Dwight Howard might not play for Team USA in FIBA World Championship

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports (via blog):

Dwight Howard might not play for Team USA in FIBA World Championship

Dwight Howard acknowledged Monday that he might not play for Team USA in the FIBA World Championship late this summer in Turkey.

“I haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” Howard said after the Orlando Magic completed their exit day at RDV Sportsplex.

Howard initially had made a public commitment to playing in the tournament, but his thoughts appear to have changed.

The Orlando Sentinel reported on April 26 that Howard might forego the tournament, which will be held Aug. 28 to Sept. 12.

Kobe has extra motivation to beat Celtics

Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reports:

Kobe has extra motivation to beat Celtics

Kobe Bryant should be motivated more than any Laker in the series that tips off Thursday in L.A., since he missed 15 of 22 shots in that Game 6. From then until the Lakers defeated Orlando last June, Bryant heard that he could not carry a team to a title without Shaquille O’Neal.

“The Celtics challenged us two years ago,” Bryant said. “Now it’s a test to see how much we’ve grown.”

But this is a much different Laker team. To counter the Celtics’ frontcourt size, they’ll need center Andrew Bynum, who has been slowed by a knee injury and did not play in the playoffs in ’08.

Game 6: Lakers eliminate Suns

The AP reports:

Get ready, Boston, for a rematch with Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers.

Game 6: Lakers eliminate Suns

Bryant wrapped up a magnificent series with 37 points, Ron Artest added 25 and the Lakers held off the Phoenix Suns 111-103 on Saturday night to win the Western Conference finals…

Bryant scored nine points in the final 2 minutes, including what looked like an impossible 23-footer with Grant Hill in his face and 34 seconds to play. The basket put Los Angeles up 107-100 and the scrappy Suns were finished…

Amare Stoudemire, in what may have been his last game with the Suns, scored 27 points but struggled to a 7-of-20 shooting night. He can opt out of the final year of his contract and has said chances are “50-50” that he will play elsewhere next season.

Steve Nash added 21 points and nine assists in his 118th playoff game, the most for anyone who has never reached the finals…

Channing Frye had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns, who have reached the finals only twice in their history and never have won a championship. Goran Dragic scored 10 of his 12 points in a fourth-quarter rally that got Phoenix within three points…

Phoenix cut the lead to single digits only once in the third quarter, 74-65 on Stoudemire’s two free throws with 5:38 left. The Lakers responded with an 11-2 run, Artest’s layup in traffic making it 85-67 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the quarter.

The AP reports:

Los Angeles will be going for its second straight title and No. 16 overall. The Celtics still have the edge, hanging their 17th banner with their victory two years ago in six games.

“We remember more than anything losing on our home court, a situation where we had some defensive lapses and they took advantage of it,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “This year we have homecourt advantage, and we look forward to the rematch with great intensity.”

The AP reports:

The Suns trailed by 18 in the second half and 17 going into the final quarter. An offensive outburst by Goran Dragic and strong play by Amare Stoudemire in the fourth helped Phoenix pull to within three with just over two minutes to play, but it couldn’t get any closer.

Phoenix hurt itself in the second quarter when it shot 38.9 percent and scored only 19 points, the fewest it has put up in any quarter this series. After trailing by only three after the first quarter, the Suns went into halftime down 65-53.

Phoenix trailed by at least nine the entire third, and its deficit ballooned to 18 on Ron Artest’s hook shot with 2:24 left in the quarter.

Fans discussed this game live as it happened in this forum topic.

Dragic vs. Vujacic: Slovenian grudge-match

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reports (via blog):

It did not take some Slovenian smack talk to tell Goran Dragic that he and Sasha Vujacic inexplicably have something going.

Before this conference finals series started, Dragic said there was something “personal” between the countrymen who did not know each other until the first Suns-Lakers game last season in Dragic’s rookie year.

But the tension was clear in Game 5’s fourth quarter, when Vujacic marched toward Dragic on a dead ball and Dragic shoved him away for a double technical foul. It was Dragic’s first NBA technical foul.

“He pushed me but he was talking trash to me,” Dragic said. “It’s a long story. At that moment, I was calm but I saw that he was walking toward me and he was talking to me and I just reacted like that.

“I don’t know why he walked toward me. I watched the replay. I didn’t push him or nothing. He’s the kind of player that gets into your skin, like two years ago it happened with Raja (Bell) the same. He’s just so annoying on defense. Maybe that’s the main reason. In the regular season, he did the same thing but I was more calm. But that’s playoffs.”

Matt Barnes now rooting for Celtics to win championship

Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald reports:

Matt Barnes now rooting for Celtics to win championship

This may come as a surprise to Celtics fans, but Matt Barnes wants your team to win the championship.

The Magic forward, who seemed to thrive on getting under the skin of the Celtics during the Eastern Conference finals, is expecting his rivals to continue their run in the NBA Finals.

“After they beat us, you definitely wish everybody good luck and you want them to win the championship because at least you got beat by the team who won it,” Barnes said after the C’s closed out the Magic with a 96-84 Game 6 win at the Garden last night. “They definitely got everything it takes and we wish them good luck.”

The physical nature of the series got plenty of attention, but after last night’s game there was a clear display of mutual respect between the teams.

“You know it’s a war while you’re out there, but I got friends on that team,” Barnes said. “But while we’re playing, we’re playing for our lives.”

Ron Artest feels Lakers are being disrespected

Elliot Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News reports:

Ron Artest feels Lakers are being disrespected

Ron Artest reacted with disdain when told Phoenix guard Steve Nash predicted the Suns would win tonight to force the Lakers to Game 7. Artest launched into a lengthy rant about the lack of respect he and the Lakers have received during the playoffs. He did not raise his voice, but his disgust was apparent.

“Oh man, that’s like no respect,” he said. “No respect. No respect for us. No respect. That’s how it’s been for a long time in these playoffs. We’ll talk about it. I’m sure we’ll talk about it. Coaches have no respect for the Lakers at all.

“They don’t respect us at all. They don’t respect me at all. They want me to play out of character and start jacking up all kinds of crazy shots and not look to pass the ball to Pau (Gasol). (Suns) coach Alvin Gentry doesn’t respect me.

“A lot of the (opposing) players have no respect. I think there will come a point in time when they respect me. I’ll wait. I’m not rushing. We respect them (the Suns), though. I respect them. I guess we have to play hard and earn it.”

Lakers fine Ron Artest for being late to practice

David Lassen of the Press Enterprise reports:

The day after his last-second heroics in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, things were just fine for Ron Artest.

Wait — make that “just a fine.”

Lakers fine Ron Artest for being late to practice

Artest was fined for being a half-hour late to the Lakers’ Friday practice, Coach Phil Jackson revealed, although he seemed to understand, at least to a degree, how Artest had misread the team’s scheduled reporting time.

“I usually have no issues with him being on time,” Jackson said, “but it was just one of those nights. I think he was so excited after the game that processing of things that were on the (locker room whiteboard) just didn’t register.”

Understandable or not, it cost Artest an undisclosed amount of money.

“Oh, yeah,” Jackson said, “that’s all part of it.”

Nate Robinson helps Celtics eliminate Magic

Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reports:

Nate Robinson helps Celtics eliminate Magic

When Dwight Howard crunched Rajon Rondo to the floor with 32.7 seconds left in the first quarter, and Rondo needed a break to begin the second, Nate Robinson came on with his best stretch of basketball as a Celtic. He gave Rondo the relief he has needed for the entire postseason.

In 8 minutes 46 seconds, Robinson scored 13 points, and added an assist, a steal, and strong defense on Jameer Nelson and Jason Williams.

The Celtics have lacked a backup point guard and when they desperately needed to give Rondo a break, Robinson pushed all of his habits aside and produced.

“Nate Robinson was huge in the first half,’’ Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I mean, that was a huge, huge lift for them to have [13] points in the first half. This is a guy who scored a lot of points in New York.

“I think what he did tonight was probably what they had in mind when they made the deal [with the Knicks]. I guess for whatever reason he hadn’t played much for them, but in an absolutely huge game, he stepped up and played great tonight.’’

Game 6: Celtics eliminate Magic

The AP reports:

One title has never been enough.

Not for the Boston Celtics.

The league’s most-decorated franchise avoided the biggest playoff collapse in NBA history and earned a chance to hang an unprecedented 18th championship banner from the rafters, beating Orlando 96-84 on Friday night to eliminate the Magic in six games and advance to the NBA finals…

Game 6: Celtics eliminate Magic

Paul Pierce had 31 points and 13 rebounds, and little-used backup Nate Robinson gave the Celtics a boost with 13 second-quarter points to squelch Orlando’s attempt to be the first NBA team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series.

Ray Allen scored 20 points, Rajon Rondo had 14 points and six assists and Garnett, who missed the playoffs last year with a knee injury, added 10 points for Boston…

“Those guys played like they wanted to win the championship the whole series,” said Dwight Howard, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the defending East champions. “That’s why they’re in the position they’re in now.”

Vince Carter scored 17 points, and Jameer Nelson finished with 11 points and four assists as he was outplayed by Rondo, Boston’s starting point guard, and Robinson, his backup.

The Boston Herald reports:

Howard, deprived of his downtown support, again discovered that a big scoring night (28 points) wasn’t enough. Only two other Magic players – Vince Carter (a belabored 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting) and Jameer Nelson (11 points, only three assists) – reached double figures.

“Next year we’ve got to have guys that are willing to give everything they’ve got to get wins,” Howard said. “In games like this or a series like this, it’s not about skill or talent, because it’s the Eastern Conference championship. Both teams were talented and skilled. It’s about who wants it most and who is willing to do it for a series.

“Those guys played like they wanted to win the championship the whole series. That’s why they’re in the position they’re in now.”

The Boston Herald reports:

In eight explosive minutes and 46 seconds, Robinson poured in 13 points and hounded Magic point guard Jameer Nelson into all but disappearing from the game, a circumstance that had much to do with his team disappearing from the playoffs.

As Robinson ran wild, Rondo was on his back in front of the bench, an ice bag strapped to his aching hip, and he cheered as Robinson shot 4-of-7 from the field to push an early Celtics lead up to 21 and keep it at 19 by the time he came back to the bench with just over four minutes left in the half.

“They actually made their big run with Rondo sitting on the bench,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I’m not up here saying they’re a better team without Rajon Rondo, but tonight they were in the first half. Nate Robinson was great. In an absolutely huge game he stepped up and played great.”

The Orlando Sentinel reports:

Coach Stan Van Gundy pointed to his team giving up 20 fastbreak points and being impatient when shots didn’t drop. “Our offense hurt us. We broke down,” he said.

Orlando did make a mini-run. A 3-pointer by Carter trimmed Boston’s lead to 14, and he then made a free throw to give the Magic some hope at halftime.

The Celtics quickly squashed any rally in the third quarter as they stole a page from the Magic’s playbook. Ray Allen hit two 3-pointers, replenishing the lead to 19. Boston nailed 10 3-pointers in 22 attempts while Orlando made just 6-of-22.

Clippers fans march in streets for LeBron

The AP reports:

A band of Clippers fans took to the streets outside Staples Center to show love for LeBron James.

Clippers fans march in streets for LeBron

At least 75 Clippers fans in red-and-blue gear waved signs and chanted slogans as they marched up and down Chick Hearn Court on Thursday night in the hours before Game 5 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns.

With signs displaying the No. 6, which will be James’ uniform number next year, the fans chanted “We want the King!” and “L-B-J!”

Although the Clippers are a longshot in the LeBron sweepstakes after 17 losing seasons in the past 18 years, they’re among a handful of NBA teams with a combination of salary cap room, a solid supporting cast and a major media market to entice James.