First Cup: Friday

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Friday night could be a big moment in Mavericks' history. Here's why: If the Oklahoma City Thunder can win Game 6 of its series with Memphis , it will push that franchise into the Western Conference finals against the Mavericks, starting Sunday afternoon. Those last three words are what make this particular night potentially huge for the Mavericks. If Kevin Durant and the Thunder can close out the Grizzlies, they will win what has been a tough series. There's always the chance that Friday's game will be extremely tough to win, since the Grizzlies will be at home. It could go overtime. The last game in Memphis required three of them. But even if it doesn't, the game won't end until sometime around 11 p.m. If the Thunder wins, players will be jubilant and in no hurry to scurry out of the locker room and out of Memphis. And guess what, they'll either be flying straight to Dallas for the conference finals or flying back to Oklahoma City, then packing up again on Saturday after a very short night and flying to Dallas."

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Mike D'Antoni received a bit of good news late Wednesday when Doc Rivers announced that he is leaning toward returning to the Boston Celtics next season. Doc and Phil Jackson, a couple of former Knicks, are already being mentioned as candidates to replace D'Antoni, who is under contract through next season but is smart enough to know that his time on Knicks sidelines can end at any moment. It makes sense for Rivers to go back to Boston. The club stuck with him when he was losing 18 straight games. They rewarded his patience by acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and you get the sense that Rivers feels an obligation to the Celtics Big Three to stick out for one more season. Assuming Rivers does return, it's hard to picture him going right from Boston to New York following the 2011-12 season, especially when he called himself a Celtic. Rivers is too political to make that type of move."

  • Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: "The guy who ran the North Side gang, Bugs Moran, was the intended victim of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Luckily for him, he wasn’t in the garage at 2133 North Clark St., but he saw the carnage left of his crew of seven guys that day in ’29 and reached a famous conclusion: 'Only Capone kills that way,' he said.This historical allusion is for the benefit of those Chicago folks who might be looking in this morning. We’re wondering if they happened to notice what transpired Wednesday night in Miami, where two basketball teams went shot-for-shot over 44 minutes, until one guy pulled the Heat out of a six-point hole with 4:30 left. This one guy delivered a crosscourt bullet to James Jones for an open 3 -- the first open look the Heat shooter had since Game 1, it seemed. That was followed by another well-timed assist to Chris Bosh for a dunk, after a hard Kevin Garnett stunt. And then he ended it with 10 points in the last 130 seconds -- a pair of 3s with Paul Pierce in his face, a snatch-and-dash breakaway for a tomahawk, and then a lefty drive. And you could reach only one conclusion after beholding such a performance: Only LeBron kills that way. It might not have been as quick-hitting as the Reggie Miller moment in ’95 (bang-reload-bang) or as meaningful as Michael Jordan’s closing flourish against Utah in ’98, but what LeBron James did in the last few minutes of Game 5 against Boston is not likely to be replicated by anyone very soon."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Gilbert Arenas will make more than Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Steve Nash and more than Magic starter Jameer Nelson ($6.5 million) and back-up Chris Duhon ($3.4 million) combined. If GM Otis Smith is having some restless nights, it's likely this department causing the insomnia. I mean, more than fretting over Dwight Howard's future or finding another shooting guard, Smith needs Arenas and Chris Duhon to bounce back and justify why he acquired them. Everybody talks about Howard not having a quality back-up. What about Nelson? Nelson has his critics, but he was often the only point propping up the position until the Magic re-acquired Hedo Turkoglu to pitch in. While Howard has claimed the headlines as a would-be 2012 free agent, Nelson is free after the 2012-13 season. The kicker? Barring any trades, Duhon and Arenas would each still have another year left on their deals if Nelson exits, with Arenas making an absurd $23.2 million."

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: "It’s not hard to see how earning a year-long honor would prompt LaMarcus Aldridge to give the exclamation-point key a contusion or two. In a 450-man league, only 15 are picked for any of the three All-NBA teams, and this is the first time the 25-year-old’s name was etched in. But hidden behind the adulation and boisterous punctuation is a simple truth: Aldridge was robbed again. ... the real reason you can’t defend Amare over LaMarcus . . . is because Amare can’t defend. The Knicks gave up the second most points per game in the NBA this year and allowed the fifth-highest opponent’s shooting percentage. No, that doesn’t fall on one guy, but anybody who’s seen Stoudemire try to play defense know he doubles as a matador. Meanwhile, Synergy Sports rated Aldridge as the fourth-best defender in the pick-and-roll among players who have defended at least 200 plays, and ESPN reported that the Blazers were 5.5 points better per 100 possessions defensively with Aldridge on the court. But hey, Portland trying to compete with New York for notoriety is like Arbor Day taking on Christmas. Ties, narrow losses -- even borderline blowouts will always go to the big city. So making the third team may have Aldridge tweeting exclamation marks, but he had the better year than Stoudemire. Period."

  • Bob Young The Arizona Republic: "When we saw the unfortunate news Wednesday that Robert 'Tractor' Traylor was found dead in Puerto Rico, we were reminded that he was part of a draft-day trade considered to be among the worst ever. The Dallas Mavericks drafted the former Michigan standout with the sixth pick of the first round in the 1998 draft, then traded his rights to Milwaukee as part of a deal for the guy the Bucks took with the ninth pick. That would have been a young German kid by the name of Dirk Nowitzki. That got us to thinking that you could actually put together a pretty good team of players traded on or about draft day. Now, keep in mind that these deals aren't always as dumb as they seem. They often happen because a team is targeting a player and will give up something to move up in the order. Then the player they draft for somebody else turns out to be something special. Of course, then there are some that really are dumb. We're betting Suns fans will quickly identify one of those. Here's our starting five: PG - Rajon Rondo. SG - Kobe Bryant. SF - Scottie Pippen. PF - Dirk Nowitzki. C - Tyson Chandler."

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: "One organization stands to benefit from a widely predicted work stoppage, though. At times forgotten, the minor league basketball franchise based in Orem could receive a significant boost in exposure and income. A lengthy lockout would impair the Jazz, Salt Lake City and local small businesses. But for the Development League’s Utah Flash, the longer the NBA locks its doors, the better. 'If we were the only professional basketball team in the state, I think it would spur the interest of the people,' said Flash president Drew Sellers. 'I think this is definitely a basketball-oriented state.' Dellers is not hoping for a lockout. But the Flash have worked to build and brand during the past four seasons -- drawing interest from fans in Utah County but failing to make significant inroads in Salt Lake County -- and Sellers sees potential in the NBA’s temporary pause. The disappearance of the Jazz would result in increased attention for the Flash. Meanwhile, a prolonged NBA vacation would equal increased opportunity for its minor league system, which will still be allowed to operate even if owners and players go to war while fighting for a new collective bargaining agreement."

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "The NBA is rapidly slipping toward niche-sport status, where only a half-dozen franchises matter. That's why the NBA must change its soft salary cap -- the kind that allowed the Lakers to spend $50 million more than the Kings - to a hard cap. The league also needs to let teams designate one star it drafted to be retained and rewarded in a better way than current rules allow so there will be no more LeBron/Bosh-type load-ups in South Beach. Granted, this goes against life, liberty and the pursuit of all that, but nobody ever said pro sports leagues were anything but socialistic. And the NBA is in such wobbly shape that it needs the majority of its franchises to get a whole lot healthier if it wants to continue scheduling 82 games. I'm happy for Nnamdi Asomugha to make $14 million from the Oakland Raiders if most everybody is getting a piece of the pie. But it's hard to see Kobe Bryant getting $25 million when up to half the league is hanging by its fingernails. Stern's No. 2 guy, Adam Silver, recently said the NBA's aim is 'a system in which all 30 teams can compete, and, if they are well-managed, to make a profit.' Hey, if Oklahoma City and Memphis can get this far, we all can dream."

  • Vincent Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News: "In the NBA's latest proposal to the players' union, it proposed an amnesty rule, according to espn.com. In the last CBA, in 2005, the league and players agreed on what's known now as the 'Allan Houston rule', where teams could shed one contract from their books although the player would still be paid. Houston, for fans who remember, signed a huge deal with the Knicks, but his knees betrayed him and made his $100 million contract an albatross. Although it doesn't look like the union will approve this version of the NBA's proposal, which would also eliminate the famous sign-and-trade mechanism many teams use, as well as implementing a hard salary cap, it is interesting to wonder which players would be released from their respective teams. It's clear the economic setting of the league will change. Although I don't think things will be as drastic as most expect, the players will have to concede some things. Pistons fans, who would you eliminate from this team if given the chance to shed a contract?"

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: "Zany, dysfunctional Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is at it again. Though Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo continues to twist in the wind with no word forthcoming on whether he will be extended or allowed to walk when his contract expires next month, it is Colangelo who will represent the team at Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery. Colangelo confirmed as much in an e-mail to the Sun on Thursday. Is that a sign that Colangelo’s future includes more years of service to the franchise? Logic would suggest it is, since cutting a well-respected manager loose after letting him run the draft process -- the way the Portland Trail Blazers did with former GM Kevin Pritchard last summer -- would be callous and give the organization a black eye it doesn’t need. But anything is possible with this bunch."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is sending his personal hero to New Jersey for Tuesday's NBA lottery. 'The kid is also quite lucky,' Gilbert said of his 14-year-old son Nick, who will represent the team on stage during the televised proceedings. Lucky might not be the word everyone would use to describe Nick, who was born with neurofibromatosis (NF) and has battled the disease his entire life. The nerve disorder causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body at any time. Nick has suffered through brain surgery, the loss of vision in one eye, four rounds of chemotherapy and countless hours in doctor's offices and hospitals. He is acting as the 2011 National Children's Tumor Foundation ambassador, and Tuesday just happens to be World NF Awareness Day. May is NF Awareness Month."

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: "We’ve seen him play through injuries that would sideline a mere mortal. He’s snatched bats out of mid-air and hit game-winning shots with regularity. Manu Ginobili has developed into arguably the most popular player in the history of the Spurs. His basketball success has helped him earn iconic worldwide status after helping the Spurs to three of their four world championships and becoming the key player on Argentina’s gold-medal winning basketball at the 2004 Olympics. So it’s not surprising that his first major brush with social activism provoked another in a string of success. Ginobili took a stand against a Ugandan bill that would impose the death penalty for being gay, urging his followers to sign an online petition on his Twitter account. Only a few hours later, Ugandan lawmakers removed the death-penalty clause from the bill. Coincidence? I think not. Just another example of Manu being Manu."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "The Indiana Pacers are increasing their ticket prices for the first time in five years. The Pacers are offering full- and half-season packages and taking deposits on 11-game packages for the 2011-12 season at rates that are about 9 percent higher than this season. Single-game ticket prices have yet to be determined. 'The ticket packages we're selling today are higher than last year's packages, but they're still less than what they were five years ago,' said Rick Fuson, Pacers Sports & Entertainment chief operations officer. The price increase comes after the Pacers, who were last in the league in home attendance this season, reduced or kept ticket prices the same for four straight years. The increase is not tied to the Pacers making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, according to Fuson."

  • Stan Grossfeld of The Boston Globe: "In October 2005, Torpy asked an Oklahoma County judge to tack on three more years to his 30-year prison sentence for armed robbery and two counts of shooting with intent to kill. 'He said if he was going down, he was going to go down in Larry Bird’s jersey,’ Oklahoma District Judge Ray Elliott told the Associated Press back then. 'He was just as happy as he could be.’ But after sharing a 10-foot-by-15-foot cell at the Davis Correctional Facility for the last six years, Torpy regrets asking for the extra time. 'Now that I have to do that time, yes I do,’ says Torpy. 'I kind of wished that I had 30 instead of 33. Recently I’ve wisened up. That three is a big deal, you know? Three years matters.’ Torpy will turn 33 this year and is not eligible for parole until 2033. The 33 imagery doesn’t end there. Put his arms together and the tattoos on his elbows read '33.’ He also has a small green shamrock tattooed near his eye. 'I’ll always represent Larry Bird,’ he says. 'He’ll always be on me.’ Why Bird? 'Larry Bird is a legend,’ he says. To me, he supersedes all basketball legends.’ "