First Cup: Tuesday

  • Marc Berman of the New Post: "Players' Association executive director Billy Hunter Jr. is seething after the NBA fined Nate Robinson $25,000 yesterday for agent Aaron Goodwin's published remarks in which he revealed his trade demand to Knicks president Donnie Walsh while taking shots at Mike D'Antoni. Last night, Hunter told The Post, 'Nate has never made any trade demand, nor has he asked his agent to do so. For the league to fine him under those circumstances is absolutely unfair and inappropriate, and we intend to challenge their discipline as aggressively as we can.' Players' Association spokesman Dan Wasserman said the union will appeal the fine because the remarks were not made by the player himself. It is believed unprecedented for a player to be fined over his agent's comments. Last night, an NBA spokesman said, 'Players are not permitted to make trade requests publicly and are responsible for public statements related to them by their representatives.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "In many ways, it was always going to end like this. It wasn't angry. There was no blowup of controversial comments or ugly divorce settlement negotiations. Tracy McGrady believed he was ready to play far more than he had in six cameos. Rick Adelman was not able to say when or if that would happen. So McGrady's agents asked the Rockets to look for a trade, with McGrady permitted to leave the team while the Rockets tried to find a deal. It was heading to this sort of end eventually, thought it seemed more likely to reach this point when McGrady became a free agent after this season. But it had become clear for some time that McGrady's Rockets run would end without the success that once seemed so certain. Even without Monday's agreement, the Rockets would have moved on and he would, too, and their time together would have ended with far less grandeur than they had both thought when he came to town."

  • Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: "It was hard to know what irked him. Maybe it was touch fouls that put him on the bench six minutes into the game, or the lack of touches (six shots) he had in the first three quarters. Perhaps he was just doing a slow burnafter getting burned by Nenad Krstic from the perimeter. Maybe it was all of that. Either way, Brook Lopez fled the locker room and didn’t talk to the media after the Nets were clobbered by Oklahoma City last night, and his teammates could only provide theories. 'It wasn’t the type of night he would like,' Rafer Alston said after the 105-89 loss. 'He always wants to excel for this team and it wasn’t one of his better nights.' Actually, it’s been a tough week. Lopez had a good game against a very small Houston team (17 points, 11 boards), but he managed only 10 and seven against the Thunder, and Minnesota turned him into a passer (nine points, 10 boards, seven assists) last Wednesday."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Leave it to Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to have the best line about Urban Meyer's confusing about-face. 'Sounds to me like he's taking off the spring game,' Van Gundy cracked. But as a member of the fraternity, Van Gundy can just as quickly take the Florida Gators football coach's plight seriously. He knows coaching can be dangerous to your health. Relentlessly driven and intense, Van Gundy concedes that he's thought about whether the job could kill him. 'Yeah, I definitely have thought about that. I don't see myself dying on the sideline. That's why I don't see Jerry Sloan in me,' Van Gundy said, referring to Sloan, the Utah Jazz icon who is the dean of all pro coaches at 21 years with one team. Van Gundy is in his third season with the Magic and, in October, signed a contact extension through 2011. Asked if Meyer's situation hit home, Van Gundy said, 'It does. Anybody in the profession can relate. The thing you can relate to is that it's all pretty much self-induced.' Van Gundy said it's the losing that wears on coaches 24/7, adding, 'That's what I can't turn off.' "

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "On a night in which Andris Biedrins returned to the lineup and C.J. Watson returned to his efficient play, the Warriors (9-21) put it all together in a 103-99 surprise over the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics on Monday. 'The force was with us,' coach Don Nelson said. 'It was a wonderful game for us. Wins are hard to find, especially against two quality teams in a row. We were ready for a bear, and they gave us everything they had.' The Warriors beat Phoenix on Saturday. On Monday, they shot 46 percent from the floor, held an opponent to less than 100 points for the fourth time this season and were nearly even on the boards with Boston to get consecutive wins for the second time this season (they beat Portland and Dallas on Nov. 20 and 24, respectively). They beat Boston in Oakland for the sixth straight time."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Go figure with these Suns. They can't beat Oklahoma City at home or woeful Golden State, but they can dominate the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns can rise to a challenge like lions at times, adding Monday night's cleansing, 118-103 home win over the Lakers to previous hallmark wins this season against Orlando at home and Boston on the road. The Suns became the only NBA team to defeat the two conference leaders this season. The Lakers, who had defeated Phoenix by 19 and 20 points previously, suffered a 15-point loss for the second time in the past four days. 'We beat the (expletive) out of them the first two times, and they returned the favor,' Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "The Cavaliers bulldozed their way past the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs last season. Their 4-0 sweep was easier than many observers predicted. Don't expect another walk in the park when the Cavs (24-8) tangle with the Hawks on back-to-back nights. The Cavs will face the Hawks (21-8) at 7 tonight at Philips Arena in a matchup of two of the Eastern Conference's elite teams. The Hawks are off to their second-best start in franchise history. 'They'll have something to prove,' Cavs guard Mo Williams said. 'They are a better team than last year. We're aware of that. It will be a good game (tonight).' The Cavs and the Hawks are a conference-best 12-2 at home. They'll resume their rivalry on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena."

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Starting Tuesday night with the front of a back-to-back with Cleveland, the Hawks can measure their growth and assess the investments made in offseason acquisitions Joe Smith, guard Jamal Crawford and center Jason Collins. 'It's going to be good,' guard Mike Bibby said. 'We're going to be able to tell where we stand.' The Hawks play the Central Division-leading Cavaliers on Tuesday at Philips Arena, then again Wednesday in Cleveland. Before January ends, the Hawks will twice play Boston and Orlando on back-to-back nights. The first Boston-Orlando set will be followed by another Celtics game two days later. Through the end of January, 12 of the Hawks' next 17 games are against teams that were above .500 before Monday's games. While 10 of the games are at Philips, seven of the 12 against the over-.500 teams are on the road. At 21-8, the Hawks have the fifth-best record in the league and have won eight of their last 10."

  • Jody Genessy of Deseret News: "It's not an official stat. But if the NBA kept track of stitch count, Paul Millsap would certainly be among the league leaders. He got four above his right eyebrow after getting smacked against Detroit last month. Another 10 were required above his upper lip after he got elbowed in the kisser last week in Miami. Some of Millsap's statistics have dipped a bit this post-contract year, such as his staggering amount of double-doubles, his rebounding rampages and assists. But Millsap's mug is off to one heck of a start when it comes to stitches received. 'Just getting there, trying to fight with those guys down low, I mean, sometimes you take hits like that,' Millsap said. 'Another day in the office. You get used to it after a while.' "

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Funny what some success will do for a man's faith, his hope, his trust. And his mood. The Timberwolves' consecutive victories for the first time this season -- and four victories in their past seven games -- appear to have star center Al Jefferson believing again. In his team, his coach and in Kurt Rambis' complex offensive system that Jefferson admits he doubted not that long ago. 'Oh, there have been times,' Jefferson said. 'I'm not going to lie. There have been times in October and November when I was like, 'Why the hell are we running this offense?' But Coach said something to us that made a lot of sense. Coach said people doubted Phil Jackson with the triangle [offense] and they won three championships in a row [two separate times in Chicago] with it. There have been times I was like, 'This is not going to work.' But now, I'm eating my words because it is working for us.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "No, no one quite anticipated the Hawks being this good, or, for that matter, the 76ers, Wizards, Bulls and Raptors this bad. Yet stuck in the middle apparently will remain the Heat's anthem for another season. 'We understand where we are position-wise,' guard Dwyane Wade said. 'This is the time for us to continue to get better and take it game by game, because you can't catch a team with one game, anyways.' Like Erik Spoelstra, Wade said the primary consideration is pulling away from the rest of the conference. 'We just have to continue to distance ourselves from the teams behind us and make up room with the teams in front of us,' he said. Last season, the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference came as a reward. This season, it's almost as if it is the reward for running in place."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "Mo Williams scored 20 points in the 108-83 win over the Rockets Sunday, which was just one in a series of huge big-game performances already this season. Or exactly the opposite of how he played at the end of last season. 'When I came to training camp people kept asking me what did I learn from what happened last year,' Williams said. 'I learned confidence. I've been there and done that now. When I get in those big-game situations, I've got to step up and perform.' The reference is clear. Last season the All-Star Williams was a disappointment during the Cavs' playoff run and especially in the Eastern finals. He played too fast, too tight and it showed about every night. He knows he will not be able to absolve himself for those few weeks until later this season, but he's off to a great start. As the Cavs have piled up a bunch of great wins early, Williams has been a big part."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Erick Dampier will never be confused with Hakeem Olajuwon for his hands or his footwork. But he's showing this year that, when the ball is delivered on time and on target, he can finish the play with points. 'A lot of times, an opponent will overlook Damp,' Kidd said. 'My job is to get him the ball and make the game easy. He's doing the hard part – catching it and putting it in the basket. When he plays like he has been, we're a different team.' Kidd thrives on picking apart a defense with his passing. He knows defenders won't leave Terry or Dirk Nowitzki. But they will leave Dampier to try smothering the pick and roll. That's the green light to give Dampier the ball. And it's not just Kidd. J.J. Barea has shoveled passes Dampier's way, too. The 6-11 center has responded by averaging 8.5 points and 9.8 rebounds this season."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "For Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, basketball has become the ultimate mind game. Parker, the point guard, is wading through the process of learning his new teammates while still looking for his own shots. 'Some games, I'm trying to pass, and the coaches say, ‘No, no, you have to be aggressive,'' said Parker, who finds himself in a lineup with three new starters this season. 'It goes back like I'm a rookie. ‘Pass, no shoot, no pass, no shoot.' ' ... If Parker has felt like a rookie at times, Ginobili has often felt like a guy picking up a ball for the first time in his life. He missed much of last season with various ankle injuries and spent the summer idle recovering from them. Ginobili is averaging 12.2 points, down from 15.5 last season, which was down from a career-best 19.5 the season before. He is shooting 40.1 percent from the field, a career-low if it continues. Ginobili says his ankles feel fine. His confidence, however, is always day-to-day. 'I need to play like 10 games in a row and feel good and let the game come to me,' Ginobili said. 'Sometimes when I miss a lot of games, I come back and want to make things happen too quickly. A lot of things play in your head.' "

  • Chris Zelkovich of the Toronto Star: "Whether you were one of those who loved Chuck Swirsky's high-energy game calls or one of those who felt the long-time Raptor announcer was a gimmick-spouting homer, there was no denying that last season's broadcasts were somewhat lacking in spark. The new guy, Matt Devlin, was basically the anti-Chuck and at times seemed reluctant to inject anything resembling excitement into a game. Even Swirsky-haters secretly longed for a 'kaboom' or two to warm up those many cold nights in Raptorland. Devlin will never be mistaken for Swirsky, but there's no denying that the level of his game and the level of the broadcasts have both improved this year. Devlin seems a little more animated and appears to be having more fun."