First Cup: Thursday

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: As the Portland Trail Blazers walked off the court, leaving a sold out noiseless crowd in disbelief after just taking a commanding 2-0 series lead with a 112-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, they were greeted by some familiar faces in route to the locker room. In the hallway, adjacent to their locker room, Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, GM Neil Olshey, Assistant GM Bill Branch and the entire coaching staff waited for every player to make their way back from the court. Each one was greeted with a round of applauds and words of encouragement. ... They brought it, and so did LaMarcus Aldridge for the second consecutive game. He supplied a game-high 43 points to go with eight rebounds and three blocks. He became the first player to have back-to-back 40-point games in the playoff since LeBron James did it May 24, 26 in 2009. ... Kevin McHale made very little adjustments on the defensive end despite two whole days to prepare. Portland scored at will. Dwight Howard is stuck trying to clean up the broken assignments of his teammates. That falls on McHale, who is focusing more on offense rather than the area that’s hurting them most. Plain and simple, Terry Stotts is kicking his ass.

  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: The rust that plagued Rockets guard James Harden on Sunday night was still hanging around Wednesday. The leading scorer had another poor shooting performance, going 6-of-19 from the field for 18 points in the Rockets 112-105 loss to Portland in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs. The Rockets now trail 0-2 in the series as they head to Portland for Game 3 on Friday night. Harden missed the final game of the regular season to rest. There were six days between that and the start of the playoffs. When the postseason began, Harden said he was a little sluggish. He went 8-of-28 in Game 1 and scored 27 points. The Rocket lost that one 122-120 in overtime and Harden took the blame. “I have to play better,” he said. “I didn’t shoot the ball well. I was rusty. I have to pick it up.” ... Despite the two rough nights for the team’s star, McHale said he thinks Harden will find his rhythm and be a factor in this series. “We have to move the ball and attack,” McHale said. “We can’t hold it. We have to set better picks. We have to have more flow. James will get it going if we get it going. James is at his best when we are moving up the floor."

  • Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News: We know what can happen when you grab a 10-point lead on the Spurs with 7:45 to play. Bad things can happen, at least if you're a Mavericks fan. In Game 2, we saw what can happen when the lead is 20 and there are just under six minutes to play. That’s when Spurs fans start filling the exits and heading out of the AT&T Center. The Mavericks emptied the building and evened the series with a stunning 113-92 victory that was, in stretches, a spotless offensive showcase. Everybody got in on the act and, more important, the debate over which point guard coach Rick Carlisle needs to feature in this first-round series followed those Spurs fans right out those exits. ... The teams don’t meet again until Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Dallas, but hopefully there will be little discussion as to the Mavericks having gained home-court advantage in this series. When Dallas knocked off the West’s No. 1 seed Wednesday, it made road teams 8-7 in these playoffs. And with higher seeds heading out on the road now, you have to expect home court to remain a difficult "advantage" to protect. "The only way we’re going to win this series is by having guys play at full capacity," Carlisle said.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the Spurs’ performance was Kawhi Leonard’s no-show. Hampered by first-half foul trouble, the third-year small forward had easily his worst performance after perhaps the best two-month stretch of his career with six points and five rebounds in 23 minutes. He didn’t make his only basket until the fourth quarter, well after the game had been decided. Perhaps most telling of all, he didn’t have a single steal or blocked shot, an unacceptable activity from a player capable of wreaking so much havoc. Popovich wasn’t concerned, however, and Leonard left early without speaking with reporters.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Charlotte likes to call itself the Queen City. So let’s keep this simple: King trumps Queen. The Heat superstar with the monarch’s nickname and ruler’s game is too much for the Charlotte Bobcats, seemingly by himself. LeBron James has been too much for the entire NBA the past two seasons, and he certainly is that for Miami’s opponent in the first round of these playoffs — and we saw it yet again here Wednesday night. “You have to be honest with yourself,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford had said before Game2. “Sometimes the other team is just that good.” Especially when the other team’s player is the best there is, and when he treats this particular opponent like his personal plaything. Miami has a commanding 2-0 series lead with Wednesday’s 101-97 victory/escape, and it was mostly because James led the way with 32 points. That was after he’d led the way in Game 1 with 27 points. Which means that in six games against Charlotte this season James has now scored 210 points, an average of 35 per game.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: The Charlotte Bobcats proved Wednesday they won’t be pushovers to the Miami Heat. Now will they get past the “feisty” and “scrappy” descriptions to actually win a game? That question hung over a 101-97 loss in Game 2 of this best-of-seven series. The Bobcats overcame a horrible first half and had a potentially game-tying possession with just over 10 seconds left. That’s when Miami’s aggressive defense blew up a Bobcats play. Gary Neal turned down a closely-guarded 3-pointer, electing to throw the ball to Chris Douglas-Roberts. He got trapped in the corner, committed Bobcats turnover No. 15, and effectively ended the Bobcats’ threat. That a turnover would be the Bobcats’ demise was illustrative of both these games: They keep throwing away the ball in ways they can’t afford.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: First, there has to be some type of sanction against McRoberts for his fourth-quarter shoulder shiver against LeBron James. That was many things, but a basketball play wasn't one of them. For all the stoppages this postseason to review flagrant fouls or out-of-bounds calls, how could the officials not rule that a flagrant initially, if only to go to the video? And if they did review it, it is safe to assume that LeBron would have gotten his free throws and the Heat would have retained possession, reducing further stress. Was it a Flagrant 2? You certainly could consider it within the realm. At the least, expect an upgrade to a Flagrant 1 and a fine for McRoberts. But that one was awfully close to crossing the line. Without McRoberts, I can't see Charlotte do anything but go small, considering they didn't even play Bismack Biyombo in Game 2.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James confirmed he has signed with William Morris Endeavor, a Hollywood talent agency. The news was first reported by Hollywood Reporter. James said the move had been in the works for a while. "Obviously, my management team is handling that right now," James said. "I'm focused on some more important things for me, personally, with the playoffs starting. They're taking care of that and we're looking forward to the relationship." James in the past said he has interest in developing film and entertainment projects. He recently teamed with comedian Kevin Hart to produce a comedy series for the Starz.

  • Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban likes the new attitude of transparency in the NBA. The NBA has begun acknowledging bad calls or officiating mistakes following games even though it doesn’t alter the outcome. Cuban believes it the first step in accountability, allowing NBA to get the calls right initially in the future while helping eliminate the talk of conspiracy and rigged games. “I’m happy with what they’re doing,” Cuban said before Wednesday’s playoff game against the Spurs. “We’re not allowed to talk about any specifics of it — you have to ask the league about that. But I think we’ve made huge steps. You can always improve, but you’ve got to take that first step before you can improve. With transparency you get rid of that conspiracy theories, and that’s the whole goal. And you want to send the message that we get them right too, because we do."

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: “The group down in Miami agreed to take less money to play together so that’s, I think, a precedent that’s been set,” Phil Jackson said. Yes, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all took less to play together in a warm-weather city with no state income tax. Let’s not make it seem like they’re playing for minimum wage. Anthony has broached the subject of playing for less, but a person close to him maintains that Anthony wants to hear what Jackson has planned only for next season, not 2015-16. After missing the playoffs for the first time in his career, Anthony isn’t interested in wasting another season, especially at a discount. Say this for Jackson: he isn’t going to beg Anthony to stay. You can admire that. But publicly asking Melo to take a pay cut may be the beginning of the end of Anthony’s time in New York.