First Cup: Monday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Perhaps it is possible to have more fun playing basketball than the Heat have had lately. Perhaps other professional teams, the Harlem Globetrotters not included, have turned the court into their personal playgrounds. Perhaps it will get this good for some of these guys somewhere down the line, at some other stage of their careers. Still, after scenes like so many seen Sunday during the Heat’s 26th straight victory — this one 109-77 against the beleaguered Bobcats — it’s not a stretch to believe otherwise. On an evening in which the biggest stars were observers – such as Rory McIlroy and Novak Djokovic – rather than opponents, AmericanAirlines Arena was again a funhouse, with giggles galore. Dwyane Wade didn’t join the on-court party, sitting out to rest a sore right knee, not the same knee that he had repaired last offseason, and not really a concern. More likely, there will be maintenance to come, particularly during back-to-back sets like this one, with a Monday date in Orlando.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: There wasn’t a person in the arena who did not know the ball and the Rockets’ fate would be in James Harden’s hands. The Rockets trailed the San Antonio Spurs by a point Sunday night with less than 10 seconds left. It was Harden’s decision who would take the last shot. He chose himself. Harden inbounded to Omer Asik, dashed around Asik’s screen to take a handoff and, with Kawhi Leonard closing from behind and Tim Duncan approaching in front, drilled his off-balance jumper from 16 feet for the lead. And 4.5 seconds later, the Rockets had a remarkable 96-95 win over the Spurs and sat eight games above .500 for the first time this season. “This was huge for us,” forward Chandler Parsons said. “They are not No. 1 for no reason. This was a good test for us going forward, because they are a great team. We know that if we can beat them, we can beat anybody.”

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Anthony Tolliver called it. Not a game-winning shot but a game-winning rebound. Tolliver’s rebound of a missed free throw by teammate Dahntay Jones with 22.4 seconds remaining preserved the Hawks’ 104-99come-from-behind victory over the Bucks Sunday afternoon. With a one-point lead, 100-99 after Jones’ first free throw, Tolliver looked at Jeff Teague and told his teammate a missed shot would be all his. “Yeah, I told him right before it happened, ‘I am going to get this rebound,’” Tolliver said. “I just tried to analyze the situation. I knew he has missed a few free throws earlier so I just wanted to be aggressive toward the rebound. I saw an opportunity. They didn’t box me out and I jumped and it came to me.” Tolliver called timeout after gathering the loose ball forcing the Bucks to foul. Al Horford and Teague each made two free throws in the closing seconds for the final margin.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: But if you wanted to hear Tom Thibodeau rave on and on about the Bulls' 104-97 victory over the Timberwolves Sunday night at Target Center, just ask about Luol Deng. In particular, ask about the offensive rebound Deng grabbed with just under six minutes remaining and the Timberwolves having whittled a 16-point deficit to six. Deng fed Robinson for a 3-pointer after corralling one of the Bulls' 20 offensive boards as part of a 52-32 rebounding advantage. The Bulls never again were seriously threatened. "That's finding a way to win," Thibodeau said of Deng, who tallied 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. "We're a little disjointed right now. We have a lot of guys in and out, so it's hard to build a rhythm. But that's a big-time play. That, to me, is what gets overlooked with Luol all the time. People look at him not shooting the ball like he's not playing well. That's never the case with Luol because of all the other things he does on the floor."

  • Roderick Boone of Newsday: As for Joe Johnson, he suffered the bruised quadriceps when he bumped into Blake Griffin in the third quarter of the Nets' 101-95 loss to the Clippers. He said it was swollen and tight Sunday, so the Nets made the decision to sit him out, starting Keith Bogans in his place. Johnson was unsure if he'll be able to play when the Nets face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday. "It's frustrating for me because all these little knick-knacks are starting to happen with me down the stretch of the season," Johnson said before the game, "and this is the most important part of the season at this point right now. So that's probably the most frustrating thing. It's not about where we are playing and who we are playing. I always want to be out there with the guys. I hate sitting out and watching. That's the hardest part." Since the All-Star break, Johnson hasn't been the same explosive player. He's averaging 13.8 points, down from the 17.0 he posted before the break, and his three-point percentage has taken a serious dip, dropping by nearly 8 percent. "Yeah, I'm concerned, because he's come back and he's not healthy yet," Carlesimo said.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Dallas Mavericks guard Rodrigue Beaubois confirmed Sunday what had already been speculated by coach Rick Carlisle. Beaubois will miss the rest of the season after fracturing the second metacarpal on his left hand during a 107-101 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 17. But Beaubois, who is out four-to-six weeks, amended the medical report by saying he could return for the playoffs, depending on how deep the Mavs go. As far as his plans for this summer when he becomes a free agent, Beaubois said, “Right now I don’t want to think about it, even though I can’t play right now. I’m still on the team and I really want us to make the playoffs, so I’m going to be behind the guys and do anything I can to help them make the playoffs. “And once the season is going to be over for us, then I’ll think about the summer. But right now I’m just focusing on this season.” Beaubois doesn’t expect his latest injury to linger into next season. “I’ll be good,” he said. “It’s nothing bad.”

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Serge Ibaka trudged to the bench midway through the second quarter, with three fouls and not so much as a shot taken. Frustration mounted. Sometimes, it doesn't go away. “Sometimes,” Nick Collison said, “guys are out of it” all game long. But Ibaka's maturation continued Sunday night. He returned in the second half unshackled by his first-half performance. “Hungry,” Ibaka said. “I was hungry after the first half.” Ibaka ate well. In the Thunder's 103-83 victory over Portland, Ibaka scored 16 points in the second half and blocked more shots (four) than he missed (two). “Didn't seem like he missed a shot,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “I can't remember the two he missed.” And it wasn't like Ibaka was rattling home his jumpers. One swish after another. Ibaka's misses came on a 16-footer early in the third quarter and an air-balled baby hook. Otherwise, he was money.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Spencer Hawes doesn't mince words. He's from Seattle and wants his hometown to land an NBA franchise, even if it comes at the expense of the team that drafted him moving there. "I won't make any qualms about where I stand," Hawes said. "I want to see my hometown get a franchise. There is some confliction, but I'm not going to beat around the bush about what my stance is." Predictably, that stance earned Hawes scorn in his return to Sacramento as a Philadelphia 76er for Sunday's game at Sleep Train Arena. Hawes' celebratory tweets about the possible return of the NBA to Seattle in January drew the ire of Kings fans. They began an online campaign to boo the center anytime he touched the ball or his name was mentioned by the public-address announcer, and he got an earful Sunday. Hawes hated seeing Seattle "sold a false hope" when the Oklahoma City-based ownership group bought the SuperSonics and discussed keeping them there. And he admits he "kind of gets hypocritical and my hometown fandom comes out more than maybe it should" in the situation because he believes the only way Seattle will get a team is if the city takes a franchise in the manner Oklahoma City took the Sonics.

  • Zach Buchanan of The Arizona Republic: Suns center Hamed Haddadi has been paying attention to the University of Oregon’s run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Specifically, he’s been watching his former teammate on the Iranian national team, Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi, a 6-7 forward from Esfahan, Iran, has started both games for Oregon and totaled 43 rebounds in upsets over Oklahoma State and Saint Louis as Oregon has made a run into the Sweet 16. Haddadi sent Kazemi a text on the Iranian New Year on March 21, and is rooting for the Ducks. “I wish him good luck,” Haddadi said. “He’s my boy.” The 27-year-old Haddadi and 22-year-old Kazemi first played together on the national team in the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey. Iran went 1-5, but both Haddadi and Kazemi played well. Haddadi finished in the top 10 in points (20 per game), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (2.6), and Kazemi was ninth in rebounds (7.4) and first in steals (2.8). But Kazemi had been on Haddadi’s radar much earlier than that. As a 19-year-old, Haddadi’s club team played in Kazemi’s hometown, and Haddadi took notice of a 14-year-old Kazemi at a practice. “(I) said, ‘This kid is going to be a baller,’” Haddadi said. “He’s got long arms, he can jump and he can run. He was dunking when he was 13 or 14.”

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: It can be a lonely existence for Milwaukee Bucks forward Gustavo Ayon. The 6-foot-10 Ayon arrived from Orlando in the same February trade deadline deal that brought J.J. Redick to the Bucks. Ayon has played sparingly since his arrival, averaging 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in six appearances. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is working hard with the coaching staff before games and is hoping Milwaukee can be the place to launch his NBA career. Ayon played with the New Orleans Hornets last season before being traded to Orlando in the Ryan Anderson deal. He also has played with several professional teams in Spain. As the only current Mexican-born player in the NBA, he feels some pressure to succeed as Eduardo Najera did before him. "It is a responsibility because you are representing an entire country," Ayon said in an interview translated from Spanish to English. "No matter what you do, if you play well or you play poorly, it reflects on your country. You have a responsibility both on and off the court and I like it. I consider it a privilege and I do it with pleasure and pride. I wish that many more Mexican players shared in this responsibility. I hope for a future with many more players in the league."