First Cup: Wednesday

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
6:07
AM ET
Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald: In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Heat was down. But not out. The Heat stumbled. But got up. Miami’s quest for a title became acutely painful Tuesday. But afterward, bliss. It took a collective effort – big baskets from Mario Chalmers, a timely tip by Shane Battier, three-pointers by Norris Cole, and grace under duress from Wade and James, but the Heat survived a frantic onslaught by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the closing minutes to take a 3-1 lead with the 104-98 victory. The Heat displayed a trait that is often overlooked with this supposed glamour team: Resilience. James, limping, his muscles shot through with cramps, swished a three-pointer. Wade, stiff and bruised, sank a driving scoop shot, then saved a ball from going out of bounds with a midair toss over the back of his head, then nicked a three-point attempt by Thabo Sefolosha. The ending was crazy, dramatic, utterly unpredictable and so fitting for these two teams.

Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: In Tuesday’s 104-98 victory, James would give the Heat plenty in the box score — 26 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists — to give it a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. But this night will be remembered simply for this: Giving all he could give. “LeBron had cramps, in his leg,” Erik Spoelstra said later. “We talked about it before the game, you had to play with an intensity that you had nothing left by the end of the game, and he did.” So much so that James wouldn’t be out there at the finish, as much as he tried to convince the coach otherwise.

Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Allusions to heavyweight boxing and prizefights are all around the Heat in these NBA Finals, and all of them seemed more fitting than ever as midnight neared Tuesday and Miami stood bruised, exhausted but tall over a staggered opponent. Coach Erik Spoelstra, a huge boxing fan, especially of Manny Pacquiao, spoke before Game 4 of “throwing our best punches” and afterward of “getting knocked down” only to rise again. Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade do a pantomime before games, after introductions and just before taking the floor, feigning punches at one another. Well, this was a championship fight and it felt like all the punches that mattered landed Tuesday night for the Heat — the team that keeps getting back up. It was the Oklahoma City Thunder on the canvas when it ended, not knocked out — not quite — but surely being counted out now. The Heat’s 104-98 triumph fashioned a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series after a third straight Finals victory by Miami, and NBA history suggests this thing is effectively over now, even if neither team would ever say it.

Mike Sherman of The Oklahoman This is the kind of experience that can't be bought at the free-agent store. It can't even be traded for. Sam Presti told us there are no shortcuts, that the making of a contender is a process, not an event. And suddenly, the process is turning into a procession. Barring a historic comeback, a championship awaits Miami. With three straight victories, including two straight in South Beach, the Heat served notice there will be no butting in line. The dues-paying organization known as the National Basketball Association is on the verge of crowning another champion forged in the furnace of Finals disappointment and adversity. One year after experiencing what the Oklahoma City Thunder is now experiencing, the Heat moved within a victory of the title with a 104-98 victory over Oklahoma City Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena. Miami leads the series 3-1. If the Thunder can rally to force a Game 7 next Tuesday in Oklahoma City it would become the first team to climb out of such a series hole since the NBA went to its 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985. No one has come back from this to win a title.

John Rohde of The Oklahoman: A near-unanimous selection as this season's Sixth Man of the Year, Harden has struggled throughout the Finals, shooting 35.1 percent (13 for 37) from the field, 28.6 percent (4 for 14) from 3-point range and averaging 10.8 points the first four games. During the regular season, Harden shot 49.1 percent from the field, 39.0 percent on 3-pointers and averaged 16.8 points. "Of course, any basketball player would be frustrated if his shot's not falling, but you've got to stick with it," Harden said. "It's basketball. You don't make (all your) shots every single day, every single game. I've got to go back tomorrow in practice, work on my mechanics and be ready for Thursday." While Harden answered every question thrown his way in a suffocating locker room scene, seemingly forgotten were Harden's heroics that helped OKC advance to the Finals in the first place.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: It looks as if the Knicks, and the rest of the NBA for that matter, will have to contend with Pat Riley for a few more years. The Miami Heat president revealed on Tuesday that he has no plans to retire and that, in fact, he is just getting started. “I’m looking to build this thing even better, and I don’t have any timeline,” Riley said. “I’ve still got a lot of bite left in my bark.” Riley has run the Heat since abruptly faxing in his resignation as Knicks coach in 1995. His Miami team won the NBA title in 2006 and has reached the NBA Finals three times. Riley, 67, stepped down as Heat coach for the second time following the 2008-09 season and reiterated that he has no plans to return to the sidelines. “As far as me missing it, I don’t really miss it,” he said. “I feel it in the gut right now, like anybody else, but we have a very, very good young coach (Erik Spoelstra) who’s growing by leaps and bounds. I did 30 years. That’s enough.”

Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News: It's called "The Whore of Akron," and it's not about one man's search for the soul of LeBron James, even though that's what it says in the little gold balloon on the cover of Scott Raab's venomous book. That would seem to mark Raab as a narcissistic fraud, which is just one of the many bitter ways he describes James, the best player in the NBA. It is the ultimate hater book, written with a can of white spray paint on an El overpass. The same folks who gush about graffiti exhibits in museums have gone gaga over the book, comparing Raab's purple prose to the gonzo style of Hunter Thompson. Yo, it sounds more like Hunter Pence to me. I call it humorless. Buzz Bissinger calls it "hilarious" in a blurb in a bigger gold balloon on the back cover. You will get more laughs reading a parking ticket. "The Whore of Akron" is a memoir, a nasty, vulgar little book about the sorry life and hard times of Raab, who has risen from those ashes to write Important Pieces for Esquire.

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Mike Dunlap joined the Nuggets' close-knit staff in 2006, sharing his fascinating defensive concepts and motivational tactics with George Karl and the young coaching protégés on the bench. Tuesday, Karl said Dunlap "might be the brightest, smartest guy I've ever been around. He is a great soldier for basketball and coaching — his brilliance has always been there. If you work with him, if you're around him, you know he's a committed, passionate guy who will do anything it takes to get his team better — and get his team in a place that's constantly improving. He's a great teacher of the game. And he loves being in the gym." ... Tuesday, Karl scoffed at the idea that Dunlap might not be ready to be an NBA head coach. "If you know Mike, he has a head coach mentality," Karl said. "He was a head coach for 10 years or longer and went to be an assistant. I don't think it'll be hard for him to get back to being a head coach, because his strength is his belief in himself. He thinks the game as a head coach. And this guy has coached in championship games in Australia and in Division II. He has a head coach mind. I'm glad someone recognized his brilliance."

Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said today that a Forbes magazine report that indicated a local group made a bid to buy the team if Robert Pera’s bid fails is not accurate. “There is no other deal on the table,” Heisley said this afternoon. “We’re working with Pera and we have no reason to believe he won’t perform.” Pera, a California communications technology magnate, agreed to purchase the Griz on June 11 for more than $350 million. The NBA recently began vetting Pera’s bid and there is no timeframe for the league’s Board of Governors to vote on approval of the sale. Citing sources, Forbes reported that a local group would bid “a little less than $350 million.” The report does not identify members of the local group and speculates that Pera might have trouble finalizing the deal. This is the second time in less than a week that Pera’s bid has been questioned in the media.

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Although the Orlando Magic’s search for someone to lead their basketball operations department is entering its final stages, team officials have not offered the job to anyone yet. The three finalists — former New Orleans Hornets GM Jeff Bower, Oklahoma City Thunder Assistant GM/Player Personnel Rob Hennigan and San Antonio Spurs Vice President/Assistant GM Dennis Lindsey — have met with members of the DeVos family in Michigan for the final round of interviews. The final interview may have taken place this past Friday. ... The Magic are expected to make a hire no later than the end of this workweek. It’s unclear what the hire’s exact title will be and how the basketball operations department will be structured.

Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe: A big question as to whether or not Garnett comes back will be about how much money he makes going forward. It won't be the $21 million he earned this season. But it also needs to be commensurate with his performance, which in the playoffs was almost 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. The premium for a player of Garnett's credentials who puts up those kind of numbers is still very high. Celtics broadcaster Mike Gorman told 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich show Tuesday he thought Garnett could return for $12-13 million this season, or on a two-year deal for around $20 million. The Celtics would likely be OK with that, but they probably need to sort out those parameters before free agency begins July 1. Garnett is probably worth the wait, but the Celtics do eventually need to get going on building out this team's future. They probably can't afford a free-agent center like Indiana's Roy Hibbert if Garnett sticks around. If they know Garnett is coming back, they can put more emphasis on filling out the wings with players like Jeff Green, building up their frontcourt through the draft. If Garnett is gone, Boston's frontcourt needs become much more immediate.

Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Ramon Sessions is severing his ties with the Lakers, but there are indications that it might be only a temporary separation. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday about Sessions, who will explore free agency July 1 after not exercising his $4.55 million option for next season: “He did indicate that he was happy here in Los Angeles, and that he would look to return. But once again, once the market comes into play there’s no telling what will happen.” The Lakers’ position on re-signing Sessions is evident in Kupchak referring to the Lakers’ needing to formulate “backup plans” if he does leave. “With all situations like that, both sides have to absorb some risk,” Kupchak said. “I’m not quite sure if he’s completely aware of what the future holds for him beginning on July 1st. Beginning today, we have to plan for the contingency that he won’t be available as a free agent on a later date in July. And we have to make sure we have backup plans in place.”

T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: TV analyst Magic Johnson has called out Lakers honcho Jim Buss, while also wondering in a tweet why Kobe Bryant isn't doing the same every day. In online excerpts from an interview Phil Jackson did with HBO, Jackson is asked why Jim Buss has "chosen to almost disassemble so much of what you've built?" And now the Lakers don't have a starting point guard on their roster, with Ramon Sessions opting out of his contract. "Bring it on," says Buss, "where do you want to start?" What are the chances of the Lakers starting the season with Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol all in Lakers uniforms? "Very good," says Buss. So you don't agree with those who say the Lakers must turn Gasol into two or three players via a trade? "No," he says. "I think changes are going to be made moving Pau lower to the basket. We can improve that way with a change in coaching strategy rather than a change in personnel." No moves? "We will try to sign Sessions when the rules allow beginning in July," he says. "And improve the bench." No major free-agent signings, no blockbuster trades? "No," he says. Smelling salts, please, for Magic.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: The Charlotte Bobcats are shaking up their look, but not the way some fans hoped. The NBA team is coming out with a new color scheme and new uniforms in time for next season. They’re switching to a darker navy blue, adding Carolina blue as an accent, and further de-emphasizing the orange color that dominated their uniforms their first two seasons. They’re also shortening their nickname on the white home jerseys from “Bobcats” to “Cats.” The blue road jerseys will continue to say, “Charlotte.” That’s just one change for the team, which Wednesday will introduce a new coach, Mike Dunlap, who will take over a young roster certain to evolve after a 7-59 season, starting with the No. 2 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The uniform changes, however, fall short of what some fans crave. A Facebook campaign in the Piedmont called “Bring Back the Buzz,” is lobbying the Bobcats to return the “Hornets” nickname that moved to New Orleans with Charlotte’s first NBA franchise. For trademark reasons the Bobcats can’t directly address the “Hornets” nickname, at least until that team’s new owner, Tom Benson, follows through on plans to discard it for something more Louisiana-centric. But team officials did address a question from the Observer on their willingness to change.

Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: On previous trips to New Orleans, Anthony Davis dined at one of the city’s most notably prolific locations: Popeyes. On Monday night, he and Hornets Coach Monty Williams supped at an establishment with considerably more gastronomic clout, a testament to the potential Davis has to put some “BAM!” back into the city’s NBA franchise. Davis’ five-star meal at Emeril’s was just part of a whirlwind visit with the Hornets, who own the rights to the NBA’s first overall choice in the June 28 draft, a pick expected to make Davis part of what’s hoped to become a foundation of title success. “It feels good,” Davis told a horde of media types Tuesday morning at the team’s Alario Center practice facility, returning to the Crescent City for the first time since the Kentucky Wildcats cut down the nets in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after April’s NCAA national championship game victory over Kansas. “The first thing I said was, ‘if I get drafted here, it would be great to win another championship in New Orleans.’ Great city. If I get drafted (here), it would be awesome.”

Gene Wang of The Washington Post:The Washington Wizards’ pre-draft evaluation process moved into the final stages on Tuesday, with elite propsect Harrison Barnes working out for Coach Randy Wittman, team president Ernie Grunfeld and other decison makers at Verizon Center. Although the Wizards did not permit media to view any portion of the workout on Tuesday, Barnes said much of the session included coming off curls and footwork without the ball as well as one-on-one and transition drills. “I feel like I’d fit right in,” Barnes said. “Obviously you’ve got John [Wall], who’s a good playmaker. Extremely quick. He can get guys open shots. Then with the addition of Nene, I think that helped this team mature a lot. I feel like I’d fit in nicely and help their perimeter scoring.”

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Drummond could grow into a star like Dwight Howard, or he could flop like Kwame Brown and Thabeet, the 7-3 center out of Connecticut who was selected second overall in 2009 and will go down as one of the worst picks in the draft’s history. Drummond won’t turn 19 until August, making him one of the youngest players in this class. While questions about his motor and motivation persist, a number of NBA executives infatuated with his ability simply chalk it up to being 18 and still growing into his body. Drummond is doing his best to squelch any concerns over his motivation and demeanor. He has maintained a rigorous workout program and diet, eliminating all sweets and soft drinks while working on his offensive game with Ravin. ... Former Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is also expected in town today for a workout. Kidd-Gilchrist spent nearly a month in Cleveland after the college season ended working on his game. He slipped and fell, tweaking his back, during a workout in Charlotte on Monday, but the injury isn’t considered serious.

Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger will work out for the Cavaliers on Friday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Sullinger, a 6-foot-9, 268-pounder, has been medically red-flagged by NBA doctors who have expressed concern over the player's back, according to a story on ESPN.com. His agent refuted the story, saying Sullinger has tight hamstrings. The first-team All-American could drop in the June 28 NBA draft. He's no longer a lock to be drafted in the lottery. ... It's not totally out of the question for Sullinger to be on the board when the Cavs pick at No. 24. However, that's an unlikely scenario. ... Another factor for Sullinger is talk that one of his legs is longer than the other, by about an inch.

Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: But there are also six players who are all projected to be picked in the area where the Bucks are drafting that probably won’t travel to Milwaukee before the draft. They are Duke combo guard Austin Rivers, Washington shooting guard Terrence Ross, Syracuse combo guard Dion Waiters, Connecticut shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, Weber State point guard Damion Lillard and Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger. It is highly unusual for the Bucks to have so many prospects reject their overtures to work out for them. In fact, the only notable player who shunned a Bucks’ workout in recent years was Joakim Noah. So, why are all of those players taking a pass on the Bucks? Apparently, some confidently feel they’ll be picked before the Bucks make their selection. Others, in particular the guards, believe there are better situations with other teams, especially considering the Bucks have two quality starting guards in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Still, Bucks officials have continued to badger the agents representing these players with the hopes that they still might come to Milwaukee. ... If Sullinger, Rivers, Lamb, Waiters, Ross or Lillard don’t show up in Milwaukee in the next eight days, you can virtually cross them off your list as the Bucks’ top pick. After all, in the four years Bucks general manager John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles have called the draft shots, the Bucks never selected a player they didn’t personally work out.

Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Syracuse’s Fab Melo said the mock drafts he’s looked at have him going anywhere between 15-30 in the first round of next week’s draft. The Pacers wouldn’t be upset if Melo was still available when they pick at No. 26. Melo, along with Chris Johnson (Dayton), Jarrod Jones (Ball State), Kyle O’Quinn (Norfolk State), Miles Plumlee (Duke) and Jonathon Simons (Houston), worked out for the Pacers on Tuesday. Melo, who had his sophomore season at Syracuse cut short because of academic problems, turned a lot of heads during his workout in front of the Pacers front office and coaching staff. “He was off the charts,” one person who watched him said. ... Their goal is to re-sign starting center Roy Hibbert to a long-term deal once free agency begins July 1. That means Melo wouldn’t have the pressure of stepping on the court and contributing right away on offense. He can focus on defending and rebounding.

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