First Cup: Thursday

  • Jonathan Abrams and Howard Beck of The New York Times: "Doc Rivers faced a decision that coaches at all levels wrestle with: whether to foul with a 3-point lead and the shot clock off. It is one of the most heavily debated topics among the best N.B.A. minds. It was a factor in last year’s playoffs, including the finals, and probably will be again this postseason, when teams are more evenly matched and playoff survival is at stake. According to an analysis provided by Synergy Sports Technology, the situation presented itself 165 times in the last two N.B.A. seasons with 10 seconds or less left on the game clock. The conclusion? Although coaches debate the strategy of fouling intentionally, most rarely do. Teams deliberately fouled in only 19 of those instances. (One team tried to foul but was unable to because of ball movement.) No team fouled with a second or less remaining. Teams that deliberately fouled won 17 of the 19 games in regulation and lost once. Teams won all 14 of the games in which they purposefully fouled with five seconds or less to play. One game went to overtime, and the team that fouled when leading in regulation won. ... So, when to foul? With less than 15 seconds? Less than 10? Less than five? Always, sometimes, never? For coaches, it is a puzzle with no correct answer, only opportunities for regret."

  • Arn Tellem for The Huffington Post: "College prospects will be under so much time pressure to jump through a narrow hoop before the June 24 draft that the Unsurest as well as the Surest Things are likely to attempt the feat. Before now, players had about a two-month window in which to withdraw from the draft, return to school and retain their NCAA eligibility. This year international players can bow out until June 14, the NBA deadline. But the NCAA has shortened the cut-off date for U.S. underclassmen to May 8. Since the deadline to declare for the draft is April 25, college players have less than two weeks to be evaluated by pro teams. Make that a week and a half. The list of draft-eligible candidates is released April 29, the date on which underclassmen may start workouts with NBA teams. Effectively, this means that underclassmen have only 10 days to audition with teams and decide whether to stay in school or enter the NBA draft and forfeit their eligibility. Ten days is a pretty short time to make what may be the most important decision of a student's life. On top of that, the NCAA will not permit a student-athlete to skip class for a pro tryout. (The penalty: loss of eligibility). So, in the end, all these undergrads have is one weekend to map out their future. Does anyone seriously think that two days are sufficient? I've got a pretty good hunch that many players will declare for the draft in the belief that they're first-round caliber, players who -- had they be given more time to weigh their options -- would have stayed in school."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Can we now finally stop with the puerile, preconceived perceptions of the Orlando Magic? You know the ones I'm talking about, right? The ones that say the Magic are nothing but a mellifluous bunch of girly gunners. The ones that say the Magic are nothing but a soft, subtle, sissified finesse team. Could anything be further from reality? Did you see the Magic's down-and-dirty 92-77 Game 2 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night at the Am? These Magic maulers have about as much finesse as an 'Alice in Chains' CD. You want to talk about setting a tone. The Magic came out in Game 2 and unsheathed a defense that suffocated the offensively challenged Bobcats like an Icelandic volcano cloud. In the first eight minutes, the Bobcats had six turnovers and three points. By halftime, they had just 30 points. And by the time this defensive slugfest was over, the Magic had forced 21 turnovers and the bruised and battered Bobkittens looked as if they'd been in a fight with an angry alley cat."

  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: "The Charlotte Bobcats entered their first playoff series with dreams of shocking the Orlando Magic and the NBA world. They better concentrate now on winning a game. Orlando grabbed a 2-0 lead in the series with a 92-77 win against Charlotte on Wednesday night. The series shifts to Charlotte now, and a four-game sweep by Orlando looms as a realistic possibility. Game 3 is in Charlotte at 2 p.m. Saturday and is sold out. That's where the Bobcats must make their final stand, because going down 3-0 to the Magic would be like going down three laps to Jimmie Johnson. You don't come back from that. And if the Bobcats don't start better Saturday, they're finished. Watching the Bobcats in the first quarter felt like cringing at the Carolina Panthers' offense in their infamous Arizona playoff game. If Jake Delhomme had been playing point guard, it could not have been worse. Of the Bobcats' first 13 possessions, they failed to score on 12. They turned the ball over six times. They shot an air ball."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Spurs chairman and CEO Peter Holt went on the record about his feelings for the Dallas Mavericks before Wednesday's first-round playoff game at American Airlines Center. 'I don't hate the Mavericks, but I hate it when they beat us, that's for sure,' Holt said before the Spurs won 102-88 in Game 2. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban created a stir when he said Tuesday that he hated the Spurs. Holt regarded Cuban's remarks as yet another attempt to hype the interest in the Spurs-Mavericks rivalry. He had no problem with Cuban's 'I hate the Spurs' remarks. 'Listen, there might be some people in the league that are mad at him,' Holt said, 'but I'm not mad at him. Anything that raises the awareness is only good for us.' The Spurs' majority owner admires what Cuban has done for basketball in Dallas and for interest in the NBA in Texas. 'I love what Mark has done for basketball in Dallas,' he said. 'Ten years with 50 wins is phenomenal. We know how hard that is, year after year. And he knows how to hype the interest, that's for sure.' "

  • Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News: "The series is on. A rivalry lives. And the question of how many games it will take the Mavericks to dispense with the old, tired San Antonio Spurs has been shelved. It's not necessarily panic time in Dallas, just because the overrated concept of home-court advantage shifted south with the Spurs' 102-88 Game 2 win at American Airlines Center. The Mavericks have been an outstanding road team all season. The series is on. A rivalry lives."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "With two days off before Game 3 tonight at the United Center, the Bulls' players and coaches had plenty of time to make adjustments and changes to their game plan. There's just one issue: There's not a lot they feel they need to change. Sure, the Bulls, who trail 2-0 in the best-of-seven series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, would love to change the result, but they generally were pleased with their effort and approach in Game 2. They say only a superb effort by LeBron James -- superb even by his lofty standards -- prevented a huge upset. With a few tweaks and improvements, the Bulls would take a similar performance tonight and believe it would be good enough to break through -- as long as James doesn't have a repeat performance by hitting nearly every shot from seemingly impossible angles."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out LeBron James is going to repeat as the NBA's Most Valuable Player. The only question is if he'll be a unanimous selection. James said he'd be honored if it happens. 'If it happens, I'll give a lot of credit to my teammates, my coaching staff and my family,' he said on Wednesday after practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. 'It solidifies a lot of hard work and dedication in the offseason that I've been able to bring to this team.' He said it might be more special this year than last year's award because of all the injuries the Cavs have suffered. 'It's a blessing,' James said. 'We lost a lot of key guys and other guys were able to step up. My teammates continued to play at a high level.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "When does patience run out? When a season is running out. With the Miami Heat down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics in its opening-round, best-of-seven NBA playoff series, guard Dwyane Wade clearly has tired of doing the dance when it comes to weighing potential against promise with second-year forward Michael Beasley. So after Beasley was dominated in his matchup by fill-in Celtics forward Glen Davis in Tuesday's humiliating 106-77 Game 2 loss at TD Garden, Wade was terse when asked about Beasley now standing 9 of 22 from the field for 19 total points in the series. 'I'm tired of answering questions about Beasley not doing this, not doing that,' Wade said. 'It's on Michael.' To dig out of its hole, the Heat clearly is going to need more than Wade, who is shooting 61.1 percent and averaging 27.5 points over the first two games. It is going to need a Beasley who again will be faced with the long-limbed defensive presence of Kevin Garnett, who was suspended from Game 2 because of the Game 1 elbow he landed on Heat forward Quentin Richardson."

  • Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald: "The C’s are expecting the Heat’s best shot in Game 3. 'We’re figuring their backs are against the wall and they’re thinking that, if they don’t get Game 3, then this is pretty much over,' Garnett said. 'I know that’s what I would be thinking so we’re going to have to be ready for that.' The Celtics were one of the league’s best road teams in the regular season, but they don’t think that success carries much weight in the playoffs. 'It’s great to know that you can win on the road, but Miami could care less about our regular season record on the road,' Doc Rivers said. 'And we should care less about it. We have to come to play and earn it.' Adding a degree of difficulty to this trip is that the C’s are headed to a city renowned for its nightlife. Garnett said the trip is strictly business, but Rivers admitted that traveling to Miami presents more opportunity for distractions. 'Miami always has an advantage,' Rivers said. 'New York has an advantage, L.A. has an advantage. That temptation is always there, so we’ll see.' Rivers isn’t concerned enough to institute a curfew."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "The Lakers' trip to OKC might be anything but OK. It will be incredibly loud in front of a crowd that actually stands up beyond just the national anthem. It will be another test against a testy team that doesn't seem to care about the Lakers' title-repeat aspirations. And if it's anything like their trip there a few weeks ago, it could get real messy real quick. The Lakers own a 2-0 lead in the first round against Oklahoma City, but that didn't stop them from hunting and pecking for answers going into Game 3 on Thursday at Ford Center. The big-picture numbers overwhelmingly favor the Lakers: A top-seeded team has never lost to an eighth-seeded team after winning the first two games in a best-of-seven NBA series. Yet the Lakers are more interested in different numbers, those from two of their forwards -- Ron Artest and Lamar Odom. Odom is averaging 5.5 points and shooting 30.8% this series. Artest is also way off target, averaging six points and shooting 23.8%. Artest has done a solid job of defending Thunder forward Kevin Durant (28 points, 38% shooting, six turnovers a game) but has become a one-man wrecking ball on offense."

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "Game 3 between the Thunder and Lakers is tonight, and the pressure is mounting. MultimediaPhotoview all photos It’s not mounting on the Thunder, despite being halfway to elimination in the opening round. The pressure certainly isn’t on the Lakers, who no doubt are thrilled to lead 2-0 against an infantry that’s in its infancy. Instead, tonight’s pressure rests squarely on Thunder fans. Some locals are still numb from an unexpected 50-win season, but it’s time to snap out of their trance. An opportunity to face the world champions should not be viewed as nothing more than a victory lap after a magical season. Thunder players and coaches certainly are not viewing this playoff series as such, so neither should their fans. Last season, NBA visitors habitually asked about the Thunder’s home crowd. They marveled at how so many people cheered for a 23-59 team. This season, visitors inquired about the Thunder. They marveled at the team’s 27-win improvement and 28 home sellouts. ... What the Thunder wants more than anything right now is a chance to return to Staples Center — which would mean a win tonight, or Saturday night, or both. Game 3 belongs to the Thunder, and the home crowd will be a big reason why."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "For those who defend the name of the Suns defense, it may be safe to come out of hiding from the years of ridicule. The Suns have a full season's work to prove they are better defensively. After finishing 22nd in the NBA in defensive field-goal percentage last season, they were 12th this season -- their best finish since landing 12th in 2001-02 when Shawn Marion, Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway patrolled the perimeter. They also have submitted postseason evidence. Amid the offensive overflow of Game 2's 119-90 rout of Portland that tied the series at 1, the defensive change from Game 1 was as important."

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Rudy Fernandez has spent much of his two seasons in Portland making veiled pleas for more playing time and a bigger role with the Trail Blazers. Now that he is getting his chance in the NBA playoffs as the starting guard in place of Brandon Roy, Fernandez has yet to show up. Not only is Fernandez missing shots -- he's 2 for 9 from the field and 1 for 7 from three-point range in the first two games against Phoenix -- he doesn't even appear to be looking for his shot. His passive approach has rewarded the Suns decision to shift Steve Nash, a poor defender, off of Andre Miller and onto Fernandez. With Fernandez in the game, Nash has received a virtual free pass on defense. Only when Jerryd Bayless has been in the game has Nash had to defend. So what's going on with Fernandez? Who knows? Fernandez has been both short and sharp with the media. When a question regarding the playoffs being his chance to show what he can do now that he is replacing Brandon Roy, Fernandez cut off the question. 'I am not Brandon Roy. I am Rudy Fernandez,' he said sharply after Wednesday's practice. What little he does say is confusing. 'I do not need 10 shots or 2 shots. Play free is what I can play, and I think my role is to open the space,' he said. 'For me, it's not important whether I'm a starter or not a starter. It's the ball. It's shots,' Fernandez said."

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Former Hawks star Steve Smith has seen enough of the Hawks-Bucks first-round playoff series to make his call on the next two games in Milwaukee. 'I think Atlanta wins both,' the NBA TV analyst said Wednesday. It would, of course, constitute a sweep for the Hawks, who won the first two games, at Philips Arena, in convincing fashion Saturday and Tuesday. Smith offered caveats about the Bucks returning home and having dynamic scorers in guards Brandon Jennings and John Salmons. But, he acknowledged, it would take at least one of them, if not both, exploding on the Hawks for Milwaukee to take one of the next two games. Smith praised the Hawks for their focus, attention to detail and defense in their first two games, notably the way that forward Josh Smith and center Al Horford have dominated on defense."

  • Tom Enlund of the Journal Sentinel: "The second game of the series Tuesday in Atlanta was only a couple minutes old and the teams were lined up for a jump ball in front of the Atlanta basket when the Hawks' Josh Smith tipped the ball to Al Horford, who simply turned and dropped in an uncontested layup to tie the game, 6-6. It was an easy layup. Way too easy. 'We should have a been in a little different position,' said coach Scott Skiles. 'But that's indicative of what's happened to us. Giving up a layup (off a jump ball) on the opposing team's end, you can never do that. That can't happen. "There have been some situations where our focus hasn't been where it normally is. Some of it is understandable. We're still getting used to playing without one of our main guys and we've got new guys that haven't been through it before. But we can't say, well it's so understandable that we're not going to be focused now. We have to work on it. We have to understand how focused we have to be to play at this level and win a game at this level. All year long when we've gone through little stretches like this, we've been able to rally and come out and play much better. I suspect we'll do that.' Yes, it was only one play, but it was typical of the series so far."

  • Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post: "Adrian Dantley has the single most difficult job in this NBA postseason and he knows it. His players know it, as does everybody who plays against his Denver Nuggets. All Dantley is being asked to do is lead a team of headstrong characters with championship aspirations deep into the playoffs while the man best suited to coach them, his boss George Karl, battles throat and neck cancer. ... It got even more difficult late Monday night when the heavily favored Nuggets, playing at home, lost Game 2 of their best-of-seven playoff series with Utah, even though the Jazz played without two injured starters who are out for the series. It's quite a predicament for anybody to be in, much less a bench neophyte, a man whose reputation was forged as a prolific scorer, first at DeMatha High, then at Notre Dame where he was collegiate player of the year nearly 35 years ago, then in the NBA for 15 seasons where he twice led the league in scoring. His became, officially, a Hall of Fame career two years ago. Even so, it was star-crossed. Dantley is the only rookie-of-the-year to be traded, and was dealt in a swirl of controversy by the Detroit Pistons weeks before they began their back-to-back championship run. And now there's this, trying to coach a group suited to Karl and perhaps only Karl. Nothing about being the substitute teacher is favorable."

  • Benjamin Hochman and Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: " 'You like it, think it's funny?' That was Carmelo Anthony's first question when the topic of his TV ad came up. The Nuggets star teamed up with Nike's Jordan Brand to air a creative albeit confusing commercial, which has aired during the Denver-Utah series. It is like a political ad, promoting the greatness of one Carmelo Kiyan Anthony -- the catch is, it's seemingly sponsored by 'the fans of Carmelo Anthony in Utah.' Denver's all-star forward talked about the ad Wednesday. Asked about its purpose, Melo said: 'To make it seem like all the fans in Utah are rooting for me. It's just stirring some stuff up. If we had played Phoenix, it would be the same thing.' Turns out the ad was made to rile the fans. ... Asked how he thinks the fans will react to him in Game 3, Melo said: 'Of course, they'll boo me. ... It's the playoffs.' "

  • Tim Buckley of the Deseret News: "Bug the Nuggets. That's their best hope, the Jazz seem to figure, for extending the success they enjoyed in Monday's Game 2 win to the rest of their best-of-seven first-round NBA playoff series with Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets. ' 'Melo, K-Mart (Kenyon Martin) -- those guys are emotionally into the game, you know?' point guard Deron Williams said Wednesday, when the Jazz returned to practice after taking Tuesday off. 'So ... we want to try to get under their skin, keep them aggravated.' 'We want to try to bother them -- especially Carmelo,' power forward Carlos Boozer added. 'Obviously the whole team, but the big key for them is 'Melo. You know, (point guard) Chauncey (Billups) gets them going, but 'Melo is their engine.' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, however, wasn't buying when it was suggested Anthony conceded Utah got into his head in Game 2. 'Don't buy any of that,' Sloan said. 'That's like Michael Jordan being sick.' "