First Cup: Thursday

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "A small thing like points off the bench might make a huge difference for the Bulls, who probably never guessed they’d get so little from Jannero Pargo and rookie James Johnson early this season. Johnson scored 17 points against Atlanta, but they all came during garbage time. Pargo is 1 for 12 from the field in the last two games. Kirk Hinrich tried to help against the Hawks, returning from a left thumb sprain, but missed all 9 of his shots. Basically, during this downturn, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have kept playing and the Bulls have gotten next to nothing from everyone else. Actually, Deng hit a bit of a slump recently after playing well all season. The point is, it’s tough to win with four guys."

  • Brendan Haywood via YardBarker.com: "Aight Yard – it’s ya boy B-wood! My last blog stirred up a lot of controversy. If you didn’t read it, basically I just happened to address some of the issues that I had with Elin Woods’ actions after she found out about Tiger’s indiscretions. In NO WAY or at ANY POINT did I ever say that cheating on your spouse is okay or that women should ever condone such actions. But I guess some people missed that. One person that definitely missed that was my fellow Yardbarker Blogger Chantelle Anderson. She proceeded to write a blog criticizing my points. The first thing she stated was that she had a problem with the fact that I only gave an 'obligatory, what Tiger did was wrong.' Well, we already knew that. As more and more females have come out saying that they’ve slept with or had intimate relationships with Tiger, we can all tell that he was wrong. I didn’t think a whole blog about that was necessary. But obviously Chantelle disagrees with me. So for the last time, I’m going to clear this up. For all the folks who didn’t read my last blog fully or people like Chantelle who didn’t read it with comprehension: I DO NOT CONDONE TIGER’S ACTIONS."

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "Several team members disputed comments attributed to Mavericks forward Shawn Marion that the Heat purposely tanked it on the way to a 15-67 finish to the 2007-08 season. 'When I first got there, they were basically tanking the season,' Marion said in an SI.com article last month of his two-season stint in Miami. 'I hadn't been used to being on a team that just went out to lose like that.' Injuries to Wade, Alonzo Mourning, Marion and Udonis Haslem also were a factor in the losing that led to Miami getting Michael Beasley with the No. 2 draft pick. Marion also said he had fun during his short stint in Miami. But his remarks offended some. 'Man, wasn't anybody trying to lose like that,' Haslem said, dismissing the issue. 'Everybody's entitled to their opinion, and that's only his. That's all I have to say about that.' "

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "Good guys can finish first, indeed. Ray Allen needs 14 points to reach 20,000 and could get them tonight in Washington against the Wizards. Allen would become the 37th player to reach that milestone in a career that has had its share of adversity. ... It will be years before Allen’s place in the history of the game is determined. Kevin Garnett reached 20,000 points in March 2008 and Paul Pierce should reach it this season. Allen could easily have continued his career with Seattle or another club and been denied an opportunity to win a championship. The forming of the Big Three II, however, has defined his career. He will never have to buy a drink in Boston after his playing days -- if he does decide to drink -- and his individual accomplishments are more appreciated because they added to the resurrection of the Celtics. 'The fortune I have is that I still continue to think I am getting better and working within what we’re doing here and we want to get better,’ he said. 'For me, I can’t focus on what I am doing individually. We have such a regimen here that individually, we really don’t worry about it as much. And they stuck when you are not paying attention and I think that’s the beautiful thing.’ "

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "Right now, Brandon Rush is a bust. Not a Shawne Williams-esque bust; that kid was the patron saint of blown first-rounders, spending most of his time here driving around Cheech-and-Chong style with unsavory characters. But through one full year and the first quarter of a second season, Rush is a giant disappointment, an immensely talented floater who still hasn't found his way. This, then, is Rush's make-or-break period. With Danny Granger out four to six weeks and Mike Dunleavy's playing time still limited, Rush figures to get extended minutes in the coming weeks, although he got just 24 minutes Wednesday in the Indiana Pacers' 102-91 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The story with him is simple: He must be aggressive, take the initiative, attack the defender. Not just do it part of the time; do it all the time. He is confounding, frustrating and enigmatic, a guy who looks like a budding star one minute and a bust the next."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Guard Steve Nash tried to pull out another game Tuesday at Dallas by taking the shots given him with a big man often switching to him but his 27 points were not quite enough. His eight assists and six turnovers were more telling. His run of first-quarter turnovers in recent games reflects his attempts to engage his teammates, despite less tempo and motion in the offense. When Nash has 11 assists or more, the Suns are 9-0, and Jason Richardson has scored at least 16 points in the eight of those games he played. If Nash has 10 assists or fewer, the Suns are 6-7. 'I could go out there and score 20 or 30 points against a switching defense but that's not necessarily as good for us as if I scored in the teens and had assists in the teens, where everyone is involved and our rhythm is good and we're putting the defense in a bind constantly,' Nash said. 'I'd much rather the game be played that way.' "

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Going into Wednesday night's game, the Hawks were 2 1/2 games behind Southeast Division-leading Orlando. Though the NBA season is only at the quarter-mark, the Hawks are well aware of their positioning relative to the defending division champs. 'Of course,' center Al Horford said. 'You have to keep up [with the competition]. I keep up with all the teams, even the bottom teams. It's one of those things that you want to keep that edge and you want to get to Orlando, maybe try to get ahead of them. It's important being at the top, no matter how early it is.' Last year, Orlando won the Southeast with a 59-23 record, 12 games better than the second-place Hawks. 'I think we need to start trying to get a win streak going," coach Mike Woodson said. 'That's what's important when you're trying to stay at the top and not let Orlando get too far away.' "

  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: "Raymond Felton has relaxed. The Bobcats point guard is playing some of the best basketball of his life, which he continued Tuesday in Charlotte's 107-95 win against a Denver Nuggets squad that will go deep in the playoffs. By adopting the 'less is more' approach and adapting to new teammate Stephen Jackson, Felton has gone from a sometimes exasperating player to an efficient one. Check out his line from Tuesday night. He only took seven shots. Made six. Had a season-high six steals. Three assists. One turnover. Everybody loves Raymond again -- coaches, teammates and fans. Felton won a one-point home game Saturday night against Philadelphia with a driving layup. Then on Tuesday he won the battle of former North Carolina point guards who led their teams to national championships, outdueling Ty Lawson in front of their college coach Roy Williams."

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: "At some point, we may have to stop thinking of these Rockets as lovable overachievers. Out with warm and fuzzy. In with expectations. The Rockets are good. There, I said it. For 10 weeks, I couldn’t bring myself to admit what I was seeing was the real deal. I wanted to make it all about teamwork and energy, toughness and smarts. I wanted a Disney movie. Instead, the Rockets have given us something much, much better. They’re not just a team; they’re a good team. They emphasized that point again Wednesday night by defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 95-85 at Toyota Center. They didn’t win pretty. This was a game of fouls and elbows, of missed shots and whistles. The Rockets got 18 fast-break points and held the Cavs to two, but it wasn’t the tempo they prefer. They sprinted to an 18-point lead in the first half, then slogged it out down the stretch."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Not only is Jamal Crawford the longest-tenured NBA player never to appear in a playoff game, but the former Bull also never has played on a winning team. And this is Crawford's 10th season in the league and Wednesday marked his 618th career game. 'I've paid my dues,' Crawford said. 'I don't take it for granted because I've seen the worst of the worst.' Crawford laughed when asked if that meant the Tim Floyd-era Bulls or the train-wreck Knicks teams. Crawford is earning league-wide recognition as an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate, averaging 16.1 points in 30.5 minutes for the Hawks, who acquired him from the Warriors in June. He scored a season-high 29 against the Bulls. 'I knew it was a good chance I'd come off the bench,' Crawford said. 'But I embraced it because I knew I'd play big minutes.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Shaun Livingston needed only one word to adequately describe his emotions for his latest and perhaps last significant opportunity in the NBA. Thankful. 'Anytime you get blessed with an opportunity, you’ve got to be thankful, especially given my history of opportunities and downfalls with injuries,' Livingston said. 'So obviously I don’t take it for granted. But I’m ambitious as well. I want to go out here and really show the staff what I can bring to the table.' Livingston has at least until the end of the month to prove his worth. The 6-foot-7 point guard is next in line to audition while opening-night backup Kevin Ollie recovers from right knee surgery. Mike Wilks was signed on Nov. 26 to provide emergency minutes. But after playing four straight games, it was Livingston who got the nod Monday against Golden State. ... Before Monday’s game, Livingston had played in only three games, tallying a meager 25 minutes. Swelling set in on his surgically repaired left knee, forcing Livingston to undergo an arthroscopic procedure to remove staples put in during his original reconstructive surgery in 2007. Livingston was expected to miss three to four weeks. He returned in two."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Injured Lakers forward Luke Walton said he wouldn't mince words while filling in for Mychal Thompson as the Lakers' radio color commentator the next two games. 'I speak my mind to them all the time in practice, so I'm going to go out and have a good time,' Walton said. Thompson will be in the Bahamas this weekend to attend the funeral of his mother. Walton will team with radio play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes for Friday's game against Minnesota and Saturday's game at Utah. Walton consulted with his father, Bill, a longtime TV analyst who recently retired because of constant back pain. 'He said, 'Go talk to Spero and do whatever Spero tells you to do and it'll be a good time,' ' Walton said. Walton won't be criticizing one person in particular: Coach Phil Jackson. 'I'm going to say he's the greatest, smartest coach of all time,' Walton said, smiling."