First Cup: Friday

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Al Horford is in an exclusive club. It’s just not a group to which one wants to belong. The Hawks center spoke publicly for the first time Thursday following his season-ending surgery to repair a torn right pectoral muscle in December. It is his second experience with the injury after he missed most of the 2011-12 season with a torn left pectoral muscle. It’s the third one to happen in basketball, and I’ve had two of them,” Horford said. For the record, the Grizzlies’ Darrell Arthur also suffered a torn pectoral muscle during the 2009-10 season. Horford said doctors told him that he was not predisposed to such an injury. Horford returned from his first torn pectoral muscle in time for the playoffs. That is unlikely this season. He said this injury was more severe. “It’s my right side and my shooting arm,” Horford said. “I need to feel 100 percent confident with it. It’s just going to be a little bit slower."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: The three-guard rotation of Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters and Ramon Sessions has been in a bit of a groove lately. And that has meant reduced playing time for Bucks shooting guard O.J. Mayo. In the last four games Mayo has played a total of 7 minutes, although he served an NBA-mandated suspension in one of those games and was limited to 3 minutes in another after being ejected in the first quarter for striking New Orleans center Greg Stiemsma. Mayo's last extended action was a 20-minute stint in the Bucks' 116-102 loss to Sacramento on March 5. ... "Those guys have really worked well together - Nate and Brandon and Ramon," Drew said in his pregame remarks at Philips Arena. "It's been a really good rotation for us. O.J. is a real pro. The one thing i tell him is just 'You've got to stay ready.' He missed a stretch of games due to illness. He got out of rhythm; he lost conditioning. We've been trying to work with him as far as getting it back." ... Drew said Mayo still is making strides with his conditioning.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: In his 12th season, Carlos Boozer has been around the NBA block. He has experienced highs and lows and said he has tried to remain even-keeled throughout. This season has been one of his most personally challenging, with a reducedrole and widespread speculation about the Bulls using the amnesty provision to discard him this offseason. "I've been dealing with that all year, so the (amnesty) talk doesn't bother me," Boozer said. "I just block it out and try to hoop." Boozer is averaging 29.1 minutes, his least playing time since logging 25.3 minutes as a rookie with the 2002-03 Cavaliers. His averages of 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds also are his lowest since that rookie season. And his 45 percent shooting is a career low. ... "It's not what I want but I haven't said anything," Boozer said. "I just keep playing my role and try to support my teammates. I'm doing everything I can to help my team win." Thibodeau consistently has called Boozer an important part. Asked this week if Boozer has remained engaged despite his reduced role, Thibodeau talked about putting the team first and added "if you play well, you're going to play."

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: The debate is over. Somewhere between Joakim Noah stripping the ball from Dwight Howard after the Houston Rockets big man ripped down a rebound in the second quarter and Noah throwing a pinpoint bounce pass to Jimmy Butler on a back-cut for an easy basket late in the third, all the talk about which team has the best center in the NBA should have ended. As the 111-87 victory over the Rockets on Thursday showed, that center resides in Chicago. Behind 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, Noah was one pass shy of his fourth triple-double of the season, and more importantly, was a plus-24 in the plus/minus category. Howard? He finished with 12 points, 10 rebound, seven turnovers, was on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, and the team was a minus-28 with the center on the floor. Any questions? “Noah is great,’’ Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: When Dwight Howard first went against Joakim Noah, Noah was a ballboy at a summer basketball camp. When they met again Thursday, Noah was considered MVP worthy and Kevin McHale’s choice for Defensive Player of the Year. “He’s played very well. He should be Defensive Player of the Year,” McHale said. “They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, determination and confidence.” Howard included Noah among the league’s top defensive centers, especially appreciating how far Noah has come since he first started playing against him and that his style has not changed at all. “I’ve been playing against Joakim since Adidas camp back when we were 15, 16 years old,” Howard said. “I’ve seen the difference in his game. The one thing that hasn’t changed is his intensity level on the court. He’s always going after it every play, trying to get every loose ball, stuff like that." ... Noah’s success, including Sunday’s head-turning performance in the Bulls’ win against the Heat, offered more evidence in Howard’s argument this season that centers have become under-appreciated.

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Thunder forward Kevin Durant has been firing off a series of tweets the past few days with the hashtag of #StrongandKind. Turns out, it's part of Durant's partnership with KIND health snacks. Durant is working to get 1 million people to sign a petition on StrongandKind.com to follow five guidelines in promoting “the best way to show strength is to show kindness.” In return, KIND is donating $1 million to the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation to create specialized education and after-school programs for at-risk students. “It’s a company that it’s definitely about what the name is,” Durant said Thursday. “It’s about showing people what being kind is, so it was almost a no-brainer to partner up with them. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The bond Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol formed runs in many directions, and it doesn’t just include winning two NBA championships and meshing complementary personalities together. Gasol also supported Kobe Bryant for publicly questioning the front office. Those included issues ranging from wanting executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship, decide Mike D’Antoni’s future as head coach and build a championship caliber roster this offseason. “I’m glad that he spoke his mind,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 131-102 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “He wants to win. He’s got two years under contract with the franchise. He wants to be in the best possible position to win. Whether you do that publicly or internally, that’s totally up to you. He spoke his mind and you have to respect him for that.” Will the Lakers pull that off? Perhaps easier said than done. ... A source familiar with the situation said the Lakers front office has never suggested D’Antoni’s job is in jeopardy after this season. But the Lakers won’t evaluate D’Antoni until the season ends so they can fully assess both the roster and their offseason needs.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Mike Woodson wants a chance to state his case to Phil Jackson why he should remain the Knicks coach. He could get his chance Tuesday. The Knicks are making preliminary arrangements to hold their Phil Jackson introductory press conference that day on the Garden floor, according to an NBA source. While the Knicks are on a late playoff push, Jackson’s first major order of business will be deciding on a coach. Thursday, Woodson said on his ESPN Radio appearance he hopes Jackson doesn’t look at him as simply a babysitter and gives him full consideration to finish the final year of his contract in 2014-15. ... Nate McMillan may be strongly considered. As far as Van Gundy, he and Jackson have exchanged verbal darts across the years with Van Gundy once calling Jackson “Big Chief Triangle." “I think [Shaw] could be a perfect fit with Phil,’’ said one NBA source who worked with Jackson. “He’s not afraid to speak his mind." Meanwhile, despite the potential Tuesday press conference, a fan protest against Dolan scheduled for Wednesday in front of the Garden still is expected to go on, according to one of the organizers.