First Cup: Friday

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "They'll never forget Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy, dangled out of a window two years ago by his owner, who lasted until Thursday -- time enough to turn the team's roster around, if not its fortunes -- when he resigned. With one year left on his contract at $5.4 million, Dunleavy will remain as general manager, the other half of the title he has formally held for two seasons.If this is it as a coach, he leaves with one more distinction to add to an NBA Finals appearance (Lakers, 1991) and the Clippers' first foray beyond the first round (2006): Longest-serving lame duck in NBA history."

  • Jason Quick of the Oregonian: "Martell Webster has made 380 three-pointers in his Trail Blazers career, but none have been bigger than the one he connected on in the closing seconds Thursday at the Rose Garden. Webster's three from the top of the arc with 22.6 seconds left pushed an 88-87 lead to 91-87 and proved to be the decisive play in the Blazers' crucial 96-93 victory over San Antonio. Webster blew a kiss to the rafters after his shot -- aimed, he said, at his fiancee, Courtney Clarke -- but his job wasn't finished. Webster made two pressure free throws with 10 seconds left to give the Blazers a 94-89 lead, putting the finishing touches on a night when he made all five of his three-pointers and scored 21 points. The win gave the Blazers a season sweep of the Spurs for the first time since the 1996-97 season and moved them into a virtual tie with San Antonio in the tightly contested Western Conference. 'When that race tightens at the end of the year, we can say we have that tiebreaker over them,' Webster said. "So this is a key win.' Webster has had big moments in his Blazers career -- a game-winning three against New Orleans in his rookie year and a 24-point quarter against Utah two seasons ago. But Thursday's shot, in the heat of a developing playoff race, in front of a national TNT audience, with an arena ready to burst, had to be his biggest moment."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "Usually when a team gets down to its fourth-string point guard the situation is quite dire. Unless that point guard is LeBron James. Over the past couple of weeks the Cavaliers have had to deal with their share of adversity with their roster and got hit with another unexpected blow Thursday night. But it has yet to affect them, and they have plowed through the issue with aplomb, running their winning streak to 10 games with a 102-86 win over the Miami Heat. Daniel Gibson was a late scratch from the starting lineup because he had to go to a local hospital to check on his pregnant fiancee, singer Keyshia Cole, who was there with false labor. That put James in at point guard and guard Jawad Williams in his first career start, starting a domino effect that had the Cavs using lineups and rotations they haven't experimented with at all. Not exactly the best idea when guard Dwyane Wade is on the other team.'We have a team with a lot of veterans and nobody is ever in panic mode,' Cavs coach Mike Brown said. 'We take on whatever challenge is in front of us. When you have a guy that is versatile like LeBron or a guy who is versatile like Anthony Parker [who also played some point guard], you can cover up some holes.' So just as they have without Mo Williams and Delonte West all along, the Cavs handled it, with James doing most of the lifting. Used to playing point guard for sections of every game recently, he stepped in and got the Cavs' offense going as they absorbed Wade and everything else his Heat teammates threw at him."

  • Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel: "One day, but certainly not these days, Dwyane Wade will not have to feel like he has to do it all. That's when the Miami Heat guard will stop running all over the court on defense chasing steals (and courting foul trouble) and when he won't continue to try to dribble through double- and triple-teams. But that day won't come with this lineup, not when three fellow starters are combining for two total points in the first half. So, instead, the frustration will grow, as it did with Thursday's 102-86 loss to theCleveland Cavaliers that left the Heat 0-3 against Cleveland and two games below .500."

  • Jeff McDonald of the Express News: "Spurs coach Gregg Popovich began night talking about belief. He was riffing on the Portland Trail Blazers, and their uncanny ability to survive injury after injury, but he might as well have been preaching to his own team. 'That’s what this journey is about,' Popovich said before tipoff Thursday. 'It’s an exercise in commitment to each other, and having the character to continue to believe, and not try and moan and blame, but to try and be the best group you can be, no matter what.' Given a chance to put the power of positive thinking into action later that night at the Rose Garden, the Spurs – like most everything else during this frustrating stretch of the season – let it slip through their fingers."

  • Howard Beck of the New York Times: "Nate Robinson will start at point guard for the Knicks on Friday, completing a stunning turnaround. Coach Mike D’Antoni made the announcement Thursday, a day after Robinson sparked a comeback victory over the Washington Wizards. Robinson scored 23 points and started the second half in place of Chris Duhon, who will go to the bench. Robinson was benched for 14 games in December, after falling out of favor with D’Antoni. Since returning to the rotation, he has frequently outplayed Duhon, who was D’Antoni’s favored point guard for the last two seasons."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Rumors of Paul Pierce’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Instead of a possible broken left foot, he is dealing well with a strain and likely will return when the Celtics host Orlando on Sunday. And Pierce definitely is looking forward to being in the 3-point shootout at All-Star Weekend next Saturday in Arlington, Texas. ‘He may do a shootaround (today), and we’ll evaluate,’ said coach Doc Rivers, ‘but right now I’m pretty sure he’s not going to play (tonight against New Jersey).’ Pierce, who was hurt Monday in Washington, said he could probably play against the Nets were it a playoff game. ‘I’m just going by how it feels,’ he said. 'The good thing about it is it’s gotten better every day. I’m just taking it a day at a time until I know it’s right.’"

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "[T]he Bulls chose to send Noah back to Chicago for treatment on the plantar fasciitis in his left foot that clearly has hobbled the energetic and emotional leader the last two games. General manager Gar Forman said Noah would be re-evaluated when the All-Star break concludes Feb. 14, meaning the league's third-leading rebounder will miss at least the four games before the break begins. 'This sucks but I need to get it better,' Noah said via text message. Coach Vinny Del Negro said in a phone interview that Brad Miller would take Noah's starting center position. Tyrus Thomas' minutes also should increase, and sources said the Bulls plan to sign Noah's fellow Florida alum Chris Richard to a 10-day contract."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The agent for Brandon Bass said Thursday that he would push the Orlando Magic to trade the little-used power forward this offseason if it becomes apparent he isn't fitting into their plans. 'Without question,' Tony Dutt, Brandon's agent, told the Sentinel by phone. 'If things keep going the way they are through the rest of the year, then I think the writing's on the wall.' The Magic signed Bass to a four-year, $18 million free-agent deal last summer, but he has appeared in just 28 games this season, with three starts. Bass, admittedly frustrated and disappointed, was asked if he still wanted to be in Orlando. 'Do I want to stay here? If they feel like I can help them, sooner than later, I'd love to stay here. If something changes. … If they say I can't help the team and they don't want me here … then maybe I have to do what's best for myself,' said Bass."