First Cup: Monday

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "It's taken a while -- OK, more than three months of the season -- but the Lakers are starting to see why they got Ron Artest in the first place. He played tight defense Sunday against Paul Pierce and drew a somewhat controversial offensive foul on the Boston Celtics forward with 27.5 seconds to play and the Celtics up by one. Kobe Bryant took it from there, drilling a 16-footer in the Lakers' 90-89 victory. '[Artest] didn't back down,' Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said approvingly. 'He was physical with [Pierce]. He stayed strong, physically strong in that sequence and consequently ... he got the charge.' What a short, strange trip it's been with Artest, the latest turn coming when he held Pierce to 15 points on four-for-11 shooting. 'I'm not going to toot my own horn,' Artest said. 'I'll just let other people judge me.'

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "If we’re looking at larger snapshots here, the worst thing that could have happened to the Celtics yesterday wasn’t the 90-89 loss to the loathed Lakers. The worst thing would have been playing as shaky as they did in the last quarter, bleeding out a win and believing that everything is right with their world. If the Celts had overcome their amnesia and throttled Kobe and crew for 48 minutes -- and, more importantly, followed it up with similar performances -- it would constitute the sea change that is needed for this team to again speak seriously about a run at the title. But there has been far too much sound and fury signifying mediocrity of late. And worse."

  • Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News: "Some 25 NBA scouts have requested credentials for Kentucky's game against Mississippi next Tuesday at Rupp Arena. And a scout from the Nets -- who have the worst record in the league, and are knocking on the door of worst record of all-time -- found his way into the Craft Center to get a closer look at the young talent on John Calipari's roster. It was hard to miss freshman point guard John Wall. He could be the Nets' savior if they win the draft lottery on May 18. He has the combination of talent, street credibility with a humble personality to create a one-man marketing campaign. The charismatic 6-4 Wall is the most exciting player to hit college basketball since point guard Derrick Rose hit Memphis two years ago. Like Wall, Rose is another Calipari protégé. Rose, who was selected by his hometown Chicago Bulls with the first pick in the 2008 NBA draft, just made the All-Star team in only his second year in the league. ... Wall follows the NBA and knows about the last-place Nets. 'They're not very good,' he said. 'They're what? 4-40. I watch SportsCenter all night.' If the Nets, who are scheduled to eventually move to Brooklyn, win the John Wall lottery, then use part-owner Jay-Z's influence to sign free-agent LeBron James, they could climb to the top of the Eastern Division quickly. There are a lot of ifs in there, but suffering Nets fans can fantasize."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "This month, though, Shaq has picked it up. He's shot over 60 percent in January and his scoring average jumped up five points a game compared to a rather unimpressive December. He's really gained momentum since Mo Williams got hurt, averaging 17.5 points over the last six games. So now the advance scouts are writing something different in their reports. The Clippers were doubling Shaq regularly in the first quarter. It was clear that it was a point of emphasis, especially after the way he and Zydrunas Ilgauskas dominated the Indiana Pacers inside. It became more of an issue when Chris Kaman couldn't play because of his ankle injury. What happened was Shaq went to his old strategy when being doubled, look for teammates. That pretty much was why the Cavs got so many 3-pointers in that first quarter. Now, it got out of hand and LeBron James was just tossing them up seeing what it would take to miss. The Cavs didn't go 11-of-13 just because Shaq was drawing and kicking. But it was Shaq who got it going and helped get so many people open."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "After covering the Hawks for a couple weeks, I can see why Iso-Joe late in games makes some of you mad. It slows the Hawks’ pace. It’s not pleasing to the eye when Johnson dominates the ball while his teammates stand and watch, makes a move to the basket and then misses. When Iso-Joe doesn’t work, it can look so bad. That’s got to be frustrating for you fans. But what about when it does work? What you saw against the Celtics is the beauty of Iso-Joe when he’s going good (and please don’t forget that’s much more often than not). He made seven shots in the fourth quarter against the Celtics. None of them were assisted. 'They isolated us all game,' Paul Pierce said. 'They’ve done that all four games, and they’ve beaten us all four games.' To Celtics coach Doc Rivers, that’s no coincidence. When it’s not Iso-Joe, it’s Iso-Jamal, and he said that’s what will make the Hawks a dangerous team to face in the playoffs."

  • Tania Ganguli of the Orlando Sentinel: "What once was a liability for the Orlando Magic has turned into one of their strongest points. In its last 10 games, Orlando has allowed opponents 96 points per game, the 6th fewest points of any team in the league during that span, the fourth lowest field goal percentage and taken down the fourth most rebounds. 'It's clearly the opposite of the beginning of the season, because defense was our biggest problem,' Magic forward Ryan Anderson said. 'I think that's a good thing as long as our defense is solid. We're going to have nights when we struggle offensively.' Part of that has resulted from new players -- of which the Magic have two starters and three reserves -- growing more accustomed to calls and their teammates. 'On the defensive end you see a difference from the first part of the season to now,' Magic center Dwight Howard said. 'We were talking more, everybody was rotating early. That's a great sign for us.' "

  • Bernard Fernandez of the Philadelphia Daily News: "In the throes of their own disappointing season, the 76ers are doing their part to possibly erase a legendarily bad franchise predecessor from the NBA record book. With last night's plug-ugly, 83-79 squeaker over the New Jersey Nets at IZOD Arena, the Sixers improved to 16-31 and, perhaps more important, plunged the host team to 4-42. Three of the Sixers' 16 wins are against the Nets. The 1972-73 Sixers stumbled and bumbled to a 9-73 record, the worst in NBA history. With their most recent loss, the Nets matched those Sixers, the 1997-98 Denver Nuggers and 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks for the worst 46-game record ever by an NBA team. At their present rate, the Nets would finish 7-75. 'Nobody wants to go down in history as having the worst record ever,' said Nets guard Keyon Dooling, a 9-year veteran who scored 13 points in another losing effort. 'That'd be a stain on all of our resumes - a bad stain, a stain you don't want to have.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The 10-man core that Thunder general manager Sam Presti has finally settled on has made it more difficult to discern what Oklahoma City might do at this year’s trade deadline. Unlike last season, when the majority of the roster could be considered available, only veterans Etan Thomas and Kevin Ollie needn’t be in any long-term conversation. Upgrades are starting to squeeze injured second-year players D.J. White and Kyle Weaver out of the mix. But it might be too early for Presti to include one or both of those promising young pieces in a package. Presti’s public motto of exploring all opportunities to improve the team is no different than any other GM’s around this time of the year. But perhaps the more telling philosophy is Presti’s acknowledgment that he can’t get anything of value without giving up anything of value. It’s a statement that suggests more of the core could be available than one might think."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "George Karl said the Nuggets considered using the 34th pick in the 2009 draft to select DeJuan Blair, the Spurs rookie who had 10 points and three rebounds Sunday. The Nuggets were satisfied Blair was physically sound enough to draft. In the end, he said, they opted to sell their second-round pick to the Houston Rockets for cash. 'We had a huge argument: Is he worth the money, or should we draft Blair?' Karl said. 'I don't know exactly why it was a no, but I have a feeling it was money. I'm amazed how much money people now spend for second-round picks.' Karl said he would have enjoyed having Blair. 'I love guys like that,' he said. 'All coaches love guys like that. There's no maintenance to them other than just go out there and get me five offensive rebounds and be physical and hit the boards and hit people and set screens. He has that knack of making his team win games.' "

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "Jason Thompson is one of those people who laugh at the people who consume pots of coffee for energy. He can't sit still long enough to experiment with relaxation techniques. He is all atwitter about social networking. His life is a chronic race between mind and body, and when his size-20 sneakers slap across the finish line ahead of his brain -- when he gets ahead of himself -- that usually means trouble. He commits too many fouls. He drops too many passes. He bobbles too many rebounds. He muscles inside against double-teams, launches jumpers out of his range, becomes so discombobulated that he forgets about defending his man. And then he gets benched, furthering his frustration, and depleting the Kings already-thin frontcourt. 'Once I get back to being myself, things will be better,' the second-year forward predicted after the club's slide continued with Saturday's loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. 'I wouldn't say I hit the wall, but I guess, looking at my numbers, you could say that I did.' "

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: "Magic Hamilton? That might be overstating it, but Pistons guard Richard Hamilton wants to pass more and get the ball to open teammates like former Lakers and Michigan State star Magic Johnson. 'I have to just be a positive guy on and off the floor,' Hamilton said. 'That means on the floor, instead of being a scorer, maybe be more of a facilitator and try to get guys open and stuff like that. That might help us get more momentum and more into a rhythm in a game and hopefully get us a win.' Hamilton still believes his teammates can score if given the opportunity. Coach John Kuester agrees, but also said the team must do a better job spacing the floor and hitting open shots. He said Hamilton can be a major cog in helping the Pistons spark their anemic offense."

  • Brian T. Smith of The Columbian: "After a small mixup left Jeff Pendergraph trying to navigate his own way to Clark College on Sunday, the Trail Blazers rookie forward walked through the doors of the O’Connell Center about 30 minutes behind schedule. But once Pendergraph showed up, he more than delivered. And the bruising power forward spoke eloquently before an estimated crowd of 700, many of whom were aspiring college students seeking to learn more about the College Bound Scholarship. The four-year scholarship, which was initiated in 2007, provides eligible students with tuition to Washington public universities, as well as community and vocational colleges. Pendergraph recounted how, as an academically underachieving high school student, he almost threw away a promising basketball career due to low grades and a lack of ambition. 'A lot of teams stopped recruiting me because of my (test) scores,' Pendergraph said. But pride and devotion to his mother pulled Pendergraph through. And he was soon graduating early from Arizona State with an Economics degree. For Pendergraph, the ability to persevere when others counted him out served as a serious life lesson. And it was in the hope of passing it along that he spoke to area middle and high school students."