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First Cup: Thursday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Conference championships are nice, but rings are the only things that matter in Miami. Simply put, for the Heat to defeat the Spurs in The Finals, and repeat as NBA champions, Wade and Bosh will have to rejoin the triumvirate alongside LeBron James. The Big 3 was put together to make history, and it is going to take a historic effort to knock off a San Antonio team that has gone 12-2 in the playoffs, rolled through the Western Conference finals in four games and has had nine days to rest and prepare. Wade’s knee is a constant bother and Bosh’s ankle, which he sprained against the Pacers, still isn’t right, but the confidence had better be back. … Wade is averaging 14.1 points per game in the playoffs and Bosh’s average stands at 12.3. Both are career postseason lows. And while Wade and Bosh limped through the Eastern Conference finals, the Spurs were busy dissecting film on what Indiana did so well to limit two-thirds of the Heat’s core. Of course, that’s no secret. The Pacers closed the talent gap with physical play and a big front line. The Finals will be the height of competition in professional basketball but don’t expect it to get nasty like the Eastern Conference finals. The Finals Media Day at AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday was a love fest. Both teams displayed a level of respect for their opponents that bordered on fandom.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Forget Tim Duncan’s quest for Ring No. 5, or Tony Parker’s continued ascent among the NBA’s elite. Perhaps no Spur will be under a greater microscope during the Finals than Kawhi Leonard. Which is about the last place the laconic young small forward wants to be. Among all the Spurs who could do just fine without any attention — and that’s quite a few — Leonard ranks right at the top of the list. Unfortunately for him, the spotlight comes with the territory when you’re slated for the bulk of the defensive work against the four-time MVP and reigning NBA champion, LeBron James. It will be no small task. James is only averaging 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists during the playoffs, at times carrying a Heat team that has alternately stormed and limped through their title defense. Rather than money, fame or accolades, those sort of challenges are exactly what Leonard loves most about being an NBA player. “I want to play the best and be the best,” he said during Wednesday’s media day. Such burning ambition isn’t always apparent with Leonard’s sleepy-eyed demeanor, but the rapid improvement throughout his short career provides ample proof. He’ll face no greater test than James.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: While there isn’t a basketball fan anywhere who doesn’t like to watch LeBron James, simply because of his crazy skills, there are plenty who still don’t like him. Count Dallas and San Antonio as two of the prominent precincts.In case you forgot, James has never beaten a team from Texas for the NBA championship. He and the Miami Heat went north of the Red River last June to beat Oklahoma City and give James his first title trophy. But the Spurs swept him when he was at Cleveland in 2007 and the Mavericks took him out in 2011. For now, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker — the NBA’s version of hum and drum — will take their utter disdain for the limelight to South Beach where the NBA Finals begin Thursday against their polar opposite — the glitzy Heat. If Indiana was the blue-collar rival to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, the Spurs are another level beyond the Pacers. Just go about your business, do a good job, then party when it’s done. That’s what the Spurs will do. … When James and Bosh joined Wade in Miami in the summer of 2010, they said they wanted to win not one, but four, five or six championships. Right now, they better worry about No. 2 because the Spurs have the Texas mojo working for them.

  • Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: But the majority of the talk Wednesday was on Danny Granger, the former All-Star who missed all but five games this season with a knee injury. Following the Game 7 loss, Granger said he expected to be back in the starting lineup at the start of next season. Vogel was asked if he saw things the same way. “Probably,” he said. “We gotta see how he returns. My anticipation is that he’s going to have a full recovery. I told him if he returns to full health and the ability that he’s exhibited throughout his career, then he’ll be the starter.” Vogel added that he challenged Lance Stephenson, who in Granger’s stead had a breakout year, to “not let that happen.”

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: If Vivek Ranadive was going to take a flyer, wanted to heave a prayer from the deep corner, of course it would be Larry Bird. Who wouldn't want to hire the architect of the Indiana Pacers team that came within a victory of reaching the NBA Finals? Who was named the league's Executive of the Year in 2012? Who remains part-man, part-myth? Who also is unemployed after a one-year, self-imposed sabbatical and, reportedly, is starting to feel the itch? The Kings majority owner apparently wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to assemble the best staff possible to oversee and ensure the resurrection of the franchise. … Contrary to published reports, Ranadive and Bird have not met. But conversations are ongoing, and that Bird, 56, is even listening suggests he is at least mildly interested. … Luring Bird to Sacramento would be the latest in an ongoing series of stunning, remarkable developments involving Sacramento, the Kings and the new ownership group. I wouldn't count on it. I wouldn't conduct a search for leprechauns or start penciling No. 33 on the back of the sneakers. But the surprises keep coming. Given all that has transpired these past five months, never say never.

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: So how do we tie a ribbon around the Magic and this concept? Simple. Orlando already has some very good role players in Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, and Nik Vucevic. But even if that core improves with age, all that does is buy you a cup of coffee in the playoffs. That means Orlando will need to draft and spend wisely. That means a resounding "NO" to Nerlens Noel who has offensive limitations and would come in with significant physical concerns. I love Kansas guard Ben McLemorewith the No. 2 pick. The kid shot 42 percent on three-point attempt and reminds NBA scouts of Ray Allen. There can be no whiffs. No Greg Ogdens or Michael Beasleys or O.J. Mayos in the mix. But what's more important is what happens beyond this year's draft. The Magic need to stink again next season to have a shot at two potential franchise stars Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. And with plenty of cap space to work with by 2015, the Magic can make a run at any number of stars. … Magic GM Rob Hennigan knows the deal. He has already proven he's a bit of a whiz kid, ignoring pleas from dolts like me to go after Andrew Bynum in the throes of Howard's diva issues. Hennigan got a nice package deal for Howard, but the rebuild continues. Let's hope the Magic don't try to fool the public by selling us a re-do on Heart and Hustle. Teamwork is over-rated. Remember there is no "I" in team, but there are two in "championship." Bring on the stars. Multiple ones, please. Then, and only then, will the Magic be contenders for Kings of the Court again.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: The Los Angeles Clippers are looking for a new coach and the Nuggets are looking for a boss for their coach. George Karl is under contract for one more season as Denver's coach, but his team doesn't have a general manager. And while Karl's name has been linked to the Clippers' coaching job, that team hasn't formally asked to be allowed to interview Karl. For now it appears the Clippers are zeroing in on two coaches not under contract, according to multiple media reports, including ESPNLA.com. Those coaches are Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins, who was the Memphis Grizzlies' coach through the playoffs. Both are scheduled to be interviewed, with Shaw perhaps the top candidate.

  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Former 76ers coach Larry Brown threw cold water on a report out of New York that suggested the 72-year-old Brown has been contacted by the Sixers about their vacant coaching job. Appearing Wednesday morning as a guest on ESPN-FM 97.5 with Tony Bruno and Harry Mayes, Brown said that the Sixers have not contacted him about the job. The report, citing sources close to Brown, first appeared Tuesday on SNY.tv's blog. Presently the coach of the men's basketball team at Southern Methodist, Brown also was linked to the vacant coaching jobs in Brooklyn and with the Los Angeles Clippers. He said that any connection between him and any NBA team was "hypothetical." "I love what I'm doing," said Brown, who coached the Sixers from 1997 to 2003 and led them to the NBA Finals in 2001. "But I'm in a situation where I think I can help young people. But I don't ever want to get back into coaching at the professional level unless I have a great relationship with the ownership, and people let me share the knowledge I have learned and work with young people that have the same values that I have."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: There are no guarantees for draft prospects auditioning with the Milwaukee Bucks. Literally. Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney said Wednesday it's not a tactic the team has used. Some NBA teams do offer guarantees to players that they will be picked at a certain position in the draft. The thinking behind that is to prevent a player from working out for other teams before the draft, while also providing the player and his agent certainty of a draft floor. But the negative side is a guarantee can severely limit a team's flexibility on draft night. "We haven't done it," McKinney said. "In fact, a couple years ago when Larry Sanders came in and worked out, somebody thought we had given Larry a guarantee. "I talked about it after the workout that we hadn't guaranteed Larry, and we didn't guarantee Brandon (Jennings), either." The Bucks chose Sanders with the 15th pick in the 2010 draft and Jennings with the 10th pick in the 2009 draft. … Two 19-year-old foreign players — Russian small forward Sergey Karasev and German point guard Dennis Schroeder — have been the subjects of rumors regarding draft guarantees. … Both Karasev and Schroeder are considered candidates for the mid- to late first round of the June 27 draft.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: With the Suns picking fifth in the June 27 draft, Suns Director of Player Personnel John Treloar was able to assemble a Wednesday schedule that included a workout group with three No. 5 candidates (Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, Indiana power forward Cody Zeller, UCLA shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad) and another first-round prospect (French center Rudy Gobert), an interview with an injured No. 5 candidate (Maryland center Alex Len) and the biggest coup: an individual workout with Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore. McLemore has been atop some draft boards but the rising stock of Oladipo and point guard Trey Burke, who will be among Thursday’s visitors, has made it feasible for McLemore to slip to No. 5. Some of that belief is related to questions about whether McLemore is assertive enough to live up to the star potential of his athleticism and being “a beautiful shooter,” as McDonough described him. McLemore said he was limited by playing with four seniors at Kansas as a redshirt freshman. “Bring the ball up, control it, up-tempo, take control of the game,” McLemore said of what he can add as a pro. “I could’ve done those things at Kansas but that’s just how the Kansas system is. I was just playing Kansas basketball. Now, I have an opportunity to play free and play my own game. “I know deep down inside I can take over games. I know I have that dog in me to take over games.” It was McLemore’s first individual workout. He did not participate in combine drills last month.

  • Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News: Shane Larkin showed off his talents Wednesday to Utah Jazz coaches as one of six players brought to work out along with Lorenzo Brown, a 6-5 guard from North Carolina State; Reggie Bullock, a 6-7 forward from North Carolina; Amath M'Baye, a 6-9 forward from Oklahoma; Tony Mitchell, a 6-8 forward from North Texas; and Malik Story, a 6-5 guard from Nevada. Larkin apparently impressed the Jazz with his play on the floor and really impressed the media with his engaging personality in a seven-minute interview after his session. “I love being out in front of people, love talking with people, so it’s good,’’ he said. When asked to sell himself to the Jazz, Larkin said, “I’m a good guy on and off the court. I’d be great in the community, a friendly face. If anybody ever sees me in the community and he can come up to me, I’m never going to be stuck up.’’ And his game? “I did well in college and was second-team AP All-American.’’

  • Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press: How fast can you chug a 20-oz. Gatorade? It took Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert six seconds during Game 7 of the East finals on Monday – the maximum time of a “Vine” (a mobile social media app which allows you to record six-second looping videos, kind of like a GIF). Don’t believe us? Watch it. Since that post Tuesday, the #RoyHibbertChallenge was born, prompting many on Twitter to attempt their own Vines of themselves chugging Gatorade. One guy trying it in his bathtub ended up dousing himself in fruit punch. It gets better: Later on Tuesday, Hibbert challenged Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond to duplicate his feat. Drummond later responded, saying “it’s on I’m going to do it! Give me a few hours!” ... However, we’ve yet to see a Vine of Drummond taking Hibbert’s challenge. We’re holding you to it, Andre!