had left."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Orlando Magic players usually smile when someone asks about backup point guard, Jason Williams. Williams spices up long plane flights with card tricks. He enlivens the locker room with jokes and one-liners. He dazzles teammates with an arsenal of fancy shots and showy passes. 'He's kind of like a one-man circus,' starting point guard Jameer Nelson says. 'I love the guy.' There's also the way Williams has played. The Magic love that most of all. The 34-year-old has enjoyed a career renaissance this season. After taking a year off to help his wife through a difficult pregnancy, Williams is posting career-highs in field-goal percentage and in his shooting percentage from beyond the arc. He also ranks among the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. Williams has proven to be one of the best bargains of last offseason's free-agent market. With Orlando already over the salary cap, Magic General Manager Otis Smith signed Williams in August to a one-year deal worth about $1.3 million, the minimum salary for an NBA veteran with at least 10 years of experience. Williams, a University of Florida alumnus, has benefitted, too. He didn't have to uproot his family from their Isleworth residence."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "No King is more beloved than Bobby Jackson. None, not even Vlade Divac. Jackson was released after the 2004-05 season, dabbled in Memphis, New Orleans and Houston before returning to Sacramento last season. Then his body forced him into retirement, but he never really left. There he was, running charity events, mentoring youngsters, participating in youth clinics. There he was, barbecuing with the neighbors in Granite Bay, checking in with the Kings. There he was in the bleachers during summer league prep games, signing autographs, grabbing a burger, chatting up his Kings. 'Who ever thought that I would wind up here for good?' Jackson said with a shake of his head. 'No way. When I first came here, I was like, 'Man, this is a boring city. No way I'm going to keep staying here.' But it ended (up) being the best place for me and my family. I never wanted to leave.' And who knows? If he establishes himself as sort of a sixth man in the front office, those Chris Webber and Divac jerseys could be forced to create space for No. 24."