First Cup: Thursday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The streak hasn’t been without some lucky breaks. In five of the Heat’s past six games, opponents have been without key contributors. On Wednesday at United Center, the Bulls were without starting center Joakim Noah, starting two-guard Richard Hamilton, reserve Marco Belinelli and, of course, Derrick Rose. Before the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstraacknowledged “luck” as a contributing factor to the streak. The Heat defeated the Cavaliers after trailing by 27 points. Would that comeback have been possible if Cleveland was playing with Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving? And what about that two-point victory in Boston when the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett andRajon Rondo? The Pistons played in Miami without Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond last week. The Magic went up against the Heat’s winning streak without center Nikola Vucevic and Arron Afflalo.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: We now resume the dog days of the season already in progress. So who starts alongside Juwan Howard in New Orleans? And what exactly are NBA TV and ESPN going to do with those extra upcoming Heat games they added? It had to end sometime. And it became clear the Heat were running on fumes. There was an undeniable mental aspect of the streak. History would have been nice. A second consecutive championship would be nicer. LeBron James simply has to get some time off now. He pushed as hard as anyone during the streak. And Dwyane Wade would be wise to going back to resting that knee. So it still will take one more Heat victory or one more Knicks loss for the Heat to wrap up No. 1 in the East. That will happen. But it will be interesting to see how hard, if at all, Erik Spoelstra pushes for the top overall playoff seed. We may get that read on Sunday in San Antonio. It could be argued that the Spurs game is the only game that matters on the Heat's remaining schedule.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Wednesday morning, hours before the Bulls applied the brakes to the Heat's run at history, Tom Thibodeau was asked if he had mentioned their 27-game winning streak. "What streak?" Thibodeau said. Indeed, on a night when the onlyDerrick Rose appearance came via a bobblehead doll and Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli also sat with injuries, the Bulls made history disappear. The second-longest winning streak in North American major professional sports league history is over thanks to a 101-97 victory that, out of nowhere, rekindled talk of a substantive Bulls' postseason run. The Bulls clinched their fifth straight playoff berth, handing the Heat their first loss since Feb. 1. "We've been saying it all year: When we're at our best, we can beat anybody," Luol Deng said. … And just like that, chants of "End the streak!" and "Beat the Heat!" from the United Center faithful rang out. "I mean, everyone is aware," Thibodeau said of the Heat's chasing the 1971-72 Lakers 33-game streak. "But we're more concerned about them being the defending champion. Everyone is chasing them, regardless of whether there is a streak or no streak." Emphasis on no streak.

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: The 1971-72 Lakers can exhale. Their 33-game winning streak is still the NBA's longest. The current crop of Lakers took some pride in its preservation after the Miami Heat's streak ended at 27 with a 101-97 loss Wednesday to the Chicago Bulls. Some players were even happy. "In a big way, I am," said Pau Gasol, who in his six seasons with the Lakers has become friends with the coach of that '71-72 team, Bill Sharman. "I'm glad that we kept the streak. It was about time that Miami lost." … "I guess now that it's over, it's kind of nice that the Lakers still have it," Steve Blake said. Kobe Bryant, in his 17th season with the Lakers, was diplomatic. "I think as a student of the game, as a fan of the game, you appreciate those kind of streaks," he said. "You realize how difficult it is to put together that big of a streak. Obviously, the Lakers winning 33 in a row was phenomenal. The Heat's run was just as impressive." The present-day Lakers weren't lighting up cigars to commemorate the continued life of the 41-year old record. It didn't even matter that they also beat Minnesota on Wednesday, 120-117.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Washington Wizards point guard John Wall didn't hesitate when he was asked if the Thunder's Russell Westbrook is the NBA's fastest player. “No, I'm going to say myself,” Wall said after shooting just 3 for 18 from the field in the Wizards' 103-80 loss to OKC before a sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Wall wouldn't even say for certain that Westbrook was the league's second-fastest player. “It's tough man,” said Wall, who was coming off a career-high 47 points Monday against Memphis and finished with 18 points and 12 assists against the Thunder. “There's a couple fast guys in this league. He (Westbrook) is up there, Derrick(Rose) is up there, when he's healthy. Mike Conley's pretty quick. There's a couple guys. Ty Lawson's quick. So there's a lot of guys, but I put myself first.” Wall was still complimentary of Westbrook, admitting he is at a place in his career where Wall hopes to some day find himself.

  • Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: His mechanics looked sound, as they often do for a player whose shooting stroke is simply textbook, and Bradley buried jumpers from all over the hardwood. But Bradley had a rough shooting performance in the Celtics’ 93-92 win over the Cavaliers, hitting just 1 of 7 shots, scoring just 3 points. And in the last 12 games, Bradley is shooting 32.2 percent (39 for 121) and several misses have been layups or other shots right around the rim. “I’ve just got to stay confident,” Bradley said before the game. “Sometimes I forget that I had surgery [on both shoulders]. “And I always think that everything will be perfect all the time. Obviously I’m going through a slump right now. I’ve just got to stick with it.” Bradley struggled against the Knicks in the Celtics’ 100-85 loss Tuesday night, missing 8 of his 11 shots. After that game, coach Doc Rivers said that Bradley was “clearly going through something” and that “I’m probably going to have to do something to get him going more, not less.” Rivers did acknowledge that Bradley’s offensive role has shifted with point guardRajon Rondo out.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Wednesday’s game against the Nuggets, one of the NBA’s hottest teams, was slipping from the Spurs before Danny Green went on one of the season’s hottest long-range shooting streaks during the last four minutes of the second quarter. In just 93 seconds, Green made four 3-pointers to help trim a 14-point deficit to three by halftime. The Spurs went on to win 100-99. “Only reason why we stayed in the game,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, whose 3-pointer with 1:25 left to play proved to be the game-winner. “He made some tough threes when we were really struggling. They were feeling good, and he made four in the quarter. That kept us alive, and it was huge to keep the game close.” The four rapid-fire 3-pointers gave Green six for the half, a franchise record for 3-pointers in one half. “They found me in pretty good scenarios,” Green said. “I was pretty much open every time Tony (Parker) drove. He drew the defense and kicked it and found me — what he does best. I’m happy he’s back. I got some open threes and luckily, some of them dropped.” Parker was happy Green’s shot was back after a Sunday game in which he only made two.

  • John Jeansonne of Newsday: Just because he can doesn't mean he should. Knicks shooter J.R. Smith is just that, a shooter, who can nail jump shots from binocular range. But what coach Mike Woodson has liked about Smith's contribution to this Knicks season, and particularly to the team's six-game winning streak down the stretch, is that "he's starting to figure out some things. He's not just taking jump shots. He's taking it to the rim, getting to the free-throw line. He's rebounding, he's playing defense." In Wednesday night's uneven 108-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies -- the Knicks were like an orchestra on offense in the first half, harmonizing movement, passing and spot-on shooting, and mostly off-key in the second half -- Smith again was the leading scorer. He had 35 points, the night after scoring 32 against Boston. In a reserve role, as usual, he made 10 of 18 field goals -- 3 of 7 three-pointers -- and, as Woodson said, earning free throws. He made 12 of 13 and shared team-high rebounding honors with Carmelo Anthony (7 apiece).

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Gerald Wallace has reasons to be celebrated in Portland, and it’s mostly because he was the means to Dame Lillard in a trade that has been universally evaluated as a steal for the Trailblazers. Nets GM Billy King – who also dealt for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson -- has been most scrutinized for his one trade at the 2012 deadline, when he gave up a first-round pick for Wallace on an expiring contract. But it’s more complicated for the Nets. For starters, Brooklyn wouldn’t have drafted Lillard had they kept the pick that became sixth overall. The top candidate for Rookie of the Year has surpassed all expectations, plus the Nets had their own point guard they were trying to re-sign. Tyler Zeller was a name the Nets considered as reported by ESPN, but more likely they would’ve traded the pick in a draft their scouts distrusted, according to a source. To me, the only question of the trade was whether that pick would’ve been enough convince Orlando to trade Dwight Howard within in the Eastern Conference? Otherwise, the logic for acquiring Wallace is easy to follow. It also shaped two franchises and their futures. “Obviously it changed the course of the franchise,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Wednesday.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Chauncey Billups started for the first time in three games for the Clippers and was playing well until he aggravated his strained right groin early in the third quarter. Billups left the game with 10 minutes 40 seconds left in the third and was replaced by Willie Green. Billups didn't return and has been listed as day to day by the Clippers. "Yeah, it's frustrating," Billups said. "It's always frustrating to be banged up and in and out a little bit. I just mark it down as part of the process. I'm not going to be depressed or nothing like that. I'll get back right." Billups had missed just one of his five first-half shots and he had made all three of his three-point shots. His final shot was when Billups banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer ending the first half, giving the Clippers a 56-48 lead. Billups said he felt the injury late in the second quarter but kept playing through the pain. He had it wrapped up at halftime and came back out to play.

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: Like most rookies, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has shown signs of wearing down late in the season, even as Dunlap has played him 30 or more minutes only three times in the last month. “For all rookies, there’s the emotional ups and downs,” Dunlap said of Gilchrist, whose scoring has dropped to 8.9 after hitting a season-high of 12.7 six games into the season. “And there’s also endurance. He’s had some tough times but he’s also gotten some good lessons.”… Wednesday’s win continued a strange trend for the Bobcats as it relates to attendance. In the 16 home games this season in which Charlotte has played in front of 16,000 or more fans, the Bobcats are 1-15 while they are 10-10 in games with less than 16,000 fans; The attendance Wednesday was 11,839.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: I’m sure most of you would like for the Pacers to have the No. 2 seed in the East already locked up so that they could rest some players and also use the time to give Danny Granger plenty of minutes to work his way back into shape. I personally like what’s going on with the Pacers, Knicks and Nets. Every game means something. The Pacers, Knicks and the Nets can’t take any nights off because each team has little room for error in the standings. The only team that doesn’t have anything to play for are the Heat, who had their 27-game winning streak come to an end Wednesday in Chicago. The goal is to avoid the fourth seed because that likely sets you up for a second round match up against LeBron and his crew. The Pacers don’t want the three seed because that likely means opening the second round in Madison Square Garden in a city that’s passionate about its team and the fans can blow the roof off the Garden with their excitement.

  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Al Jefferson has been the focal point of the Jazz offense since his arrival in 2010. There is no surprise when the Jazz pound the ball to the center on the left block. That part of the court is his workshop, where he toils and tinkers, finding new ways to frustrate competent, professional big men into looking foolish. Jefferson took 23 shots on Wednesday. His role in the Jazz offense is not diminished. But is it changing? That was the sense given by both Mo Williams and Paul Millsap following the Jazz's 103-88 win over the Phoenix Suns. Jefferson finished with 25 points on 12-of-23 shooting, and he scored six of the team's first 10 points to start the game. However, both Williams and Millsap said the Jazz have changed the offensive philosophy at beginnings of games, which could explain the fast starts in Monday's win over Philadelphia and Wednesday. Both nights, the Jazz made their first six shots. "I think we got a little carried away with just coming down, starting the game, just throwing it down to Al, letting him work." Millsap said. "It made it too tough on him, made it too tough on everybody else. It's basically just getting everybody moving, moving the basketball around." Millsap said the Jazz's focus needs to be "getting different options."

  • Mike Kern of the Philadelphia Daily News: In 1973-74, the Milwaukee Bucks were three seasons removed from their lone NBA title and they still had a center by the name of Jabbar. That was also the last time they swept the season series with the Sixers. It still is. Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers beat the Bucks for the first time in four tries, 100-92. They have 11 games left, only three more at home, in what has been a season gone horribly wrong. They're ninth in the Eastern Conference standings, 7 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot that currently belongs to Milwaukee. So … "Until the math says [we're eliminated], we're going to keep playing like we're fighting for it," said center Spencer Hawes, who finished with 15 points, his seventh straight double-digit effort, and a career-high 17 rebounds. Fair enough. On Fan Appreciation Night, the Sixers opened up an 18-point lead midway through the second quarter.

  • Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: The basketball war between Sacramento and Seattle ratcheted up Wednesday as both cities made moves to strengthen their claim to the Sacramento Kings. The day after his City Council approved a $448 million downtown arena plan, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson released a list of 24 businesses that have pledged $50 million in team corporate sponsorships for the next five years. He also said he plans to gather 10,000 season ticket purchase pledges to take with him to New York when he makes his case next week to keep the team in town. As of 9:35 p.m. Wednesday, the www.herewebuy.org website, which has been up since late January, had 7,369 pledges. But Seattle scored a big headline of its own Wednesday. According to court documents, the Seattle group seeking to buy the Kings has signed a tentative $15.1 million deal in bankruptcy court to take control of the 7 percent of the team owned by Sacramento businessman Bob Cook, who is in bankruptcy. The group, led by San Francisco investment fund manager Chris Hansen, already has a deal in hand to buy a 65 percent share from the Maloof family, the team's current majority owners, and minority owner Bob Hernreich. Their plan calls for a $490 million arena south of Seattle's downtown. … Hansen's 7 percent purchase in bankruptcy court is not final, either, court officials said. Any of the team's other four minority owners has the right to match that bid in the next 15 days. If one matches the bid, he has priority to buy the shares.