Tuesday, April 24, 2012
First Cup: Tuesday
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: No James Harden meant no easy buckets. Now, it's anyone's guess when the team's most dynamic playmaker will return. But as the opening weekend of the playoffs nears, the Thunder can only hope Harden's symptoms subside soon. Sunday's game proved that with Harden, the Thunder has a championship-caliber, three-headed monster offensively that can be nearly impossible to stop, and without him, well, OKC could be on upset alert in round one. That's the significance of one swing of the elbow by Metta World Peace.
- Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: You want to go to a Grizzlies home playoff game? Then put down the paper and get your butt to FedExForum. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today. Yes, you could stay at home and get your phone ready and start frantically punching buttons at 9:59 a.m. But if you're truly dedicated, you'll do that while standing in line. That way, you'll cover all the angles. "It's almost here," said Tony Allen. The playoffs, he meant. How awesome is that? The fury and the tension and the mind-altering din. The white outs and the growl towels and the unmistakable civic spring in the step. ... Allen and the Grizzlies took care of another bit of business Monday night, dispatching the Cleveland Cavaliers, 109-101. ... "We did what we had to do," said Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. "Now the pressure is on them." By them, he meant the Los Angeles Clippers, aka the team you are free to start loathing any day now. The Grizzlies will almost certainly play the Clippers in the first-round of the playoffs.
- Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: Lots of Cavaliers fans wanted to see Kyrie Irving and his sprained right shoulder in street clothes for the remainder of the season for fear of re-injury. Four games into his return, Irving's opponents are once again the ones worrying about damage control. The presumptive NBA Rookie of the Year is shaking off the rust the way he often does defenders in the paint. The 20-year-old point guard scored 25 points Monday night in a 109-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. "That's why we wanted him to come back, just to go out there and get his feet wet and keep accepting the challenge every single night," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "He's done just that, so I'm very excited about the way he's played the last couple of games especially." Irving was terrific for the first three quarters in which he scored all his points, but two rare free-throw misses with the Cavs trailing, 100-98, proved costly in the final minutes as the Grizzlies ended the game on an 11-3 run.
- Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: The notion that team ownership is a “public trust” is a laughable anachronism. Maybe it felt that way once. But not since they priced the middle class almost virtually out of the picture. For the first time, the Nets are attempting to join that rat race in earnest. We wish them bon voyage and Godspeed and all that rot. They should do well. Mikhail Prokhorov personally thinks they will be valued at $5 billion in five years’ time, and since that’s the only measure of success he seems to know, we hope he achieves this goal that is so essential to the public welfare. The team itself could be great, or it could be horrid. Much of that depends on whether the point guard stays home, because Deron Williams is a player of extraordinary gifts: He can run and jump like an antelope, he plays hard, he cares about winning. But he’s also an incurable mope, with the personality of a nightclub bouncer, and if that’s the kind of guy you want to root for, help yourself. So embrace these dyspeptic darlings, if you must. But more than likely, you will watch without the emotional investment, because you have outgrown the need for it. You recognized this as a team with a core existential crisis since 2004 — from the moment Bruce Ratner bought them, they were an orphaned franchise with an estranged fan base, and as Jason Kidd belatedly observed four long years ago, “It’s not about basketball around here anymore.”
- Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Goodbye New Jersey, hello playoffs. While the Nets' organization celebrated its final game in North Jersey after 35 years, as they'll be moving across the river to Brooklyn next season, the 76ers held a mild celebration of their own after beating New Jersey on Monday night, 105-87. The win clinched a playoff berth as the Sixers improved to 34-30 with their third straight win, each on the road. They are tied with New York for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Knicks own the tiebreaker, having won the season series. The Sixers will play at Milwaukee Wednesday and at Detroit Thursday. New York will host the Clippers on Wednesday and play at Charlotte on Thursday. The Sixers will play either Chicago or Miami in the first round. Although the effort wasn't as strong as Saturday's at Indiana, the Sixers did jump out to a fast start. That seemed to deflate much of the interest that New Jersey, playing without injured All-Star guard Deron Williams, had in winning.
- Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference moved Spurs captain Tim Duncan to do some campaigning for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for Coach of the Year. “Is it time to start the chant?” he said after Monday’s 124-89 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the AT&T Center that clinched the top spot in the West. “‘Coach of the Year, Coach of the Year.’” Duncan declared the work Popovich has done this season the best he has observed in any of his 15 seasons playing for him. “I really think so,” he said. “He’s put so many guys into our system. We’ve been playing with two very young guys starting for us the entire year; getting all those guys acclimated on the fly with very little practice time. All those things, he’s done an unbelievable job with it. Yeah, it’s probably the best job he’s done thus far. Obviously, not only the coaching job he’s done, but the rotation he’s given us. He’s kept us fresh. He’s found ways to rest guys when he can. I think our minutes are as low as anyone, and we’re still No. 1 in the West.” Duncan’s minutes are at a career low, 28.2 per game, and he is one of 10 current Spurs who average at least 20 minutes per game on the deepest roster of Popovich’s 16 seasons as head coach.
- Dan McCarney For The Oregonian: As has become the norm in recent weeks, Blazers interim head coach Kaleb Canales opened his pre-game media session Monday in San Antonio with an injury report. Joel Przybilla -- game-time decision. Nicolas Batum -- game-time decision. Jamal Crawford -- game-time decision. Raymond Felton -- game-time decision. Canales didn't need to mention All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, already lost for the season. Finally, a bemused reporter cut to the chase: "Who's playing?" Even Canales had to laugh. But there was little humor to be found later as the Spurs, gearing up for pursuit of their fifth NBA title, destroyed the depleted Blazers 124-89 at the AT&T Center. ... It was not the homecoming Canales, who grew up two hours south in Laredo, was hoping for. Scores of family members and friends were on hand to witness one of the most lopsided losses of a trying season.
- Mike Wise of The Washington Post: Ernie Grunfeld, judged strictly by what he has done to execute owner Ted Leonsis’s plan the past two years — and not what he did or didn’t do in his six years under Abe Pollin — isn’t going anywhere. Two NBA officials, on condition of anonymity, told The Post that Leonsis and Grunfeld, whose contract expires at the end of this season, have agreed to a new deal that could be announced Tuesday. It is believed to be for more than one season. If that doesn’t make sense, well, it’s time to take a serious look at what Grunfeld has done since Leonsis took over rather than get caught up in How-Can-Ernie-Possibly-Be-Back? rhetoric. ... When the Wizards actually spend big money in the offseason and the mandate is to be a perennial playoff team, that’s when Grunfeld should be properly judged. Until then, disenchanted fans target their ire toward Leonsis’s long-term strategy and whether it’s going to pay dividends. Moan at the moon; Ernie was just doing Ted’s bidding. That’s why he’s staying.
- Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: The night that matters is May 30. The evening will be the most important in the team’s eight-year history. Across the river from Manhattan, in the NBA’s Secaucus, N.J., studios, the league will place 14 pingpong balls in a drum. If the balls roll right, Charlotte will receive the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft. That pick will be 6-foot-10 Anthony Davis, the former Kentucky star. Davis is Manhattan. Compared to him, every other player is New Jersey. The Bobcats have only a 25 percent chance of winning the pick. We like to say that people, and teams, make their own luck. We lie. Good fortune is underestimated in the NBA and every other sport. San Antonio did a great job of packing talent around Tim Duncan, Chicago around Derrick Rose. But without Duncan and without Rose, the Spurs and Bulls are merely a collection of nice players. I wrote on Twitter last week that Davis will be as transcendent a basketball player as Panthers quarterbackCam Newton is a football player. Readers begged to differ, although they didn’t beg. ... You want to know how good Davis will be? This is how good. If the Bobcats get him, owner Michael Jordan will again become a courtside regular at his team’s home games.
- Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Frank Vogel’s latest move could help the Pacers when they open the playoffs this weekend. He gave Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and George Hill the night off against Detroit on Monday. Hibbert and Hill will be back in the lineup for the season finale against Chicago on Wednesday because Vogel wants to stick with his normal rotation as much as possible against the Bulls. Granger will sit the game out because he’s been dealing with knee issue. He’d be in the lineup if they were playing Game 1 on Wednesday. ... It’s uncertain how many minutes Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau will play his rotation players on Wednesday. But you can expect Vogel to go with his normal rotation – minus Granger – for as much as possible so come Game 1 on Saturday or Sunday the Pacers continue to look like the team that’s 12-2 this month. Not the team that looks like its out of sync. Vogel is making the right call.
- Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko sat in his locker, quietly looking around and made a telling, but not arrogant, vow. "I don't want to go through this again," Jerebko said. "We're going to the playoffs next year. We know what it takes. You can't start off a season 4-20 and bounce back." He was asked if he was guaranteeing anything, seeing as how former Piston Rasheed Wallace made headlines years ago with his famous boasts. "Yes, sir," said Jerebko with a smile. "We're a playoff team, with playoff-caliber players."
- Charles F. Gardner of the of Journal Sentinel: The Milwaukee Bucks were reduced to scoreboard watching while trying to beat the Toronto Raptors on Monday night at the Bradley Center. Ersan Ilyasova led a late Bucks rally to overcome the Raptors, 92-86, but that scoreboard gaze revealed the dreaded news: Milwaukee's playoff quest was over for another year. Philadelphia won at New Jersey, 105-87, to clinch the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and eliminate the Bucks from contention. The Bucks (31-33) chased both the New York Knicks and 76ers in the final weeks of the season but failed to catch either one. Philadelphia (34-30) leads Milwaukee by three games with just two remaining, and Wednesday's game between the teams doesn't mean much now. "It's real disappointing to finish the season and not make the playoffs," said Ilyasova, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds against Toronto. "We started the season really bad. And when you look at our season, we lost a lot of close games. It's really frustrating."
- Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Jonas Valanciunas and Linas Kleiza were among 24 players invited to try out for the Lithuanian National team that will attempt to qualify this early this summer in Argentina for the Summer Olympic games in London. Valanciunas, 19, will battle 32-year-old, 6-foot-10 centre Robertas Javtokas and 6-foot-10, 243-pound centre Antanas Kavaliauskas for a spot on the team. While Valanciunas, 7-feet, 240 pounds doesn’t have the track record of either player, he made a huge impression at Eurobask last summer and before that was huge in Lithuania’s win at the FIBA under-19 championships where he was MVP. Lithuania will have to finish in the top three at the July 2-8 tournament to qualify for London.