First Cup: Wednesday

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Greivis Vasquez does not downplay the significance of the Raptors’ game in Boston on Wednesday night. Shortly after he and his cohorts had frittered away a game, losing 102-100 to the lottery-bound Cleveland Cavaliers on a night when they couldn’t overcome a horrid start despite a near magical comeback, Vasquez surveyed what was immediately ahead and put out in public what many are thinking. “Tomorrow’s a must-win,” he said. “No matter what. No excuses.” Vasquez, so central to Tuesday loss since it was his slip and turnover in the final four seconds that doomed Toronto’s final chance to steal a win, basically challenged his teammates and himself to play with a greater sense of urgency against the Celtics. “We’ve just got to understand what we’re playing for. It’s a must-win because we’re actually playing for something, if you don’t get up for that ... ' " he said.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Cavaliers forward Luol Deng spent the first 9 1/2 seasons of his career on a perennial playoff contender. Now, for the first time since the 2008-09 season in Chicago, Deng will be an outsider in the postseason. “It’s definitely tough,” he said. “But I think it’s tough for everybody, not just because I’ve been there and some other guys haven’t. This group of guys wanted to be in the playoffs so bad. We did everything we could. “We’ve had our ups and downs. We haven’t been consistent. We’ve shown how good we can be and also shown how bad we could be.” The same can be said of his game. The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder has had an up-and-down season. Just when he seemed to be hitting his stride — he averaged 19 points in the three-game West Coast trip — he sprained his left ankle. That caused him to miss three games. He said he had no problems after the New York game on March 24 — his first game back. He had 13 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes against the Knicks.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: As a part of their ongoing 25th-anniversary celebration, the Magic honored former player Grant Hill between the first and second quarters. Fans gave Hill some light applause. Only a smattering of the fans stood to cheer. Hill said he had no trepidation about accepting the team's invitation even though Magic fans never forgave him for the injury problems he faced during his seven-year tenure with the team. Fans also didn't forgive Hill for signing with the Phoenix Suns following the 2006-07 season. In a pregame news conference, Hill confirmed something that former Magic general manager Otis Smith told Sports Illustrated in 2009: Hill was interested in returning to the Magic after the 2006-07 season, but the Magic didn't want him back because team officials wanted to accelerate Dwight Howard's and Nelson's growth as leaders. "[Howard and Nelson] were nice people and they were so respectful and they deferred [to me]," Hill said. ... Hill, who is a partner in an Orlando-based private investment firm and works as a basketball analyst for Turner Sports, was asked whether he has any interest in becoming a general manager or a coach one day. "No, I'm enjoying my life," he said.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: They need a savior, badly. And one may be on its way. Slouched in his locker room stall after the game was a defeated-looking LaMarcus Aldridge who has sat out the team’s last seven games as he deals with a nagging back contusion. He looked helpless, wishing he could help his team. The power forward spoke to members of the media for a few minutes and provided a ray of hope for the organization and the fan base. “I say I’m trying to go no matter what [against Atlanta on Thursday] but if I look good enough to play [in Wednesday’s workout], then I’m going to play,” he said. “It’s up to the medical staff.” Center Robin Lopez didn’t hold back about how he feels about Aldridge’s contribution to the team. “We need L.A.,” Lopez said.

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: For a vast majority of NBA players, an 86-percent clip from the free throw line is something they can only dream about. For Kevin Durant, it’s just a disappointing number that represents his second-lowest mark in the past five seasons. And of late, it’s been slowly dipping. Durant shot 85 percent from the line in February and, entering Tuesday, was only 82 percent in March. Still a strong conversion rate, but considering how many he takes — Durant is the league leader at 10.1 attempts per game — it’s a noticeable difference. In the past month, Durant has missed five in a game twice and six in a game once. He’s gone a full season without doing that before. But he doesn’t seem worried. ... Despite shooting 50 percent overall and 40 percent from 3-point range, with 11 games left, Durant has virtually no chance at a repeat 50-40-90 season because of the free throws.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks and their fans can only hope this was a preview of what the first round of the playoffs will look like. Not necessarily because the Mavericks can take down Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City in a best-of-7 series like they did Tuesday night. But the entertainment value alone would be worth it. Watching two teams this gifted offensively would be a treat. A thoroughly fun night of basketball turned out great for the Mavericks as they knocked off the Thunder, 128-119, in overtime Tuesday at American Airlines Center. It was a gritty show of heart by the Mavericks, who beat the Thunder in two of three meetings this season. That would mean nothing if they were to meet in the playoffs, of course. And that’s looking like at least a possibility now as the Mavericks seem a little more capable of holding up their end of the bargain. “It was a great game, it really was,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

  • Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant said that former Lakers center, and four-time NBA champion, Shaquille O'Neal was lazy. "It used to drive me crazy that he was so lazy," said Bryant of O'Neal to the New Yorker. "You got to have the responsibility of working every single day." Bryant and O'Neal won three titles together with the Lakers before the team sent O'Neal in trade to the Miami Heat in 2004, where he won his fourth title in 2006. The Lakers and Bryant won two additional titles without O'Neal, after acquiring center-forward Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008. Bryant discussed a number of topics with the New Yorker, including an ongoing bet with a business associate that Katy Perry will have more staying power than Justin Bieber on the pop scene.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Now you know why Phil Jackson wanted no part of coaching. It’s a lot easier to watch these Knicks from a luxury suite at Staples Center while collecting $60 million as opposed to having to experience them from the bench and have the losses count on your resume. The road trip that Carmelo Anthony said will “make or break” the Knicks’ season started with an epic defeat. The Knicks were humiliated beyond recognition by a Lakers team that was missing Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. In the grand scheme of things the Lakers’ 127-96 win Tuesday night may have been Mike D’Antoni’s finest hour as Lakers coach and arguably Mike Woodson’s worst, considering the venue, the stakes and that the new team president was here. The Knicks’ so-called playoff push featured the Lakers scoring 51 points in the third quarter, the most ever allowed by the Knicks in a period. If I’m Woodson, I would delay that long-awaited meeting with Jackson for as long as possible.