First Cup: Monday

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
5:54
AM ET
  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: The great mano-a-mano duel between LeBron James and Kevin Durant was put on hold. This star-power series was reduced to who chipped the most paint off the rim and who would work harder and longer to cover their sudden disappearance of skill. This was the night glam became grit at the NBA Finals, the night the elbow grease that used to define the Miami Heat, oh, more than a decade ago, surfaced. In a show of toughness and resilience, the Heat outworked Oklahoma City for a 91-85 victory and a 2-1 series lead before 20,000 or so in white T-shirts who walked happily into the South Beach night knowing LeBron and Wade and their teammates could be called a lot of things, but “soft” was not one of them. Too often when its stars don’t make jump shots, don’t waltz out to a lead at home, the Heat get in trouble. But Miami rebounded, grabbed second shots, defended, did all the things Pat Riley teams used to do in Los Angeles, New York and Miami, circa 1990s. The patriarch of the franchise sat across from the Miami bench at American Airlines Arena, maybe four rows back, taking in his 11th NBA Finals as either a coach or an executive. Riley, the Heat’s president, had to be encouraged about the direction of these Finals three games in.
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: The Heat is throwing a pair of Big 3s at Oklahoma City now in these NBA Finals. Each of them played their part in a Sunday night victory that put Miami back in charge and in a position to win the league championship on its own home court. The first Big 3, of course, is LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — and they combined for 64 points and 32 rebounds to help fashion an ugly 91-85 victory over Oklahoma City that Heat fans surely found quite beautiful, indeed, as a packed downtown arena emptied into the night. The other Big 3 would be Miami’s three consecutive home games in this seven-game series, with the next Tuesday, and then Thursday. Winning the first of those three straight Sunday meant Miami, now up 2-1 in the series, has an opportunity to win the franchise’s second championship on its own court and avoid a return trip to Oklahoma City. ... Miami scored 20 paint-points in the first quarter on 10-for-14 shooting inside, but in the second and third quarters combined managed only 16 on 8-for-20 shooting before persisting and managing 10 close-in points in the telling final quarter. ... That style was not particularly pretty Sunday night. Neither was this victory. But a 2-1 Finals lead with the next two games at home? To a Heat fan, that’s a beautiful thing. with the next Tuesday, and then Thursday.
  • David J. Neal of The Miami Herald: Two teams of young men playing Penn Relays basketball could take one of its turns on the play of a pair of guys with gray in whatever hair remains above their neck. Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher wears 37 because that’s how many years he’s been on this Earth, only seemingly a few years short of how many years he’s been in the NBA. As the Heat prove, superstars alone don’t win championships. It’s no accident that Kobe Bryant is one thread that runs through the Lakers five NBA titles this century. Nor is it an accident that Fisher’s another, sandwiching time with Utah. Shane Battier’s 33 years old with 10 years of NBA life behind him, none of which has ended in an NBA title. Battier’s the kind of player the Heat has loved in the Pat Riley era — experienced, savvy on defense, just enough offense to justify him touching the ball at that end of the court. Of the supporting players to the Heat’s Big Three, it’s Battier who has stepped forward the past three games with the most consistent contributions. Sunday, he had only nine points, but they were as well-placed as his three rebounds and one steal.
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The Thunder lost to the Heat 91-85 Sunday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, not because the good guys couldn't throw a foul shot into Biscayne Bay, and not because LeBrawn James again played a he-man game, and not even because foul trouble again found Kevin Durant in what is becoming a recurring theme. The Thunder lost because despite playing 40 minutes of solid basketball, it lost its mind through a stretch of the third quarter and its poise through a stretch of the fourth. Guilty as charged, said the man at where the buck stops. “We've just got to own up to it and get better,” said Kevin Durant. If these NBA Finals don't go the Thunder way, Game 3 will be long remembered. The Thunder could have won this game. Should have won this game, even, since it played the hot pants off Miami, notably two-thirds of the Heatles.
  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: The Heat might be “small,” but it's getting far too close to the basket. The Finals have become a layup drill for Miami, which scored 14 of its first 15 field goals in Game 3 from inside the paint. In the first half, Miami scored 30 points in the paint and converted 15 of 28 (. 536) shots inside the paint, but was just 3 for 16 (. 188) outside it. OKC tightened up on defense and the Heat wound up with a 46-42 advantage in the paint. “We've got to find a way to avoid bad stretches,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said. “We've got to avoid stretches where we don't get good shots. Defensively, we can't have breakdowns. We've got to try to make them shoot jump shots over a hand.” Packing the paint and making the Heat shoot jump shots might simplify the Thunder's task — except when it comes to Shane Battier, who went 2 for 2 on Sunday and is now 11 for 15 (. 733) on 3-pointers in the series.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: According to the statistical wizardry of noted NBA numbers nerd David Berri, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is the league’s second-most overpaid player, trailing only Washington’s Rashard Lewis. Berri’s calculations, which are based on how much teams pay for each victory, indicate that Bryant produced less than three wins for his $25 million salary.
  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Given a choice between Ty Lawson of the Nuggets and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, you could bet 29 of 30 general managers would pick the point guard stealing shots from Kevin Durant at the NBA Finals. They would be wrong. Lawson is going to be the biggest thing under 6 feet tall in this league. Westbrook has a great future as a coach killer. Denver was eliminated from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers, but in the process, a star was born. During the last two games of the series, Lawson averaged 28 points, six assists and five rebounds, prompting Lakers coach Mike Brown to say: "You're not going to stop Ty Lawson." ... Lawson brings all the confidence of Westbrook without the hotheaded histrionics. Facing accusations of an unreliable jumper, Lawson has worked on his shot so much that his career field-goal percentage is an impressive .499. While Westbrook makes turnovers, Lawson makes teammates look good. Talent evaluators and number crunchers alike would laugh now at any suggestion Lawson will be a smarter long-term choice than Westbrook. Check back in five years. Don't forget to bring a thank-you note.
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Do the Magic players, coaches, front-office folks and fans want to experience a repeat of that Dwightmare (only $3.99, available on Amazon.com)? Of course not. But this is business, and sometimes business is unpleasant. Is starting another season with their estranged star any worse than trading him to say, the Brooklyn Nets, for Brook Lopez and some Statue of Liberty refrigerator magnets? Sorry, but the Magic should hold out to training camp or even to the next trade deadline if they know that they can get a better deal with other teams on Dwight's list. Why stop playing hardball now after taking Dwight to the deadline in March? Though we all assume he wants to leave, it's impossible to draw any conclusion until Howard or his camp officially says something. That would dispel any chance he could be persuaded to stay by the Magic, who still hold out hope given his history of fence-straddling. His remarkable silence can't continue for long, not with free agency launching in a few weeks. The Magic have a team to build. At some point they must press him for an answer if they're still getting the silent treatment. And Howard owes them an answer to this question: Do you want to sign a long-term extension or do we need to trade you for compensation?
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: So why would the Bulls even think about trying to trade Luol Deng for a high draft pick? That does appear to be one of the strategies under consideration right now, league sources confirmed. A draft camp meeting with North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes was mentioned on the team’s website, but there’s probably no single target. And yes, it does seem odd that Deng would go from leading the NBA in minutes per game to trade bait. That can be explained, however. The Bulls are disappointed Deng is planning to wait until after the London Olympics to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. Really, though, missing the first month or two of next season is irrelevant in the long run. The Bulls have plenty of love for Deng. The issue here is being backed up against the luxury tax and trying to create flexibility for the future. ... The whole point is creating flexibility to make more moves in the near future, without paying the luxury tax for a team that may struggle to make the playoffs. Trading Deng for a draft pick is by no means the only option being considered this summer. But it does show that Forman won’t be content just waiting for Rose to recover. The plan is to retool the roster and hope the team is better equipped to reach the Finals when Rose returns to his old form.
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Lou Williams wants to be playing for the 76ers this upcoming season. President Rod Thorn and coach Doug Collins want him to be back in his normal role as scoring guard off the bench. But Williams also wants to see how much interest there is in him throughout the league and what kind of contract might be offered to him by other teams. It is the reason he has decided to opt out of his final contract year with the Sixers. He was scheduled to make $6.39 million in the final year of a 5-year, $25 million deal. Williams has spent each of his seven seasons with the Sixers, mostly in a reserve role, starting just 38 of his 455 regular-season games. He led the team in scoring this past season with 14.9 points a game (a career high), becoming the first player since Dell Curry in 1993-94 with the Charlotte Hornets to be the team's top scorer despite not starting a game. For his career, Williams, 25, has averaged 11.3 points on 42.1 percent shooting. ... A league source said the interest in Williams throughout the league is "significant" and that a contract to land him could be "in the Thaddeus Young range." Before this past season, Young signed a 5-year deal worth close to $43 million.
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Cavaliers General Manager Chris Grant declined to comment on the workout between draft prospects Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal at the team's Independence facility on Saturday. But Beal's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said it went great. Bartelstein confirmed that the two players worked out against each other. "It went really well, and I know he enjoyed spending time with the coaches and staff,'' Bartelstein said of Beal. The Cavs have the fourth pick in the draft on June 28, and Barnes and Beal are considered two of the contenders for that spot, along with Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Cavs also have the 24th, 33rd and 34th picks. Beal now heads to Charlotte for a workout on Monday. He tweeted "Wheels up to Charlotte,'' on his way out of Cleveland Saturday afternoon.
  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: As the June 28 NBA draft nears, rumors and speculation run rampant, and the latest involving the Trail Blazers is that Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters has been given a promise by the Blazers that they will select him with the 11th pick. I asked Blazers general manager Neil Olshey about it, and I've never heard him laugh so hard. "I got the job on a Tuesday, and by the time I landed in Chicago the next day (for the predraft camp), I had convinced an owner (to pick a prospect), a player to shut down his workouts ... I mean, I hadn't even talked to my scouts yet." Olshey said he hasn't given Waiters a promise, or any player, for that matter. But that's not to say Olshey is against the practice. He said he has done it before as an executive with the Clippers, and when he worked in a sports agency under Arn Tellem, he said it was not uncommon for one of their clients to get a promise from a team.
  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs won’t give him [Stephen Jackson] an extension. There’s no reason to lock up someone of that age and stature. It’s business. Besides, Tim Duncan played this past season on the last year of his contract. Still, Jackson has been headstrong before. And that’s why what happened in the minutes before the March trade mattered last season and matters now. Then, Jackson was readying to board a Delta flight in Minneapolis, heading to join the Warriors, when the Spurs called. Popovich told Jackson they were close to completing a deal for him. Popovich didn’t tell Jackson this: The phone call, in part, was to make sure they didn’t hear anything crazy. So Popovich laid out his priorities. He told Jackson he wanted his toughness, and there could be minutes for him. But Popovich also told him he liked Kawhi Leonard as his small forward, and nothing would be guaranteed. Then, Popovich said something else. “We’re not talking about an extension.” This is the power of clarity and honesty. Popovich does it as well as anyone, and it’s a reason Jackson has said Popovich connects with him better than any other coach has. It’s a reason Jackson responded so well last season. And if Jackson is the same next year, don’t be stunned by something else. Jackson might get another contract in 2013.
  • Staff of the Detroit Free Press: Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey appeared in two videos on the team's website this past week. In one video, Stuckey and teammate Jonas Jerebko wished a happy Father's Day to fans. Stuckey, who has a 7-year-old daughter, even wished himself a happy day. In the other video, Stuckey talked with Rick Mahorn, now part of the team's broadcast crew, about being a father and his post-NBA plans. Stuckey said his daughter, Lexi, enjoyed coming to the games, which was no surprise. Then the discussion turned to what Stuckey, 26, would do after his playing career. "I love working with kids, so hopefully doing something that's in that field," he said. "Or being an assistant coach or something. I don't want to be a head coach, but I can be an assistant coach. Maybe for a college team or something like that. I think that would be fun." Would he ever coach his daughter's team? "A little kids team?" Stuckey said. "I can do that. Yeah, I can do that. As far as this level, I'll let other people handle that."
  • William Bender of the Philadelphia Daily News: After 5 rough years that included banishment from the NBA, gambling and wire-fraud convictions for betting on basketball games, and even 2 weeks spent in solitary confinement "like Charles Manson" while serving a 15-month prison term, Tim Donaghy can finally put one in the win column. According to Donaghy and his lawyer, a St. Petersburg jury on Friday awarded Donaghy $1.3 million in his civil suit against Shawna Vercher and her now-defunct company VTi Group, which published Donaghy's tell-all book about the NBA and its referees. "The lady made my life a living hell and basically tortured me through the press by putting fictitious stories out there," Donaghy said Sunday. "I knew, at some point, my time would come. And my time was Friday." The lawsuit stems from a nasty dispute between Donaghy and Vercher. She called the cops, saying he threatened her and book vendors. He said she ripped him off by pocketing nearly $250,000 in revenue from his book, "Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA."

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