First Cup: Friday

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Coach Frank Vogel said George was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Hibbert bluntly said before Game 2 against the Knicks that he feels like he’s the best defensive center in the league. The voters thought otherwise. George and Hibbert finished eighth and 10th, respectively, in the voting done by the media. But they’ve earned the respect of opponents. Hibbert has mastered going straight up to block shots, or at least alter them, without fouling. He has blocked nine shots through the first two games against the Knicks while frustrating Anthony and J.R. Smith on their drives to the basket. … George, the team’s iron man when it comes to minutes (averaging 40.1 per game in the postseason), has been responsible for chasing the league’s elite wing players all season. Anthony and Smith were a combined 5-of-24 (20.8 percent) from the field when George defended them in Game 1, according to ESPN. Vogel said George wasn’t defending Anthony during his scoring burst in the fourth quarter (11 of his 32 points) of the Knicks’ blowout victory in Game 2. The Knicks did a good job screening George, causing the Pacers to switch defensively to give Anthony the offensive advantage. George said Thursday that he must do a better job of fighting around screens.

  • Barbara Barker of Newsday: Iman Shumpert knows how to make a statement. Take his hair, which he wears in an edgy, high-top fade that adds several look-at-me inches to his 6-5 frame. Take his fashion sense -- oversized glasses, oversized bow tie, large colored shoes -- which is sort of a unique combination of geek-chic and circus clown. Shumpert obviously isn't afraid of drawing attention to himself, so perhaps it's only appropriate that he produced the statement dunk of the Knicks-Pacers playoff series. You've surely seen the replay by now: Shumpert flying through the lane, reaching way back with his right arm to grab a rebound off Chris Copeland's missed shot and finishing with a screaming slam. Shumpert himself admits to viewing it repeatedly in the first 24 hours after the Knicks' 105-79 win in Game 2 Tuesday. It was the No. 1 play on "SportsCenter" that night. … The second-year swingman has recovered fully from the ACL surgery that sidelined him until Jan 17. When Shumpert returned, he often looked tentative, as if he didn't quite trust his knee. In the playoffs, however, he's emerged as an all- around player. Not only has Shumpert played top-notch defense, but he has turned up the offense when the Knicks need it most. Nowhere was that more evident than in Game 6 of the first round when he ended a 20-0 Celtics' run in the fourth quarter with a steal and fast-break basket. … Shumpert hurt his knee in the first round of the playoffs last season, on the same day that Bulls star Derrick Rose suffered the same injury. Much has been made about the fact that Shumpert seems to have fully recovered while Rose continues to sit. Shumpert, however, is not comfortable drawing parallels. Instead, he's too busy thinking about making his next statement, both on the court and off. Said Shumpert: "I want to just keep being aggressive."

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: How do teams on the losing end of blowouts typically respond in the playoffs? According to Elias, 18 teams have lost a nonelimination playoff game by 37 points or more. Those teams are 7-11 in the next game. Paramount for the Heat on Friday is maintaining the same maniacal defensive intensity and not playing passively on offense. In Game 2, the Heat amassed the most lopsided advantage in paint points (56-18) of any teamin the past 17 NBA postseasons. Some of those punctuated fast breaks, but also consider this: The Heat had 33 drives to the basket on half-court plays and shot 68 percent on those shots, according to ESPN. Only five times during the regular season did Miami score more paint points than it did Wednesday. The Heat shot 28 for 34 in the paint — remarkable productivity against a Bulls defense that excels at obstructing opponents’ forays to the basket. And it also helped that the Heat made 9 of 18 three-pointers after missing 17 of 24 in Game 1. The Heat scored more points on corner three-pointers than any team since 1996-97, but the Bulls were holding the Heat to 37 percent shooting on those attempts this season heading into Game 2. On Wednesday, the Heat shot nine of those corner threes and made five. This is encouraging, too: Even in the streak-busting March loss in Chicago, the Heat played aggressively, outscoring Chicago 54-40 in the paint and shooting 48 percent, with James leading the way with 32. But the Heat that night had no answer for Luol Deng, who scored 28 but is doubtful for Game 3.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: As of Thursday afternoon, coach Tom Thibodeau said the Bulls hadn't heard from the league office regarding possible fines or — less likely — suspensions for Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. But make no mistake: The league is reviewing both players' ejections by official Scott Foster, which happened early in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' Game 2 blowout loss to the Heat. "I didn't really have an issue with him," Gibson said late Wednesday in Miami. "I just was trying to talk to him and get insight on the play. It kind of went the other way. I shouldn't have lost my cool." If disciplinary action is meted out, it must occur before tipoff of Game 3 on Friday night. The league also could be reviewing Mario Chalmers' neck grab on Noah, which drew a technical foul. "Playoff games are emotional. They're physical," Thibodeau said. "(Miami is) saying a lot of things too." The fact Noah left the bench area while drawing his second technical and ejection is immaterial since that automatic, one-game suspension applies only to fights. Gibson took more time to leave after his ejection and shouted profanity at Foster before getting escorted into the locker room by team security guard Eric Buck. "We had some calls that didn't go our way," Thibodeau said. "We can handle it better."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: He looked like Russell Westbrook. He sounded like Russell Westbrook. But I'm not convinced. Too much smiling. Too much introspection. Too much charm. Westbrook sat down Thursday morning for a 17-minute interview with the Thunder press corps, his first public comments since the knee injury two weeks ago that required season-ending surgery. And Westbrook could not have been more engaging. The guy who never met a chip he couldn't strap to his shoulder went all Dale Carnegie. Westbrook was pleasant. Even insightful. … Maybe with no season to play, no games in which to become a destructive force for the opposition, Westbrook has no motivation to be surly. Maybe basketball brings to life Mister Grinch. Maybe the Thunder brass is right. Maybe the guy sitting at the table with a cast on his leg and a smile on his face is the real Russell Westbrook.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Following his team's 99-93 victory over the Thunder in Game 2 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Memphis defensive ace and former Oklahoma State standout Tony Allen once again was bragging about point guard teammate Mike Conley, who finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. “Mike Conley is now one of the top five point guards in the league, whether anybody likes it or not,” said Allen, who had five steals in Tuesday's contest. “I know a lot of people have got their favorites on who they think it should be, but Mike Conley is in that conversation now, being able to do these types of things on the court night in and night out.” Allen's post-game speech actually was a continuation of a pre-game speech he gave about Conley on Sunday morning before Game 1. “He's Top 5. Top 5 now,” Allen said of Conley, his voice rising. “Ever since the All-Star Break, I don't see nobody playing better than him consistently and winning like him.” … Allen was asked about Golden State's Stephen Curry. “He's not a point guard, he a shooting guard,” Allen said. “He's just in a point guard's body.” Allen said the key for Conley's ascent was beating Paul in the first round.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Stop with the ball stopping: The Spurs’ default reaction to an uptick in Golden State’s defensive intensity has been a penchant for one-on-one isolation ball. It won’t work. The top assisting team in the NBA during the regular season, the Spurs produced only four assists in the first half of Game 2, a big reason they managed just 43 points. For the Spurs to have any hope of scoring with the red-hot Warriors, they must get back to the superb ball and layer movement that characterized their offense during the best of times. Can’t waste anymore time: There are 48 minutes in a regulation NBA game, but you wouldn’t know it by the way the Spurs have approached each of the first two of the series. They played one good quarter in Game 1 and one good half in Game 2, so at least they are trending in the right direction. If the Spurs can’t put together four solid quarters on the road, matching the Warriors’ energy, they are in trouble in Game 3. Don’t bet on regression: The common refrain among Spurs fans is that the Warriors have been uncommonly hot from the perimeter and will cool off. That’s not a given. Golden State has made 22 of 53 3-pointers in the series, a 41.5 percent clip. That’s not much better than the league-leading 40.3 percent they shot during the regular season. Second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson probably won’t go 8 of 9 again, but as a team this is who the Warriors are.

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: It's quantifiable, it's palpable and it's only deniable if you view all things through the prism of David Lee's All-Star reputation. It's a real thing, though: The Warriors are a more dangerous playoff team without Lee than they ever were when he was healthy. OK, let me also point out that Lee was absolutely necessary during the regular season when Andrew Bogut was out or limited and the team's younger players were playing young. The Warriors don't win 47 games without him, his work ethic, his ability to pile up double-digit rebounds and points (the much-publicized "double-double") and his true vocal leadership. But at this advanced stage of Warriors activity -- tied 1-1 with the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals -- there just isn't much doubt that Lee's torn hip-flexor in Game 1 of the first round hasn't hurt them. It freed the Warriors to be more of who they truly should be, actually. They're faster, more flexible, more aggressive, tougher, more balanced, better on defense and now they're built around a powerful three-piece axis: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, a straight line of influence, and just ask the San Antonio Spurs how imposing that is.

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: If this Kings drama comes to a logical conclusion next week, with new owners and the promise of a new arena, and with the team's future secured and rubber-stamped by the NBA board of governors, Sacramentans can heave an immense sigh of relief and start rooting hard for the Indiana Pacers. Yep, the Pacers. Hoosiers it is, because in many respects, the Hoosiers are us. Pacers fans – in Indianapolis they refer to themselves as Pacer People – could write the textbook on how stubborn, small-market communities overcome the odds, fight off threats of extinction and relocation, and attract a billionaire owner and partner on an 18,000-seat downtown fieldhouse that is part shrine, part museum. When you walk into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the first time, you don't know whether to bow or bless yourself. Mostly, you stand and stare, amazed and admiring. Yet not so long ago, the Pacers were grateful to be playing in any local joint that had seats, wooden floors and two rims.

  • Dale Kasler, Tony Bizjak and Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, in a Twitter exchange with a Seattle fan, suggested the committee's 7-0 vote amounted to a referendum on Sacramento, not a rejection of Seattle. The private tweets became public Thursday, less than a week before the NBA board of governors is expected to settle the Kings' situation once and for all. Arison, a member of the committee, said the April 29 vote boiled down to whether Sacramento has "done all it should to keep the team. The answer is yes." … Arison made his Twitter comments a week ago in a series of private "direct messages" to a Seattle fan identified as Danny. A Seattle radio station posted the dialogue on its website Thursday. A source with knowledge of the situation, but not authorized to discuss the matter, confirmed that the tweets were Arison's. … Asked about Seattle's future NBA prospects if the Kings stay put, Arison said the league will consider expansion, but not until "after the next TV negotiations." The NBA's current national TV contracts expire in 2016.