First Cup: Thursday

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Tim Duncan’s sixth-place finish in the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year voting sparked debate in the Spurs’ locker room about the difficulty media members face in choosing a winner for that award. Duncan blocked shots at a career-high per-minute rate and had the second-highest average of his 16-year career at 2.65 rejections per game. He has never finished higher than third in voting. (Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was announced the winner Wednesday.) Manu Ginobili offered a solution: Let the players vote for an award that is nearly impossible to quantify. “It is the toughest award they give away because players don’t vote,” Ginobili said. “It’s the player that (goes) against other players who know. Sometimes the best rebounder is not the best defender; or the best in steals is not a great defender. He just gambles a lot. “It could be (an award for players to choose), but it’s been going on for so many years. It’s not that I’m complaining, but probably we do know better than the media.” Duncan shrugged off the fact he never has won the award. Worse, he said, was the fact Bruce Bowen never won the award during his days spearheading the Spurs’ defense. “Now that was messed up,” he said. Ginobili believed Duncan deserved a higher finish than sixth.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Game 2 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Spurs bore little resemblance to Game 1, but the outcome was a spitting image in the Lakers' 102-91 loss. And it leaves the Lakers in a quandary much more complicated than just the 0-2 hole they find themselves in as they limp home to Los Angeles. They hobbled onto their charter flight Wednesday unsure who their biggest foe is: The Spurs, or an unforgiving run of luck that continues to wreak havoc on their minds and body. Not having Bryant was bad enough against the deep, talented Spurs. But then Jodie Meeks went down in Game 1 with an ankle sprain, Steve Blake suffered a strained hamstring Wednesday and Steve Nash was so banged up after playing Games 1 and 2 he'll undergo another epidural Friday. "It hurts to see guys go down," Lakers center Dwight Howard conceded. And the way they were hobbling around the locker room, you wonder if they'll have enough players to field a full team in Game 3. … Now the series shifts back to Los Angeles, the Lakers can only hope playing at home provides the necessary lift needed to ensure they make it back to San Antonio for Game 5. That might be wishful thinking, especially with a depleted Lakers roster shrinking by the day. But it's all the Lakers got. Unless Kobe Bryant decides to lift the gag order and provide some answers. Or better yet, suit up.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: There are tons of takeaways from this one. My biggest is the Thunder’s crunch time performance. This was the first time in the post-James Harden era that the Thunder has had to grind out a playoff victory. It won’t be the last. And remember, crunch time is when many believed the Thunderwould miss Harden most. But not tonight it didn’t. OKC went 4-for-7 in the final five minutes. All four buckets were assisted. The Thunder was 4-for-6 from the foul line. Five different players scored. That’s about as good as it gets down the stretch. “I think all season long we’ve been doing a great job of closing out big games and trying to prepare ourselves for moments like this,” said Russell Westbrook. “And I thought tonight we all stuck together.” Only part of what Westbrook said is true. The Thunder has been preparing for these moments all season. But OKC technically hasn’t been doing a great job of closing out big games as Westbrook suggests. The Thunder had just eight games decided by three points or less in the regular season. OKC went 3-5 in those games. Each passing loss triggered questions and sometimes doubt about how the Thunder would perform this postseason without Harden.

  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: But watching this series hasn’t changed anyone’s opinion that the Rockets will beat the Thunder four times which is what it would take to win the series. That said the discussion over the next couple of days should be about how the Rockets pulled off a surprise and whether they can withstand the Thunder roaring back with a vengeance in game 3. Instead, a gritty effort Wednesday night went to waste and Houston comes back home trailing the seven-game series 2-0 after a 105-102 loss. Game 3 at Toyota Center could provide an energy that might propel the Rockets over the hump in a game but you get the feeling that this was one that got away. A 25-2 fourth-quarter run including 16 straight points, to take a 95-91 speaks to the Rockets’ resilience and toughness. This is a team with heart. Maybe they play a simple style with a straightforward coach who doesn’t try to trick anybody, but that’s OK. As we’ve said from the start of the season, this team is fun to watch. Tonight was no exception. No, they can’t beat OKC four times in the next five games. But at least they don’t carry the folding gene. Patrick Beverley, inserted into the starting lineup to take some pressure off Jeremy Lin and to chase Russell Westbrook, was forced into 41 minutes of action when Lin went down with a chest injury. Beverley made a huge difference.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Hawks failed miserably in their bid to be physical and punk the Pacers defensively. Now the Pacers are headed to Atlanta with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA playoff series. … Game 3 is Saturday in Atlanta, where the Pacers have lost 11 straight to the Hawks. … It was no secret that the Hawks were going to play more physical on Wednesday. All you had to do was pay attention to what Hawks coach Larry Drew said after Game 1 on Sunday and during the two days since to know that. Drew even tried to pull a Larry Bird (the S-O-F-T line in the playoffs last season) and motivate his players by saying they got manhandled in Game 1. The Hawks kept their same starting lineup, but Drew used physical players DeShawn Stevenson, Ivan Johnson and Dahntay Jones earlier in the game. The Pacers could have easily fallen for the Hawks’ trap of getting up in their airspace and greeting cuts through the lane with some kind of body contact. The Pacers are used to playing physically, so they embraced what Atlanta was trying to do.

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Not Kyle Kover's series: Korver needed to be a factor offensively in this series for the Hawks, but he hasn't been -- at least not in a good way. In the two games, he has been limited to a total of 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting (4 of 13 from 3-point range). Maybe he's worn down or maybe it's just the Pacers' defense, but the Hawks don't have enough scorers to beat the Pacers if Korver isn't hitting. Whistle blowers: Before giving this statistic, it's clear that the Pacers have done more to draw fouls than the Hawks. However, these are some of the numbers that the Hawks will point to when they complain about officiating: They have been called for 50 fouls and three technicals (plus a technical for defensive three seconds), while the Pacers have been whistled for 38 fouls and no technicals. Indiana is 51 for 63 from the free throw line, the Hawks 18 for 34 -- a difference of 33 points. Josh Smith's early foul trouble Wednesday limited him to 20 minutes. That can't happen.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: They are the two shortest players on the court, yet 6-foot Chris Paul and 6-1 Mike Conley have perhaps the biggest impact there. They are the point guards who direct and make the all-important decisions for their teams, Paul operating for the Clippers and Conley running the show for the Memphis Grizzlies. And in the first two NBA Western Conference playoff games between the teams, the Paul-Conley matchup has been intriguing to watch. Paul's steely play has helped the Clippers open a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Conley's performance in Game 2 probably has given the Grizzlies hope in a series that shifts to Memphis for Game 3 on Thursday night. … To no one's surprise, Paul has raised his level of play in the playoffs. He's averaging 23.5 points on 57.1% shooting in the first two games, 8.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 34.5 minutes per game. During the regular season, Paul averaged 16.9 points on 48.1% shooting, 9.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and a league-best 2.41 steals. … Paul is an All-Star and a most-valuable-player candidate. Conley, on the other hand, seems to go unnoticed for his skill set. But he has improved his play in the playoffs. He is averaging 20 points on 48.3% shooting and 7.0 assists in 36 minutes in the first two games.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Griz trail 2-0 in their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series with the Clippers, and they aren’t in the mood for much talking. This is a group that appears more focused on the work that needs to be done to climb back in this series. And the Griz insist that their confidence hasn’t been shaken. “There’s a sense of urgency,” point guard Mike Conley said. “It isn’t do or die. That’ll be if they win Game 3. Last game we came out and adjusted pretty well. One or two plays go our way and we win Game 2. We just need more of the same effort.” It’s true that the Griz need more of the same in terms of the energy, intensity and improved performances from key players they enjoyed in Game 2. But there are a few other areas that need shoring up if the Griz are to grab a victory in one or both of their home games and send the series back to Los Angeles for a Game 5.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Bucks guard Monta Ellis said it's a matter of composure. The young Bucks team is facing a cool, calm Miami Heat squad that won 66 games and is trying to repeat its 2012 NBA championship. So getting rattled at any point in the game can be disastrous, as the Bucks found out in a short span to open the fourth quarter in Game 2. Miami reeled off 12 straight points on the way to a 98-86 home-court victory as it grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series. Game 3 is Thursday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center as the series resumes in Milwaukee. "The NBA is all about runs," Ellis said after a light Bucks workout session at the Cousins Center training facility Wednesday. "We know they're going to make a run. We've just got to be ready to counter their run and keep our poise and play together.” … Bucks center Larry Sanders played his first two postseason games in Miami and admitted he had to settle himself down. "It's a lot of emotions, a lot of nerves," Sanders said. "A lot of jitters, excitement. You just have to control it even more than in the (regular) season. But I had some good practice."

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Coach Erik Spoelstra on Wednesday explained the Heat’s renaissance on the road quite simply: “More consistent minutes defensively. The first 20 games, it wasn’t the championship hangover. There were a handful of gaps during the game that we were not defending the way we’re capable of.” “Last two or three months, it was more consistent,” Spoelstra continued. Here’s the evidence: During the 11-11 start on the road, the Heat allowed 97.4 points per game. In the 19 road games since, it’s 90.7. Steals and blocks have come with greater frequency. “We were pretty loose those first 22 games,” forward Shane Battier said. “The effort we gave just wasn’t good enough. [Since then], we’ve played harder, played with more concentration.” Surprisingly, the Heat is averaging slightly more turnovers on the road during the 18-1 roll than during the 11-11 stretch.

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: The Bulls are great at bouncing back from adversity, but can they carry the momentum from Game 2 into a series lead? A miserable performance in Game 1 had the Bulls ready for redemption two days later. Can they deliver another strong performance Thursday without first getting slapped around? "I wouldn't call (Game 1) a wake-up call. I'd call it a dose of reality," Jimmy Butler said. "We tried to make it an offensive game and we didn't guard anybody." By now, there aren't many secrets between the teams. If the Bulls play their style of defense, they will cause problems. Brooklyn has the star power with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson to make it tough on any defense. Johnson missed Wednesday's practice because he's having issues with plantar fasciitis, but he's hoping to play in Game 3. There are bound to be some minor strategy adjustments. The Bulls focused in Game 2 on stopping Williams, who vowed that he wouldn't play that poorly again. "I think that's probably overblown," Thibodeau said of changing strategies. "The strengths of the team aren't going to change. We know how good they are and have to be ready.”

  • George Willis of the New York Post: A key matchup tonight and for the remainder of the series is Nate Robinson versus Nets backup guard C.J. Watson. It’s a matchup that already drips bad blood. “I don’t like him and he don’t like me,” Robinson told ESPN Chicago, adding, “When you don’t like somebody and you’re playing against somebody, you want to destroy the other person. You want to shut that person down.” Robinson embraces his role as the antagonist, the pesky fly you can’t get rid of. He can get under an opponent’s skin with how he celebrates his points. The Bulls don’t mind. Not even coach Tom Thibodeau. “I tell people all the time that opposites attract,” Robinson said. “Coach is a drill sergeant type and I’m more less a free spirit who just goes with the wind. He likes to control everything. He lets me be me, but at the same time he lets me know if I stray off too far and what I need to know to get better.” A basketball series can be like an extended chess match. The Nets got the edge in Game 1, but the Bulls stepped up their defense and found a game-plan to shut down Deron Williams, who went from 22 points in Game 1 to eight points on 1-for-9 shooting in Game 2. Containing Williams remains one of the Bulls’ primary objectives tonight.