First Cup: Wednesday

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "Even on a night when they failed to execute the defensive plan their coaches had drawn up, the Nuggets beat the visiting Mavericks by wearing them down with relentless teamwork. And so they will travel to Dallas at the end of the week up 2-0 in their Western Conference semifinal series without having played their best game. That's what teamwork will do. ... Many of the Nuggets' leading actors have listened to more criticism than appreciation in recent years, among them Martin, Anthony, Smith and Karl himself. Suddenly, they can't seem to do anything wrong. Even when they look like the lesser team for extended stretches, they play together so well that they overcome it. Perhaps the Mavericks will be stronger down the stretch once they get back home. They'd better hope so. It's the best shot they have left."

  • Jean-Jacques Taylor of The Dallas Morning News: "Sometimes, you must admit the other team is better. This is one of those times. Your Dallas Mavericks simply aren't good enough to beat the Denver Nuggets. There's no shame in that. It happened again last night. Denver 117, Dallas 105. When you lose six consecutive times in close games and blowouts to the same team in the same season, then it's not a coincidence. Please understand the Nuggets have been fierce for a couple of months at home, where they've won 15 consecutive games. Only once during that streak have they won by fewer than 10 points. So the Mavs aren't the only team they've been pummeling in the Mile High City. They're simply the latest."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Is he weary? He worked more regular-season minutes than any NBA player. 'I'm tired,' Joe Johnson said afterward, 'but I'd never use that as an excuse. You play the whole season to get to the playoffs, and now that we're in the second round, we need to act like we want to be here.' We can understand if the Hawks feel they've met their goal by reaching Round 2, but they need to compete in this series for the goodwill flowing from Round 1 to linger into the summer. Game 1 was competitive for a little while, but in the end it wasn't. They'll need to do better in Game 2, or there might not be a Game 5. 'We have to play with a sense of pride,' Johnson said. 'The second half, we kind of gave up.'"

  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: "Before the game earned him millions and made him a global icon, it was the focus of LeBron James' pride and the source of his joy. He loved basketball the way the city and its suburbs have embraced him and his Cavaliers team. On the night when he received his Most Valuable Player trophy, there was no way James was going to disappoint his fans at The Q or dishonor the game to which he has devoted so much. 'I know you've been tired of wondering who we're going to play and tired of waiting around, because I'm ready to get back on the court too,' he said, his words tinny sounding and faintly heard in the bedlam after NBA Commissioner David Stern handed him the MVP trophy in a pre-game ceremony Tuesday night. Back on the court, James scored 34 points on only 20 shots with 10 rebounds in the Cavs' 99-72 rout of Atlanta in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals."

  • Chris Beaven of the Canton Repository: "Commissioner David Stern was asked before the game if he would like to see the NBA's stars spend all or almost all of their careers with one team. 'I have spent a career negotiating collective bargaining agreements that favor the home team over another team that might sign a free agent,' he said. Cavs fans, obviously, are concerned that LeBron James could leave for a bigger market, perhaps New York, after next season. Players have the freedom to move, which Stern thinks is the right thing. Stern did say he does not understand why people think the New York Knicks need to have a superstar for the league to be happiest. 'We're having a great run you might have noticed for the last lots of years, and we do it wherever our players are,' Stern said. 'That's just a nonstarter for me (the need for a star in New York).'"

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Brian Scalabrine still doesn't have a clear idea of the identity of Jackie Moon, the fictional character with the big head of curly hair wrapped by a large headband played by Will Ferrell in the movie 'Semi-Pro.' The Celtics forward hasn't seen the movie. But as one of the few players with something to crow about in Game 1, and with the Jackie Moon chants growing each time he dons that padded headband as a precaution against another concussion, there's something to be said for the forward's ability to win over the crowd. 'Scal was the single best player we had on the floor,' Rivers said of Scalabrine's overall performance, from hitting two big 3-pointers to defending Orlando's Rashard Lewis. 'He just played hard. He didn't do much more than that. He does what he does. When someone asked what he does, I said I'm not so sure, but he does a lot of it, and it's really good. I honestly didn't think there was a chance in heck that he would be back. I honestly thought Kevin (Garnett) had a better chance of being back than Scal. I thought there was no way. And the fact that he's playing well, I'm happy for him, especially after what he's been through here. To be able to turn back the fan base the way he has, he's a freaking cult figure with the damn Jackie Moon headband.'"

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Shane Battier was smiling when he said it. He wore the marks of a rough and painful night, but the Rockets had gotten just the sort of game they wanted. He came back from his cut. Yao Ming returned from a bruised knee. And the Rockets rallied past their regular-season struggles against the Lakers to take Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals with the sort of blood-and-guts performance they will need to win the series. 'That's our style,' Battier said. 'We made it a little nasty. We made it a little mucky. These guys are too long and too good in the open court to get in a racehorse game with them. We have to play to our strength, which is half-court defense.' The Rockets did that so well that they not only held the Lakers 15 points shy of their regular-season average in the 100-92 victory, they brought rapid (if perhaps premature) reminders of last season's NBA Finals, in which the Celtics pushed around the Lakers with the same sort of defense-first, physical style. The Rockets cut Bryant off before he could get to the rim, forcing him to take 31 shots to score 32 points (with seven of those coming in the final two minutes after the Rockets led by 11). They slowed the Lakers' break, challenged shots and made it their sort of game. If that means it got a little messy, even ugly, that is part of the deal."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "
    The rhetoric was flying after Tuesday's practice, the Lakers' words trying to catch up to the play of the Houston Rockets the previous night. Coach Phil Jackson was irritated at practice, cracking the verbal whip, according to those who took part in the closed session. Then Kobe Bryant, who had 32 points on 31 shots in Game 1, practically said the Lakers' 100-92 home loss was a good thing, saying his teammates were a 'little edgy' and that he was 'more than anxious' to see their response tonight in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. Indeed, one loss was all it took to make the first week of May feel like the second week of June."

  • Peter Finney of The Times-Picayune: "'What a business,' Butch van Breda Kolff would say during practice sessions at the Superdome. 'I've forgotten more basketball than these guys will ever know, but they're holding my job in their hands.' That will never change. It's called coaching. At the time, Butch's challenge was handling Pete Maravich, a challenge, you might say, that was the flip side of what Byron Scott has with Chris Paul. 'Pistol Pete' marched to his own drummer and would wind up driving Butch up the wall. Chris radiates team. He has made Scott a better coach. In both cases, the player, not the coach, was indispensable. But there is a difference. In one case, Pistol Pete drove Butch into NBA retirement. In the other, I'm guessing the best thing the coach of the Hornets, at this moment in time, has going for him is a close, genuine relationship he shares with his coach-on-the-court point guard. It's a relationship with which you don't tamper. For the Hornets, the immediate challenge is not Scott or the decision to make a head-coaching change. The challenge is: How do you make it easier for Paul to win more basketball games? How do you surround him with more efficient players?"

  • Tim Lemke of The Washington Times: "Caron Butler looks directly at the camera, appearing humble and sincere. Soft, slow piano music plays in the background. 'We're going through trying times right now,' the Washington Wizards forward says. 'Next year, we'll be shining again.' Butler's teammate Antawn Jamison appears in a similar commercial. They are hardly standard pitches to potential ticket buyers. Absent of catchy slogans and slickly edited highlight packages, they are straightforward spots directed at fans who endured a 63-loss season. 'We wanted to take a very simple, honest approach,' said Peter Biche, the Wizards' vice president of business operations. 'We can't not acknowledge the challenges of the season. What they said was very honest and very unscripted. They were speaking from the heart. These are two pretty good guys, and they know when the team isn't playing well it's tough on the fans.' Direct messages like this one, in which teams acknowledge a bad season and the fan frustration that stems from it, have become more common. While few teams have gone so far as to produce full television spots, many executives have penned open letters to fans or posted video messages on their Web sites."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Forward Michael Beasley and point guard Mario Chalmers, who both received significant fines from the NBA before the start of the season, were continually fined by the Heat throughout the season for violations of team policy. 'Part of being an NBA basketball player is being accountable at all times,' coach Erik Spoelstra said. The number of fines not only caught the attention of Heat President Pat Riley, but had team staffers addressing the rookies during the season about the penalties that were subtracted from their paychecks. ... Spoelstra said none of the fines was for missing practice or showing up late for such sessions, declining to go into detail about the volume or specifics. 'There's other things, dress code, things of that nature,' Spoelstra said. ... 'Coming from college,' Beasley said, 'there's not as many rules and not as strict, so I think it's learning to adjust to a better life or more responsible life.' ... Asked if there would be similar issues next season, Chalmers smiled and said, 'Clean slate next year, clean slate.'"

  • Marcus Thompson II of the Contra Costa Times: "Having Larry Riley as the top basketball executive has caused concern for Warriors fans. Many are skeptical about whether he is running the show or is just Nelson's puppet. Nelson and Riley have been best friends for years, and Nelson brought Riley with him from Dallas to Golden State. But a team source said Riley's promotion to assistant general manager -- to replace Pete D'Alessandro, Chris Mullin's right-hand man who was fired in November -- was Rowell's idea. For his part, Nelson constantly has denied having involvement in matters 'upstairs.' Concern also exists over whether Riley has the necessary credentials. Riley has experience in the front office, working as director of player personnel for the Vancouver Grizzlies from 1994-2000 (which is more front-office experience than Mullin had when he assumed his current post in 2004). Riley also has more than a decade experience as an assistant coach and scout in the NBA. But whether Riley has the pull and connections around the league -- which was widely regarded as one of Mullin's strengths -- remains to be seen. With the Warriors expected to make a push for such big names as All-Star forwards Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer and Amare Stoudemire, such assets could come into play."