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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Since we entered the new millennium, only one player has won the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award, then earned a championship ring. Tim Duncan's second NBA Finals MVP trophy meant more to him on June 15, 2003 than his second regular-season MVP award, which he had received six weeks prior. If LeBron James, anointed Monday as this season's MVP, matches Duncan's double-MVP feat next month, he's probably going to emulate Duncan in another significant way next summer. Then, look for him to re-sign with the Cavaliers after he becomes a free agent. Denver general manager Mark Warkentien was named Executive of the Year on Sunday, and he deserved the honor for masterminding the trade that turned the Nuggets into a threat to the Lakers' domination of the Western Conference. But if the Cavaliers win the NBA title in June, no executive will have accomplished more in the past 12 months than Danny Ferry, the former Spurs assistant GM who augmented the Cavaliers roster to give James a chance to become an NBA champion."

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "But tonight, the Hawks are someplace few figured they would be. In Cleveland. In the playoffs. Playing. It doesn't matter that the Hawks are massive underdogs against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. It doesn't matter if this series goes four games, five or seven. They won a playoff round. That alone validates a 47-win season. It also validates Mike Woodson as a head coach. You won't hear this from Woodson. The man is overly sensitive. He doesn't take criticism well. He gets prickly. He lets things that are said or written about him consume him. But the last thing he is going to do now -- particularly on the eve of a playoff series -- is make himself the story. But if he's bubbling over with I-told-you-so, well, he deserves to. When asked Monday if he believed his coach felt vindicated, Josh Smith said: 'Probably so. He probably deserves it just as much as we do. Of all the criticism he had to face during his career while being here, I know he feels relieved. He might not say it, but you can tell a big weight is lifted off his chest.'"

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Bill Russell's legendary old number hung high up in the rafters at the TD Banknorth Garden on Monday night. Meanwhile, down on the floor, Bill Russell's newest reincarnation was leading the Orlando Magic to a 95-90 Beantown clampdown of the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal. Without fail, we always hear the old-timers talk about how lucky they were to have watched the greatness of Russell, but maybe, just maybe, we're catching a glimpse of the grandeur ourselves in Dwight Howard. Did you see Howard's absolutely Russell-esque stat line -- 22 rebounds, 16 points, three blocked shots -- Monday? Did you see how his defensive presence and rebounding down the stretch helped the Magic survive a frantic Celtics' rally? Did you see how he was unselfishly content to let the offense run through his teammates?"

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "It's a funny thing about moral victories. They're also known as losses. By halftime last night, the writing was on the wall. That would be the same wall the Celtics hit with a splat that doomed them and just might reverberate throughout the rest of this series. Sure, it's not out of the question that the Celtics needed a while to shake off the seven-game, first-round death waltz with the Chicago Bulls, but if they'd been able to get the message when the Magic lead was, oh, maybe 20, the Shamrock world might look a bit different this morning."

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "No one gave them a chance. Go ahead and admit you didn't give them one, either. Only thing is, they believed. They believed and didn't care if anyone else on earth believed. The Rockets believed they could steal a game here and then take care of business at Toyota Center. That's exactly what they did, winning a game with poise and defense and all the things they've ridden these last two months. The Rockets have grown and grown this season, and on Monday night, they grew some more in defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 100-92 in Game 1 of their best-of-seven second-round series at Staples Center. I'd like to tell you there was a wild locker-room celebration complete with tearful hugs and champagne showers afterwards. There wasn't. The Rockets accepted Game 1 as a nice moment, but not a shocking one. 'Our first thought was that it's time to get ready for Game 2,' Shane Battier said."

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "After a couple of weeks worth of Hoop Dreams, Hollywood's team spent Monday night living out a different sort of classic. There Will Be Blood. On an angry night at Staples Center, it was everywhere. Blood dripped from Shane Battier's face, leaked from Pau Gasol's eye, splattered so profusely on the floor that it required several ballboys several long minutes to wipe it up. The stain was removed from the Lakers' hardwood, but it remains today on the Lakers' psyche, seeped into the heads of players who again face an ugly question they thought had already been answered. Are they tough enough to win an NBA championship? For one night, they weren't even tough enough to beat a visiting 53-win team in the first game of the Western Conference semifinals, losing 100-92 to the Houston Rockets. Check that verb. They didn't lose, they were Pacquiao'ed. Playing the only way that would give them a chance to win, the outmanned Rockets mugged the Lakers from start to finish, knocking Andrew Bynum to the bench and Pau Gasol into oblivion and the vaunted Laker cool into thin air."

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "The bottom line is they regressed. They weren't competitive against the Nuggets -- each loss was by at least 15 points and the lone victory was a two-point decision. The 58-point strafing was the worst home loss in NBA history. The fact that it happened in the playoffs arguably makes it the worst loss in league history, period. But Byron Scott won 105 regular-season games the past two seasons. In Hornets history, only Dave Cowens, in 1996-97 and 1997-98, managed to match that. No Hornets coach has won more playoff games in one year than the seven Scott notched last year. No Hornets team had won a division title until New Orleans won the Southwest Division last year. Only Paul Silas, with a four-year playoff run as Hornets coach, had a longer stint with the team than Scott's two years. Combine and stir the pros and cons, and the production doesn't dip to the level of a coach who should be nudged toward the door. That doesn't mean he won't be, doesn't mean he won't join the list of NBA coaches of the year who were dumped soon after being honored."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-
    Sentinel:
    "In previous years, in his dual roles of coach and team president, Pat Riley traditionally offered a forward-thinking assessment at season's end. Riley, now solely a team executive, did not attend Monday's session. And yet, even Spoelstra acknowledged it might be wise not to grow too attached to a roster that lifted the team from 15-67 in 2007-08 to 43-39 this season. 'You always have to expect the unexpected with Pat,' Spoelstra said. 'He has visions always greater than anybody in the league, which is fantastic. It's exhilarating working for him under those circumstances.' On one hand, the Heat has virtually no salary-cap or luxury-tax flexibility this summer, with 11 players either under contract for next season or having the option to return. On the other hand, only five are under contract for 2010-11, making the issue one of whether Riley practices patience for another season or tries to accelerate the process by possibly throwing into play Haslem's expiring contract or the rookie contract of forward Michael Beasley."

  • Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune: "In my world, Ben Gordon is a sixth man for the Bulls. Maybe other teams would start him. But we've seen that movie. We don't like how it ends. ... I would have no problem with the Bulls' bringing back Gordon for the one-year/mid-level/veteran's/AARP/early-bird special exception, or whatever cockamamie salary slot the NBA created. But if the Bulls pay Gordon starter money, then they have to start him. If the Bulls can't find a sucker for Deng, they'd have to trade Kirk Hinrich because the Bulls don't want to go near the luxury tax, and that would hurt. Hinrich is one of the few Bulls who understands and executes defense, including the head coach. More on that later, but I've come to appreciate Hinrich more the last couple months, perhaps because he wasn't there earlier in the season, perhaps because he's the most well-rounded player the Bulls have. So, if the Bulls trade Hinrich to re-sign Gordon for big money when they're already stuck with Deng and his big money, then we need a bong intervention at the Berto Center."

  • Barry Rozner of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald: "There are days when a player can run fairly well, almost normal, as the fracture doesn't present as much pain, but after that activity it might be impossible to even walk the next day without feeling like there are knives sticking in the leg. So others looked at Luol Deng the last month or two and wondered why the inconsistency, and that's also why he's still facing questions and skepticism. While a real injury and extremely painful, if allowed to heal properly it won't have any long-term effects. So if Deng decides he must absolutely play for the British national team this summer, the Bulls ought to tell him not to bother coming back. Not only does he risk injury by shortening his rest time, but he also insults his teammates who dug down and discovered a playoff spot, and then fought so valiantly against Boston for seven grueling games without him. Deng is hurt and Deng is healing, but in order to gain his teammates' trust again, he's going to need a healthy season ahead, and it starts with a productive -- and quiet -- summer."

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: "The Jazz understandably did not want to believe Game 4 would be the team's last home appearance of the season, but couldn't they have done something more significant that night, with just the right wording? The Lakers figured it out during Game 5 in Los Angeles, mentioning how Hundley would be retiring after the playoffs, without actually saying the end of his career was a few minutes away. Sure, everything the Lakers do is self-serving, but this was classy. In Salt Lake City, only a 'Hot Rod ... Thanks for the memories' sign held by longtime fan Richard Anderson that was shown on the video screen, followed by a cut to Hundley at his broadcast position, served to commemorate his last home game. ... Hundley and team officials intended to hold off any announcement for a while. Yet in a development they apparently did not anticipate, a story in a West Virginia newspaper the morning of Game 2 of the Jazz-Lakers series said he would retire after the playoffs, quoting him as "giving it up" and explaining why. Then, in local interviews the night of Game 3, Hundley spoke more about his decision. The next day, the Jazz issued a news release confirming his retirement. If they could rewrite the whole script, the Jazz would wish either that Hundley had made his decision earlier in the season so they could have staged a farewell tribute in April, or that they could have saved the news for this summer or later, by the time they had finalized plans for an upcoming celebration. Instead, their good intentions regarding one Rodney Clark Hundley did not play out as they hoped. Hundley has meant a lot to the franchise and its fans, and the Jazz undoubtedly will get this right, giving him a nice sendoff. But as of now, they must overcome the perception that the Lakers beat them to it."