Lakers vs. Jazz
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Twenty-one times, Kobe Bryant scored. Twenty-one times, he jabbed a 10-foot sword into a puffed-out chest. And basketball folks still have the nerve to call it a free throw? Not here. Not Sunday. Not Kobe. The final score in the first game of the Western Conference semifinals was 109-98, but the bottom line was the foul line. Bryant got there because he was one of the few Lakers comfortable driving through the lane and into its resident giants Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. 'It's nice ... it's a chance to bang,' Bryant said."
Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Openers are often a feeling-out process, as each team prods the other, adjusting to a new opponent, new matchups, trying to determine what will and won't work. Let's figure on this right now: Both teams are going to play a whole lot better. Sunday's effort offered little in the way of highlights, unless you're into Kobe Bryant shooting 23 free throws (and making 21) or watching the Jazz pound the Lakers on the glass (58-41). Otherwise, the game was fairly devoid of moments to set the heart racing. It was choppy, inconsistent, filled with too many fouls and free throws."
Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "It was what came in the final two minutes that stood out as strange, odd, out-of-kilter. That's when Bryant and this Pau Gasol fellow repeatedly teamed up, in one way or another, to bring the victory home. For example, Kobe missed a jumper, which Gasol tipped in, floating the lead back to seven. And Kobe pulled off a nifty I-got-it-no-you-got-it pass to Gasol, pushing the margin to eight. And Kobe drilled a long pass to Gasol on a two-man break, expanding the difference to 11. Game over. 'He's huge,' Kobe said of Gasol. 'He's great in the low post, he's great in the high post ... He's just a great basketball player.' Added Matt Harpring: 'Pau's a talent. He's long and he can shoot, and when Kobe drives, he gets him easy points.'"
Brad Rock of the Deseret News: "Love or hate him, the thing about Kobe Bryant is the man's tough. You have to be when you're 19 and tossing blanks, and the opposing crowd is loving it, and the media is replaying it in every excruciating detail. You learn how to take the bad stuff and put in a place where it hurts just enough to fuel the fire, but not enough to ruin you."
Hawks vs. Celtics
Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Sometimes a game is just too big. Sometimes the opponent is just too good. Sure, it would have been nice if the Hawks could have pushed the Celtics in Game 7, but they'd already pushed the No. 1 seed to the wall. This series ended with a crashing loss, but in the long run it will be seen as a shining victory. We Atlantans have spent years inventing ways to ignore the Hawks. After the three games in Philips Arena, we can ignore them no longer. They're a real team again, a real team with a real future."
D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Josh Smith thought he was ready. If the Hawks were going to 'shock the world,' Smith knew he'd need his A game for the rowdy fans at TD Banknorth Garden on Sunday in Game 7 of the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series. While Hawks star Joe Johnson got off to a good start, Smith and the rest of the team didn't follow suit in a 99-65 loss. 'It was real important to try to be able to control the tempo, but when I was missing little chip shots I knew that it was going to be a rough night for me, because I don't normally miss layups,' said Smith, who had more turnovers than rebounds (five to four)."
Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "He was ejected for a flagrant-2 foul on Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo with 9:03 to play in the third quarter. Williams said he was just trying to make a hard foul on the play. He chased Rondo down the floor on a fast break and caught him with his left arm and knocked him to the floor. 'Rajon and I have been friends since high school,' Marvin Williams said afterward. "So he knows that I wasn't trying to do anything but keep him from getting an easy layup. That's it. But I'm not a dirty player. I was trying to catch him with my left arm and hold him up, but when he jumped, he jumped right into my arm. But anybody that knows anything about me knows that I'm not that type of player. But once I got back here to the locker room and saw the replay on TV, it did look pretty bad, so I can't argue that call.'"
Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe: "It was a great day for the Green, but a dreadful afternoon if you were tuning in from Altoona seeking Game 7 drama. This one goes right into the pantheon of Game 7 stinkers, alongside the finale of the 1985 World Series (Royals, 11, Cardinals 0) and the Pacers' crushing of the Celtics (97-70) in this very same building just three years ago. 'I really had no doubt in my mind how we was going to come out tonight,' said Pierce. 'You kind of saw it from the guys after Game 6 on the plane. There wasn't a lot of talking and we knew that we let a couple games get away in Atlanta and I just knew we was going to take care of business tonight.'"
Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald: "Doc Rivers is not the kind to gloss over anything, so rest assured that he knew the knock against him. In boxing terms, he was like a prize fighter with a glass jaw. He couldn't get out of the first round. So while the Celtics advanced to the next round of the Eastern Conference playoffs with a resounding, 99-65 victory over the Atlanta Hawks yesterday at the Garden, maybe it was only fitting that Rivers' players presented him with the game ball after the victory. For the coach of the Celtics, the victory got him out of the first round for the first time in five career postseason tries, three of the four previous trips coming with the Orlando Magic."
Celtics. vs. Cavaliers
Brian Windhorst of The Akron Beacon-Journal: "They have renamed the arena the 'Garden' again but these aren't Auerbach's, Silas' or Larry Bird's Celtics. And not just because there's a dance team now and the new victory cigar is a wildly popular video clip from American Bandstand with a dancer nicknamed Gino who is now a cult hero in New England. These Celtics don't thrive on tradition. They are blowout artists armed with physical defense and plenty of star power. That is what James and his teammates are now preparing for, a 66-win powerhouse
with three All-Stars in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Although the Celtics were pushed to the brink by the Hawks, who had 29 fewer wins in the regular season, the Cavs know what faces them. 'It's going to be a really good matchup,' James said Sunday."
Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: "Despite the Celtics' place in NBA history as a hallowed franchise, which last included a title in 1986, the Cavaliers are trying their hardest to focus on the here-and-now instead of the legendary Celtics mystique. 'Right now we're on even ground,' Cavaliers forward Wally Szczerbiak said. 'You throw out all the records in the past. You throw out all the banners in the past, you throw out all the championships in the past.'"
Hornets vs. Spurs
Peter Finney of The Times-Picayune: "Yes, as 95 percent of the pundits are predicting, the Hornets will lose this best-of-seven-game series to the defending NBA champions, despite winning the opener by 19 points. But the impression coming out of Game 1, even if it makes sense to go with experience over youth, even if the Spurs prevail, as they've done four times in championship rounds since 1999, is that there is no way Byron Scott's basketball team will be intimidated by anything in front of them."
John Reid of The Times-Picayune: "Game 2 is tonight at the New Orleans Arena, where another sellout crowd is expected, and Popovich said he plans to make adjustments to avoid the same outcome as Game 1. 'They outplayed and outhustled us and played harder all the way around,' Popovich said. 'That hustle and decision making they had was good, and they kicked our butts. But we'll be fine.' Like in Game 1, the Hornets want to keep Duncan from getting to his desired spots around the post area. The Hornets are likely to use double teams again to force Duncan to attempt difficult shots or force him to give up the ball quickly."
Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "One day after Hornets mascot Super Hugo jumped through a ring of fire that refused to go out, resulting in fire-extinguisher residue delaying the game for 22 minutes after the first quarter, New Orleans coach Byron Scott looked at the positive side of the embarrassing incident. 'That might have been a good strategy,' Scott said. '(The Spurs) were hitting shots all first quarter. So instead of chastising Hugo, we might praise him.' And what should happen to the disgraced Hugo? 'Just a slap on the wrist,' Scott said. 'Tell him, 'Don't do it no more.' But behind closed doors, we'll probably give him a big old bear hug or something.'"
Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "The Bruce Bowen Hater Tour continues. Suddenly vilified as thoroughly in the Mississippi Delta as he has been in the Valley of the Sun and on the banks of Puget Sound, Bowen again is in the eye of the playoff storm. Suspended by the NBA for what was deemed a kick aimed at Hornets point guard Chris Paul in a regular-season game March 12, Bowen is the player Hornets fans love to hate now that their heroes are in a Western Conference semifinal series against the Spurs. Precisely because his defensive intensity is the perfect solution to such local heroes as Paul, Suns point guard Steve Nash and former Seattle SuperSonic Ray Allen, Bowen can't seem to escape notoriety."
Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "David West was always a Spurs fan. He loved David Robinson, and how Robinson handled himself, and West talked about that Sunday. This should make the Spurs feel even older. Those who grew up liking them are now beating them. ... 'He was one of those guys that, regardless of what negative things people said about him, he was a winner,' West said Sunday. 'He never got out of character in terms of what he was, who he was. He didn't let things around him get to who he is. He may not have said it, but I always got that from him.'"
Magic vs. Pistons
Chris McCosky of The Detroit News: "It's on now, at least verbally. Whether the Magic can make any significant adjustments on the court to reverse their fortunes in Game 2 tonight remains to be seen, but they certainly have amped up their bravado. Rashard Lewis took exception to a comment made by Theo Ratliff on Sunday. Ratliff had been asked about his confrontation with Lewis in the fourth quarter of Game 1 Saturday. Lewis hit Ratliff with a hard foul and Jason Maxiell stepped in to confront Lewis. ... Ratliff went on to say that the Magic were a small team and were going to have trouble matching up with the Pistons' size -- which, of course, is an obvious truth. Still, Lewis didn't like it. 'That's what he says, but it will be a different story come tomorrow (Game 2),' Lewis said. 'We are a smaller team and they are big and physical, but we're not backing down. Theo Ratliff is going to have to guard me out on the wing just like I'm going to have to guard him down low.' ... 'You can have a lot of energy when you play five minutes a game,' he said. 'What has he played all season, 15 games? Tell him to come out and guard me at the 3-point line and we'll see what happens.'"
Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News: "The Pistons are at their best when they're agitated and agitating. And in their rollicking 91-72 victory over Orlando on Saturday night, they agitated Dwight Howard and the Magic into utter confusion."
Tim Povtak of the Orlando Sentinel: "The Detroit Pistons were amused Sunday, talking about the Orlando Magic like they were little brothers in way over their heads, chuckling over how naive they are to the ways of playoff basketball. 'This is a whole different world for them,' said veteran point guard Chauncey Billups. 'We feed off teams like this when they try to match us physically. This is like somebody coming into your house and doing exactly what you want them to do. This is Pistons basketball.'"
Mike Wise of The Washington Post: "Ernie Grunfeld, the team president, has already assured at least one player the club plans to re-sign free agents Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. And Caron Butler sounded certain this afternoon, after his exit meeting with Coach Eddie Jordan at Verizon Center, that Washington's Big Three would stay together and try to advance past the first round for the first time in four years. The thinking is the Wizards' all-stars will be healthier, their youngsters will add muscle and maturity and Grunfeld will find a key acquisition to help Eddie Jordan's cause. It's not a sexy strategy. It's certainly not going to shake up the league. But in the NBA today
, where continuity has helped keep San Antonio, Detroit and Utah alive, it works."
Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Now, team owner Michael Heisley hasn't just asked the Grizzlies to guard people -- he's demanded it. He knows those defensive-minded Griz teams were three-time playoff qualifiers. A youth movement combined with two alarmingly defenseless squads has only added up to Ping-Pong balls. 'The fans want a team that's winning,' Heisley said. ... I'm not saying that an up-tempo team isn't fantastic to watch. I love it, too. If you can be up-tempo and win that's great. I'm saying you've got to be up-tempo and play defense. We definitely need to improve on our defense.'"
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, as always, was taking the loss hard. Asked then if the Rockets would continue to build around their foundation of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, veteran All-Stars who have never won a first-round series, Alexander was clear. 'Definitely,' he said simply. 'Definitely.' When pressed further, he acknowledged that nothing in sports is definite. The plan, however, is. 'We're going to build on the Yao-Tracy foundation,' Alexander said."
David Moore and Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "In Mark Cuban's eight-year ownership, only San Antonio and Utah have changed coaches less often than the Mavs."
Sarah Rothschild and Michael wallace of The Miami Herald: "Whether it was taking 30,000 shots in a summer to improve as a player for the Jesuit High team in Portland, Ore., or splicing together film vignettes for Pat Riley until the wee hours, Erik Spoelstra, 37, has devoted himself to that task. It is just his nature -- and what many believe will make up for his lack of head coaching experience. 'He will be the lowest-paid coach per hour in the NBA. He will put in a ton of hours,' said former Portland Trail Blazers guard Larry Steele, Spoelstra's coach at the University of Portland. 'I'm pretty safe in saying that.'"
Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News: "The Nuggets want J.R. Smith back. Smith wants to return. Does that mean it will be an easy negotiation when the shooting guard becomes a restricted free agent July 1? Not necessarily. ... if the Nuggets are thinking more in the $4-5 million range as a starting salary, that could make for a tough negotiation. There might not be any reason for Smith to lock himself into a long-term deal starting in the $4-5 million range as opposed to coming back for the $3.04 million qualifying offer and possibly cashing in as an unrestricted free agent in 2009. Stay tuned. It could be an interesting negotiation, one that could drag into September if the luxury-tax strapped Nuggets don't put a competitive offer immediately on the table."
Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "If this reporter had one player he would try to land, it would be Mike Miller of Memphis. As mentioned in Sunday's Inquirer, Miller has two years and almost $19 million left on his contract. He is 28, in the prime of his career and if I were coach K, he'd be on my Olympic team. Miller gives the Sixers something they desperately need -- perimeter shooting. Memphis almost dealt him to Miami at the trade deadline. The key question is whether the Sixers have the players or draft choices that Memphis would desire. To be fair to both teams, this is all speculation. We know the Sixers like Miller's game, but do they like it enough to pursue a trade?"
Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee: "Reggie Theus, in all seriousness, has no such worries. This season. But if he wants to enhance his job security? If he hopes to persuade Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs that his rookie transgressions were exactly that -- rookie transgressions -- and convince them to guarantee the third and final year (2009-10) of his contract, then he needs to hire a mentor. He needs to admit that he needs help. Bernie Bickerstaff. Del Harris. Tex Winter. Hank Egan. Kelvin Sampson would have been a terrific choice had Scott Skiles not already hired him in Milwaukee. But he needs to add someone of similar pedigree to his staff."