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First Cup: Monday

  • Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "To all those who wondered what if ... To all who wondered what would happen if, for whatever silly reason, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich chose to defend Dirk Nowitzki one on one, the answer came with near-perfect resonance Sunday night. Flying solo -- and clearly enjoying the elbow room -- Nowitzki made 12 of 14 field goal attempts and scored 36 points, as the Dallas Mavericks claimed Game 1 of the best-of-seven series 100-94. 'Well, you know, they had scorers last year, too,' Popovich explained later. 'You pick your poison.' The end result was venomous. While Dirk was finding the basket from every angle, the Mavericks were riding the steadying hand of Jason Kidd. 'Jason was a man,' Popovich graciously observed. 'He was a focused, driven individual, as usual.' He was, so can we quit moaning about the New Jersey trade once and for all? If leadership and playoff savvy are what the Mavericks were looking for when they acquired the now-37-year-old point guard two years ago, he gave it to them resoundingly Sunday night. Nowitzki will get the headlines today, but Kidd should get the applause."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "Roles switched late in the fourth quarter. Then, Peter Holt stood up and yelled at a ref. Just the way Mark Cuban likes to. This is the way it is when Dirk Nowitzki plays against the Spurs. The world changes around him. Against other teams, he’s seen as a softie. Against the Spurs, he’s a stunning warrior. Since 2000, only two teams have eliminated the Spurs -- the Lakers and Nowitzki’s Mavericks -- and Sunday night took a step toward another such elimination. 'We tried a lot of different things,' Gregg Popovich said of Nowitzki afterward, 'but he beat them all.' Popovich had other things to say, most notably about his players. 'I thought we had a lot of guys that played like dogs,' he said, which was another reason for Holt to yell. He’s paying about, oh, $3 million in luxury tax for every point that Richard Jefferson scored in the opener. Jefferson has been to two NBA Finals before, and he’s been with the Spurs for a full season. Yet Jefferson again looked unsure of what to do next, unlike Caron Butler, who arrived in Dallas in February. Cuban had to ante up for him, too, but Butler paid off. His 22 points outlined everything Jefferson was not."

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "If Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hugged like they did Sunday at any point in the last month, Bynum would have a pile of ruined dress shirts lying on the floor at the back of his closet, as his strained left Achilles tendon kept him out of uniform and in street clothes since March 19. The two 7-footers, who play so much bigger than their combined 14 feet when they're on the court together, held their sweaty embrace, celebrating the Lakers' 87-79 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder that served as a welcome-back party for Bynum. It just so happens that the team's oft-missing championship swagger decided to crash the party as well."

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Round 1 to the Wacko. 'I couldn't tell you what kind of job I did,' said Ron Artest, looking completely confused after complete domination. Round 1 to the Ron-O-Lantern. 'I'm not going to fool myself into thinking I did anything special,' said the carrot-topped Artest after handing the Lakers their opening playoff victory on a silver platter of elbows and effort. Round 1 to the Anti-Ariza. 'If somebody else did this, they'd be happy … but I'm not satisfied,' said Artest after what were surely his three most satisfying hours of the season. He may profess to not know where he is, or who he is, or what he's doing, and after spending six months listening to his mind roam, you may be inclined to agree with him. But make no mistake: On this suffocating Sunday afternoon, Ron Artest was completely cognizant of Kevin Durant. Artest shoved him, squeezed him, shouldered him, turned the league's leading scorer into just another confused tourist from Oklahoma City, Durant wandering aimlessly off the Staples Center court with 24 points on 24 shots after the Lakers' 87-79 victory over the Thunder."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register "Let’s be honest, frank and not terribly politically correct here. Ron Artest’s performance in Game 1 was one of the finest in NBA history for a blonde. Sorry, but someone had to say it. ... Now, an explanation. Ron Artest, a black-and-white player? Can such a character really be considered black-and-white? Sure, if you think in terms of Artest being either loved or hated by fans. There is no middle with this guy, no room to negotiate. You either appreciate everything he brings to a basketball game or you’d like to see him suffer severe gastrointestinal trauma."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Aside from Russell Westbrook, no Boomer played great, and Kevin Durant reeked, and still the Lakers were threatened. If Durant reverts to form, and his teammates just play to their Sunday level, OKC will stick around this series for a while. Will Durant find himself? Well, Michael Jordan wasn’t so hot in his playoff debut 25 Aprils ago. In a 109-100 loss at Milwaukee in 1985, Jordan made seven of 19 shots and scored 23 points. If you hadn’t heard, Jordan eventually worked out his playoff problems. Of course, the 1985 Bucks didn’t have Ron Artest giving MJ mouth-to-mouth. The orange-haired Artest, one of the NBA’s best defenders, dogged Durant most of the game and will again Tuesday night in Game 2. ... Durant doesn’t need much wiggle room. And better yet, he doesn’t slump. Durant won the NBA scoring title in part because he followed poor games with a stretch of great games. Thirty-point games won’t come easy in the playoffs, but don’t expect another 7-of-24. And Phil Jackson’s referee-politicking didn’t pay off. Durant got 11 foul shots; Artest finished with five fouls. So there is reason for hope, Boomtown, and while Game 2 will have a playoff feel, too, expect Durant to be ready for this one."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "It was Portland 105, Phoenix 100 on Sunday. Paul Allen got his good game. And there was a pile of evidence that this first-round series is going to be more enjoyable and entertaining for the Blazers than the collective noogie they were served last year at Houston. A year ago in Houston, fans cried for the spleens of the Blazers players during the road games. They booed and taunted mercilessly. Blazers executives and scouts won't soon forget being pelted by debris at the end of losses at the Toyota Center. But the biggest difference between these playoffs and the last? Portland will win this series. Before Game 1, Blazers assistant Dean Demopoulos said that the coaching staff was watching the scores from the opening couple of nights of playoff games, and seeing the ugly, low scores roll in. Dallas managed 100 points in a victory over San Antonio, but Demopoulos said of a series of games in the 80s, 'the scores are way down, and the games are playoff-ugly. And we're the King of Ugly,' he announced. The Blazers have won a game in Phoenix and, barring a hiccup, they should win their three home games. It's true on Sunday that both teams played hard -- apologies to 'Sheed -- but Marcus Camby especially, plays frantic. And his teammates fed off that on Sunday. "

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "Nerves were frayed. Officials were scorned. Frustration reached all the way to the rafters. It didn't take long for the new Suns to reacquire the old taste of bitter playoff disappointment. Yuck. Trouble? Not yet. But this 105-100 loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday was like an alarm clock shaking the Valley out of a sweet slumber. And suddenly, the Suns have a new dilemma. 'They just outplayed us,' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. 'There's no getting around it.' The Trail Blazers are athletic, long and compete on defense. They block shots. They clog the middle. They bottle up Amar'e Stoudemire about as well as any team in the Western Conference. In Game 1, Stoudemire needed 19 shots to score 18 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.Their point guard, Andre Miller, is a terrible matchup for Steve Nash. Miller posted 31 points and eight assists, forcing Gentry to switch defensive assignments. And Portland's plodding style will test the Suns' resolve, a team that held the hosts to 10 points below their season average. 'All the games we play against them are going to be just like this,' Gentry said."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "This 98-89 playoff-opening victory over the Charlotte Bobcats wasn't about Dwight Howard (5 points) . And it wasn't about Vince Carter (4-of-19 from the floor). The Magic won because of one man. One very big little man. Welcome back, Jameer. We missed you, buddy. ... Yes, we realize Nelson has been playing all season, but not like this. Not like he played in Game 1 when he hit 10-of-18 shots, 10-of-12 in the first half, matched a career-high with 32 points and almost singlehandedly kept the Magic from getting upset by the blastedly bothersome Bobcats. I am going to go out on a limb right now: If Jameer keeps playing like this, I'm guaranteeing the Magic will win the championship this year. In hindsight, if Jameer had played like this last year, the Magic would have won the championship. Is there any question, Nelson wants to once and for all put the nightmare of last season's NBA Finals behind him? Admit it, many of you blamed him for the Magic being taken out in five by the Lakers. There were legitimate complaints that when Nelson decided to come back for the Finals after missing nearly four months following shoulder surgery, it robbed the red-hot Magic of chemistry and cohesion."

  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: "As they began the first playoff game in franchise history, the Charlotte Bobcats looked freshly scrubbed and very nervous. They looked like they should be carrying brand-new backpacks. 'We were like little kids on the first day of school,' Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace said. Exactly. The Bobcats were enthusiastic, energetic ... and not quite ready for everything that was about to happen. Orlando won the first game of this best-of-7 playoff series 98-89 in front of a sold-out crowd at Amway Arena that screamed for the Magic. The little kids were getting bullied. The lunch money was gone. The new jeans were torn. And then, something happened - something that makes me think this could actually turn into a series and not simply an Orlando sweep. The Bobcats fought back. With Stephen Jackson limping around on a hyperextended knee, with Raymond Felton fresh from a first-half torching by Jameer Nelson, with Dwight Howard having blocked eight shots in the first half, with the game taking the shape of a 30-point rout, the Bobcats fought their way back into relevance. ... When a kid comes home after his first day of school, he's never exactly the same kid. Something is lost. But something is gained as well. And assuming Jackson's knee is OK, the Bobcats will be far more ready for Game 2. That doesn't mean they'll win. But at least they now understand what they have to do."

  • David S. Glasier of The News-Herald: "Thanks to Anderson Varejao and Joakim Noah, energy never will be in short supply as the Cavaliers and Bulls continue their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series. The Cavs have a 1-0 lead in the series after Saturday's 96-83 victory at Quicken Loans Arena. Game 2 is scheduled for 8 tonight at the Q. Varejao and Noah are at or near the top of any credible list of the NBA's best "energy" players. In their home arenas, they are fan favorites because of their relentless pursuit of rebounds and loose balls, gritty defense and opportunistic offense. Away from home, they have a way of getting under the skin of opponents and their fans. ... Similarities between Varejao and Noah extend beyond their playing styles. Varejao, 27 and in his sixth NBA season, is 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds. Noah, 25 and in his third season, is 6-11 and 232 pounds. Both are entering what should be the prime years of their careers. Both had solid regular seasons. On a less serious note, both have distinctive hair styles. 'Somewhere along the line, those guys are related,' ESPN analyst Mark Jackson joked during the fourth quarter of Saturday's game."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "With tired legs, an assortment of bumps and bruises and a few aches and pains, the Bulls didn't do much of a physical nature during Sunday's practice at Quicken Loans Arena. But after watching film of their Game 1 loss Saturday to the Cleveland Cavaliers, they vow to be much more physical tonight in Game2 of the first-round playoff series. 'We've got to go out there and be totally opposite of what we did last game,' point guard Derrick Rose said. 'I didn't think we were aggressive on the defensive end. We talked about it, and we have to have some type of swagger or nastiness about ourselves. '[Tonight] I think it's gonna be totally different. I think now that we got our feet wet a little bit, I think some of the guys will be a little more comfortable in the game and we'll get a groove to our game. We have to just start hitting people. No '[basket]-and-ones' or anything like that. We have to start hitting people.' Rose isn't talking about becoming the modern-day Detroit Pistons Bad Boys or playing dirty. He's simply pointing out that the Bulls were too passive and need to do a better job of matching the Cavs' physicality."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "It took all of one game for Miami Heat- Boston Celtics to become a heated playoff rivalry. After 48 minutes between the teams, we've already had taunting, shoving, mockery and an elbow that well could change the course of this best-of-seven opening-round NBA playoff series. The elbow belongs to Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, one delivered to Heat forward Quentin Richardson during a melee with 40 seconds to play in Saturday's 85-76 Game 1 Boston victory at TD Garden. Because of that fracas, one that began with Richardson walking over fallen Celtics forward Paul Pierce, the NBA has suspended Garnett for Tuesday's Game 2, with Richardson fined $25,000 for triggering the incident. The Heat, however, appeared to catch a break, with neither center Jamaal Magloire nor guard Daequan Cook suspended for leaving the immediate vicinity of the bench during the incident. An NBA spokesman said Sunday night there would be no further penalties imposed."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Paul Pierce was felled by a right shoulder stinger in the final minute of Saturday night’s Game 1 victory against Miami. Quentin Richardson, long an adversary of Pierce, wasn’t buying it and made some comments along those lines, setting off an altercation that included him using his jaw to strike Kevin Garnett’s left elbow. The NBA last night suspended Garnett for Game 2 and fined Richardson $25,000. Richardson explained after Saturday’s game, 'Sometimes (Pierce) falls like he’s about to be out for the season and then he gets right up. That’s all I said.' If Pierce took that personally, he wasn’t letting on. 'The only thing I can do is respond with my play,' he said. 'Regardless of what anybody says, anybody does to me, I’m just going to respond with my play. That’s about it.' That hasn’t necessarily been the case between Pierce and Richardson, who have a long history of taunting each other. 'It’s just been nothing but talk, man, truthfully,' Pierce said. 'I don’t even get into that he-say, she-say thing. That stuff is all for y’all to sell papers. I’m just going to continue to play basketball.' "

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Can the Nuggets shore up the defense? It's the basketball adage: Offense comes and goes, but defense is constant. The Nuggets got away with one in Game 1. Utah shot 54.7 percent from the field, scored 113 points and put five players in double figures — and Denver still won. That's playing with fire. Now, the Nuggets can solve a big part of this equation by just not putting the Jazz at the free-throw line as often. Utah got 32 attempts from the charity stripe and hit 24. C.J. Miles, who had a playoff career-high 17 points, got seven of them from the line. But there has to be improvement in transition defense, closeouts when the ball swings from one side to another and in pick-and-roll situations."

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Everybody feeling OK around here? Anybody feeling OK? Anyone? Uh no. Given the sorry circumstances, who could? The afternoon after a disappointing double-digit loss in Game 1 of the Jazz-Nuggets playoff series, an even darker storm cloud blew in and hovered over Jazz practice, and no amount of manly talk, no amount of forced optimism, no amount of bull slinging could clear it away. News of Mehmet Okur's ruptured Achilles tendon had arrived an hour or two earlier, and while most had guessed the wound was not good, the dour confirmation -- surgery and a long rehabilitation would be required -- was tough to absorb with any kind of sunshiny countenance. Instead, the Jazz had trouble written all over their faces. They were flat-out down, searching for ways to buck themselves back up. Trying, though, wasn't doing. The more they talked, the more the Jazz seemed like the first team in NBA history to be eliminated in a best-of-seven playoff series in just one game. 'Things happen,' said Deron Williams, looking away. 'We just can't give up.' 'When somebody gets hurt, it's kind of a sick feeling,' said Jerry Sloan. 'It's a part of basketball. What are you supposed to do feel sorry for yourself?' Well yeah. One by one the Jazz players were asked about the injury, and one by one they answered that it was difficult to take, a damn shame, really."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "With standout center Andrew Bogut out for the season because of injury, the Bucks don’t have the bodies to deal with Hawks center Al Horford and forward Josh Smith in the post. Those two dominated scoring inside and created outside shots for teammates as the Hawks dazed the Bucks from the start. Natural wing forward Carlos Delfino couldn’t keep Smith from getting to the basket. Kurt Thomas is stout enough to defend Horford in the post but he’s neither fleet enough to guard him away from the basket nor athletic enough to prevent Horford from scoring on jump hooks when he gets inside. So the Hawks opened the game by giving it to Smith and Horford and clearing out. They weren’t as effective with the plan after halftime and suffered through scoring droughts that allowed the Bucks back into the game. 'It is simple,' Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. 'In playoff basketball, you kind of exploit match-ups. We tried to take advantage of Al and (Smith) inside and early on I thought that was to our advantage. In the second half I thought we weren’t really solid in our offensive execution in terms of getting them the ball.' "

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Being a spectator is perfectly acceptable for the fans wearing replica jerseys and sitting in the stands. But if the Milwaukee Bucks are caught watching the game instead of participating, it spells trouble for their playoff series against Atlanta. Bucks coach Scott Skiles made that a point of emphasis in a film session with his players at the team hotel Sunday, following the Hawks' 102-92 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series. The teams will meet Tuesday night in Atlanta before the best-of-seven series moves to Milwaukee on Saturday. 'We spectated a little too much,' Skiles said. 'Normally we're a very high-level team in regard to recognizing a teammate in trouble and playing unselfishly defensively and getting down there and helping. We were just a little bit locked up. As we got going in the second half, we started getting more active and getting out in some passing lanes, creating some more advantages for ourselves.' "

  • Jack Bell of The New York Times: "With the playoffs underway, few N.B.A. players would dream of covering their eyes. Their ears? That’s another story — especially where music is concerned. Most players usually augment the thump-thump-thump of the basketball on the court’s hardwood floor with the banging, reverberating bass from headphones tethered to their iPods. But flash headphones are an absolute must. Now, just in time for the postseason tip-offs, Skullcandy, a company based in Park City, Utah, has produced a limited run (100 in all) of N.B.A. Limited Mix Master headphones ($299). In partnership with the N.B.A, the company started its N.B.A. Player Series of headphones last November. The signature models (Kobe Bryant, the Lakers; Kevin Garnett, the Celtics; LeBron James, the Cavaliers; David Lee, the Knicks; Derrick Rose, the Bulls; and Dwyane Wade, the Heat) will be available Tuesday; 20 on the company’s Web site, the rest at Apple retail stores in Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago (sorry Cleveland). The folding, adjustable headphones, stored in a zippered, fake-leather case with team-color accents, come with each player’s number and team logo on the ear cups."