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First Cup: Thursday

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Wolves forward Damien Wilkins isn't surprised the Thunder is contending for a playoff spot in the West. He saw their possibilities up close when he played with the franchise for the first five seasons of his career. 'They're starting to become the team we all think they will become,' he said. When asked if he considers Durant a future league MVP candidate, Wilkins said, 'He should be in the MVP talk this year, if you ask me. He's got this team playing unbelievable basketball. He's averaging 30 points a night. He's extremely hard to guard: Quick, long, athletic. I mean, once he learns a post-up game, he'll pretty much be unstoppable.' "

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Well before the Spurs took the floor Wednesday night, those in charge of such things decided the celebration of Tim Duncan's impending 20,000-point milestone would be low-key. There would be no pomp and circumstance, no unnecessary stoppage in play, no tear-jerking tribute on the overhead video screen. As it turned out, the moment was low-key all right. So low-key, it will have to wait until Friday. Duncan fouled out with 14 points late in the Spurs' 105-98 loss to Utah at the AT&T Center, leaving the arena stuck on 19,999 for his career, the party postponed 48 hours. His teammates, meanwhile, left the arena more concerned with the numbers on the scoreboard than the numbers in Duncan's box score. The loss was their fourth this season against a team they used to own. 'The 20,000 milestone is not happening today, but it's happening (next game),' said Manu Ginobili, whose team hosts Houston on Friday. 'It's just tough to see the team losing for the fourth time against the Jazz. That's hard to swallow.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "When it comes to Shaquille O'Neal's idea of rounding upsuperstars, including his Cleveland Cavaliers teammate LeBron James, for a charity dunking contest to benefit Haiti relief, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade said to count him out. Wade, who has already donated a game check to the disaster relief and helped coordinate contributions from athletes in the hundreds of millions of dollars, said he simply is not a contest dunker. 'I heard about it,' he said before Wednesday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats. 'It's not my deal. I'll support it, but I won't be in it.' Known for his breakaway dunks during games, Wade has made it known to the NBA not to even ask when it comes to the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend. 'Early in my career, they asked me a couple of times, maybe the first two or three All-Star Games,' he said. 'But after that, I expressed I'm good on that. They haven't asked me since.' "

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "The Celtics are talented enough to win an NBA title, but consistency has been their issue. Garnett’s absence left a large void defensively and psychologically for a team that doesn’t have many fiery leaders. Not only does Garnett remain one of the game’s best interior defenders, he tells teammates where to be and confronts them when they falter. While Garnett can be abrasive at times, he serves as the team’s conscience and dictator, and the Celtics miss that just as much as his long reach and quick feet. Ray Allen said something very interesting when asked about the team’s recent troubles; he called for the players to become more accountable to each other. 'We just have to do a better job now of holding each other accountable,’' he said. 'I think right now, what’s good, what’s bad, as a team we can’t be sensitive. You have to take the bad with the good.’ "

  • Matt Humphrey of the Orlando Sentinel: "It’s not good form to pile on a team when they’re up, but Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy offered a weak -- and I mean, weak -- defense of struggling shooting guard Vince Carter on Wednesday night. After the Orlando Magic’s 109-98 win over the Indiana Pacers at Amway Arena -- one that featured a 6-point Carter performance on 2-of-8 shooting -- SVG said this when asked about Carter’s continued funk: 'Look, it’s just too much scrutiny on one guy. That’s all we come in and talk about every game. ‘What did you think of Vince, what did you think of Vince?’ We played well.' You’re right, Stan … your team played well, but let’s keep things in perspective. You just punked the 14-28 Indiana Pacers. You should play well against the Pacers. Vince Carter should play well against the Pacers, too. But don’t tell us Vince Carter is under too much scrutiny, chief."

  • George M. Thomas of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "Call it Overhype II, because that is what it will be on at least one cable television channel: TNT. LeBron vs. Kobe. Shaq vs. His Former Team. An almost decade-old dispute that has yet to be been settled. But here's the reality: Tonight's game will pit the two best teams (by record) in the NBA against one another. The Cavs are 32-11, the Lakers 32-9. One has something to prove; the other just wants to maintain consistent play. What's different is that roles are reversed. It's the Lakers who have to bolster their resume in the eyes of many. That's an odd position for any defending champion."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "This time, the Lakers maintain, they will have a different attitude when they play the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. This time, the Lakers insist, they will approach the game differently than on Christmas Day when they were shellacked by the Cavaliers at Staples Center. The Lakers view this matchup with the Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena as more than one of 82 games during the regular season. 'Yeah, it's a big game,' Lamar Odom admitted. And why is that? 'Because they kicked our [butts] the last time,' Odom said. Indeed the Cavaliers did. ... The Lakers' fans behaved childishly during that game, twice throwing the foam-finger giveaways onto the court, delaying the game. So, yes, the Lakers said, tonight's game will be different. 'I think the way the [Christmas] game went down is probably the biggest factor in terms of how our mentality will be going into it,' Fisher said."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "While Daryl Morey looks at the season from the vantage point of data analysis, Shane Battier used extraterrestrial dimensions to imagine a less critical viewpoint. 'You don't have perspective at this point,' he said. 'When you go through a tough stretch of basketball, you don't have the opportunity to have perspective of the entire year because you're in the middle of it. Right now, we're not feeling great about how we're playing. If you're a Martian and you're visiting Earth for the first time, and you look at the Western Conference standings and saw where we were and looked at our schedule and the our circumstances, in a Martian voice you might say, ‘not bad.' But as humans, we're in the middle of it, so our perspective is a little different.' The Rockets' goal remains to make the playoffs and then come up with another goal. Since the Rockets do not believe they are playing at that level, they used their midseason break in the schedule to make repairs and regroup. 'We're at the halfway point, 41 games to go, and we need to start having fun like we did at the beginning of the year,' Battier, the other co-captain said of Hayes' message. 'We put so much time and effort into this season, getting to five games over .500, it would be a shame to let it go to waste.' "

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Channing Frye, once the NBA leader in 3-pointers, was in a 6-for-29, five-game slump entering Wednesday's game, averaging 4.6 points during that span. With only 20 career 3-pointers made, teams challenged Frye to be a shot maker early in the season but adjusted this month and are playing him tight on the perimeter. Asked if he is getting the same looks, Frye said, 'Hell, no. Teams are putting smaller guys on me and making me shoot a lot more twos and make me go inside a little more. I've just got to get used to those types of things.' Alvin Gentry said he told Frye that he played himself into opponents' scouting reports. In the first half Wednesday, Frye spent as much time on the post as he did on the perimeter."

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "On Wednesday, Tim Floyd spoke at length about what led him to leave USC last June, indicating it had nothing to do with O.J. Mayo but everything to do with Trojans Athletic Director Mike Garrett. 'Why I left was not in any way an admission of guilt,' Floyd said. 'It was a complete testament to a lack of support by my administration and how we were treated after four years of doing everything the right way. And that is what I've gone on record as saying. The day the story broke, my athletic director called me and asked me where I was. I happened to be in New Orleans after being there for seven months. He asked me if I'd read the story. I said, 'Yes. And I did not do what I'm accused of doing.' Two, 'Where are you?' 'I'm in New Orleans.' The third thing he said was, 'You need to get your ass back to Los Angeles, so I can decide what I'm going to do with you.' 'That did not register well with me, did not sit well with me,' Floyd went on. 'I always said I would only stay at a place as long as I was wanted there. It was a situation where the athletic director was more worried about himself than our program. Everything we had done to establish that program as one of the top national-level programs in the country was being destroyed from within. Players being released, the treatment of our coaches, the treatment of me as the head coach. ... And at this point in my career, I didn't feel like I needed to stay there and deal with that. I felt I'd done enough over 33 years of being in this business to never have my integrity challenged and did not appreciate it.' "

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: "In the second quarter, while the Utah Flash are running their offense, the McKay Events Center is frenzied. Thousands of children are relentlessly pounding balloon noisemakers together, or on their neighbors, in what must resemble a beehive when the workers are protesting. With about two minutes remaining in a tie game, the arena is much quieter. The kids -- and their arms -- are tired, and families are trudging up the stairs toward the exits. Welcome to the NBA Development League. Or welcome back, in my case. After ripping the Flash's 'Michael Jordan' promotional hoax during the home opener in early December, promising never to return and encouraging others to stay away, I gave the Flash another chance Tuesday. By purchasing an $8 general admission ticket for a game with Sundiata Gaines' old team, the Idaho Stampede, I raised the average age of the crowd and, in all probability, the per-ticket revenue. ... The philosophy, in the words of Flash owner Brandt Andersen, is to "embrace the fact that we are a minor-league team. Meaning the basketball is serious, but secondary."