Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Each weekday morning, BDL serves up a handful of NBA-related stories to digest with your chunk of cheese.

Howard Beck, New York Times: "His jaw rotated and his nostrils flared. He cocked his head one way, then the other. He put his hand to his cheek. His picked at his ear, as if he were trying to brush away gnat, or some other irritant. Kobe Bryant(notes) was asked about his emotions, just in case they were not readily apparent. 'Jovial,' Bryant said coldly. 'Jovial.' This was the portrait of a superstar in mild distress, a defending champion leveled by the peskiest of underdogs. It was indeed a jovial night at U.S. Airways Center, but the revelers were all wearing orange. Bryant wore four shades of snarl after his Los Angeles Lakers buckled against the hard-charging, rocket-fueled Phoenix Suns. With 3-pointers sailing, their bench surging and their zone defense in full effect, the Suns toppled the Lakers, 115-106, and tied the Western Conference finals, 2-2. There will be no easy path back to the league finals for Lakers, no matter how many noses they break or how many times they dismissively shrug off their opponent. It is now a best-of-three series, with Game 5 on Thursday in Los Angeles. 'It feels great,' said Amar'e Stoudemire(notes), who led the Suns with 21 points and 8 rebounds. 'Our confidence is high. We feel like we got a chance to win the series.' Credit the Suns' resurgence from 3-point range, and the boldness of their bench. Channing Frye(notes), Jared Dudley(notes) and Leandro Barbosa(notes) combined for nine 3-pointers and fueled an early fourth-quarter surge that put the game away. Frye and Barbosa had 14 points apiece, and the Suns' reserves outscored their Laker counterparts by 54-20. 'You know, we're not the most talented team,' Steve Nash(notes) said, happily playing up the Suns' underdog status, 'but we've got depth and we've got to make that a staple of our success.'"

Kevin Ding, Orange County Register: "When it was over, one of the overwhelmed Phoenix Suns who'd tried to shadow Kobe Bryant said: 'I feel like he didn't even miss tonight.' But Bryant didn't care what Jared Dudley said about him and didn't want to rehash his second consecutive stat-stuffing performance, because it again came in a losing effort. 'We've got to do a better job defensively, period,' Bryant said after the Lakers lost, 115-106, to fall into a 2-2 Western Conference finals tie Tuesday night. Bryant was grim-faced and called for a return to the team's defensive roots from the regular season when Game 5 tips off Thursday night at Staples Center. He said all the attention paid to solving Phoenix's zone defense led to slippage in the Lakers' defense. 'Get back to the basics of playing defense the right way,' Bryant said."

Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, ESPN: "Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, meeting with reporters in Phoenix before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, announced Tuesday night that he has no interest in a second stint coaching the Chicago Bulls. But Jackson also repeatedly passed on the opportunity to commit to a Lakers-or-retirement stance for next season and quash rising speculation about his future plans. 'I have no, at all, desire to go back to Chicago and coach the Bulls,' Jackson said, responding to an report from Monday night that the Bulls had reached out to Jackson through back channels to gauge his interest in a return. Interest in Jackson from teams planning to chase LeBron James(notes) in free agency is the latest wrinkle in James' highly anticipated foray onto the open market July 1, which is already dominating discussion leaguewide after Cleveland's second-round elimination. Earlier Tuesday, reported that the New Jersey Nets had made similar back-channel inquiries to assess the possibility of luring Jackson away from Los Angeles to enhance their appeal to James, with Lakers owner Jerry Buss determined to reduce Jackson's $12 million annual salary. 'Those channels have not reached me,' Jackson said, insisting that he has 'not entertained any conversations' about coaching elsewhere. Asked specifically about New Jersey, Jackson joked that he'd like to 'have a vodka' with new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, saying Prokhorov seems 'like a very interesting young man.' But Jackson added that he is likewise not interested in coaching the Nets, pointing out that he has never lived in Brooklyn or Newark. Jackson, however, said he couldn't go any farther than insisting that 'the probabilities are great' that he'll be back on the Lakers' bench next season."

Jeff Zilgitt, USA Today: "The timing of Orlando Magic guard J.J. Redick's(notes) baskets was exquisite, just as important as the shots made to help keep the team afloat in the Eastern Conference finals. Three times late in the third quarter and early in the fourth of Game 4 on Monday, Redick hit shots, all three-pointers, after the Boston Celtics either took the lead or drew within one or two points. The shots counted more than just on the scoreboard. 'They staved off some of their momentum,' Redick said. Boston 'is a really tough place to play and a tough place to win. Any bucket you get in the fourth quarter is good.' Redick, the only Magic reserve in double figures in Game 4 (12 points), was a major factor in Orlando's 96-92 overtime victory Monday that forced Thursday night's Game 5 (8:30 ET, ESPN). 'Big threes and he just played so hard,' Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. 'You have those guys that have been with you a while and that you really gain a trust ... in their competitiveness and what they will bring to the game. And J.J. is one of those guys.'"

John Reid, New Orleans Times Picayune: "For a brief moment in front of the Boston Celtics' bench Monday night, in a nationally televised Eastern Conference finals game, Tom Thibodeau was the only coach standing as he called out defensive sets. Since joining Doc Rivers' staff in 2007, Thibodeau has been the Celtics' defensive guru. He helped them win their first NBA championship in 22 years against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008. Thibodeau's defensive strategy helped hold Lakers star Kobe Bryant to 40 percent shooting in the rugged six-game series. With the Celtics on the verge of returning to the NBA Finals again under Thibodeau's defensive direction, the New Orleans Hornets plan to offer him their vacant head coaching job by the end of this week. It is not known if Thibodeau will accept the Hornets' offer. The Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets also want to interview him for their vacant head-coaching positions."

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The early read on the June 24 NBA Draft? Strong on power forwards, moderate on small forwards, lacking at point guard, with many centers who aren't exactly measuring up. Considering point guard and center set up as two positions of need, it only makes sense that the Miami Heat is scouring every available option, including a presence at a four-day tryout camp in Minnesota that runs through Thursday. 'I would say this draft definitely doesn't have the point guard quality of last year,' Heat Vice President of Player Personnel Chet Kammerer said Tuesday. 'This year, I would say fours would be the strength of this draft, and maybe threes. Some of the centers, it was kind of disappointing when the measurements came out, of players we all thought were a little longer.'"

Brian Windhorst, Cleveland Plain Dealer: "The Cavaliers made one coaching move this week in dismissing head coach Mike Brown. But it was only one move. According to sources, the team did not let go Brown's assistants. That fact is not a formality, especially with the assistants' strong reputations and relationships with key players, including LeBron James. The basic reason the Cavs did not let Mike Malone, Melvin Hunt and Chris Jent go was because the team is looking to retain some stability and continuity over what could be a long process in establishing a new staff. That is generally a quality basketball decision, though firing some or all assistants with the head coach often happens in the NBA. Brown had several other members on his staff -- including veteran assistant Hank Egan and developmental assistants Bryant Moore and Lloyd Pierce. But Malone, Hunt and Jent were the men on the bench during games and the men with the heavy responsibilities. They may also still have a legitimate future with the organization. Despite the intense focus on having an 'all in' season, the Cavs' assistants were given contract extensions last summer and are all signed through next season."

Ted Kulfan, Detroit News: "As he recapped his feelings on the past season, and looked to the future, Dumars kept harping on one overriding theme: They got away from it. Dumars, general manager of the Pistons, felt his team got away from being mentally and physically tough, two characteristics that have defined the organization. That, he said, must change. 'We didn't play with the same grit and toughness that we played with over the past 10 years,' Dumars said during his annual postseason meeting with the media. 'That's the whole focus right now for us -- to get back to the grit and toughness that's identified us for the past decade. That was just as tough for me watching as anything, as how we lost some games. Teams beat us physically and were mentally tougher. That just doesn't work for the Detroit Pistons.' The emphasis for Dumars this summer is finding players who fit his vision. And Dumars is adamant he'll consider anything to improve. And quickly. 'We're more committed now than ever before to maintain our core values,' Dumars said. 'We drifted from who we were. We didn't play with the same grit and toughness. I've never sat here and spoke of a three-year or five-year plan. You start thinking about what changes need to be made.'"

Indianapolis Star: "Indiana Pacers guard A.J. Price(notes) underwent surgery on his left knee and will go through the rehabilitation process in Indianapolis. The Pacers said Price had surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured patella. He is expected to be out four to six months."

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