Friday, April 27, 2012
First Cup: Friday
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Banner No. 7," Brian Scalabrine said in a rousing pregame speech thanking fans. The next chapter of this condensed, lockout-shortened season begins at noon Saturday against the 76ers, who dropped to the eighth spot and thus a first-round playoff matchup against the Bulls after losing to the Pistons. The Bulls, who assured themselves of the league's No. 1 overall seed, own homecourt advantage for as long as their playoff run lasts. "We're not concerned about records, seedings, standings," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We're just concerned about doing the right things every day. The results will take care of themselves if we do those things." The Bulls took two of three from the 76ers during the regular season and will be heavy favorites to advance to a second-round matchup against the winner of the Celtics-Hawks series.
- Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: With their first pick as a playoff opponent in the 2012 NBA playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers select the Chicago Bulls. The Sixers looked long and hard at their two possible matchups in the first round - the Miami Heat and Chicago - and seemed to plan covertly to do whatever necessary to make sure that's how things played out. While coach Doug Collins watched somewhat passively from the bench and most of his players sat in sports coats, the Detroit Pistons stomped out a meaningless 108-86 win Thursday night, securing the Sixers' playoff dance partner. The loss finished the Sixers at 35-31, locking them into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. So the postseason will begin 1 p.m. Saturday in Chicago, a team that certainly appears to be a much better matchup for the Sixers than the Heat, who ousted them a year ago in five games in the first round. And though the idea of getting into the playoffs as an eighth seed after they led the Atlantic Division for much of the season can't be all that appealing to the Sixers, on the surface, it appears they got what they wanted.
- Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Shane Battier loves the playoffs for many reasons, but mostly for the intellectual exercise. "Over the course of a series, you can have much more in-depth study of an individual, and get to the core of who he is, and really understand his tendencies," Battier said. "What are his strengths? What can you live with? What do absolutely have to take away?" Battier will learn plenty about Carmelo Anthony in the next week or two. So will LeBron James and Mike Miller and anyone else assigned to the New York Knicks star. That's because Anthony and the Knicks are coming to Miami, for a series that starts Saturday and continues Monday. The Knicks are coming to Miami after a 12-year playoff respite between the once-warring franchises, which faced each other in four consecutive epic series, all going the distance, three leaving Pat Riley and the Heat in despair. One of those knockouts by the Knicks came after a lockout-shortened season like this one, when the Heat was what it is now: a prohibitive favorite.
- Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Knicks are heading to Miami for a playoff series that will strain their resolve, stretch their star power and ultimately define their season, if it doesn’t wreck them. The series against the Heat opens Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ... “I like our chances against anyone,” Stoudemire said, adding: “We feel like we’ve been playing well under Coach Woodson, so it’s going to be a great battle. I think every game we’ve played against Miami so far has been a tight one. So it’s really anybody’s game.” In fact, the Knicks went 0-3 against the Heat, including two double-digit losses in Miami and a 93-85 defeat at Madison Square Garden on April 15. But none of those games stands as an accurate indicator: the Knicks played the Heat once without Anthony, once without Stoudemire and deployed a different lineup in each game. The Knicks head to Miami on Friday with a new starting lineup, a reinvigorated defense and an enviable bench. Having won 18 of their final 24 games under Woodson, they are far from the average seventh seed.
- Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: Ray Allen missed the Celtics’ final regular-season game against Milwaukee Thursday at TD Garden, raising questions about his availability for the playoffs. A left ankle injury has caused Allen to miss 14 games since March 23. Coach Doc Rivers said Allen is “probable’’ for the opening playoff contest at Atlanta Sunday. “It’s a concern, that’s all I have to tell you,’’ Rivers said of Allen’s condition before the Celtics’ 87-74 victory. “I don’t know much more than that. He’s probable - put him at that. He can get back but I don’t know how long it will take for him to play well. He’s been out for a while. To go from zero to 100, which is what the playoffs are, is very difficult. But when you put Ray on the floor you still have to guard him. So having him on the floor gives us something - it gives us spacing.’’
- Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Only two players, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, have played in every game. Drew has used 11 different starting lineups, and 10 of the roster’s 15 players have combined to miss 111 games with everything from a torn pectoral to an appendectomy. Guard Kirk Hinrich missed the first 18. Center Horford missed the last 55. In a 66-game season, they overlap. Backup center Zaza Pachulia has been shelved for the past seven, and that number likely will grow. Jason Collins, another backup center, missed 21 in the middle. Yet, somehow the Hawks went into Thursday night’s finale against Dallas with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference and shooting for 40 wins. So we ask this question: Why is it so crazy to believe they can defeat the Boston Celtics in a seven-game playoff series, wounds and all? There hasn’t been a sense of surrender all season. To the contrary, this has been a Hawks team of uncommon resolve. Horford went down in Game 11, and as Drew said, “Everybody wrote us off.” They were 4-2 before the Dallas game with a Munchkin-esque lineup (minus Horford and Pachulia), sliding over Smith or even plugging the 6-foot-8 Ivan Johnson in the middle because, well, Jannero Pargo would’ve looked even sillier. Still, they’ve made it work.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: His shoes and socks off, Glen Davis sat inside FedEx Forum's visitors' locker room before the Orlando Magic ended their regular season Thursday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. You didn't need to be a doctor to figure out which ankle is sprained. His right ankle was swollen on both the inside and the outside. But Davis said he expects to play and be "110 percent" when the Orlando Magic open their first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday in Indianapolis. "I'll be all right," he said. Davis sprained his ankle Wednesday night and was not wearing a walking boot Thursday. "He's got some swelling, but it could've been worse," coach Stan Van Gundy said.
- Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Dwight Howard, the league's premier center, is out for the rest of the season after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. That leaves Roy Hibbert as the marquee attraction in the middle. He has had the best season of his four-year career, averaging 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. There's no reason those numbers shouldn't increase during the series, with the Magic starting 6-9 Glen Davis in Howard's absence. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Hibbert's performance in the playoffs will likely play a part in how big a contract he'll receive when he becomes a restricted free agent in July. "I don't want to start thinking it's my contract year and try to do too much and affect the game in a negative way," he said. "I'm not really thinking about that. Obviously I want to be a dominating presence."
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Given a rare starting turn at point guard, Patrick Mills poured in 61 points in two nights, helping lift the Spurs to pair of victories and, improbably keep alive the franchise’s streak of 50-win seasons. That was all well and good. Come noon on Sunday, when the top-seeded Spurs open a first-round playoff series with Utah at the AT&T Center, the clock is sure to strike midnight on Mills’ Cinderella run. “I’m going to venture a guess that Tony Parker will be our starting point guard come playoff time,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said. But what a show it was while it lasted. Playing in place of Parker for the second night in a row, Mills produced quite an impression of the four-time All-Star on Thursday, setting career bests with 34 points and 12 assists in the Spurs’ 107-101 victory over Golden State at Oracle Arena. With it, the Spurs clinched 50 wins for an NBA-record 13th consecutive seasons, breaking a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers. That it came in a season lockout-shortened to 66 games was remarkable even to the players and coaches who produced it.
- Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: After their 96-94 win over Portland on Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena, the Jazz spoke respectfully but confidently about their first-round playoff series against the heavily favored Spurs. San Antonio is the No. 1 seed in the West; Utah is the No. 8 seed. The gap in depth and experience is even greater, however, and few give the Jazz a chance in the best-of-seven series that starts Sunday at 11 a.m. MDT in San Antonio. No problem, apparently. "We’ve proven we can beat the best teams if we do things our way," said Utah’s Gordon Hayward. "So that’s what we’re going to have to do. … It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a challenge. It gives us a chance to shock the world. So we have to be ready for it." The Jazz must be more than just ready. Even though they enter the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, the Jazz face an opponent that had won 20 of 22 games heading into its finale at Golden State. The Spurs also captured the season series against Utah, 3-1. The only loss came when coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
- Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: The crazy, lockout-shortened season is in the books. The Nuggets finished with a 38-28 record. Now, all eyes are on the Lakers, a team Denver beat just once in four tries this season. "I don't think a lot of people picked us much higher than sixth. Some people didn't pick us to make the playoffs, from what I remember," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I feel we've established ourselves as a team that, if we play to our A-game, we can beat people. Now we just have to go out and prove it." It will make for a fascinating matchup, to be sure. The Nuggets run, run and run. The Lakers methodically set up their offense, pounding it in the post, piercing defenses with dagger jumpers. The Nuggets will face L.A. for the third time in five postseasons.
- Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Asked about the Lakers’ upcoming first-round playoff matchup against the Denver Nuggets, Kobe Bryant said there is one main concern. “Tempo,” Bryant said late Thursday night. “We have to control the tempo. They get up and down and know how to speed the game up.” Lakers coach Mike Brown said the keys for the Lakers will be transition defense and moving the ball from one side of the floor to the other on offense to Denver’s defense can’t load up wherever the ball is.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant edged Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant by .17 tenths of a point to become the first player since Michael Jordan from 1996-98 to win three consecutive scoring titles. Durant is only the seventh player to win three straight scoring crowns, joining Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, George Gervin, Bob McAdoo and Neil Johnston. At 23, Durant is the youngest player to lead the league in scoring three straight seasons. But Durant's all-around improvement, not his 28-point average, is what has him satisfied with what he accomplished this year. It's also what has catapulted Durant into a two-man conversation for this year's MVP award alongside Miami's LeBron James. “I think this probably was my best year as an individual,” Durant said. “If I don't win any awards that's cool with me. I just want to grow as a player. Hopefully they start to come later in my career.”
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Getting a firm grip on how good or poorly the Mavericks are performing going into the first-round series against Oklahoma City is a dicey proposition. Without Jason Kidd on the floor, it's just very difficult to get a true barometer about this team. The starting backcourt of Roddy Beaubois and Delonte West has been OK, but it just doesn't look the same. "We've seen when he's not out there,'' Dirk Nowitzki said of Kidd. "I think D-West and Roddy are not pure point guards. They're both two guards, if you ask me. Both have their qualities scoring the ball, but they're not really the type of guys who get you into your offense. So we definitely need him out there leading the break and his toughness on defense.'' One quality Kidd is hoping to bring to the Mavericks is the ability to get them off to better starts. Their first-quarter play in the two games he missed at the end of the season were abysmal. They fell behind by 23 points in the opening period Thursday against Atlanta.
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Chauncey Billups has told DeAndre Jordan that he can be a game-changer on defense, a force in the middle, an intimidator and a key rebounder — some of the traits Billups saw firsthand while playing with Ben Wallace in Detroit. Jordan has listened intently, acknowledging he has always had a fondness for the best defensive players in the NBA. ... The Clippers will need Jordan more than ever in their first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies that begins Sunday. They'll need the 6-foot-11 Jordan to provide a defensive presence against Memphis' physical and dominating frontline. Jordan will have to contend with Memphis' 7-1 All-Star center Marc Gasol, and to help out covering 6-9 power forward Zach Randolph, 6-8 small forward Rudy Gay and 6-10 forward-center Marreese Speights. "For us to have an excellent opportunity in this series, DJ is going to have to play very well, just like everybody," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said.
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Zach Randolph got rid of that cumbersome knee brace, and now figures he's ready to shed something else. The process of simply fitting in with the Grizzlies is over if Randolph has his way. "I feel good," Randolph said. "I'm there." Coach Lionel Hollins went into the Grizzlies' 88-76 win over the Orlando Magic in the teams' regular-season finale intending to judge Randolph's effectiveness. Hollins reinserted Randolph into the starting lineup, and the veteran power forward played as though he had something to prove. The verdict? Randolph looked inspired and lively offensively and on the boards, and a bit challenged defensively. But he expects to start when the Griz host the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday for the start of their first-round playoff series. If that happens -- and Hollins remains noncommittal -- then the expectation is for Randolph to be the consistent force he was against Orlando.