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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Phil Sheridan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "The 76ers staged a very moving tribute to Allen Iverson last night. It was a perfect way to induct a retired superstar into the team's Hall of Fame: sold-out arena, stirring highlight video, the works. Except that, instead of accepting a lovely parting gift and unveiling a plaque, Iverson actually played against the Denver Nuggets. After a drive down memory lane, he drove the lane again. Whatever comes of this surreal back-to-the-future experiment, it must be said that Game 1 of the Second Iverson Epoch was a smashing success. The Wachovia Center was the place to be, and it vibrated with conference-finals intensity, even in a 93-83 loss. Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Leonard Weaver, LeSean McCoy, and Todd Herremans were courtside. So was boxer Bernard Hopkins. Reporters from Italy, Japan, China, and Yahoo overflowed the press tables."

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Ask my good friend Kareem, a die-hard Allen Iverson fan, what I think about the superstar guard and he’ll say I’m an A.I. hater. I’ll say I’m just a realist. But no matter how it’s cut, there is no denying Iverson’s return to Philadelphia against the Nuggets on Monday night was a smash success. Really. He started and scored 11 points with six assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes, and was given a standing ovation by the capacity crowd during introductions. But none of that was what mattered most. What mattered most is Iverson looked like a new man. He looked like a player who missed the game of basketball so much that he appreciated it more now than perhaps at any time in his 14-year career. And so now he gets to write the final chapter. And I, for one, hope it ends happily."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "I’m amused by all the talk about the Trail Blazers making a trade to improve their playoff chances this season. So whom do you deal -- Brandon Roy or LaMarcus Aldridge? Uh, no. Rudy Fernandez? There’s plenty of interest, but you’ll never get full value. Andre Miller? You’ll live to regret it. Joel Przybilla? Sure, if you get Andrew Bynum in return. Martell Webster? Maybe, but he just turned 23, and you’re short two small forwards as it is. Jerryd Bayless? OK, but he’s only 21, and I wouldn’t give him away. Stay the course, Kevin Pritchard, unless somebody lays a no-brainer at your feet. Even without Greg Oden, Portland still has more talent than all but a handful of teams in the Western Conference."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "On Day 4 of the Orlando Magic's four-game, eight-day trip out West, the team practiced in a massive health club converted from a hangar, thus, 'HAX' -- Hangar Athletic Xchange. Heading to the team bus parked a few feet from the door, Vince Carter was ready to return to the Marina Del Ray Ritz Carlton and continue his thrilling day in Los Angeles. Just imagine the possibilities of life on the road as an NBA millionaire. Lunching off the Pacific ocean? Night-clubbing in Beverly Hills? Hobnobbing in Hollywood? Carter's day: Room service, a nap, some TV ... and then more room service at dinner. Not exactly Vin-sanity, huh? 'I'm a homebody on the road,' he said. 'Mr. Room Service.' The Magic's traveling party of 35 left Orlando on Friday morning on their customized Delta Airbus for a 4 1/2-hour flight to Oakland, where this junket began with a game Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors. Tonight, the Magic play the L.A. Clippers before leaving after the game for Salt Lake City, Utah, for Thursday's game against the Jazz. The trip concludes with a back-to-back on Friday in Phoenix against the Suns. Sure, there are perks of travel for the Magic -- five-star hotels, curb-to-court bus service, $113 daily per diem. And you don't have to carry a bag. 'We're spoiled,' J.J. Redick chuckles. But there's also cross-country time-zones, city-hopping sleep deprivation and that natural feeling of homesickness. And the occasional boo-birds and hecklers."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "When the Miami Heat headed west a week ago, Dorell Wright was an afterthought, having been held out of six of the previous eight games by coach Erik Spoelstra. When it returned Monday to South Florida, the lanky forward was the toast of the team, after his breakthrough performance in Sunday's 115-102 victory in Sacramento. 'It was great that Dorell was finally given an opportunity again and was able to come through,' teammate Dwyane Wade said. Wright not only displayed a feathery jumper from the perimeter and dynamic athleticism at the rim in scoring 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but also took over the primary ballhandling responsibilities for extended stretches and matched up defensively against Kings scoring leader Tyreke Evans. 'This has been coming,' Spoelstra said. 'He's had so many good practices.' Since being selected with the No. 19 pick in the 2004 draft, Wright mostly has been about unrealized possibilities. But with the 6-foot-9 forward now healthy, just about every one of those possibilities was manifested Sunday."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Doubts are starting to creep into the minds of Milwaukee Bucks players. It's only natural the team's confidence would sag a bit as it has lost seven of the last eight games following an exciting 8-3 start. But Bucks coach Scott Skiles addressed the issue at Monday's practice session and told his players that too much contemplation could be counterproductive. 'We're not thinking properly about it,' Skiles said. 'Confidence has to come first. You can't be out there in a game feeling unsure about yourself.' The Bucks have lost four games by two-point margins and also suffered a three-point defeat in overtime in New Orleans. But they have been pushed around in their last two contests, a 105-96 loss in Detroit on Friday and the 101-86 drubbing applied by Cleveland at the Bradley Center on Sunday."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "At least Joakim Noah got into a verbal altercation with LeBron James when the Cavaliers star danced the night away Friday. On Saturday, with Noah already ejected, no Bull bothered to pressure Jarrett Jack when the Raptors guard bent to tie his shoe while holding the ball near the end of the third quarter. 'If it was one of our guys guarding their guy and the guy tied his shoe, I would expect our guy to go over and knock him on his ass,' Raptors coach Jay Triano told Toronto reporters Monday. Replays indicated Luol Deng turning his head to get Jannero Pargo's attention because the Bulls were caught in a mismatch with Deng on Jack. Still, the play neatly served as a microcosm of the Bulls' lethargy during a 32-point loss. 'That was embarrassing,' Derrick Rose said. 'I probably would've fouled him or something or at least tried to steal the ball.' Jack said he merely took advantage of an opportunity."

  • Marlon W. Morgan of The Commercial-Appeal: "In the Grizzlies' first game back from a five-game road trip last Friday, guard O.J. Mayo appreciated the 13,020 that turned out at FedExForum. What bothered him, though, was the attire of some members of the team's second-largest home crowd of the season. As far as Mayo was concerned, there was too much Dallas apparel in FedExForum for his liking. 'Sometimes I get upset because you look into the crowd and they have on Dallas shirts and this is our home,' Mayo said. 'We work hard to get better as a team, and it's time to start cutting that stuff out, and everybody have their Memphis Grizzlies gear on.' In arguably their most impressive game this season, the Grizzlies defeated the Southwest Division-leading Mavericks, 98-82. Still, Mayo could find himself upset again tonight when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visit FedExForum. It's part of a star-studded December that also includes visits from Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Friday), Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics (Dec. 14), and Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets (Dec. 20)."

  • Michael Grange of the Globe and Mail: "In NBA lore, there is general agreement that one of the league’s best teams, if not its most accomplished or most talented, was the 1970s New York Knicks. They had talent in Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave Debusschere and Earl Monroe, just to name the Knicks on the NBA’s 50th anniversary team named in 1996. But they had more. When former Knick and former presidential candidate Bill Bradley gave the eulogy at Debusschere’s funeral in 2003, he defined the Knicks as providing for each other, 'the depth of a sense of belonging.' ... No one is confusing the Raptors with the 1970s Knicks, who rode their good feeling for one another to championships in 1970 and 1973. But riding a two-game winning streak in the wake of their team meeting on Friday, where grievances were bared and solutions suggested, the hope is that they’re at least on the road to reaching their potential. 'If there’s a formula [to team building], I guess we’re at step one,' said Jarrett Jack, the reserve point guard who spoke out in the wake of the Raptors’ blowout loss to Atlanta last Wednesday, the catalyst for the meeting. 'Hopefully we keep building.' "

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "Bridges, indeed, can be built -- and, if the coach deems it necessary, burned. Jay Triano said he is well aware that, although he spent his first seven seasons with the Raptors a back-patting assistant coach, his duties as the head coach may mandate the occasional lighting of a fire under an old friend. 'I've known Chris (Bosh, the Toronto all-star) and I can tell from him how he's feeling, whether I can kick him in the ass and be a little bit of an ass -- to him, or whether I have to pat him on the back and bring him in,' Triano said. 'The nine new players, I'm starting to learn the personalities of these guys and what it takes. Even with my own children, sometimes you have to deal with them in different ways.' Note to the coach: The last Raptor brain who went down that road of reasoning -- Rob Babcock, the GM who fancied himself a great mentor to his ball-bouncing young 'uns -- isn't a GM anymore. Never compare NBA players to children. They're men, surely. They certainly tie their own shoes."

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "His name is Brandon Jennings, and he is the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. He came out of celebrated Oak Hill Academy in Wilson Va., two years ago ranked by most talent authorities as the best point guard prospect in the land. He failed repeated attempts at an entrance exam at Arizona, and, rather than submit himself to The System by playing at a lesser level of American college basketball (e.g. junior college, NAIA, etc.) he instead went to Italy, where he earned a reported $1.65 million from Lottomatica Virtus Roma, plus an additional $2 million for endorsing Under Armour. Take that, David Stern! ... Young Mr. Jennings should make sure he extends a pregame fist to a certain No. 5 of the Celtics, because thanks to the Garnett Effect, he was able to pocket $3.65 million before reaching his 20th birthday. Kevin Garnett was the human toothpaste who oozed out of the tube back in 1995, demanding the NBA take him directly from Chicago’s Farragut Academy rather than from an institution of higher learning."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "The result (of playing in Italy) might have cost Brandon Jennings in the draft. 'People don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to hurt any relationships over there, but the Italians really badmouthed the (heck) out of him,' one NBA personnel man said. 'You should have heard the litany of criticisms from over there. He’s overrated. He’s too flashy. He’s careless with the ball. He can’t defend. It was unbelievable. I’m thinking, ‘Are they talking about the same kid?’ 'We weren’t in a position to draft him, but when we talked about him, our European scout started repeating all these things. I couldn’t believe it.' Not that Jennings didn’t create doubts on his own. 'The main concern we had was his shooting,' said one exec from a team that had a lottery pick. 'When he came in and worked out, he had a different kind of shot. He always seemed to be off-balance. I thought his shot was broken. We could see he had off-the-charts athleticism, but we had some concerns.' Then came summer league and Jennings’ chance to play a regular game. 'Once I saw him in Vegas, I was like, ‘Oh (expletive), he has a chance to be really good,’ ' the doubting scout said. 'Once you saw him in an NBA-type game with the high screen and rolls, you saw his court vision. He can create for himself, and he sees all his teammates.' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Kobe Bryant is always looking for something to improve, something to fix, some way to gain an edge, part of what drives him to be, well, Kobe Bryant. But he seemed satisfied when asked whether there was anything the Lakers could be doing better these days. 'Not really,' he said. 'We are doing well.' "

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "After having his best professional game two nights earlier, Randolph was virtually silent in the Warriors' loss to Oklahoma City on Monday. The second-year forward returned from a sprained left ankle to post career highs in points (28) and assists (5) and added 13 rebounds against Orlando on Saturday. He played as aggressively as he ever has yet managed to stay under control -- something the Warriors hoped indicated a breakthrough. 'If you've been around the league awhile, you can tell when a guy has something extra in him because he's focused through the practices, shoot-arounds and come game time,' acting head coach Keith Smart said. 'He just gave the feel that he was looking good and feeling good. He's back to working again. It's not that he wasn't working, but he's back to working in the areas that he's supposed to be working."

  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: "When Chicago's Joakim Noah barked at James in another lopsided Cavs victory Friday night, rebuking James for dancing on the sideline and disrespecting the Bulls, it was a case of the bratwurst calling the knockwurst a hotdog. Noah danced, screamed and Gator-chomped his way through the NCAA Tournament with Florida, winning two championships and making an Oktoberfest of himself when it came to hotdogging. And speaking of dogs, reports say Noah called James a veterinarian's term for a female dog, a word that has homosexual connotations in this context. At that, James peeled off the court, heading for Noah, who was seated on the Bulls' bench. Zydrunas Ilgauskas stepped between Noah and James, extending his arms as a peacemaker. So, can't somebody here be an adult, besides Z? Neither Cavs General Manager Danny Ferry nor coach Mike Brown has chastised James. The Browns will be in the Super Bowl before public criticism of James by a Cavs front office type occurs. James benefits from the situational ethics fans apply to a popular player. It's bad if Noah channels his inner Fred Astaire, but it's "just having fun" if James does it."

  • Chris Peterson of the Deseret News: "A sold-out crowd attended the game in anticipation of a much-publicized possible one-on-one pickup game between former Utah Jazz guard Bryon Russell and six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan at halftime. But more than half of the fans left after halftime, which merely ended up to be a bizarre staged performance that could best be described as an un-rehearsed skit gone bad. It featured the real Bryon Russell and a fake Michael Jordan, flanked by a pair of fake security guards, with the two essentially staring each other down and ending with Russell stating, 'I don't think he's going to show up.' That was preceded by a lengthy video montage giving the background of Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen's proposed clash between Russell and Jordan, with Andersen offering $100,000 to the charity of the winner's choice. Earlier in the day, it was rumored that Jordan was spotted at an Orem restaurant, a hoax that came complete with a YouTube video of the fake Jordan eating with the security guards."