Jazz vs. Lakers
Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: "This was the Jazz's best shot, the game they will remember all summer. Wednesday's Game 5 of their playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers will tease them, bother them, torture them every time they think of what they could have done under the bright lights of Staples Center, where they finally gave themselves a chance to win and just could not quite do it. This will be the one that got away: Lakers 111, Jazz 104. The Jazz played just well enough to end up disappointed. 'We can't be demoralized right now,' said Andrei Kirilenko, looking ahead to Friday's Game 6 at EnergySolutions Arena, but that would have to be the natural emotion coming out of L.A. 'It's frustrating,' said Matt Harpring, extending an empty hand trying to grasp something, for the sake of illustration."
Tim Buckley of the Deseret News: "Long before 'Chinatown' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' way before 'Batman' and 'A Few Good Men,' back when he was a fledgling actor, bit roles in 'The Cry Baby Killer' and 'The Little Shop of Horrors' the only ones to his credit, Jack Nicholson watched Hundley play for the Lakers. The two never talked extensively, though, until about six years ago, when West picked Hundley up at a Los Angeles-area airport and took to him to the funeral for longtime Laker play-by-play voice Chick Hearn. 'Beautiful day. Sun's out. About 85 degrees,' Hundley recalled as if it were yesterday. 'I walked up there to (Nicholson), and I said, 'Hi Jack, I'm Rod Hundley with the Utah Jazz.' And he said, '(Expletive) Hot Rod.' Gave me a little dirty word. Then he high-fived me. I said to myself, 'Jack Nicholson knows who I am. I can't believe it.' Now the two talk like long-lost friends, especially during halftime of Jazz-Laker games."
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "One win needed, two games to get it. And if the Lakers can't finish off this series on Bryant's back, well, after the fourth quarter Wednesday, we know there are plenty of shoulders around to carry him. There are the shoulders of Pau Gasol, who in a few quick seconds became the giant everyone imagined, grabbing two huge offensive rebounds and scoring twice after the Jazz pulled to within one point in the final minute. Then there were the shoulders of Lamar Odom, who threw down a late dunk that rattled the room while throwing defensive elbows and hands that rattled the Jazz."
Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Jordan Farmar darted into the lane, wiggled his way between Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur, scored and was fouled. Staples Center fans jumped to their feet, and after Farmar sank the free throw to complete a 3-point play, he was serenaded with high-fives, chest bumps and other such greetings. Jack Nicholson gave him a standing ovation, too. Welcome to the playoffs, Farmar. The former Taft High and UCLA star had been a pivotal role player for the Lakers all season, but his usually productive minutes had become consistently inconsistent in the playoffs. Farmar's minutes were down -- a product of Derek Fisher playing more -- and his shots weren't falling. His confidence, however, never dropped. 'I'm confident in my abilities,' Farmar said. 'Whatever the numbers say, it doesn't tell the true story.'"
Celtics vs. Cavaliers
Dan Ventura of the Boston Herald: "The high-powered pregame shows which have become a staple at Celtics games this season will continue. Despite critical comments from NBA commissioner David Stern regarding the over-the-top fireworks displays in Cleveland and New Orleans in recent days, Celtics team president Rich Gotham said he foresees no changes in store at TD Banknorth Garden. 'We're going to do our usual show, get the fans fired up, get the energy behind our players,' Gotham said."
Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "The smoke from the pregame presentation at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 4 annoyed his eye, so the Cavs altered their routine on Wednesday. 'That's a problem I had in Cleveland,' West said. 'When they introduce the away team, I'm going to go in the back with Ben (Wallace) and try to avoid the theatrics.'"
Michael Vega of The Boston Globe: "With the series tied at 2-2, Rondo responded in Game 5 by helping the Celtics hold serve at TD Banknorth Garden, 96-89. Was it the most important game of his two-year career? 'Yeah, I think so, but I hope it's not the last important game of my career,' Rondo said, casting a hopeful eye toward Game 6 in Cleveland tomorrow night. 'Definitely, Game 5 tonight was a big game for us.' It was even bigger for Rondo. He submitted a career playoff performance: 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting, including huge back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter, to go along with 13 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 2 steals, and just 1 turnover in 42 minutes of yeoman work."
Marc J. Spears of The Boston Globe: "Danny Ainge was preoccupied yesterday with the birth of his sixth grandchild and the stress of Game 5 against the Cavaliers. So while the Celtics' general manager appreciated being named The Sporting News NBA Executive of the Year, he probably will enjoy the honor more during the offseason. ... 'I don't want to diminish the award, just right now there are a lot of other things going on,' said Ainge during a press conference before the game, a 96-89 Celtics victory. 'I want the attention to stay on the players on the court. So I'm a little uncomfortable with this right now. It's the biggest game of the year for us and a lot of people. We're really in the middle of trying to become the best team in the NBA. That's really our objective.'"
Brian Windhorst of The Akron Beacon-Journal: "As if all the other elements confronting them in intimidating TD Banknorth Garden weren't enough, the Cavaliers prepared for another enemy Wednesday in Game 5: the Boston pollen. Boston is known as being an allergy capital this time of year, and it has certainly seized on several Cavs players who are susceptible. Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West all have battled various symptoms while on the road in this series, and it prompted the team to take some steps to battle the issue. 'I'm not going outside at all. Our hotel is near the Boston Common so I'm just going from the hotel to the bus,' Szczerbiak said. 'You want to avoid taking medication if you can because it can make you drowsy, so I'm just trying to avoid the pollen.'"
Hornets vs. Spurs
Teddy Kider of The Times-Picayune: "Since scoring 47 points in the first two games of the series, Stojakovic has scored 23 points in the next three games on 8-of-24 shooting. He had nine points on 3-of-8 shooting in Tuesday night's 101-79 victory in Game 5, struggling once again to get free from the Spurs' top defender, Bruce Bowen. But Bowen's defense just might be how Stojakovic is able to help his team without hitting clutch 3-pointers. The Spurs' best defender has been thoroughly occupied, leaving other Hornets with more options."
John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "David West found the words 'house money' amusing, perhaps because the thought of anything coming free and easy against San Antonio in this playoff series isn't just disrespectful, but full-blown foolish. Never mind, West's chuckle suggested, that the Hornets have two chances to win one more game against the Spurs. Remember that their 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals has been forged with sweat, muscle, elbows, pushes, trips, shoves, jersey pulls, forearms, head slaps, high fevers, tightened backs, sore tailbones, sprained toes and face-to-face summits that have had nothing to do with forging a peaceful resolution. 'We can't take it like we have two (tries to win),' said point guard Chris Paul, who has joined West as the Spurs' greatest tormentors. 'We can't count on coming back for Game 7 with home-court advantage.'"
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "The home team, in fact, has handily won every game so far, and for the Spurs this is a theme. Dating to last season, they own a 10-game home winning streak in the postseason. 'We know our fans are going to be behind us,' forward Kurt Thomas said. 'We've been down before in this series. We have to do what we have to do at home to force a Game 7.' This is the rub for the Spurs. Their very best-case scenario involves winning at home tonight just to set up a Game 7 in New Orleans, where they have lost three games by an average of 19.7 points in this series."
Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "Gregg Popovich has crossed over into the land of George Karl and Phil Jackson. Give him another week, and he might wad up a stat sheet, as Mike D'Antoni once did at a postgame press conference in San Antonio, and hurl it in anger. Popovich is now referring to how many free throws the Hornets shot compared with the Spurs, and by doing so he's complaining and sending out a message. Popovich never believed this between-game spin worked. So what changed? Ultimately, he did. Popovich has always felt the same frustration that Karl, Jackson and others have before. Maybe he just can't hold it in anymore."
Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Spurs forward Robert Horry, who played in an NBA-record 238th playoff game Tuesday, received congratulatory words from the Hall of Fame player whose record he surpassed. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, now an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, told reporters in Los Angeles that the record was a testament to the quality of Horry's 16-year NBA career. 'It's a testament to him being involved in good efforts,' Abdul-Jabbar said. 'You've got to make the playoffs. It's just a testimony to the quality of his career and that he played in so many playoff games.'"
Craig Morgan of the East Valley Tribune: "For the first time in 40 years, it's fair to question the direction of this franchise. There are no proven basketball minds currently residing at US Airways Center, save the one who sits 10 rows behind the bench and owns the honorary title of Chairman. With D'Antoni gone, Jerry Colangelo's stamp has all but been erased from the management team. What's left are a few hopefuls with limited résumés, less experience and a pile of problems on their hands. Kerr is the one who must lead them. No pressure, Steve, but the hopes of an entire city now sit in your lap. And Michael Jordan won't be coming off a double-screen to bail you out."
Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times: "Lawyers for Sonics owners tried to get Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels during a deposition last month to admit that the team's departure would have little impact on the city -- and would even have the benefit of improving traffic around KeyArena. In a further sign of an apparent legal strategy of downplaying the Sonics' importance, the team's lead local attorney, Brad Keller, repeatedly asked Nickels whether the NBA's departure would harm the city. 'Can you identify any specific company that was considering locating here that told you that an important consideration to them was that Seattle had an NBA franchise?' Keller asked during a typical exchange. Nickels answered no, though he also insisted that professional sports are a part of what makes 'a great city.'"
Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News: "Sports owners in general tend to be blissfully optimistic about their teams but often with somewhat different timing. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Rockies CEO Charlie Monfort are blissfully optimistic before each season. Afterward, they will generally acknowledge what happened, if not deal with it as forcefully as some fans would like. To view the Nuggets' season as a success, not winning a single playoff game with the third-highest payroll in the NBA, would suggest Silent Stanley [Kroenke] does not have very high standards as a businessman. Because, whatever you think of the Nuggets as a basketball team, as a business, they currently stink. ... The dysfunction on the court is a reflection of the dysfunction in the front office. And only Silent Stanley can fix it."
Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee: "If Artest doesn't opt out, the Kings can trade him starting in July. If he does opt out, then he could obviously sign with Dallas as a free agent. As for what he might do, I've been polling people within the organization and around the league for the last week or so and the consensus remains that there is no consensus. Strangely, one of the few indicators could involve the Monarchs. When the local WNBA squad takes the Arco Arena floor on Saturday for its season-opener against San Antonio, I've been told that Artest may be doing sideline work as a TV reporter. He'll analyze, maybe even drop a 'back to you' in there somewhere and hopefully bring the same unpredictable element to his media work that is always there with his real day job. The possible relevance of this is that I can't see Artest engaging in this kind of Maloof-related h
ijinx if he had one foot out the Sacramento door."
John Denton of Florida Today: "When general manager Otis Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy addressed the team Wednesday afternoon one last time as a team, they offered up the Chicago Bulls as a case study for the summer. The Bulls won 49 games, a first-round playoff series and pushed Detroit to six games in 2006-07. However, they fell apart this season, losing 49 games, getting two coaches fired and failing to make the playoffs. Smith's rather pointed message: Nothing is a given in the NBA, not even the Magic's expected rise to become one of the powerhouse teams in the Eastern Conference. 'We tried to impress upon the guys that we're going to have to work twice as hard to get back to the same place we are now and three times as hard to reach our goal of a championship,' Smith said. 'It's not easy. The Chicago Bulls should tell you there are no guarantees. You can have a good year and then have a horrible year. It's not just a case of, 'Hey, we're here and we're on the rise.' It doesn't work that way because there are teams behind you that are trying to get better and pass you.'"
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Where and who the Knicks select in next month's draft will determine the futures of several players, especially Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. Marbury is the most intriguing case because his expiring contract makes him one of the Knicks' most valuable assets. Walsh could try to trade Marbury before the season or by the February deadline or simply allow his contract to come off the salary cap in 14 months."
Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "The first order of business has already been started, said Dirk Nowitzki, who met with Carlisle for about four hours the day Carlisle interviewed. Communication, which went south late in the Avery Johnson tenure, is the key. 'I thought it would be an hour, hour and a half, and I could go and eat lunch,' Nowitzki said. 'Next thing you know, we're there for a good four, four and a half hours. I was starving by the time we got done. He's been really communicative with me. So I'm looking forward to communicating a lot. I think that's what Avery was missing a little, the communication with the players individually. I think that's the way to go -- not only find your way as a coach but find out what the players like, where they like to catch the ball, what sets they like.'"