First Cup: Friday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: On a night like this, you simply want to sully yourself less than your opponent, and the Heat managed that much, taking Game 3 by an 87-70 count to grab a 3-0 lead in the first-round Eastern Conference series. That extended the Knicks' playoff losing streak to a record 13, which wiped the Memphis teams of Shane Battier and Mike Miller out of the record books. Sunday, Miami figures to tack on a 14th, end New York's misery and advance to the second round. Simply, the Knicks don't have enough to seriously compete right now, not with Amare Stoudemire in a sling, Jeremy Lin in a suit, Iman Shumpert sidelined for several months, and the Heat's talent gap significant even before all those absences. And so, the Heat, at less than its best, is still sufficient. "Coaches like those kind of wins, where you're not necessarily playing well," Erik Spoelstra said.

  • Roderick Boone of Newsday: Carmelo Anthony didn't need great hearing to decipher the chatter among a few Heat players, not since he was essentially already in tune with their rock-'em, sock-'em game plan. Still, Anthony knew he was in for it when some guys on Miami's bench basically paraphrased 50 Cent's new single "I Beat It Up" and kept imploring the Heat to pound on him all game long. "I heard the bench yelling, 'Keep beating him up, keep beating him up,' '' Anthony said after the Knicks ' 87-70 loss to Miami in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series last night at the Garden. "They throw everything at you. Shane Battier , LeBron . "When you drive, they make it harder for you. But when you can't score the basketball, that makes the game extremely hard regardless of how much defense we go down there and play." If this keeps up, Anthony may start taking a beating from Knicks fans, too.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The Thunder routed Dallas 95-79 Thursday night – it was 95-69 when Scotty Brooks grounded his fleet – and took a 3-0 lead in this Western Conference playoff series. Many are the reasons the Thunder won with ease. Kevin Durant opened the game hot. Russell Westbrook opened the second half hot. The Boomers took care of the ball. But reason No. 1is because Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins claimed the two most precious pieces of real estate on the court. The rim and the paint. The Thunder big men contested every close shot, grabbed every grabbable rebound and didn't let Dirk Nowitzki and friends have anything easy. Ibaka blocked four shots and it seemed like 40. “He's a presence in there,” Mav coach Rick Carlisle said. “They have a presence at the rim that's effective.” Said Nowitzki, “Serge Ibaka took a step forward. He's the best shot blocker in the league.” Perkins bullied any Mav who dared enter the lane; Dallas center Brendan Haywood had four shots in the first six minutes, all from dunk range, and made just one. Carlisle was so exasperated, he took Haywood out of the game and never put him back. ... The Mavericks shot just 34.2 percent from the field. Nowitzki, alternately guarded by Perk, Ibaka or their partner, Nick Collison, made just six of 15 shots. Shawn Marion, who had several shots in the paint, went 1-for-8.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: If this is all they've got, the Mavericks should do everybody a favor and fall on their sword Saturday night in Game 4. Don't bother with the show of resolve. Too late for that now, because it's just a matter of time until the Mavericks are dethroned and vacation begins. Getting humiliated on their home court while trying to fall back on a steady diet of jump shots against a team of better jump-shooters than they have, the Mavericks were pitchforked, 95-79, Thursday night by the Oklahoma City Thunder that showed they are the new beasts in the Western Conference. At least on this end of Interstate 35. The Mavericks built their playoff slogan around the catchy phrase: "All In.'' The irony in that is thick, since management didn't exactly go all-in when it came to retaining (or replacing) a championship team. And now, they are one game from being all-out.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Rajon Rondo was asked about the appreciation he showed to his teammates — he ran down the tunnel at Philips Arena and hugged Kevin Garnett — and whether he felt he let his teammates down by missing the game. “I didn’t feel like I needed to say thank you for getting this win,” Rondo replied. “We’re trying to get as many wins as possible. You know, they’ve won without me before, so it’s not the first game I’ve missed. I’ve missed (for) injuries and suspensions. It’s just a big win because this is the playoffs. You know, every win counts.” And about the letting them down thing? “No,” he told the TV reporter. “Do you feel like I let them down?” There followed an exchange of “I’m just asking you” before the conversation moved on. And you know what? It just doesn’t matter if he wants to be that way with us — if Rondo wants to act as if it’s no big whoop that he wasn’t there for his teammates in a playoff game. There would, however, be an issue if he were taking the same attitude with his teammates. And while there are reports that was the case after his two-game suspension for throwing a ball at an official in February, Rivers said Rondo was a different hand grenade this time. Hence the thanking of mates.

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks may have to score in Game 3 without forward Josh Smith, who leads the team with a total of 38 points in the series. He suffered a sprained left knee and strained his patella tendon late in Game 2 and is doubtful to play Friday. Smith said he planned to test the knee at the team’s light practice Friday morning. He said the knee had improved and he has a “high threshold for pain,” but doesn’t want to push it too far. ... The injuries have chipped away at the Hawks’ depth, and their reserves have not filled the void, especially on offense. Hawks scoring droughts have generally coincided with the times Drew uses a lineup that doesn’t include Johnson, Smith or point guard Jeff Teague. The Hawks have been outscored 19-7 during the 17 possessions those three players have been on the bench at the same time, according to basketballvalue.com. Boston’s bench scoring hasn’t been much better, but coach Doc Rivers has compensated by always having either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett on the court. Before Rajon Rondo was ejected near the end of Game 1 and suspended for Game 2, Rivers always had two of Pierce, Garnett and Rondo on the floor.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: In Game 2, Danilo Gallinari got to the paint but couldn't get the shots to drop — and couldn't get to the line. The result was a subpar shooting performance for Denver's potent forward — 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting in the loss. He actually missed seven of his nine attempts from inside the paint and attempted only two foul shots, making both. Heading into Game 3 tonight, Gallinari said after Thursday's practice: "You have to find the right balance and right emotions for you, so you don't come out too emotional or too energized. We all need to find the right energy, and I know we're going to find it tomorrow." This balance will be important for Gallinari, who has struggled for much of the season against the Lakers. He did, however, have a pretty good Game 1, scoring 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting. "As long as we bring energy and play more aggressive on the defensive end," he said of Game 3, "I like our chance to win."

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: After holding off Denver to take a 2-0 series lead, Kobe Bryant said having time off helped him tremendously. The eight-game layoff not only allowed his sore shin to heal, but it gave the Lakers star a chance to rest his body from the pounding and wear-and-tear of games. Yet, two days later, Bryant discounted the unexpected rest at the end of the season. He said Thursday that outside of the shin injury, his 34-year-old body was in fine shape, despite logging 2,232 minutes in 58 games. “I was feeling fine,” he said. “Outside of the injury, I was OK.” It’s just like Bryant to shake off any talk of fallibility. He has played through broken fingers, sprained ankles, broken noses, torn wrist ligaments and sore necks, so it’s no wonder he refused to say he was tired from the heavy minutes Coach Mike Brown laid on him. But Brown will say it. “I thought the break was good for him,” Brown said. “Obviously, he knows his body better than anyone else does, but I thought the break was good for him because I had been playing him a lot of minutes."

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: With Spencer Hawes (seven points, seven rebounds, six fouls) struggling in the first two games, Lavoy Allen has been the team’s most effective center. “He can definitely play,” said Elton Brand. “We knew he’d be a big help, but he really surprised some people at that game (Tuesday).” One of the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Allen’s most impressive attributes is he’s effective as a starter or reserve. He started Game 1, then Collins switched him to the second unit for Game 2 so he’d provide frontcourt rebounding with backup Thaddeus Young. ... Allen’s role has been ever-changing. He didn’t play in 25 regular-season games, yet started 15. When he’s on the court, he gives quality low-post defense, hits the boards and can knock down mid-range jumpers. Collins said Allen has the potential to be like Pacers power forward David West, a two-time all-star when he was with the Hornets. But even Allen admitted Thursday that he wondered how much of a first-year impact he’d have after joining a team with nearly its entire roster returning in a lockout-shortened season — and with first-round pick Nikola Vucevic, who hasn’t played in the first two games, also a power forward/center. “There weren’t really a lot of minutes to go around,” Allen said. “I didn’t really expect to be playing big-time minutes in the playoffs. It’s a great experience.”

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: As their latest test shifts to Philadelphia for Friday's Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against the 76ers, the Bulls also know their top overall seed will mean nothing for the second straight year unless they rally. The prospect of falling behind 2-1 in a playoff series, especially without Derrick Rose, has them in an uncomfortable spot. "We've been through tougher things than this," Luol Deng said following a 90-minute practice. "I know how everyone feels. We've got a lot of guys who are fighters. We're going to fight our way out of this." The blueprint to do this has been espoused by coach Tom Thibodeau all season: Defend. Rebound. Limit turnovers. Play inside-out offensively. Share the ball. Better transition defense and more scoring from starters would help as well. The 76ers scored 25 fast-break points off just eight Bulls turnovers in Game 2, which suggests poor shot selection and floor balance offensively.