First Cup: Friday

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: In the wake of a published report saying the organization privately hopes Doug Collins doesn’t return next season as 76ers coach, his agent claims it will be Collins’ call. “The relationship with Doug, me and Sixers management has been terrific,” said John Langel during a Thursday afternoon telephone conversation. “What they told me beyond this season and as recently as today and yesterday is how long Doug stays here is Doug’s decision.” Langel denied rumblings that the story, which cited multiple unnamed NBA sources, in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer originated from Collins’ camp. Sixers spokesman Mike Preston said, “We are aware of the report and will not comment on a column loaded with innuendo and speculation.”

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: An NBA source reached Thursday said the decision of staying or going is up to Collins, that Harris and Co. are on board with him being the coach of the team "for as long as he wants." That stance hasn't seemed to change since the beginning of the season. But through all this, one thing seems to be clear - Collins most likely won't be coming back as head coach next season. This type of talk usually doesn't arise unless a change is going to happen. Should Collins quit, he would leave the last year of his salary, reportedly at $4.5 million, on the table. No one wants to leave that kind of money out there. But coming back at age 62 and overseeing yet another rebuilding year certainly can't be enticing to Collins, though, again, management would welcome him back with open arms.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: In the history of its franchise, the Heat has won less than a handful of games in San Antonio. Up the road a ways from the Alamo is Oklahoma City, where the most hostile home crowdin the NBA cheers for the Thunder. Consider these two cities Exhibit A and Exhibit B for why locking up the best record in the NBA was important for the Heat. In clinching the league’s best record Wednesday, Miami earned itself home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and that includes a Game 7 scenario at AmericanAirlines Arena in the Finals. In other words, the Heat bought itself an insurance policy. “We’re not going to use that as a crutch, but it’s a nice break-in-case-of-emergency box that we have installed in the ‘Triple A,’ ” Battier said. Since the beginning of the LeBron James Era, the Heat has only played one Game 7. It was the final game of last season’s Eastern Conference finals, and the Heat defeated the Celtics 101-88 at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat did not begin the 2012 Finals with home-court advantage but turned that series in its favor with a win in Oklahoma City in Game 2. Miami then won three consecutive games at home to prevent the series from going back to Oklahoma.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Danny Ainge doesn’t drink alcohol, but he’s having a shot of reality with his beverages these days. He has a genuine good feeling about his Celtics as they lug duffel bags filled with question marks through the last four regular-season games and into the playoffs. But the president of basketball operations is well aware the odds are not smiling kindly on his lads as they take the court against the Heat in Miami tonight — and beyond. Even with both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett traveling to Florida, the two stars are battling ankle issues and will not play tonight, according to the team. (Dwyane Wade, who has missed six straight games with right knee soreness, expects to play for the Heat.) In terms of psychological edge, the best thing the Celts may have going for them in a week is they may catch an opponent looking beyond their blip on the screen. “I don’t know,” said Ainge, pondering the point, then reaching for real. “Usually when you’re under the radar and you have low expectations, it’s because you’re not as talented as the teams you’re playing. So I don’t know if that’s good or bad. “We’ve been the favorites in a lot of series over the last years, and our guys have responded to that. This will be a chance to see what our guys are made of being the underdogs.” Ainge then commenced with what would be considered stock talk from a guy at the top of an organization. But even in this case, he didn’t dodge the harsher facts. “I love our team going into the playoffs,” Ainge said. “I think our team has good chemistry, we have a lot of resolve and I think they’re fun to be with.”

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Knock on wood. The most important piece of theTrail Blazers’ future is about to be jinxed. For all the accolades Damian Lillard has received, for all the history-making statistics he has accumulated, for all the hypehe has generated, perhaps his proudest achievement during this runaway Rookie of the Year season has gone unrecognized. Lillard is one of just 39 players in the NBA — and the lone person on his own team — to play in every game this season. His basketball ability is so dynamic and so polished, its easy to forget that Lillard also is quickly proving to be one of the toughest and most durable players in the NBA. “He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Andre Miller since Andre Miller,” Blazers trainer Jay Jensen said, referring to the former Blazers point guard and one-time NBA Iron Man who played in 632 consecutive games before a suspension ended the streak. “Damian is one of the toughest I’ve seen.” No NBA franchise has had its foundation and future rocked by injuries more than the Blazers in recent seasons, as one-time franchise cornerstones Greg Oden andBrandon Roy had promising careers sabotaged and a host of other players endured various ailments. But Lillard is breaking the Blazers’ bad mojo. Not only has he started all 78 Blazers games, Lillard also has played extensive minutes. Lillard ranks second in the NBA in minutes played (3,012) and third in average per game (38.6).

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins doesn’t think his future in Memphis is tied to how far the team advances in the playoffs. His players certainly don’t believe a contract extension for Hollins should come down to the postseason. … Hollins is in the third and final year of his contract. There is nothing in place beyond this season and the Grizzlies have not discussed an extension with him yet. Griz management has not laid out criteria for Hollins, either. Majority owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien have tinkered with the roster while continuing to afford Hollins coaching autonomy. But there is a growing perception that the organization could be waiting to see whether the team advances past the first round after losing an opening-round Game 7 at home to the Los Angeles Clippers last year. Hollins doesn’t believe that is the case.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavaliers will be facing the hottest team in the NBA when the Knicks visit Quicken Loans Arena on Friday. Now is not the time for Kyrie Irving to wear down before our eyes. In the five games since his return from a sprained left shoulder, Irving is shooting 33.7 percent from the field (29 of 86) and 29.2 percent from behind the arc (7 of 24). He admitted after the Cavs' 111-104 loss to Detroit on Wednesday, he's a bit worn down. "Going into the fourth quarter, I was obviously a little fatigued like everyone else on the court, but that's no excuse for not executing on both ends of the floor," Irving said. Irving has committed an uncharacteristically high 13 turnovers in his last two games. During that span, he's dished out 15 assists. He has averaged 28 points in those two games. The 6-foot-3, 191-pounder has been very good vs. the Knicks this season and has averaged 31.5 points. Included in that total was a career-high 41 points against the Knicks on Dec. 15. "I think he looked more tired in the first half," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "In the second half, he picked it up."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Depending on how things play out — in both the impending postseason and the upcoming offseason — tonight could be the last time Paul Millsap ever wears a Utah Jazz uniform at EnergySolutions Arena. Utah finishes its regular season in Minnesota and Memphis, so Friday's game against the Timberwolves could possibly be the free-agent-to-be's home finale after a seven-year stint in Salt Lake City. The longest-tenured Jazz player clearly didn't want to think about that fact, somewhat brushing off a question about whether he'd have extra emotions going into what could be his last home hurrah in a No. 24 Jazz jersey. "I don't approach it differently than any other game, especially in these past few weeks," Millsap said. "The main focus, the main goal, is to win." Millsap smiled when asked to talk about the growth he's experienced since coming to Utah out of Louisiana Tech in 2006.

  • Dale Kasler, Ryan Lillis and Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: In another day of chaos and confusion over the Sacramento Kings, a respected sports publication said Thursday that the NBA is asking Sacramento's bidders to compensate Seattle investors if the team stays put. Sports Business Daily, quoting an unnamed source, said the NBA wants Sacramento's investment group to compensate Seattle investor Chris Hansen for the $30 million nonrefundable deposit he already paid to the Maloof family. The report came one day after a source told The Bee that the Maloofs have demanded a written purchase offer from the Sacramento investors as a backup to the purchase agreement they signed in January with Hansen. The two developments, coming less than a week before the NBA is expected to decide the Kings' fate, underscore the fluid nature of a process that league Commissioner David Stern has called unprecedented. Michael McCann, a legal expert at NBA TV, said the league may have asked Sacramento's investors to compensate Hansen out of fear he might sue the league for damages. "If the NBA is going to, in effect, pick Sacramento over Seattle, it wants to do so in a way that eliminates any legal exposure," McCann said.

  • Jeff Faraudo of The Oakland Tribune: The playoffs are secure, a No. 6 seed is not quite so certain. And suddenly neither is the status of center Andrew Bogut, who aggravated a sprained left ankle in the first quarter Thursday night and did not return in the Warriors' 116-97 loss to Oklahoma City. Golden State hung with the Thunder for a half before the NBA's Western Conference leader pulled away. With three games left in the regular season, the Warriors have just a half-game lead over the Houston Rockets in the race for the No. 6 spot in the West. A seventh-place finish would mean a daunting first-round playoff assignment against either the San Antonio Spurs or the Thunder. Bogut, who had microfracture surgery on the same ankle late last April, suffered the sprain in Tuesday's playoff-clinching victory over Minnesota, according to a team spokesperson. He aggravated it Thursday and exited the game with 2:55 left in the first quarter. He went to the locker room for the remainder of the night. It was not immediately clear whether his removal from the game was precautionary or indicative of something more serious.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: In a must-win of sorts, a game the Thunder needed to stay in control of its own destiny, OKC came out and absolutely demolished the Warriors, a team that historically puts pressure on the Thunder inside Oracle Arena. “We emphasized before the game 48 minutes of just toughness and (being) locked in,” said Kevin Durant. They’re going to score, but we stayed locked in and poised. And I think we did that throughout the whole night.” In the race for the West’s top seed, the Thunder is now a half game ahead of San Antonio with three games remaining. In many ways, the final three games will be as challenging as the past five. Unlike the past five, the next three will come against sub-.500 teams, only one of which (Milwaukee) will make the postseason. It’ll be more of a mental challenge to take care of business in these final three than it was to get up for the previous five. Those were about executing and the Thunder playing up to its potential. These final three will be about showing up.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: The next time you hear a team owner, executive or player say “We’re a family,” just remember the unfortunate ending to Kurt Thomas’ career. Family doesn’t treat family that way — unless, I suppose, you are a Soprano or a Manson. Thomas will lose the title of the NBA’s oldest player Friday once the Knicks, desperate to add a healthy body for their depleted front line, release the 40-year-old forward and sign journeyman James Singleton. The expected move — Singleton was in town Thursday but unable to play because the deal was not finalized — comes eight days before the playoffs begin and 23 days since Thomas saved the Knicks’ hide on the West Coast by playing the game of his life. The Knicks’ winning streak, which was snapped at 13 games here Thursday night, began in Utah with Thomas’ selfless and courageous performance. Thomas played with a broken foot, knowing that he could possibly damage it further by playing. Next week, Thomas will have pins inserted in his right foot. “For him to go out there and be playing on a fractured foot and do the things he did for that game, (he) helped us right the ship,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.” Instead, Thomas is essentially being fired. This is a necessary evil of the business, of course. The Knicks need frontcourt insurance and Thomas wouldn’t be available even if the Knicks reach the NBA Finals. With Thomas gone, 39-year-old Marcus Camby is now the second- oldest player on the roster behind Jason Kidd and the only active player from the Knicks team that reached the 1999 NBA Finals.

  • K.C.Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: The only timeline the Bulls have given regarding Derrick Rose's return is eight to 12 months. That means, given the surgery took place May 12, missing the 2012-13 season always was a possibility. Now that Rose sitting out all season is all but a certainty, the Bulls and Rose have drawn some criticism. Asked in light of that whether the Bulls should have just declared Rose out for the season last fall, coach Tom Thibodeau shrugged. "They were just being forthright," Thibodeau said of management and team physician Brian Cole. "That's what everyone thought. We didn't know, and we still don't know. We were just being honest.” … Rose was cleared for full scrimmaging on Feb. 18. He has practiced well but has given no signs of playing in games. … Thibodeau reiterated there is no drop-dead date for Rose to return, leaving the possibility open he could play in the playoffs after missing the regular season. Nobody expects that scenario to transpire, however, which means Rose likely would return next training camp.