First Cup: Thursday

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "The Mavericks officially have the Los Angeles Lakers’ attention. And the rest of the NBA’s, too. Announcing themselves as serious championship contenders, the Mavericks took down the Lakers for the second time in three nights at the Staples Center. Dirk Nowitzki was a beast, the reserves dominated their LA counterparts and the Mavericks pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 93-81 victory Wednesday night. They took a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven conference semifinals. The Mavericks have never been up 2-0 in a series that they started on the road. Only once in franchise history -- the 2006 NBA Finals -- have they lost a playoff series after going up 2-0. The Lakers’ series record when falling behind 2-0: 2-16. Theoretically, it could have been the last home game of the season for the two-time defending NBA champs. The next two games are at American Airlines Center and while the series is a long way from over, the Mavericks are in wonderful shape going into Game 3. The two-time defending champions clearly are on the ropes."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "If this season turns into the special one the Dallas Mavericks hope it will be, they're going to look back at Wednesday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers as the turning point. With an opportunity to put the two-time defending NBA champions on their heels, the Mavs seized the moment in a big way with a convincing 93-81 victory at Staples Center. With the win, Dallas took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series after it stunningly won both games in LA. The Mavs will host Games 3 and 4 Friday and Sunday at American Airlines Center, opening the door for them to sweep the series without having to come back to the West Coast. And who would have imagined that happening before this series started? 'We're a great road team because we're resilient,' center Brendan Haywood said. 'We're a family -- everybody roots for each other. And we have a lot of different guys that can hit big shots. So on the road usually when we're down, we never feel that we're out of it.' "

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "Ugly, empty and quiet. It was so silent in Staples Center on Wednesday that you could hear a champion drop. That was the Lakers hitting the floor, ironically on a night when they couldn't hit anything else. They fell stunningly and meekly, 93-81, now trail Dallas two games to none and face a mudslide of history and statistical data that suggests their survival is in dire jeopardy. 'It's unfamiliar,' Derek Fisher said of the feeling of being in a 0-2 hole. 'It's not a great place to be. (We have) a big uphill climb to make from here, but the opportunity is still there. We have to clean up a lot of things and get a lot better in 48 hours.' We're not burying the Lakers, yet. But in a postseason that already has made the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics (for the past two games, at least) look like graying, bygone champions, the Lakers appear mighty creaky at the moment. And before it was over Wednesday, Ron Artest brought even more embarrassment to the prouder franchise, hammering Dallas' J.J. Barea and getting himself booted from the game in the final seconds. Gotta give Artest credit, though. He found a way to do something the Lakers failed to do all night -- discourage Barea. Among other things in Game 2, the Lakers were beaten by a man who stands 6 feet tall but might as well have been a 7-footer while twirling through all those motionless Laker bodies."

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "When the story of the end of the Lakers' attempt to win three consecutive championships is written, it will begin, and end, with Pau Gasol. You want a scapegoat for a 93-81 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals? You want to attach a name to a two-games-to-none deficit that will be historically improbable to overcome? Gasol is, sadly, your man. He has a great smile, a warm personality, two rings' worth of skills, and the love of Lakers fans who will forever link the team's three-year resurgence to his arrival. He is also disappearing before our disbelieving eyes. The melting that began in the first round against New Orleans ended in a puddle on the Staples Center floor Wednesday when Gasol was once again pushed, shoved, and battered into the sort of submission that the other Lakers could not overcome."

  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The last time the Bulls had the coach of the year and MVP in the same season, it was 15 years ago, and Hall of Famers Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan received the honors. Now it’s Tom Thibodeau and Derrick Rose’s turn. In the last 72 hours, they received the coveted individual awards. And their futures look pretty good, if still a little unsteady. And that’s mostly because the Bulls have an uneven team with some holes in the lineup and a number of dents. After the 86-73 victory Wednesday, the Bulls even seemed a bit downcast, perhaps angry and resolute. This is not a larger-than-life team. And they know it. This is not West-Chamberlain-Baylor. Not Magic-Kareem-Worthy. Not Bird-McHale-Parish. And certainly not Jordan-Pippen-Rodman. This is a team of one superstar and fill-in-the-blanks. Some darned good fill-in-the-blanks, mind you. But will anyone else on this team ever even be an All-Star? Luol Deng? Maybe. And the once-stellar Carlos Boozer? Injured and blocky, he seems to be disappearing before our eyes."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Truth to tell, the Hawks saw nothing in Game 2 that should make them think they can’t beat the Bulls a few more times. They shot poorly. Horford was badly outplayed by his college roomie Joakim Noah. Johnson needed 15 shots to score 16 points, Smith 14 to score 14. With all that, this still was in doubt inside the final four minutes. And that, conveniently enough, is where this series stands: Tied at 1, very much in doubt."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Through the series’ first two games, Chris Bosh is averaging 12 points on 40-percent shooting and 11.5 rebounds. For the Celtics, Garnett is averaging 11 points on .379 shooting and 7.0 rebounds. Both can do better. Both teams would appreciate if they did. But if the Heat can offset Garnett and keep Rajon Rondo in relative check, it positions LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to be the difference-makers, which has been the case in the first two games of this series. So far, Bosh is pleased with the effort against Garnett. 'He is a great shooter from outside,' he said. 'We need to keep a body on him and make him work for everything in the post. When he shoots a turnaround jump shot, over his head fading away, he is going to make some of them. We just wanted to limit his easy baskets, push him out, and not let him get those easy post touches.' So far, there has been little easy offense in the post, with backup center Joel Anthony offering a secure second line of defense. Bosh said he has no issue being positioned to merely offset Garnett. 'Our defense is always going to be our backbone,' he said."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "As partners, James and Wade have indeed seen their stature erode. James received only four first-place votes for most valuable player, after winning the award in 2009 and 2010. Wade appeared on 10 ballots. In securing a better supporting cast on his own terms, James invited a harsher spotlight. Once he was cheered in nearly every arena. Now the Heat might be the most hated team in the league. Critics contend that James took the easy way out. But James’s experience -- the jeers, the profane taunts, the off-color signs -- indicates otherwise. In a society that is eager to forgive and forget the transgressions of its sports stars -- from Pete Rose to Alex Rodriguez, Ron Artest to Ray Lewis -- James seems destined to rise again. He is no expert in Q scores, but he seems to sense as much. As he considered the antipathy, James said confidently, 'I think it’s going to die down in the next couple years, of course.' "

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Kevin Garnett isn’t the problem in the Celtics Eastern Conference semifinal series against Miami. There is too much competition for that title to pick a clear winner. But Garnett needs to be a major part of the solution if their season is to extend beyond Monday. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t walk through that door for Games 1 and 2. Well, he did, but he was limping. Therefore, even if he does play in Game 3 Saturday, he won’t be left out there for long. Garnett simply must be a larger factor on both ends of the court. The fact that he hasn’t been all the Celtics need him to be has the club concerned. The numbers scream and shout. The Celtics took just 40 free throws in the first two games while the Heat were attempting 68. Considering Miami also hoisted a total of 35 treys in its two wins, the fact that the Heat got 28 more shots from the line is stunning. And so, too, is the fact that Garnett didn’t attempt a single free throw. Joel Anthony, meanwhile, is 6-for-6 from the line. Chris Bosh has taken 13."

  • Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe: "After several years of discussion and debate stretching from sports talk radio to the White House, Bill Russell, the Celtics’ legend and civil rights activist, will be honored with a statue in Boston. In February, when President Obama invited Russell to the White House to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, he could not help but ask a simple question: How was it possible that a city that had honored so many of its sports legends had yet to commemorate the legacy of one of its most transcendent ones? 'I hope that one day in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man,' Obama said. The words will ring true. The Celtics announced plans yesterday to build a statue of Russell, the player who not only helped bring 11 NBA titles to Boston but also served as a symbol for the racial tension in the city during the civil rights movement and the progress ever since."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "On Wednesday, Scott Brooks came as close as he'll ever come to lashing out on a topic. It was no surprise it had to do with the growing criticism and scrutiny surrounding point guard Russell Westbrook. 'With Russell, we analyze ever possession,' Brooks started. 'I do that myself when we break down the films. But it seems like everybody's breaking down the film. They're like, in my meetings or in my head. It's not fair to him.' Brooks then brought up Westbrook's achievements and how far he's come in such short time, developing into an All-Star and helping to lead the Thunder to back-to-back playoff appearance despite playing mostly at off guard in college. 'He gets criticized for every bad game,' Brooks said. 'He's not the only player that has a bad game. He's not going to be the only player in the future that has bad games. But the only thing I can say about that is Russell knows what he needs to do. And we talk to him and he's coachable and he wants to get better.' ... When asked if Westbrook is the most overanalyzed point guard in NBA history, Brooks didn't hesitate to put him near the top of the list. 'Maybe not the history,' Brooks said. 'But for what he's accomplished in three years, absolutely. He's right up there.' "

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "The Grizzlies began round two of the NBA playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a similar fashion as their opening series against the San Antonio Spurs. After stealing Game 1 on the road, the Griz lost their identity for most of Game 2 and returned to Memphis with a split. Perhaps the only difference in the early stages of both series is the Grizzlies' reaction after Game 2. Memphis seemed angry after losing to San Antonio because of a prevailing attitude that it was a game it gave away. The team displayed a more solemn mood following its defeat Tuesday night at Oklahoma City. The Griz had been beaten. Yet the series shifts to FedExForum for Game 3 on Saturday night with the Griz owning an edge, even if it appears that the Thunder now have momentum. Memphis left Oklahoma City having accomplished its goal of stealing home-court advantage -- with the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series tied at 1-1, the Griz could win just their home games to advance. So far, the Griz are 3-0 in FedExForum during their eye-popping postseason run but are sure to be challenged more in this series than in their waltz with the Spurs."

  • Vincent Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News: "New Pistons owner Tom Gores sat courtside at Game 2 of the Lakers-Mavs series on Wednesday night at Staples Center. In the first half, Ron Artest, who people around these parts are more than familiar with, acquainted himself with the new guy when he dove into the stands after a loose ball. Gores, in a blue shirt and seated next to his brother Alec, didn't seem to flinch when Artest came his way. On the other side of Gores? Jack Nicholson, perhaps the biggest celebrity fan in the NBA. While the deal transferring ownership from Karen Davidson to Gores isn't expected to become official for another two weeks or so, seeing Gores courtside at a big game should make Pistons fans smile. He recognizes the severity, even from a fan's perspective, of the playoffs. Don't forget, he was courtside during Game 7 of the Finals last year, so he is a fan, which should equate to passion."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "This is a term you rarely hear in French Lick, but it applies to Larry Bird: The man has chutzpah. How else do you explain his statement that he would consider returning as Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations if owner Herb Simon, who has always been generous with Bird and the franchise, is willing to spend the cash necessary to improve the team? It's OK to have those private concerns; it's not OK to go public with them. It's wrong from a personal standpoint -- Simon has been extraordinarily good to Bird -- and it's wrong from a business standpoint, sucking the air out of the room after the team's energizing late-season improvement. I like Bird immensely, appreciate his accessibility and honesty, but when did his team play in the Eastern Conference finals? Did I miss something? In the last year of The Plan, Bird's team won a sub- mediocre 37 games and only made the playoffs because the Eastern Conference stinks. The truth is, if the Pacers were in the West -- in which case, they probably wouldn't have won 37 games -- Indiana would have missed the playoffs and everybody would be calling for Bird to pack his bags. Now he's talking like he's Pat Riley or even Memphis' Chris Wallace: I might think about coming back, but only if you give me some assurances. Really? Even if Bird's concerns are valid -- though it's never been my sense that Simon is hiding the checkbook -- this isn't something you drop on your owner in a public setting."

  • Mike Jensen of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Of the Sixers top seven players, a majority of respondents wanted only Andre Iguodala gone. Makes sense to me. Let's get rid of the team's top perimeter defender, the guy who often handled the ball down the stretch in tight games. Collins figured out how to use him, Iguodala bought in, the team took off ... and now, goodbye? I'm more than fine with trading Iguodala for value, preferably a shooting version of himself. If this season turned him into a tradable commodity, fantastic. But despite obvious flaws, Iguodala remains the best basketball player in this city and will be next season. Just because he wants to go doesn't mean the Sixers should let him."

  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: "The Pistons are not commenting on the recent comments Grant Hill made about the foot injury and subsequent treatment he received from the Pistons and Orlando Magic medical staffs during the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons. Robert Teitge, the team's orthopedic surgeon when Hill was a Piston, did not return two phone calls from the Free Press, and Arnie Kander, the team's strength and conditioning coach, was advised not to speak on the matter by current management with the potential sale of the team pending. 'The health of our players is and always has been the No. 1 priority of our organization,' said Kevin Grigg, the team's vice president of public relations."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "Most wait to say these things, but there’s no reason to. Mike Mitchell deserves to hear them now. He deserves to hear what was lost in transition from franchise to franchise, and in translation from America to Italy. He deserves to hear he was one of the best basketball players San Antonio has seen. Because he was, and because he hasn’t heard that enough. Mitchell is 55 years old now. He has some good days, but mostly bad ones. His wife, Diana, says he rarely leaves his bed in San Antonio, comforted by hospice care and family. His 6-foot-7 body has betrayed him, when it had always been a reliable ally. No current Spur has the combination of power and touch that Mitchell had. ... Mitchell occasionally played charity golf tournaments, and he sometimes made appearances at various Spurs functions. But he lived as he played, quietly going about his business. Then came November of 2009, when he went to see a doctor because of neck and shoulder pain. The diagnosis was staggering -- he has an unusual form of lung cancer, one that takes place outside the lining of the lungs. Treatments followed, as did moments of hope. But the cancer returned last September. Now, at this stage, he needs assistance to stand. When the pain medication doesn’t overwhelm him, he can be awake and alert. He was last week, when he and his family stayed up to watch the Spurs. So, during these times of clarity, he deserves to hear a few things, about how he played, and how his basketball career is remembered. There’s no reason to wait for that."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "The Cavaliers are accepting applications to be their next radio play-by-play announcer. Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Tait retired at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, having been the radio voice of the Cavaliers for 39 seasons. 'We'd like to invite all qualified candidates to apply,' Cavs president Len Komoroski said. '(We have already received) a great mix of impressive broadcasters, but we'd like to also officially encourage anyone that is interested to now apply as we start this important process. We will undergo a deep and thorough review as we search for just the right person to be the new radio play-by-play voice of the Cavs.' "