Monday, May 3, 2010
First Cup: Monday
- Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "There were those long arms, digging underneath Carlos Boozer, wrapping around the basketball, flinging it back toward redemption. There was that feathery touch, the ball lightly dropping through the rim, the stands opening with a roar, the earth finally closing under his unsteady feet. And, oh yeah, there was that smile. Walking down a Staples Center hallway Sunday afternoon, for seemingly the first time this spring, Lamar Odom smiled. 'I know how this works, I've been through this before,' he said. "At any moment, I can go from the goat to the guy.' Welcome back, guy. On a day the Lakers took another postseason step, Odom embarked on an equally difficult journey, going from what his coach once described as MIA to what witnesses would agree was WOW. On a day when Kobe Bryant saved the Lakers, it was Lamar Odom who saved Kobe Bryant, following two Bryant misses with baskets in the final five minutes to help secure the Lakers' 104-99 victory over the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinal opener."
- Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Their playoff run was four minutes away from making the leap from inspiring to miraculous. Their Staples Center losing streak to the Lakers was four minutes away from coming to an end in stunning fashion. The Jazz still ended up on the wrong end of a 104-99 loss in Sunday's Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, faltering in those final minutes while the defending champions and Kobe Bryant most definitely did not. 'This is one of our best games here,' Deron Williams said. 'We were right there 'til the end. We fought, we battled back after we got down. We were able to take the lead in the last couple minutes of the game, we just couldn't get the stops when we needed them.' In the end, the Jazz were left with their 15th consecutive loss at Staples Center to the Lakers. They also must overcome discouraging history with Lakers coach Phil Jackson never having lost a playoff series (45-0) in which one of his teams has won Game 1."
- Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Their slogan this season, plastered all over billboards and cheer towels, has been, 'Now You Know.' Not too sure about that. If the Hawks’ first-round playoff series against Milwaukee proved anything, it’s that we really don’t know. They just were taken seven games by a dented team missing its best player. Do we know what they can be? Yes. Play defense and share the ball like they did in the last two games of their playoff series, and the Hawks will be a tough out in the next round. If Milwaukee did it to them, they can do it to Orlando. But is it possible to have a high degree of confidence after watching this team visit both ends of the spectrum so frequently over the past two weeks? 'I definitely have a sense of what kind of team we have,' Josh Smith said on Sunday after the Hawks finally cured themselves of the Milwaukee Bucks. 'We just can’t test ourselves all of the time. We were down and that’s when guys stepped up and started doing things right. We’ve got to have that from Game 1.' The Hawks have only one shot to beat Orlando: Play desperate. We didn’t see that often enough in the first round. We certainly saw it after the Bucks won three straight to go up 3-2. There’s something wrong with that."
- Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "Is it better to have made the playoffs and lost than to have never made the playoffs at all? How about when a season is vacated by shooting so poor in the last two games that the ability to hit a prone bear in the backside with a bass fiddle seemed unlikely? How about when the offense was so out of sorts at the end that Wisconsin basketball, circa 2000, might have seemed entertaining by comparison? Do you even have to ask? Sure, the Milwaukee Bucks showed up like a pimple on prom night when national TV was there to capture their denouement against the Atlanta Hawks. They lost going away, 95-74, to the better team, pretty much as you suspected they would in the clincher after they allowed this thing to return to a building where the Hawks seldom lose. But all things considered, the Bucks were playing May basketball on a Sunday afternoon when 21 other NBA teams were mothballed for the summer."
- Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "Brandon Jennings left his rookie year Sunday with a vow. 'This summer I'll work out, get stronger and come back a totally different player,' he said after the Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated, 95-74, by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. That has to be an encouraging thought for the Bucks and a sobering concept for the rest of the league about the electrifying point guard who finished third in rookie of the year voting. Jennings also averaged 18.7 points in his first postseason experience after leading the Bucks with 15 points in Game 7. Throughout the series, he mostly performed with veteran poise. Though he struggled with his shot late in the series, he opened it by scoring 34 points on the Hawks. 'I think it was big to play in the playoffs my rookie year,' Jennings said. 'It was tough. We took them to seven games. Everybody probably had us going four or five. So I think we did the best we could without (Andrew) Bogut. We fought to the end. We were the only first series still going on. I think we gave Atlanta all we could.' "
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "In Saturday’s Game 1 against the Cavaliers, it was clear the Celts have developed a dependency issue. And Rajon Rondo is their drug of choice, and they may have to increase the dosage if they want to survive this series. He’s been their best and most consistent player all year, and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said it was time to expand the Celtics pantheon into The Big Four. But even that may be selling the short guy short. Perhaps we should move Rondo out front, as with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It can be the chart for some sweet Celtic music, but where it becomes a problem is when the rest of the group gets caught watching the lead instead of singing their parts. 'A lot of times the ball was in other players’ hands, and we chose to bail them out taking jump shots,' said coach Doc Rivers. 'We’ve got to attack more.' When Rondo isn’t driving to create open looks for others, they have to continue to move the ball and cut and run the system. But if they’re not willing to do that on a consistent basis - and the evidence we have over the last 88 games suggests they do not - then the point guard will have to do more."
- Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James has had a stunning season. He ranked second in scoring (29.6), sixth in assists (8.6), ninth in steals (1.6) along with averaging 7.3 rebounds and shooting 50 percent from the field for the Cavs, which had the NBA's top regular season record at 61-21. But this day was about so much more than numbers, or the fact that James became only the 10th player in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP awards. It was about James coming back to Akron, his home town. It was about holding the event on the same court where he played many of his high-school games. It was about inviting the public in (free of charge) to share the day. It also was about his mother, Gloria. 'My mother means so much to me,' he said. 'What she did as a single parent at 16 ... my two sons have parents, grandparents and even a nanny around to cook. How [my mother] did it by herself, I'll never know.' "
- Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns bench of playoffs past pretty much consisted of a blur and a playmaker. Leandro Barbosa flashed down court and Boris Diaw unselfishly dished in the post. They were dynamic, but limited. A two-man band, so much so that then-coach Mike D'Antoni often referred to Barbosa and Diaw as the team's sixth and seventh starters. This season's Suns have little interest in dissecting the past, especially when it comes to their second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, but if you're looking for a difference between past and present, simply look toward the bench. Yes, this team has one. 'Our bench is a huge part of our team,' guard Steve Nash said. 'I don't think we're one of the top teams talent-wise, but as far as our depth, our chemistry, our ability to go 10 deep, that's a real strength. And our bench's ability to out-play the other team's bench, that's very important to our success. We need them to play well this series.' The NBA still is a stars' league, so it's important not to overplay the bench's performance. But on the same note, it's irresponsible to ignore its contributions."
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "As the Spurs make what only seems like their annual postseason pilgrimage to Phoenix, this time for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals tonight, the past has become present again. The Spurs have faced Phoenix in the postseason four times in seven years, ending the Suns' season on each occasion, and the soap opera storylines are not about to die now. The over-under on times Horry's 2007 takedown of Nash will be replayed before the end of the series: six. 'I think we've done this before,' Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. 'Once. Or twice. Or three times.' Beginning at tipoff tonight, that history officially becomes irrelevant. Only four players on each team were around for the most recent postseason showdown, just two years ago, when the Spurs needed five games to dump the Suns in the first round. Most have experienced about as much of the rivalry as DeJuan Blair. '(History) factors in for the fans, and for the people who were here,' said Duncan, who has never lost a postseason series to Phoenix (he missed the 2000 series due to injury). 'All in all, these are two different teams.'
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "DeJuan Blair, the Spurs' All-Rookie forward, would not be with the Spurs if not for the Suns. A draft-day deal with Phoenix in 2008, which sent Goran Dragic to the Suns in exchange for Malik Hairston and cash, also netted the Spurs the 37th overall pick in 2009 that they eventually used to select Blair. Brought to speed on how he came to be a Spur, Blair smiled. 'Sounds like a good trade for the Spurs to me,' he said."
- Bruce Arthur of the National Post: "The question hung there in cyberspace, Sphinxlike. Well, maybe not Sphinx-like; that would imply some sort of inscrutability, some sort of mystery. This seemed a little more transparent, a little more plain. 'Been wanting to ask. Where should I go next season and why?' Chris Bosh-- or one of Bosh's Twitter ghostwriters -- wrote last week on his Twitter account, which has almost 98,000 followers. About an hour later, Bosh tweeted again. 'OK ... Let me rephrase the question. Should I stay or should I go?' ... This, however, was not his finest moment. Maybe he thought it would be playful; maybe he was just bored on a Friday night, waiting for the Lakers-Thunder game to start. Maybe he genuinely doesn't know what to do -- which seems likely -- and decided to do a little dance with the masses. But that's what this was -- a cry for attention, for affection, for an adrenaline shot to the ego. Worse, it was a disingenuous cry; it was the kind of fan-baiting that Bosh was above this season, as he conducted himself with dignity and respect. Unlike, say, LeBron James, who took a peculiar sort of delight in publicly flirting with the idea of playing in New York, among other places. LeBron appears likely to stay in Cleveland, in which case all of that will be forgotten, and forgiven. Bosh, on the other hand, seems destined to leave."
- Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "Chris Bosh will open his front door at 12:01 a.m. July 1 and see a smiling Daryl Morey standing between Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming. How's that for a first impression? Morey will have a bag of other goodies, including a video showing off Houston and a testimonial from Rockets season-ticket holder Andre Johnson urging Bosh to join him in Clutch City. There will be hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from fans, a Rockets jersey with Bosh's name on it and -- I almost forgot this teensy-weensy part of the presentation -- a contract worth $120 million. At least, this is how it might go. The Rockets haven't decided who will accompany Morey to the presentation, but they have spent the last few weeks discussing how best to persuade him. Here's guessing Rockets owner Leslie Alexander appeals to Dream and Yao to be part of the recruiting process and that they both agree. At the heart of the issue is, first, persuading Bosh to play for the Rockets. If they're able to do that, everything else almost certainly will fall into place. That's why the Rockets are spending so much time and energy coming up with the right recruiting pitch. ... Nine of the NBA's last 11 max-contract free agents switched teams through sign-and-trade deals. So while Morey's first priority will be persuading Bosh to play for the Rockets, his other will be making a deal with Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo. There seems little doubt around the NBA that financial issues will force the Raptors to trade Bosh. If Bosh tells the Raptors he wants to play for the Rockets, the Raptors will make it happen. First, though, he has to decide, and that's why spending these next few weeks preparing for that first handshake is important."