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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "The Cavaliers do indeed have a lot of depth and an impressive list of former All-Stars. But when there's trouble in a playoff game, it still is quite an advantage to have the Most Valuable Player on the roster. LeBron James verified his ownership of that title Monday night, ratcheting up his game to help the oil-leaking Cavs put a 2-0 stranglehold on their series with the Chicago Bulls with a 112-102 victory. The Bulls fixed everything they targeted following their Game 1 loss, including a prolific performance from controversial extrovert Joakim Noah, who silenced the booing fans with a fierce performance. The Bulls rebounded better, they got second-chance points and they succeeded in neutralizing the Cavs' size advantage. Those are all issues the Cavs will have to work on in the two days before Game 3, when the Bulls will have a measure of momentum going back home in their last-ditch effort to make it a series. But none of those details matter when James has the ball in his hands and the look in his eye as he did on this night. A string of Bulls had to take it in the gut, playing the proper defense on James and still watching him splash shot after shot over their outstretched arms."

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "With an emphatic dunk, Joakim Noah was the last Bulls player to leave the court Monday night during shooting practice at Quicken Loans Arena before Game 2's 112-102 loss to the Cavaliers. Five straight Bulls players had taken that same walk minutes earlier all by themselves. But when Noah disappeared into the tunnel, the same arena security guard who had escorted Noah out of the locker room scurried to lead him down a hallway back into it. A Bulls spokesperson said the team didn't request additional security for Noah because of the hostility surrounding his insults Sunday and guards routinely accompany players. OK, perhaps, but it was clear the men with badges came to the arena Monday night fully aware Noah was no average Jo in the eyes of the locals. Let's just say Shaquille O'Neal gave Noah more room on the perimeter during the game, daring him to shoot, than the arena's security detail did before and after. ... When I asked him afterward if he regretted criticizing Cleveland, Noah just lit a proverbial match near a puddle of gasoline. 'Not at all,' Noah said. 'Do you like it? Do you think it's cool at all? I never heard anyone say I'm going to Cleveland on vacation. … My whole life I've been booed. It's OK. I have my friends, I don't care.' "

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "Coming into Game 2, they were your classic no-hopers. The Utah Jazz entered its first-round playoff series without itsstarting small forward. In Game 1, it lost its starting center. Someone named Kyrylo Fesenko was in the starting lineup Monday night. Radio guys ran around trying to figure out how to pronounce his first name. (Think of former Princeton coach Pete Carril's last name.) A Sunday headline in Utah's Deseret News read: 'Face it, Jazz season all but over.' Veteran Jazz coach Jerry Sloan just shrugged. 'We've been doing it all year,' he said. Facing a prohibitive deficit if they lost, the Jazz summoned the toughness of their coach and made it a series with a gutsy three-point victory that sends the series to Salt Lake City even at a game apiece. ... Now it's the Nuggets who must regroup. Their defense was absent without leave for much of the game. You don't win in the playoffs that way."

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "The Jazz pulled one of the biggest reversals of fortune in their playoff history on Monday night, essentially telling the fates themselves -- and all doubters, too -- that they could shove it in Game 2 of the Jazz's first-round series with the Nuggets. You already know the Jazz misfortune suffered over the past five days, including blown opportunities, blown home-court advantage, blown Achilles tendons, and blown calf rehabs. The Jazz were cooked, then, and everybody knew it. Except for them. They, too, may have suspected it, but there was enough wiggle room and wondering left in their minds, and enough will, to stir a remarkable 114-111 win Monday night. Bad luck, apparently, can take a hike. Bad karma can take a flying leap. At least until Game 3 in Salt Lake on Friday. Deron Williams, who holds more sway with the Jazz, on and off the court, than Jerry Sloan or anyone else, pushed his team to victory here, scoring 33 points and tossing 14 assists. Before this game tipped, Williams knew playoff basketball isn't the time or place for solitary pursuits. He came clean on the point, saying he couldn't do all the climbing and hauling himself against the Nuggets. That road is too steep, the load too heavy. On the other hand, what is Williams supposed to do with Othyus Jeffers to the left of him and Kyrylo Fesenko to the right?"

  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: "John Hammond said he is only doing what Joe Dumars taught him, and that has been good enough to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. Milwaukee is down, 1-0, heading into Game 2 tonight at Atlanta. Hammond spent seven years with the Pistons working under Dumars as vice president of basketball operations. He left two years ago to assume the position of general manager for the then-struggling Bucks. The Bucks, the No. 6 seed in the East, posted 46 victories this year and went on a 16-4 run after Hammond acquired John Salmons at the trade deadline and brought in former Piston Jerry Stackhouse. Hammond also acquired another former Piston, Carlos Delfino, who has been a pleasant surprise. 'With Michael Redd out, we needed scoring at the two-guard position,' Hammond said. 'John (Salmons) had proven last year what he did with the Chicago Bulls when they acquired him in their playoff push, and we just had the good fortune of him doing the same for us.' "

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can only guard one player at a time. That means Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles is facing a difficult decision about Mbah a Moute's defensive assignment in the team's playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. Should it be Hawks shooting guard Joe Johnson or power forward Josh Smith? Or should the 6-foot-8 Mbah a Moute even take a turn on 6-10 center Al Horford? It's that kind of versatility that has made the second-year pro from Cameroon and UCLA such a valuable asset for the Bucks. At age 23 he already has defended nearly every star player in the league, from LeBron James to Kobe Bryant to Chris Paul to Chris Bosh."

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: "While I prefer filet mignon, Bucks forward and Cameroon native Luc Mbah a Moute prefers 'Viper. I like Boa constrictor, too. But viper is the best meat I‘ve ever had. It tastes like fish and chicken combined. It's very good.' "

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Over the weekend Joe Johnson scored more points than Kobe Bryant, made the difference on defense the way Steve Nash couldn’t and collected more rebounds than most forwards. Yet Johnson’s leading role for the Hawks in their Game 1 victory against the Bucks didn’t seem to gain much national notice. That’s the way it usually goes for Johnson and, as usual, he didn't care. 'It doesn’t bother me, man,' Johnson said. 'I am in love with the game. I play this game for fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been blessed to play nine years. I’m at a great point in my life. We are in the playoffs. I could care less what people say or write about me. I’m still going to play the right way.' Johnson’s indifference to the spotlight is noteworthy. Some of the speculation about him leaving the Hawks as an unrestricted free agent this summer is based on the assumption that Johnson might seek more celebrity. Johnson said others are always telling him he should get more attention but he shrugs it off. 'I don’t mind flying under the radar,' he said. 'I have been like that pretty much my whole life.' "

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "The Mavericks weren't certain what to make of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's harsh evaluation of his team's play in Sunday's Game 1. Concluding his opening remarks after the Spurs' 100-94 loss, Popovich had media inquisitors doing double-takes when he said, 'I thought we had a lot of guys that played like dogs.' After Monday's practice, Dallas players chose their words carefully when asked what they thought of such a blunt appraisal. 'A coach has a right to call his players out,' said Dirk Nowitzki, whose 36 points on 12-of-14 shooting made Popovich grumpier than usual. 'Nellie (former Mavs coach Don Nelson) was never afraid to call us out back in the day.' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said Popovich's candor was no surprise. 'Pop will say anything at any time,' Carlisle said. 'He knows his team and has a way of motivating those guys. That's how he does it.' Nowitzki said he was certain of the affect Popovich's 'dogs' comment would have on the Spurs going into Game 2. 'I'm sure they'll respond like they always do, and they'll give us a great run on Wednesday,' Nowitzki said."

  • Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com: "Dirk Nowitzki's display of remarkable scoring efficiency during Sunday's playoff opener added to a case that he'd rather not make. He's one of the best postseason performers in NBA history who doesn't own a championship ring. Nowitzki's playoff production places him among the all-time elite. He's one of five players with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, joining Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit and Shaquille O'Neal. That doesn't ease the disappointment of failing so far in his chase of a championship. Nowitzki's name belongs with Charles Barkley and Karl Malone in conversations about the best power forwards in the modern era who never participated in a championship parade. 'That's great company, first of all,' said Nowitzki, whose career postseason statistics (25.6 points and 11.0 rebounds) are significantly better than his Hall of Fame-caliber regular season numbers. 'But I still think I've got a couple good years left -- three, four, maybe five -- that I can go for it. Ultimately, I'm going to leave it all out there every single year. If I look back on my career, I'm going to say I did my part, I tried, I went for it every single time and I've got no regrets. If it works, that'll be great. If not, maybe it wasn't meant to be.' "

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "Asked to assess how the Lakers did in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons paused for a few seconds. The Lakers won by eight points. But they shot just 41% from the field, 68% from the free-throw line. They outscored the Thunder by 14 points in the first quarter, but Oklahoma City outscored them, 66-60, the rest of the way. The Lakers built a 17-point lead, but saw that cut to six points in the fourth. The one constant was the stifling Lakers defense, which held the Thunder to 40% shooting for the game. So as Cleamons collected his thoughts, he came to a conclusion. 'I thought we did OK,' Cleamons said. 'OK is nothing to brag about because the first game you never know anyway what they were going to do or how we would respond. But we survived and it's always nice to get a win as you go.' At the start of every season, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson gives his assistants eight to 10 teams they are in charge of scouting. The Thunder is Cleamons' team, and it's his job to develop the Lakers' game plan."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant will be fine. At least that’s the message Durant’s teammates and Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks stressed Monday, one day after his poor playoff debut and one day before his first chance show what he’s really cut from in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers. 'He missed a lot of shots that he normally makes,' teammate Jeff Green assured. 'He didn’t get to the free throw as much. But Kevin is a great player. We’ve seen him have games like (Sunday), up and down throughout the whole season and he comes back with a great game so we know he’s going to bounce back.' "

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Suns star Amar'e Stoudemire said he felt like all of the Portland Trail Blazers' eyes were focused on him. So were their bodies, arms and hands. They met Stoudemire at every turn in the Suns' 105-100 loss Sunday to Portland in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. The Blazers fronted Stoudemire. They switched Nicolas Batum onto him. They doubled him before he had the ball when Jarron Collins was on the floor. They looked like they were defending the two-man game of Stoudemire and Steve Nash with three players when a weakside defender would meet Stoudemire repeatedly at the point of his catch, far from the basket. When he did have a one-on-one opportunity, it was still not ideal because he was going against Marcus Camby, whose defensive prowess and length were rough on Stoudemire. He had three of his shots blocked inside. He scored 18 but 10 of those came on second-chance hoops. His only and-one play came off a dive-in from the side rather than the usual pick-and-roll or transition methods. 'It's a sign of respect that the whole team was trying to guard me out there,' Stoudemire said."

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: "Some games become career-defining markers in a coach's career. Tonight's meeting between the Suns and Portland Trail Blazers feels like one of them. Alvin Gentry's promotion to head coach 14 months ago was the right one, a just reward for someone who excels at player management and whose growth during 22 years in the NBA paid off with this season's 54-28 record. Little is known about Gentry the postseason coach, however, his sole experience a first-round knockout with Detroit coming during the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. Welcome to the pressure cooker, Coach. All eyes are on you after the Suns were the only home team to lose Game 1."

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Sunday marked the fourth time Andre Miller has been on the underdog team that has won Game 1 in the playoffs, including the last three seasons. None have advanced. ... Miller, 33, has been here before, and he knows he and the Blazers still have work to do. 'You learn it's a long series,' Miller said. 'Every game it gets harder and harder. The defense gets stronger, the game slows down a little bit, and every play matters.' And despite carrying impressive career playoff averages of 17.0 points and 4.8 assists, Miller and his teams haven't been able to win the games that matter. Doesn't that bother him? Miller might as well have been stiffening up to draw another charge like he did on Amare Stoudemire late in Sunday's Game 1 victory. (Stoudemire struggles) 'It's in the past, really,' Miller said. 'I don't worry about it. You definitely want to move forward and learn from the past.' Miller struggled to pinpoint what he has learned from the past playoff series, eventually rattling off vague phrases about preparation and better recognizing game situations. 'It's a mixture of things,' Miller said, finally. 'If you veer off a little bit you can easily lose a game.' "

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The booing began as soon as they hit Boylston Street. Dwyane Wade and a few of his Heat teammates left their downtown practice Monday and were met by a few dozen fans returning from the Boston Marathon. 'Let's go, Celtics,' one started chanting. Others just booed. The Heat players smiled. Wade cupped his hand to his ear. It made for a good street scene, here by this city's theater district, though it's nothing compared to the venom that will tumble down on them Tuesday in the second act of this playoff series. Game 2's first question isn't whether the Heat is good enough. Not with Kevin Garnett out of the physical and figurative middle of the Boston lineup after his thrown elbow. The Heat should be good enough to win Tuesday. No, the first question is what you never ask about a Heat team: Is it tough enough? ... 'We've got to be more confident in how we play,' Wade said. Confident is one word. Tougher, that's closer to the truth."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "If you could ask Quentin Richardson one question, what would it be? It's actually a two-part question: What's the story behind that head-knock thing you and Darius Miles used to do, and what the heck happened to it? 'There is [a story], but that's between myself and Darius,' Richardson said. 'That was something that we did because we were having fun. You get to New York and you're getting your [butt] kicked every night, it's not so fun. It's like, 'What are you doing that for?' ' What's that? Oh, you thought that question would be something like 'What did you really say to Paul Pierce?'' or 'What is this history between you two really about?' or 'Why did you and Brandy end the engagement?' All fair contenders. But the head-knock thing was just so intriguing. As it turns out, Richardson hasn't received this much attention since those head-knocking days when he and Miles were supposed to lead the Clippers into a new era. It's a shame, really, that only now that he's a marked man and being called an instigator and a punk all around the country is he finally getting some attention again. Because he's actually quite likable. Not in the same way Shaquille O'Neal is likable because of his wit or Grant Hill is likable because he's a model citizen."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "There’s no question that some professional athletes relish their tough-guy reputations off the court. Society has increasingly celebrated bad boys and lauded celebrities with tarnished images. There are those NBA players who choose to emphasize their toughness with body art, loud screams after dunks, or never walking away from confrontation. Players such as Charlotte’s Stephen Jackson have meticulously learned to harness that anger into more productive play and fewer altercations. That’s a byproduct of maturity. But it’s rather sad -- although great copy for newspapers -- when a player has to question the manhood of another because he won’t elevate their dispute into a physical confrontation. Pierce is 32 years old and earning $19.7 million this season. The only fighting he needs to do at this point in his career is on 'Don King Boxing’ on his Wii. Same with Garnett. Their reputations won’t benefit one bit from taking Richardson’s words personally. Some challenges need to be ignored. This is one of them."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "While nine blocks are terrific for an individual, they're not always such a good thing for a team. It means Dwight Howard is getting way too many chances to return to sender. Opposing players are flying into the lane unimpeded, penetrating the paint for shots. 'Dwight will be back there to block, but they can't be coming at him 25 to 30 times a game,' coach Stan Van Gundy said. 'Look, if the ball is going to come at the rim that many times, it's going to make it tough on him. We've got to do a better job on the ball defensively and we've got to do a better job of our initial line of help.' It used to be a running joke from a non-plussed Van Gundy after Howard had a big night of blocks: Dwight ran up his total because the guards and/or wing players were letting too many players blow by them, proving too many opportunities. They are called 'blow-bys' in NBA huddles. Certainly, this is part and parcel of Charlotte's identity. If Howard is the bull, the Bobcats are the matadors. 'Attack the paint, attack the paint, attack the paint,' Van Gundy said. 'I mean, that's how they play. I think it's good that it became real clear to our guys and we still got the win.' "

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "The 'crib midget' going off during the first half of Sunday's playoff game wasn't all Raymond Felton's fault. 'Crib midget' is Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard's nickname for point guard Jameer Nelson, a 6-foot rocket who made 10 of 12 first-half shots and scored 24 points in the Charlotte Bobcats' Game 1 loss. He finished with 32 points. No one suggested Felton's defense was good during the first half. However, from coach Larry Brown, to Felton's teammates to Felton, himself, they all say this was more complicated. 'We kind of left Ray out there to dry,' guard Stephen Jackson said of how little defensive help Felton got early. The problem runs to the core of what got the Magic to the NBA Finals last season; how do you keep Howard from dunking you into submission without conceding open jump shots to every other Orlando player? The Magic annihilated the Bobcats in early game pick-and-roll, in part because Charlotte's big men were instructed to stay back with Howard, rather than jump out in the direction of Nelson to cut off his movement with the ball."