First Cup: Friday

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "LeBron who? At the end, after the gap closed, it was all Sundiata. A troop of no-names, as it turned out, killed the king. All along, the Jazz knew if they could beat the team with the best record in the league, with the biggest star in the league, just maybe, style points or not, they weren't the sorry bunch of sad sacks they had seemed for too long. That's why the game was such an opportunity for them. Beat the Cavs. Beat LeBron. Beat your demons. Boost your self-esteem. The Jazz did all of the above. LeBron said he knew it was on him to lead his team to wins, and he is fine with that: 'I have God-given abilities. I try to take advantage of them. ... I try to will us to victories.' Not here, not now, not this time. LeBron, SUNDIATA. SUNDIATA, LeBron. For one night, at least, the Jazz basked in some unexpected light, and reveled in some deserved glory."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: "Before Thursday night's game, it looked like Sundiata Gaines would continue to take his NBA career 10 days at a time. That might not be the case anymore after the rookie point guard came in and saved the day for the Utah Jazz on national television. The Jazz's secret is out of the bag now. If they don't keep him longer than his second 10-day contract -- which the team decided to give him even before his buzzer-and-Cleveland-beating 3-pointer that gave the Jazz a 97-96 home win late Thursday -- somebody else just might pick him up now that they've seen what he can do on national TV. 'We were laughing and joking, that's how you get a second 10-day,' Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer said. 'That's how you stay on the team. Man, he played really big for us.' The Jazz informed Gaines Thursday morning that they'd decided to extend the former D-League player's stay in the NBA by at least another week-and-a-half. At least that was the plan, Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said in the morning, 'unless something crazy happened.' Turns out something crazy happened, and it was in Gaines' favor. ... 'I am on adrenaline right now,' he said minutes after hitting the game-winner. 'I am happy. ... After Utah picking me up, this is the next best thing to happen in my career.' "

  • Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times: "One day after the Clippers said their rookie power forward would need knee surgery that woulddelay his NBA debut until next season, Blake Griffin said Thursday that the decision was 'the best choice' for his nascent career. 'This has been a possibility in the back of my mind that it might have to happen, so it made it a little bit easier to process,' he said. In a nine-minute news conference at the Clippers' training facility in Playa Vista, Griffin said he was 'obviously disappointed' but that 'it's better to take care of it now and not have to deal with it in the future.' ... Griffin, 20, is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday in Los Angeles. He expects to be on crutches for about a week and for his full recovery to take between four and six months. 'Right now I'm shooting to be [in] full force sometime later in the summer,' he said. 'It's frustrating, but at the same time this is the best choice for me.' "

  • Jay Greenberg of the New York Post: "Of the four guys (including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson) generating the most drooling out of the potentially NBA landscape-altering free agent class of 2010, Bosh is losing ranking as the most likely to disappoint. ... Many believe Bosh, having endured seven years of hockey weather, will not want to take any steps in galoshes and is on his way to sunny Dallas, Phoenix or most likely Miami. That would mean Wade wouldn't have to go anywhere to have a team that can win him another NBA championship. Nevertheless, Bosh has not lifted the Raptors past 19-20 this season, nor past the first round in two tries. Though owner Jim Dolan's money would buy many beautiful woolen scarves and a good warm coat, Bosh, in coming to the Knicks, would be joining basically the same kind of perimeter shooting, bottom-tiered playoff team that he would be leaving. There also is the question of how much better Bosh is than the emergent David Lee, an increasingly devilish offensive threat whom the Knicks already know and are learning to love more by the day."

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks have a plan for defending Phoenix guard Steve Nash in Friday's Hawks-Suns game at Philips Arena. Whether it works is another matter. Two or three years ago, coach Mike Woodson developed what the team calls 'the Nash rule' to dictate how it would defend the two-time MVP on the pick-and-roll. 'He dissected people off the pick-and-roll,' Woodson said Thursday. 'Nobody knew how to play him, and people still don't know how to play him. We struggle to play him because he's so good at it.' Woodson wouldn't divulge the specifics of it, but said that the team now uses the Nash rule against "anybody that's a pick-and-roll player." It hasn't worked so well against Nash. In five games against the Hawks in the past three seasons, Nash has averaged 19.0 points and 10.6 assists, and Phoenix has gone 4-1 in those games. He also has averaged 4.4 turnovers, a little less than a turnover more than his overall average for the past three seasons."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The Orlando Magic have come to the harsh realization that something's missing this season. If power forward Rashard Lewis needed a reminder, it was right there in black and white for him to see. He was reading some media pregame notes Wednesday night in Denver that stated the Magic had "more than 30 wins last season" before losing their 12th game -- 38 wins to be exact. The factoid ignited a discussion between Lewis and injured Vince Carter. Lewis and the Magic then lost to the Denver Nuggets, falling to their current record of 26-13. 'Vince and I were talking. We have to make this work,' Lewis said. 'It feels different (this season). But we got to make it work. Nobody's going anywhere. We're not jelling. We're playing OK, but we're not elite. … where we need to be. It feels like we're one of last-place teams.' That's equal parts exaggeration -- and frustration -- by Lewis. But there's no greater example of the Magic's relative struggles than in Lewis' dramatic drop-off. An all-star last season, he's averaging 14.2 points per game -- his lowest output since his second year in the league (8.2). He averaged 13.7 shots per game last year en route to averaging 17.7 points. This season? 11.4 shots."

  • Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: "Does CDR question the logic of this team’s emphasis on establishing their two young big men, Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian? Probably, but he is more diplomatic than he used to be, and he has learned to swallow his pride even though he believes he could be a No. 2 or 3 option. He also doesn’t call out his teammates anymore, or question their heart. Those methods 'didn’t work early in the year, as our record can show,' he said. Besides, Douglas-Roberts added, the chronic angst 'was just a bad place for me to be, as a person. It was affecting me too much, and I lost a lot by doing that.' So he’s going along with the program, right? Sort of. For a guy who says he understands where his place is, he still talks a lot about where his place used to be. 'I don’t want to make this about me. We’re in a tough situation, but I’m going to continue to do what we’ve been doing all season, prepare the same way, get extra (work), just like in the summer,' he said. 'Nothing has changed with me, but the system just changed.' Everything has changed. He even seems to have accepted that the team has all but made victories a secondary agenda."

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: "Most of the rookie hype that doesn't go to Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans usually finds its way to Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings. After Jennings dropped 55 on the Warriors in November, many concluded Golden State made a mistake by passing up Jennings to draft guard Stephen Curry with the seventh pick in the 2009 NBA draft. But as the season has played out, it's looking as if the Warriors didn't make out too badly after all, especially based on the statistics. The two match up tonight at Oracle Arena. 'Any given night, Steph's flirting around with a triple-double,' Warriors second-year guard Anthony Morrow said. 'Everybody knows he can score. I think he's surprising a lot of people. He makes shots off the dribble, passes, rebounds. He's a little better defender, he's a little better in every category than people think. I think he's right up there with Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings.' "

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "John Wall, Kentucky's ultra-quick, playmaking point guard, is considered the consensus No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft if he decides to leave school early. Whichever team wins the draft lottery could pick Wall and be set at that position for years. The New Jersey Nets have the league's worst record, but the worst team is by no means a lock to win the lottery. The Indiana Pacers are in the mix. The teams play tonight in New Jersey. Pacers fans are torn. Many celebrate victories and hope for the playoffs. Others realize every loss helps their lottery odds. They would rather see the Pacers tank than sneak into the playoffs or, worse, just miss like the three previous seasons, and land another draft pick in the mid-teens. As tempting and franchise-altering as winning the lottery and first shot at Wall might be, those associated with the team -- from president Larry Bird on down -- are chasing another prize: the playoffs. 'I'm near the top of the list of players that have never made it. I want to get there,' said forward Troy Murphy, who has played 577 games without a playoff appearance."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "When the Suns tore off to a 14-3 mark by Nov. 29, Suns coach Alvin Gentry constantly warned against early praise and said it would be 25 games before anyone knew what sort of team Phoenix had. The Suns' back-to-back set at Atlanta Friday and Charlotte on Saturday will conclude the season's first half, and figuring them out has become like undoing a knot in one hand and solving a Rubik's Cube in the other. The Suns feel as though they are on a losing streak with the way they have blown leads of 20, 18, 13, 24 and 24 in the past five games, but they hung on for victories in three of them. The 14-3 start oversold the Suns, who may be the inconsistent sort that is 10-12 since then. 'We've played great and we've played horrible,' Suns forward Grant Hill said. 'We've played great and horrible at the same time. It's hard for me to figure out who we are. I think a lot of it is up here (pointing to head).' The Suns have haven't been bad enough to lose three in a row or good enough to win three in a row for seven weeks."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Not since the 2003-04 team that won 50 games and earned Memphis' first playoff berth have the Griz been able to boast about their chemistry, clear style of play and a coach connected with his players. The similarities don't stop there. The teams' offensive efficiency, reliance on the power forward position and success at home are also comparable. And, yes, the squads have identical records after 37 games. 'That team was 19-18?' a stunned Hollins said. 'I thought that team was further along. It shows you my memory isn't that good. It was a magical season. Usually when you go from bad to good, there's something magical about it. I do see some similarities, but that team won a whole lot more games. We're just on the cusp of trying to be what they were.' "

  • John Reid of The Times Picayune: "During the past few weeks, New Orleans Hornets center Emeka Okafor has spent extra time talking with point guard Chris Paul about finding better ways to execute pick-and-roll plays. It appears their discussions have made a difference, because Paul is going often to Okafor, who is making a bigger impact offensively than he did in the first month of the season. With Okafor's recent assertiveness, the Hornets don't have to rely so heavily on forward David West and Paul for scoring."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Blame it on Jonny Flynn. That's what Houston's Trevor Ariza did after his Rockets went three overtimes to defeat the Timberwolves 120-114 on Wednesday night. Ariza blamed Flynn for bringing 'this overtime thing from college. I do not appreciate it. We don't want that.' Flynn, you might recall, starred in Syracuse's six-overtime victory over Connecticut in last season's Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. 'I know I could have kept going,' Flynn said with a smile. 'I had at least three more [overtimes] in me. I wish we could have kept going. It was just a fun game to be a part of. Losing a game like that definitely hurts, but games like those are fun."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "With the 37th pick, the Spurs gladly would have selected Blair's college teammate, Sam Young. When Young went off the board at No. 36 to Memphis, the Spurs jumped on Blair. For Gregg Popovich, initial euphoria at pilfering Blair gave way to the realization that his new center was vastly undersized, owned zero post moves and could not consistently score outside 3 feet. Ignoring the urge to immediately fix what Blair could not do, Popovich decided to let Blair be free to do what he already could -- rebound, make put-backs and play like his lunch money depended on it. 'It's important to know a player's natural habits and how he plays before you try to adjust or add to it,' Popovich said. 'It's better to understand what he does well, and go from there.' It's a hands-off approach Popovich plans to continue for the foreseeable future. He doesn't quite understand the magic that is DeJuan Blair, but he certainly won't argue with the results. 'He's got a good future ahead of him,' Popovich said, 'as long as we don't screw him up.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "I received an e-mail this afternoon from a fan who, like many Thunder fans, is wondering why OKC didn’t draft DeJuan Blair instead of Byron Mullens. In this e-mail, the author talks about how every explanation he’s heard about why the Thunder and other teams passed on Blair was because of his well-documented knee concerns. But the writer goes on to question how much risk really was involved if all it cost the Thunder was a second-round pick after Blair fell out of the first round. Then, the e-mailer pens one of the best lines I’ve read since the Thunder relocated: 'San Antonio got a steal and the Thunder got stomped in this matter. The glaring weakness for the Thunder this year has been a constant lack of rebounding, and Blair would have been the answer to this deficiency. We could have had Wes Unseld but instead we have Steve Stipanovich.' I can’t honestly say I was familiar with the career feats (or lack thereof) of Stipanovich until looking him up. And I have no idea whether Mullens will prove to be Stipanovich, Swift, Schintzius or Smits. But one thing we definitely ought not to do is declare Blair the second coming of Unseld. ... the draft, as we all know, is based on potential. Are we to assume Blair has more upside than Mullens? The Thunder might have made the right call in passing on Blair. OKC might have blown it. Only time will tell. But where will Blair be when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Jeff Green are hitting their strides five years from now? How will those knees, with their missing ACLs, have held up? Will Blair still be the same outstanding dirty worker or just an ordinary 25-year-old with no lift?"

  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "On paper, Lamont Peterson is listed as a strength and conditioning coach. In reality, the Philadelphia native is much more. Peterson is an adviser, liaison, promoter, protector and extension of the family to some of the top professional, college and high school basketball players in the area. He has worked with Sacramento Kings rookie Tyreke Evans, Minnesota Timberwolves' Wayne Ellington, Syracuse University's Scoop Jardine, the Academy of the New Church's Rakeem Christmas and Savon Lloyd-Goodman, and Perry Ellis of Wichita Heights High in Kansas, to name a few. Christmas and Ellis are regarded as two of the nation's top high school players, according to various recruiting services. ... A native of Germantown, Peterson shares a townhouse with Evans in Sacramento, Calif., and is always close by when the Kings are not on the road. Peterson, who serves as the players' operations manager, is in charge of everything from setting body-maintenance appointments to coordinating official appearances to paying bills to serving as an unofficial bodyguard. 'He's definitely been a help to me,' Evans said of Peterson. 'If I need anything, he's able to get it.' "

  • Jere Longman of The New York Times: "Stan Kroenke has built a portfolio that makes him one of the most powerful people in sports. He owns the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association, the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League and the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, as well as a 40 percent stake in the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League. He is circumspect and seldom speaks with reporters, who have nicknamed him Silent Stanley. He is regularly called the anti-Donald Trump, the anti-Jerry Jones, the anti-Mark Cuban. His next move, however, will firmly establish him -- if not his hometown -- as a major attraction on the sports world’s map. Mr. Kroenke is on the verge of taking control of the English soccer club Arsenal, one of the game’s most treasured franchises. He owns 29.9 percent of Arsenal and is 17 shares short of reaching 30 percent, a threshold at which he would have to make a bid for the entire team, according to English Premier League rules. The club was valued at $1.2 billion by Forbes in 2008, the third-highest internationally behind Manchester United and Real Madrid."