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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Toward the end of the third quarter, the crowd was looking for something else to yell about, and they settled on a familiar chant when Tony Parker went to the free-throw line. “MVP, MVP.” MVP of the Spurs, maybe. But MVP of the league? The voting released Tuesday revealed the lowest finish for a Spur in this era. Duncan and Parker were in a tie for 12th. “I can't wait to tell them,” Popovich sarcastically said. “I've got some great news for you guys.” There was a time when an MVP trophy was great news in San Antonio, just as it was in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. David Robinson's was more than an award; it was a breakthrough franchise moment. It came with the backlash that Durant potentially faces now. Robinson was awarded his trophy in front of Hakeem Olajuwon; Olajuwon all but hit him in the head with it in the conference finals that season. Years later, Robinson admitted he put the trophy in a closet; it represented less joy than it did pain. Durant, if he loses his series to the Clippers, will feel something similar. But that's the way it is for most contenders. They are led by a star, maybe two, and the Spurs lost in the Finals last June to that traditional formula.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: I asked Duncan if he could feel a 24-point ambush coming. Did the Spurs wake up especially hungry? After all these years in the playoffs, does he ever sense in their walk-through that everything will click? Did he see this happening against Portland? "No — you never know what you're going to get." Like a box of chocolates. San Antonio's game plan revolved around attacking the weak side of Portland's defense as if it were stone. They brought the ball to the spaces on the weak side, and just went Pick-and-Roll-Palooza on the Blazers. Then, they rested. It happens. The Blazers walked into an uppercut thrown by the defending conference champions. But they can only afford two more of these.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: The Heat’s regular season began a little more than six months ago. It didn’t matter. The first round of the playoffs that began more than two weeks ago — that hardly mattered to Miami, either. And here is what else didn’t matter in the least, as it turned out: Brooklyn’s 4-0 record against the Heat this season. Miami took that, crumpled it like a wad of paper Tuesday night and tossed it in the wastebasket. (It was a swish). The Heat’s 107-86 victory over the Nets in the downtown bayside arena explained the difference between the regular season and the playoffs for anyone who wasn’t sure. Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd explained it, too. “They understand this stage,” he said of the Heat. “You’re talking about the world champs.” Miami and especially coach Erik Spoelstra like to say this two-time defending NBA champion team was built for the postseason, and this was pretty tangible and impressive fresh evidence in Game 1 of this second-round playoff series. “They were the aggressors,” Kidd said. “They kept attacking.” Said LeBron James, afterward: “We understand what this time of year is all about.” Dwyane Wade put it plain: “Regular seasons don’t even matter,” he said. ... This is the fifth year that Pierce and James have met in the postseason. Bitter rivals at times, they shared a warm moment before the game as LeBron approached his old rival. ... The Nets will need a lot more from Pierce to challenge Miami in this series. Because it isn’t the regular season anymore, Brooklyn.

  • Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: So this is what the varsity looks like: a little bit faster, a little bit quicker, a little bit smarter, a little bit savvier. And a whole lot better. Intellectually, you knew that. Instinctively, the Nets knew that. But it’s still not the same as seeing it up close, in person, in living color. ... None of this came as a surprise to the Nets, of course, certainly not to the grizzled and the graybeards among them who have been through this all before with the Heat. Still, it’s one thing to say things properly — We swept the season series and it means nothing! They’ve been off for a week but we don’t expect them to be rusty! — and quite something else to stand your ground in the face of a full frontal Heat attack. And not wind up flatter than Kevin Bacon in “Animal House.” “They’re the ones that kept attacking for 48 minutes,” Kidd said. “We didn’t.” The Nets didn’t lose the series Tuesday night, and there’s little chance any of the key participants will be confused on the matter. The Nets came to these Eastern Conference semifinals in full grind mode anyway, snarling their way through the seven-game slog with Toronto, and the grinder’s mantra is this: Get a split. Game 1, Game 2, doesn’t matter, counts the same.

  • Scott Agness of Pacers.com: Indiana finds itself in a familiar position after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, trailing 1-0 despite playing the first two games in their building. An active, refreshed Washington Wizards team came into Bankers Life Fieldhouse Monday and led for nearly the entire game in a 102-96 victory to steal homecourt advantage. The common thought going into this series was that it favored the Pacers because the Wizards play a more conventional lineup. However Indiana's toughness and warrior mentality was lacking and the Wizards took advantage of it. Pacers coach Frank Vogel described their play as good in bursts but lacking a punch. “We were a step slow on the defensive in recognizing their shooters,” he said. “I just think we didn’t play an efficient offensive first quarter, and that was disappointing." Slow starts have plagued the Pacers all season and Game 1 was no different. The Pacers recognize the problem and have seen it come back to bite them too many times.

  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Now that he has won his first playoff series and he’s in control to win yet another one in his first postseason appearance, Wizards coach Randy Wittman finds himself with something else to prove. He lost a bet with his players. Wittman, a former shooting guard not noted for his jumping ability, promised the Wizards that he’d dunk if they beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The Wizards eliminated them in five games. They’re up 1-0 against the Indiana Pacers going into Game 2 on Wednesday (TNT, 7 p.m. ET). “Now he’s trying to get out of that. He says he’s going to touch the rim,” center Marcin Gortat said. “That’s what he said which is kind of weird because we said dunk." ... Wittman walks with a noticeable limp and already appears to be a candidate for a hip replacement. Attempting a dunk during the playoffs might mean coaching from the sideline in a wheelchair so he better be careful.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: No matter how much Clippers Coach Doc Rivers has tried to steer his players away from the controversy surrounding team owner Donald Sterling the last 10 days, something always seems to distract them. Rivers said his team was "pretty much focused" on Game 2 of their second-round playoff series Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Still, the Clippers were obliged to talk about the NBA's announcement Tuesday that team President Andy Roeser was taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. Rivers said he didn't find out about Roeser's departure until a team spokesman told him after they had finished practice Tuesday evening. Rivers then told his players the news and offered advice. "I told the guys, 'Just keep playing. We got it. We'll handle everything,'" Rivers said. And how did his players respond? "Right now, they don't respond anymore," Rivers said. "I think they've heard so much stuff lately that they are just moving forward."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The NBA awards season comes at a strange time. Right in the middle of the playoffs. The Thunder hosts a huge game against the Clippers on Wednesday night. For an honor like MVP, a day between games becomes a huge time commitment, with pomp and circumstance. The very definition of distraction. Except Durant turned a trophy presentation into a bonding experience. He brought a close team even closer. He offered a glimpse into the kind of leadership he provides the Thunder. I don’t know if peeling back that veil will help the Thunder in Game 2 Wednesday night. But I know this. If the Clippers are able to construct a wall, Kevin Durant won’t be trying to run through it alone.