First Cup: Friday

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Time kept ticking. Nine minutes left, six minutes, three minutes left. The Thunder clung to a lead that wavered between tense and perilous, and eyes kept drifting to that table. Surely Russell Westbrook would return. Surely he would bring some fellow starters with him. But Scotty Brooks never pulled the trigger. And it earned him the Thunder's biggest win ever. The Thunder stunned the high-riding Dallas Mavericks 106-100 Thursday night to even the Western Conference Finals at one game apiece. And the Thunder did it with Kevin Durant and the B team. Durant, Eric Maynor, James Harden, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook played the entire fourth quarter, until Collison fouled out with 36.7 seconds left in the game. The only other Thunder substitution came with Thabo Sefolosha's return with 12.7 seconds left, for defensive purposes. The Thunder's biggest win, and Brooks' finest hour. The vanilla coach talks in clichés, but he proved Thursday night he lives by some of the stuff he says. That jargon about believing in all his players? What could prove it more than sticking with reserves with the season on the line?"

  • John Rohde and Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had an animated reaction when pulled from Game 2 with :28 remaining in the third quarter against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night. Westbrook did not play again and the reserve Eric Maynor finished out the Thunder's 106-100 victory inside American Airlines Center. Westbrook initially had an exchange with assistant coach Mark Bryant and fellow assistant Maurice Cheeks came over and had a heart-to-heart with the All-Star reserve. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins also took the 22-year-old Westbrook aside during the game and shared some encouragement. 'I had to let him know we're winning, everything's going good,' Perkins said. 'I think he's fine. I told him, 'Different guys will help at different times.' ' After the game ended, Westbrook was spotted dancing down the tunnel on the way back to the locker room."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "The Western Conference finals is tied at 1-1 after the Thunder exploited the Mavericks for 55.7 percent shooting. Only once in the regular season did the Mavericks allow better shooting -- in a 103-89 loss Jan. 17 at Detroit. 'I know guys are going to be upset and come back andhave a better game in Game 3,' said Mavericks center Tyson Chandler. ... Amazingly, it was not Kevin Durant who put the dagger into the Mavericks on this night. It was James Harden, who had 23 points off the bench. Eric Maynor, another Thunder bench player, had 13 points and played so well that Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks left All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook on the bench the entire fourth quarter. 'We took a step back from the first two series,' Dirk Nowitzki said of the defense. 'Portland and LA are bigger teams, and now we’re facing a different animal. We’re having a difficult time getting stops.' As the series shifts to Oklahoma City for Game 3 on Saturday, the Mavericks know they have to win at least once on the Thunder’s floor to advance to the NBA Finals. The Mavericks have a 4-5 record in playoff series in the Nowitzki era when they split the first two games."

  • Jennifer Floyd Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The Dunk and The Beard and The Miss all had a hand in dooming the Mavericks in Game 2 of the West Finals. What eventually led to OKC 106, Mavs 100, though, was The Idiocy. No acceptable explanation exists for why Dirk Nowitzki only took two shots in the third quarter. Two bleeping shots. He did not have a single point in the third quarter, which is a sure sign of adjustment/point guard/coaching/all around Mavs fail. It was not as if OKC was doing a great job on Dirk, or even a good one. They just were not forced to do any job at all on him for 12 minutes. ... Just like in Game 1, OKC had absolutely no answer for The White Mamba or Dirty Dirk or The Big German, for my fans who prefer to keep nicknames old-school and consistent. So did he get enough touches? 'Yeah, I thought he got enough touches' a testy Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said before reversing direction and launching into a tirade against his defense. I beg to differ, Rick. Seventeen shots is not enough for Dirk, not in a loss, not when Kevin Durant has 23, especially not coming off of his 48-point dominance in Game 1. Feed your beast. And once Dirk became re-introduced, Game 2 suddenly went double D and I am not talking about crowd eye candy. Dirk, Durant and Durant, Dirk."

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The Bulls scored 29 points in Wednesday's second half. They had 10 points in the fourth quarter. Though Miller and Haslem didn't play that entire time, their impact was obvious. 'Could you talk about Miller's seven rebounds and what that meant?' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked. 'Huge,' Spoelstra said. 'He's a versatile player who can help in a lot of areas, and you saw that tonight.' The lesson to this game was obvious: Haslem isn't a great player. But he's a great fit for this team. The Heat now doesn't have to overuse Joel Anthony and can slide Chris Bosh to center in a pairing with Haslem. If things maintain the road they're on, Haslem even could have a rematch with his 2006 NBA Finals assignment in Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki. That's tomorrow's story. Today's question is the one Pippen voiced to Chicago fans Wednesday night. If Game 2 becomes who the Heat are, a great team became even greater. And can Chicago beat that?"

  • Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The Bulls slept in on Thursday, a good day to shake off any possible hangover effect from the humbling way the Miami Heat handled them in Game 2. Coach Tom Thibodeau gave his players the day off, but it’s safe to assume he was in his Berto Center office, coming up with plenty of X’s and O’s. Even Thibodeau knows, though, that strategy alone won’t mean much without better energy. Boundless energy. 'When we started missing shots, it took a lot out of us,’ Thibodeau said. ‘We played low-energy offense. We played low-energy defense.’ Or, as guard Kyle Korver put it: ‘We can’t let them play harder than us. That has to be us.’ Maybe it was because the Bulls’ joyous 103-82 victory dance in Game 1 made LeBron James mad. But as inspiring as the numbers were in Game 1, that’s how ugly they were for the Bulls in Game 2. ... They haven’t lost back-to-back games since Feb. 5 and 7 at Golden State and at Portland. And they haven’t lost three in a row all season. 'Give them credit; they played a great game,’ said Boozer, indicating the Bulls are eager for their next opportunity. ‘Trust me. We’d rather play right away, especially after a loss like this.’ They’ll get their chance soon enough. And knowing that they need to bring this series back to Chicago for Game 5 no worse than tied or risk having their season ended short of their ultimate goal, the Bulls figure to deliver their best effort. And see if that’s good enough."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "LeBron James is still pursuing his first championship, the validation he so badly needs to ensure his place among the greats. He may never equal Jordan’s six (which happens to be the new number on James’s back). He will first have to catch Bryant (five), Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan (four each) to even crack the conversation of post-Jordan greats. But as James pranced under the Bulls’ banners, it was worth remembering that Jordan did not win his first title until he was 28, in his seventh season. James is 26, and in his eighth year. He only recently acquired a supporting cast worthy of his aspirations. When James spurned the Bulls’ overtures last summer in favor of South Beach, some speculated that he did not want -- or could not handle -- this stage, in Jordan’s shadow. Clearly, he would have been just fine."

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: "Jerry West, one of the most respected executives in NBA history, has agreed to join the Warriors front office in a non-decision-making, advisory role, multiple NBA sources confirmed tonight. An announcement is expected within a few days. West’s exact title has not yet been formalized, but he is expected to be reporting to co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber and possibly act as a sounding board in many areas. The addition of an icon like West is another aggressive and surprising move by Lacob, who brought in agent Bob Myers last month as his GM-apparent. West and Myers have a long relationship via West’s close friend Arn Tellem, Myers’ mentor in the agenting industry."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "The best coaches have lots of branches: Roc Rivers’ coaching tree grew a sturdy bough this season with Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. But coaches also develop player networks, and Rivers’ influence has clearly spread with Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen. Both are exceptional defenders, and both carry a mean streak that can probably be traced, at least in part, to Kevin Garnett. Rivers’ thorny relationship with Glen Davis considered, the Celtics may lose another playoff-tempered veteran this summer when Big Baby becomes a free agent. The Celtics coach, though, has grown a little mournful. The Perkins trade left Rivers conflicted, even though he approved moving a player he clearly misses. Losing assistant coaches -- Lawrence Frank is almost certainly gone this summer -- is promoted by good head coaches. Losing players is a great way to start losing games. 'Well, I hope that doesn’t carry on too much,' Rivers said of other teams benefiting from talent he developed. 'We don’t want to develop a habit of it.' "

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "If the Hawks lose Jamal Crawford, they won’t be as good. He’s a difference-maker. He’s also 31, and Johnson is set to turn 30 next month. Even if the Spirit could afford it, would it be wise to spend big to keep another shooting guard of similar talent and age? Small forward is the bigger concern. With his increasing reliance on size over skill, Larry Drew moved Al Horford to power forward, which enabled him to shoot more jump shots to lesser effect, and Josh Smith to the perimeter, which did the same. Marvin Williams, who’s under contract through 2013, has become a lost soul. If Horford and Smith remain at 4 and 3 -- and I’m not sure that’s the answer -- then the Hawks can get by with Williams doing little. ... It wouldn’t be a summer if we didn’t have Hawks drama. In 2008 they lost Josh Childress to Greece but kept Josh Smith. In 2009 they kept Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby and Zaza Pachulia but let Flip Murray leave. (Trading for Crawford had rendered Flip expendable.) Last summer the Spirit fired Mike Woodson, promoted Larry Drew and broke the bank for Johnson. On the record, the Spirit has a pretty good history of keeping the guys it wants to keep. Crawford, however, will be the most severe test. The Hawks like him and value him, but they might not be able to afford him. And he’d be a real loss."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "If the Cavs select Irving, big things will be expected of him. There would be pressure to pull the struggling franchise out of the doldrums. 'Right now, I'm really not focused on being a savior for any organization,' Irving said. 'The pressure is not coming from Cleveland. The pressure's coming from the NBA draft. The Cleveland pressure is really not weighted on my shoulders until -- if -- I get there, if they draft me. I'm not really concerned about that right now. I'm really concerned about being the best player I can be every single day and just working hard.' Wechsler said Irving has had no problems with his toe. He said drills the guard went through Thursday morning with his personal trainer would show that. He dunked off his right foot several times in succession in the drills. Irving is not concerning himself with being the No. 1 pick. 'Right now, I just want to go to any organization that wants me,' Irving said."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Arizona forward Derrick Williams interviewed with Timberwolves brass -- well, everybody except for coach Kurt Rambis -- on Wednesday night shortly after he arrived at the NBA's draft combine in Chicago. On Thursday afternoon, he declared the Wolves have the chance to select this year's best player with the draft's second pick next month. 'Yes, sir, I definitely am,' Williams said. A 19-year-old who in two collegiate seasons has surged from being considered a possible first-round pick to one of the draft's top two players, Williams sure doesn't lack confidence. Williams is expected to be selected second overall next month after Cleveland chooses Duke guard Kyrie Irving first. The question now: The Wolves will do the selecting with that second pick, but will it be for themselves or another team? Already it's clear the Wolves will shop that second pick in search of a more experienced player or players and quite possibly a later pick in the first round. Thursday's rumor said the team is discussing a trade with Indiana involving Pacers forward Danny Granger. The report by an Ohio writer mentioned the names of Michael Beasley and Ricky Rubio as well as that No. 2 pick. Wolves boss David Kahn in turn texted an inquiring Indianapolis reporter and asked if the team must include Kevin Love, too."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "A few minutes after Arizona sophomore Derrick Williams finished his last interview and coolly walked out of a ballroom at a downtown Chicago hotel, Turkish big man Enes Kanter entered and was quickly surrounded by a huge throng of reporters. The Washington Wizards obviously have interest in both players -- one, a dynamic forward who could go first overall, and the other, a rugged big man who could go as high as second. And, Kanter, who is good friends with John Wall after spending the past year enrolled at Kentucky, even said on Thursday that the Wizards are one of the teams that he would like to play for next season. 'If I had the choice, I like Washington,' Kanter said. But when it comes to the NBA draft, Kanter doesn’t have the choice and the Wizards probably won’t either. The decision was so much easier for the Wizards last year, when they had the No. 1 overall pick and all the discretion to get the player they truly desired, which turned out to be Wall. This year, the Wizards have the sixth pick, a position that leads to maddening speculation and wide-ranging possibilities."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "It might have been an unusual question, but one Kawhi Leonard has been asked more than once. A reporter asked to see Leonard's hands. 'Basketball fans, a lot of people like to compare my hands to theirs or somebody's hands they think are big,' Leonard said. Those hands could earn Leonard a lot of money. The small forward from San Diego State is drawing interest from the Kings as they prepare for the June 23 NBA draft. ... Since trading Ron Artest after the 2007-08 season, the Kings have tried numerous players at the position. Last season, the Kings used Omri Casspi and Donte' Greene before settling on Francisco García. Casspi would like to be traded. Greene is in the last year of his contract. Even if García returns as a starter, the Kings need to find someone who can eventually take over as a defensive force on the perimeter. That's where Leonard becomes an option. Kings coach Paul Westphal isn't looking for a big scorer at the position. Defense is the priority, which is why Greene ended up playing more than Casspi at season's end."

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: "Kansas point guard Josh Selby got an encouraging text message from fellow Baltimore high school star Carmelo Anthony on Wednesday night before Selby interviewed with Knicks brass at the Westin Hotel. 'He texted me to stay focused, and I have a clean slate and it’s like starting over,’ Selby told The Post this morning at the NBA pre-draft camp here. By all accounts, Selby had a disappointing freshman year at Kansas after being ranked as the No. 1 high school prospect by Rivals.com coming out of Baltimore’s Lake Clifton High. Selby has been friends with Anthony since his senior year of high school, saying, 'He’s been mentoring me.’ Selby said he felt his interview with Knicks president Donnie Walsh went “really well’’ and a workout date has been set for early June at the team's Westchester center. Did Anthony’s name come up? 'The only question they asked me was who's the best player from Baltimore and I said Carmelo Anthony,’ Selby said."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Alec Burks does not shoot the ball from deep the way Chauncey Billups does. At least not yet. But the 6-foot-6 shooting guard has been working out with Billups and learning from the veteran New York Knicks point guard while getting ready for the NBA draft. Burks, who led the Big 12 in scoring as a sophomore at Colorado during the past season, is one player drawing the interest of the Milwaukee Bucks as they prepare for the June 23 draft. Burks was one of the first players the Bucks interviewed at the annual NBA draft combine being held in Chicago on Thursday and Friday. 'Chauncey is a great shooter; everybody knows that,' Burks said. 'He just shows you pointers and techniques, what you should do to become a better shooter.' Billups starred at Colorado and wanted to help Burks, who averaged 20.5 points while leading the Buffaloes to a 24-14 record and the NIT semifinals last season. 'He told me to take it all in stride,' Burks said of the draft process. 'He said there are a lot of people who would love to be in this situation, so never take anything for granted.' Burks said he interviewed with four teams on Wednesday night: the Bucks, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets. And he had more interviews scheduled Thursday."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: "Cleveland State's Norris Cole had a feeling his senior season was an NBA audition, but an early February game in Detroit solidified the sentiment. Pistons president Joe Dumars was at Calihan Hall for the Cleveland State vs. Detroit Mercy game on Feb. 7, and Cole spotted him entering the arena during warmups. 'I saw Joe Dumars walk in and it amped me out even more,' Cole said Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. 'When you see a Hall of Famer walk in there, your game has to be at its finest.' Cole, who was Horizon League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, had 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a three-point loss to Detroit that night. He knew scouts were watching him but felt a little extra pressure. 'It's a whole other impression when they see you live,' said Cole, who will meet with the Pistons on Friday."

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: "Sacramento center Omri Casspi has landed a $200,000 yearly deal to pitch top-selling Israeli’s Telma 'Cornflakes of Champions.' Casspi used to play for the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and is the first Israeli native to appear in the NBA. That association makes him attractive to Telma, which is part of the Unilever Israel Group, according to the Israelnationalnews.com news blog. The company wanted Casspi because of his image of success and strength, it said. 'We want to express the meaning of the message, ‘the power to succeed,' Unilever Israel marketing manager Ruth Salomon-Goldberg told the Israel business newspaper Globes. 'Casspi is one of the persons best identified with Israeli success, and the link between him and the Telma cereal brand – the leading Israeli cereal brand – is natural.' Casspi has been a user of Telma flakes for many years. 'Telma is a brand that I – like most Israeli – grew up with since childhood,' Casspi said. 'It is part of my home and family. For me, the connection with Telma, and especially the message it will convey – the power to succeed – is natural, and I am glad of the opportunity.' "

  • Don Walker and Larry Sandler of the Journal Sentinel: "Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele can agree on one thing: Both are opposed to extending the Miller Park stadium sales tax to help build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. And Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett? He said he considered the idea, floated Wednesday by Timothy Sheehy, the head of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, as 'a dead issue' as soon as Walker announced his opposition. Sheehy raised the possibility at a civic forum Wednesday, in part to jump-start a communitywide discussion on the Bucks' future in Milwaukee, and finding the best way to build a new facility. Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman, said the governor was opposed to extending the 0.1% sales tax, which is collected in Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha, Racine and Milwaukee counties. The tax has been collected since 1996."