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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "O.J. Mayo talks as if the beauty of what the Grizzlies are accomplishing these days is remembering the starting point. Not when he was drafted, nor the rough rookie campaign filled with more losing than Mayo had ever known. But the shooting guard often brings up the negative vibes that persisted once this group had been assembled in the offseason. 'Did we have enough basketballs? We wouldn’t be able to gel,' Mayo said. 'We put all of that behind us. … And this is the perfect team to take strides for the organization.' Time will tell over the long haul whether Mayo is correct. The Griz sure looked cohesive Monday afternoon throughout a 125-118 victory over the Phoenix Suns in a sold-out FedExForum and before TNT’s national television audience. 'If this isn’t making a statement, I don’t know what is,' Griz point guard Mike Conley said. 'We are playing for respect.' The Griz appear to be earning respect, one victory and franchise record at a time."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns are a terrible TNT team, having lost 18 games in a row broadcast by TNT after Monday's 125-118 loss at Memphis. The Suns have turned into an awful road team, having lost 10 of their past 11 away games now that FedExForum's first sellout this season got a treat. There are other things that have been especially bad — defense, turnovers and toughness. But more than anything right now, the Suns are playing like a bad team after ending an 0-4 road trip. They had not lost more than two games in a row previously. After the West's top five teams, they are just one of five other teams with 18 losses after losing 15 of their past 25 games."

  • Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: "After missing the previous three games with a sore left forefoot, Rasheed Wallace returned to the lineup last night just in time to guard one of the NBA’s toughest power forwards -- Dirk Nowitzki. The 7-foot Nowitzki ranks seventh in the NBA with a 25.2 average and he scored 37 last night. 'He’s a mobile five,' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. 'I don’t think there’s ever been a player like Dirk honestly. He’s just a rare (player), literally an original. There’s been 7-footers who can shoot. There’s been 7-footers who can pass, but there’s been none who can do all of them, and he does them.' "

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The blogosphere -- ESPN in particular -- is speculating that Orlando could be Gilbert Arenas' new home, assuming he clears all of his legal hurdles involving the felony gun-possession charge and receives the thumbs up to go back to work from NBA commissioner David Stern. There's a lot of connective tissue between Magic GM Otis Smith and Arenas. Smith had a strong voice in the decision for Golden State to draft Arenas in the second round in 2001 when Smith was part of that organization. Smith continues to be a friend and mentor to Arenas, who made a few casual visits to Orlando during the Magic's playoff run last season. I remember spotting him in the tunnel leading up to the court one particular night. But as we all know, there is personal, and there is business. The two can form a combustible mix. 'I have a lot of love for Gilbert, but this is something I've not given a whole lot of thought to,' Smith said Monday afternoon. '…I don't know where this is coming from. There is nothing in the works. No talk about it on this end or any other end.' Assuming Smith is being straight-up, that's the way it should stay. It's crazy for the Magic to even consider this."

  • David Waldstein of The New York Times: "There are many stunning things Nate Robinson can do on a basketball court, but the idea that he is fast becoming the Knicks’ primary decision maker was enough to send a shudder through Coach Mike D’Antoni. Robinson had just had 27 points and 4 assists in 33 minutes Monday to lead the Knicks to a 99-91 victory against the injured and inept-shooting Detroit Pistons. D’Antoni was asked if Robinson would receive more time as the point guard. 'Well, as much as my blood pressure will stay,' D’Antoni said only half joking. 'I don’t want to pop an artery or something. But he gives us something we need, and that’s athleticism.' "

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Even in losing, the Hawks felt flattered. What they’ve done is what Oklahoma City is endeavoring to do. “A mirror of our team,” Mike Woodson said afterward, and when was the last time anyone else in the NBA regarded the local franchise as anything to be emulated? Not many teams can match talent with the Hawks. The Thunder did it Monday and left a three-point winner. 'That’s a great young team over there,' said the ancient Josh Smith, who’s all of 24 and who nearly generated a triple double. 'They’ve been able to have a lottery pick and get a marquee guy every year.' The past three Thunder drafts (the first coming when it was based in Seattle): Landed Kevin Durant with the second overall pick in 2007 and traded for Jeff Green, who was the fifth pick; drafted Russell Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in 2008; drafted James Harden with the third overall pick in 2009. They have 12 first-rounders on the roster, six of them lottery picks. The Hawks likewise boast six lottery picks. And if it weren’t for the improvement shown here these past few years, Oklahoma City might well be charting a different course."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "They reach the midpoint of the season struggling and with no interest in denying it. Hours after the game, GM Daryl Morey sent out a tweet: 'Not a playoff team w/o change.' Before anyone assumed he was about to announce a trade in the remaining characters left in the twitter allotment, he added 'Need urgency to build leads, cannot be satisfied w/slim margins we manage to the end.' His way of celebrating? It was more like he was unable to cheer the win. The Rockets have lost in Charlotte and at home to the Heat, needed overtime to beat the Bucks and three overtimes to beat the Timberwolves. The defense has fallen off badly, and there have been some horrible offensive stretches, especially when the Bucks went to a zone on Monday."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Apparently LeBron James has decided not to compete in the Slam Dunk contest Feb. 13 during this year's All-Star Weekend in Dallas. ... His teammates are sure he would have won, but support his decision. 'The world loves him,' Mo Williams said. 'He has fans everywhere. I told him if he just wanted to finger-roll, he'd get a [score of] 10.' Added Jawad Williams, 'He's got to do what's best for him. He probably needs the rest. We're going to need him in the long run, so we don't need him to go out there and hurt his hand or something silly. I'm in his corner on that.' So is his coach. 'That's great,' Mike Brown said. 'The more he rests, the better it is. Whatever he wants to do, we support him 100 percent. But, obviously, with his schedule and as much pounding as he takes, whatever, whenever, however he can rest, I'm all for it.' "

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Donald Sterling was not at Saturday's game, and a spokesman said he would not be available to address the karma charges because, 'how would he even answer that?' That is part of the problem, of course. Sterling does interviews only with reporters who pander to him, exchanging access for air kisses, so he's rarely held truly accountable. It's a shame, because the Clippers' organization is filled with some of the best folks in town. The coach might be around only because Sterling doesn't want to eat his contract, but Dunleavy works hard, his players play hard, and the front-office folks truly care about winning the right way. They don't deserve the owner. They don't deserve that curse. 'Next time we play the Lakers, maybe I can be blessed,' said Dunleavy, referring to Phil Jackson, smiling. 'Maybe he can give me some of his karma.' The whole thing would be hilarious, if it all didn't feel so real."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Jerry Stackhouse just wants a chance to prove himself. Scott Skiles said the 14-year NBA veteran will get that opportunity with the Milwaukee Bucks, and soon. 'Because he's been out so long, we don't want to overplay him the first couple weeks,' Skiles said. 'But we're not signing him to be on the inactive list. We'll activate him right away, and we'll get him in a game. We'll watch his minutes a little bit but see what he can do.' Stackhouse, who signed with the Bucks on Monday, is expected to practice Tuesday and get at least some playing time Wednesday night, when the team hosts the Toronto Raptors."

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: "So the Jazz are halfway through another season -- 'Thank God,' Carlos Boozer said -- and everything suggests the organization should just start over, and soon. The team is barely outside the Western Conference's playoff cut, Boozer is merely auditioning for other teams, there's not much chance of catching Denver in the Northwest Division and the second-half schedule is swayed toward the road, where the Jazz continue to struggle. Why, then, do I keep believing this season is worth saving, that the best strategy is to play out the Boozer era through its conclusion in the spring and that this team could position itself for a playoff run? Maybe, like Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, I simply shy away from change. Maybe I'm too easily persuaded by John Hollinger's ESPN.com power rankings that somehow listed the Jazz at No. 3 in the entire NBA as of Monday. Maybe I'm just under the spell of Boozer, who I'm fairly sure was joking about the interminable nature of his last season in Utah. For whatever reasons, I just cannot give up on this season yet."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Now, at the wisened age of 51, Mark Cuban more than once smiles at a question and says, 'I don’t want to get fined.' From all private accounts, he is still pushing the envelope behind the NBA’s doors, but more of Mark Cuban lives off the record these days. 'When I got into the Mavs, I was like other young people in that situation,' he said as his team warmed up behind him. 'I just wanted to take over the world. But you can only bang your head for so long before you realize you’re just leaving a mark on your head.' He has waged a campaign to overhaul the league’s officiating system, and he was scouting referees’ tendencies long before disgraced former NBA official Tim Donaghy made such charges. Cuban is well aware that the NBA is terribly sensitive to this subject now, and he refuses to get deeply into the issue. Is he satisfied with where things stand now with officiating? 'No. ... And that’s all I’m going to say about that,' Cuban said. Then a grin creased his face and he added, 'I defer to Tommy Heinsohn.' Point taken."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "If he had a vote for NBA Rookie of the Year, Stephen Curry would vote for Tyreke Evans, too. The size. The stats. The courage in late-game situations. The ability to thrust his powerful body into the lane, and somehow, squeeze inside for reverse layups. ... But after Evans? In the rookie race? Game on. Golden State's Curry sees himself as a worthy runner-up. He won't say this – so I will – but he could even make a powerful argument that he's the most instinctive and effective playmaker among his rookie peers. Jonny Flynn is wildly inconsistent in the Minnesota Timberwolves' triangle offense. Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings has regressed since his 55-point eruption against these same Warriors, his shooting percentage dipping to 38.7 percent. Evans? We won't even go there. In terms of size, talent and sheer physical gifts, the No. 4 draft pick belongs in an entirely different conversation. But Curry, at 21 the oldest of the lottery point guards, is establishing himself as one of the league's most promising youngsters and a legitimate starter."

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: "Andris Biedrins had to be thankful for that because the Warriors didn't need him to make free throws. He had missed all seven of his attempts entering the game, then missed all three of his tries in the first half. His first effort in the second half came with 2:22 left in the third quarter, and Biedrins heard a chorus of boos when he banged it off the front rim. But the boos eventually were drowned out by cheers of encouragement, and the crowd erupted when Biedrins knocked down his second one. He is 1-for-14 for the season, 7.1 percent. 'I brought Rick Barry in here when I first arrived and I was trying to get him to change,' Don Nelson said of Biedrins. 'Rick spent an hour with him, and he decided he didn't want to do the underhand free throw. I thought that was the one chance. ... He's just so fundamentally unsound. We've worked with him and tried to show him. But he basically can't change that. It's his wrist, it's his motion, it's his arc. And he chooses not to change his free throw.' Biedrins was clearly frustrated and down about his free-throw shooting after the game, though he insisted he still attacks the basket the same. He said he altered his free-throw stroke based on some tips he received while with the Latvian national team. 'I think that was the wrong thing what I did,' Biedrins said. 'I should go back like I was shooting it last year. It was a little bit different stance, different timing. It's just really hard on me right now.' "

  • Dave Perkins of the Toronto Star: "Credit Jay Triano, GM Bryan Colangelo and the organization itself for its handling of the talented young player (DeMar DeRozan), who had only one year of college ball. It would have been easy to start, say, Antoine Wright and find the rookie his minutes here and there, but they named him a starter -- only he and Chris Bosh have answered all 41 calls -- and began his on-the-job training in the less-pressurized parts of the game; those first 8-9 minutes each half aren't necessarily when NBA games are won and lost. 'We watched quite a bit of Portland last year, when they started (Nicolas) Batum and had him out there with four other guys that were pretty established players,' Triano said. 'You have to get draft picks minutes. If we don't start him, there are going to be times when maybe we don't find a way to get him into the game. That's not going to help his development. We really believe this kid is going to be good, with time.' "

  • Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman: "Hawks forward Joe Smith, who has written 400 to 500 songs, released his first CD, a 19-track debut entitled 'The Beginning,' last season when he was with the Thunder. Smith, whose music name is Joe Beast, hopes to release his second rap CD before the NBA All-Star break. 'I put my heart and soul into my music just like I do basketball,' Smith said. 'It's a whole lot of fun.' "

  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press: "If you assume (as I do) that the Red Wings will stay within the Ilitch family, that still leaves the question of where they will play. It will take savvy ownership and creativity to build a hockey arena in this economy. And this brings us back to the Pistons. They were Bill Davidson's baby. Karen Davidson inherited them, and she might not want to keep them. They have been wildly successful over the past decade under the ideal modern sports model: They are the centerpiece of an entertainment conglomerate, their owner also owned their arena, and the businesspeople (mostly) let the basketball people do their jobs. It seems simple, but many cities have struggled to build that model. If you are a sports fan in this town, you have to hope that Karen Davidson keeps the model, or finds somebody who will. And that the Tigers and Lions end up in safe hands, too."

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "The Pistons’ blue-and-red had always been good to Chauncey Billups. Trips to the playoffs were commonplace, challenging for the title was expected. A championship was won. Wins were collected by the bushels. Now, the Pistons are just a shell of the team that flourished in the early 2000s. ... 'It’s sad to me, man,' Billups said. 'I’m always going to have a huge place in my heart for Detroit and for the Pistons. I hate to see them struggle like that. They are still my brothers that are still on the team going through that. I know what we all went through together. We never would have even thought of losing like that -- 13 games in a row. That was never even a nightmare. I feel bad for them that they have to go through that. But it is what it is. What are you going to do?' "