First Cup: Thursday

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "There's only one way to get Pau Gasol to stop talking about it, and that's for us to stop asking about it. So, entering tonight and Game 4, here's the deal Lakers: If he's allowed to put up, the rest of us will shut up. Got it? These are the NBA Finals and no way should the Lakers' other All-Star, easily the most polished big man in this series, be shooting only 11 times in almost 40 minutes. Not when he's making nine of those 11 attempts. Not when teammate Kobe Bryant is struggling with his shot. Not when the Lakers are frantically trying to keep up with a Magic team shooting with historic accuracy. ... We're not suggesting that Gasol suddenly start ga-gunning. He's too much of an 'us' player to ever adopt a 'me' mentality anyway. He's also bright, and it doesn't require a lot of smarts to recognize his skills as a passer. Gasol is averaging just 12 field-goal attempts per game in the playoffs and has taken more than 15 shots just twice in 21 postseason games. But after losing Game 3, now is the ideal time for the Lakers to lean again on their 7-foot pillar, particularly with the Magic planning to continue pushing the pace."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Jameer Nelson essentially is using the largest event in the NBA as his minicamp. The controversial Nelson experiment in the Finals hasn't gone the way the Magic had hoped. They haven't caught lightning in a bottle, much less a firefly. He'll remain Rafer Alston's backup at point guard for Game 4 tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers, although Anthony Johnson might want to begin light stretching in the bullpen, just in case. ... 'Think about this: In my situation, a lot of guys wouldn't even think about coming back ... mentally, physically. You know? I don't even deal with the things being said. I still think it was a good idea. I don't see how it couldn't be. To me, one thing needs to happen and things will open up for you.' Nelson, though, said he would understand if Van Gundy sat him and returned to Johnson, who hasn't played all series. 'I'm good with whatever. He gave me an opportunity to play, so I can't argue with the man about not playing me or playing me,' Nelson said. 'If he plays me, I'm going to go out there and play hard. If he doesn't play me, I'm not going to moan or complain about anything. I'll continue to cheer.' "

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "Yes, it's just one game, and his body of work is impressive, but the 'closer' title just doesn't make sense. Just because people can't decide if he's better than LeBron James doesn't mean they have to come up with a label that's Kobe Bryant's alone. Let's just all agree that the guy gets his vitamins and let that be that."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "Former Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning insists he is rooting for the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. Judging by Mourning's words, that is difficult to tell. 'I'm rooting for the Magic, because of Stan Van Gundy and the relationship I have with Pat Ewing,' Mourning said Wednesday of the former Heat coach and his close friend Ewing, who is now assisting Van Gundy on the Magic's coaching staff. However, Mourning followed up by saying he is appalled by the way Orlando is defending Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in the best-of-seven series that the Magic trails 2-1. 'When I see the way Orlando is playing that pick and roll, I mean it's just ridiculous,' said Mourning, who made his comments on a conference call to promote his participation in the upcoming American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. 'It sort of puzzles me with Stan because he was under the tutelage of Pat Riley, who is obviously a huge defensive advocate, that he wouldn't take a more aggressive approach, especially with the pick-and-roll play. I didn't understand his approach.' "

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "In a locker room of jokers and pranksters, Mickael Pietrus occupies a critical role. 'One of the ringleaders of silliness,' said Otis Smith, the Orlando Magic's general manager. If there is a halfcourt shooting contest, Pietrus will be the one whooping and hollering. When the jokes start flying, he will get the last laugh, and the biggest one. 'Whenever you try to crack a joke, he's going to have a nice comeback,' Magic guard Anthony Johnson said. 'He's more the comeback type.' In other words, Pietrus gives as good as he gets, which is a useful skill at this time of the year in the N.B.A. For three rounds of the playoffs, Pietrus traded blows with some of the N.B.A.'s most imposing scorers. He guarded Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Boston's Paul Pierce and Cleveland's LeBron James. For an encore, Pietrus is wrestling nightly with the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, one of the most dynamic scorers of his generation, with nothing less than a championship at stake. Once again, Pietrus is absorbing blows and dishing them out, a comeback artist at work."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Wally Szczerbiak still believes in the Orlando Magic. Szczerbiak, getting settled back in New York, thinks the Magic can build on Tuesday's victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of The Finals and take down the Lakers like they took down the Cavaliers in the Eastern finals. The Magic trail in the best-of-seven series, 2-1. 'There's no question I think they can pull out the series,' Szczerbiak said in a telephone interview Wednesday. 'They lost the first two games on the road. They have to take care of the homecourt. These next two games are going to be crucial and then they have to try to steal one in L.A. 'Orlando is a very good basketball team. They're very deep. They're very resilient. They come at you with a lot of guys. It's going to be interesting to see how the series unfolds."

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "If the NBA Finals have taught us anything, it's that attending college to learn how to play basketball is somewhere between vastly overrated and downright stupid. Exhibit A: Dwight Howard. Exhibit B: Kobe Bryant. 'I don't think going to college would have helped me,' Howard said Wednesday. At age 23, Howard is convinced learning on the job in the NBA turned him into Superman quicker than eating pizza in a college dorm room. Maybe he has a point. Howard owns an Olympic gold medal, drives a Rolls-Royce and takes home an annual salary of $13.8 million to his 11,000-square-foot mansion. 'Well,' I suggested, 'you're obviously richer for being here ...' Faster than a speeding bullet, Superman cut off my argument before the debate could start. 'It's not about money,' insisted Howard, a proud graduate of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, Class of 2004. It's about basketball."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "A rumor surfaced this month that the Wizards called the Spurs with an offer for him, and maybe all of this made Ginobili wonder if the ground had shifted. Asked by the Argentine press this week whether he thought he could be traded, he said 'impossible' had lost a few letters. 'Today I believe there is a chance it could happen,' he said. There's always a chance. Gregg Popovich said that. 'People get in trouble when they say never,' Popovich said Wednesday. If somebody makes what Popovich calls 'a stupid offer,' then who knows? 'But Manu Ginobili is someone I cannot envision trading,' Popovich continued. 'He has been such a huge part of our heart and soul; people like that are hard to come by. You don't even think about trading somebody like that. I can't imagine a scenario where he would be traded.' As Popovich put it, 'He fits us.' He closes games as few can, and a moment in the Spike Lee documentary, 'Kobe Doin' Work,' underlines that. Then, the Lakers are about to play the Spurs, and the camera focuses on Ginobili, who was unable to play that night because of an injury. 'That's a bad boy, right there,' Bryant said in the film. 'I have so much respect for his game.' "

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Of all the issues facing owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle as the team tries to build its roster for the 2009-10 season, Kidd will be the top priority, even beyond the draft, which is two weeks away. Free agency opens July 1. Cuban will forever contend that losing Nash when Phoenix signed him to a huge free-agent deal was not a bad basketball decision. Judge that on your own. Still, Cuban maintains that getting something in return for a free agent is in the eye of the beholder. 'I'm not big on 'Do you get compensation?' ' Cuban says. 'The reality is that having money available to spend on someone else is compensation.' That's one way to view it. But even teams that don't want good free-agent players anymore usually find a way to jettison them and get something in return. Think Shawn Marion and Phoenix or Jermaine O'Neal and any team he's ever been with. And the Mavericks want Kidd. If he leaves, the Mavericks will have to scramble once again to rebuild much of their team. But where would he go? Cleveland, Portland and the Los Angeles Lakers seem like the only teams besides the Mavericks that make any sense for Kidd. You can eliminate everybody else because they either aren't any good, have no money or both. That leaves either a sign-and-trade or the Mavericks re-signing Kidd."

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Chris Andersen is the kind of player the Jazz need. The only drawback, in my opinion, is the "Birdman" persona that made him a cult figure in Denver this season. He became a poor man's Dennis Rodman, which isn't exactly a good thing. Remember when Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko showed up last summer with bleached blond hair? Coach Jerry Sloan responded by saying that, if Fesenko wanted to draw attention to himself, he should do it by grabbing 20 rebounds. Undoubtedly, Andersen and the Jazz would have to come to an understanding about his attention-grabbing style of play before either side signed a contract. Whether that could possibly happen, I suppose, depends on the amount of money the Jazz would be willing to offer because, I suspect, even the Birdman has his price. For the right money, he could probably be convinced get rid of the spiked Mohawk hair-cut and Rodman-like reaction every time he blocks a shot."

  • Tom Enlund of the Journal Sentinel: "This is a crucial offseason for Milwaukee Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute as he continues to work on his game with the hope of furthering his development as a player in the NBA. Mbah a Moute was a pleasant surprise this season for the Bucks, who plucked him out of the second round of the 2008 draft. He made contributions as a starter and a reserve. He was an aggressive rebounder, especially on the offensive end, and emerged as the team's best defender. Mbah a Moute and veteran forward Richard Jefferson were the only two Bucks to appear in all 82 games. But now the focus is on getting better and the feeling among the Bucks is that Mbah a Moute could upgrade his game considerably by putting in a productive summer. 'It's a very important summer for him,' said Bill Peterson, the Bucks' assistant coach of player development. 'I think he could take a huge step up. You see a lot of rookies come in and do pretty good for awhile and the next year they nose-dive.' "

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "When did 'effort'' become a dirty word? It seemed that way Wednesday, following a Charlotte Bobcats pre-draft workout that included North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough. Coach Larry Brown said anyone with Hansbrough's motor will do well in the NBA. Thanks, Hansbrough said, but no thanks. He's concerned that label -- 'hard worker' -- trivializes anything else he offers an NBA team. 'I don't think any team is drafting me to be a practice player,' Hansbrough said. 'My skills get overlooked because people dub me a hard-worker. I've proven myself and expanded my game a lot. When people get me in a gym, they're kind of surprised sometimes'' by all he can do. If Hansbrough sounds a bit defensive, it's understandable. In a sport where players almost always turn pro early, he's the over-exposed, over-scrutinized college senior."