First Cup: Monday

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Rarely, if ever, has the pregame introduction of a coach brought on such a loud ovation. But George Karl is not just any coach. He's the Nuggets' coach. And Nuggets fans, most of whom would otherwise check out of introductions after the last spotlighted player, instead saved their best for Karl. Sunday was the first game back at the Pepsi Center for the coach, who has drawn immense fan support since announcing last week he has throat cancer. The Nuggets went on a road trip to Cleveland and Washington after his news conference last Tuesday. 'No question, I'm amazed at the support,' Karl said. 'I actually came in (Sunday) morning and said, 'If this keeps up, there's no way I can respond to half of the people.' Some of the letters I've gotten from people who have the same disease, gone through the same treatment, offering their support. Strangers who have never known me before. It's pretty cool.' "

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "The gamesmanship started in the moments before tipoff. Shaquille O'Neal gave Magic players Vince Carter and Matt Barnes long hugs. Dwight Howard hadn't yet walked onto the court, and O'Neal didn't wait around for him. And after the game ended, Howard declined to answer when asked whether he felt O'Neal had tried to play 'mind games' and get into Howard's head. 'I'm not getting into that, ‘mind games' or whatever,' Howard said. 'My job is to help my team win basketball games.' Neither player seemed to say anything to the other as the game continued. They just banged away at each other. 'I weigh 270 and you know how much Shaq weighs,' Howard said. 'He's a big load. With him, you want to just try to beat him early and push him out of there and fight him [for position].' They reached a d├ętente once the final buzzer sounded. Howard stood at midcourt, and O'Neal walked over to Howard. They exchanged a brief hug."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "After losing to the Magic this time, Shaquille O'Neal wasn't in a combative mood Sunday when talking about rival center Dwight Howard. The two had another good battle with Howard scoring 22 points with 16 rebounds and O'Neal having 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Two weeks ago after the Cavs beat the Magic, in referencing Howard's 'Superman' nickname that he shares, O'Neal said: 'You tell me who the real Superman is. Don't compare me to nobody. I'd rather not be mentioned, I'm offended.' He was saying some different things Sunday. 'The [nickname] doesn't bother me at all, it never really bothered me,' O'Neal said. 'When I'm done playing, I want to have four, five or six [championships] on my desk looking at me and that's my focus.' "

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "In an ear-shattering falsetto that would have made even Simon Cowell speechless, Carmelo Anthony stood at his locker and sang his best Donna Summer: 'I work haaaaaard for the money!' Indeed, Melo put in a hard day's work Sunday during Denver's 114-105 statement win against Boston at the Pepsi Center. Anticipating the Celtics' smothering defense, Anthony made 'a conscious effort' to utilize the pass, tallying a team-high eight assists, including seven in the second half. 'Sometimes, I gotta be Batman,' Melo said with a smile. 'And sometimes, I gotta be Robin.' "

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Nate Robinson won’t be on the floor with his full team until tomorrow’s shootaround. But at least the new guard made it onto the floor yesterday. Traded to the Celtics from New York on Thursday (with Marcus Landry for Eddie House, Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens), Robinson has been fighting flu-like symptoms, which prevented him from joining the club out west. But he’s obviously getting better. 'I talked to him today,' coach Doc Rivers said before yesterday’s 114-105 loss to the Nuggets. 'He’s working out. He’s at our practice facility as we speak - him and Marcus.' The Celts will not practice today, but Robinson will get a tutorial in preparation for tomorrow’s matchup with the Knicks at the Garden."

  • Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle: "It would be cool if Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry could lead a Warriors' renaissance over the next couple of seasons, but that doesn't seem likely. It will be painful for Warriors fans to watch Ellis do his whirling-dervish stuff for another team, but how else could this end? No way the Warriors can get rid of Curry, the first star-quality rookie they've drafted since, well, since they drafted Ellis out of high school. Curry already has established himself as a must-keep guy and a true point guard. Since Media Day this season, when Ellis made his we-can't-play-together statement, It has been a quiet but ongoing mini-drama, played out by two actors who wear blank expressions. If Ellis is jealous of Curry, or resentful of his new-star-on-the-block status, there's no blatant evidence of it on the court. It's just that, for two guys with such skills, they have yet to develop a sensational chemistry together."

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "Tracy McGrady cleared his first major hurdle as a Knick, reporting Sunday that he had not experienced any lingering ill-effects from his first game action since late December. When he left the Garden late Saturday night, he expected the worst for his left knee. 'I was very stiff,' he said at the team's practice facility in Greenburgh. 'This morning I woke up thinking I was going to be really sore and really stiff, but I'm fine. I feel better than I thought I would. It's very encouraging because I haven't played 32 minutes in God knows how long.' McGrady hadn't played that much in a game in over a year - Feb. 7 of last season -- when he played 38 minutes for the Rockets in a win against Minnesota. Now it's on to Monday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Garden, followed by a game Tuesday in Boston against the Celtics."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "With a timeout late in the first half, Rockets coach Rick Adelman stopped to give Kevin Martin a few words and many pats on the back. Martin had followed his 3-of-16 first game with the Rockets with a 1-of-6 first half. Adelman wanted one adjustment. 'He just needs to relax,' Adelman said. 'I feel he's really rushing everything. In the first half, when he made his move, everything was in a hurry. When he got his shot, it wasn't a natural shot. And I thought he could have gotten about three or four calls in the game. He just has to play through it. I thought he relaxed as the game went on. He's going to be OK. When you come into a new team, two games over the weekend, I think the nerves showed a little bit.' He missed two more shots before going 4-for-4 for 10 points in the fourth quarter. 'Adelman told me I was rushing a little bit and to just relax,' Martin said. 'That's what I did in the second half, just let it come to me in the fourth quarter. I think I just needed a fourth quarter like that to get things moving.' "

  • Chris Iott of MLive.com: "Ben Wallace didn't think much of the strategy the San Antonio Spurs used Sunday evening to overcome a late deficit and force overtime in their 109-101 loss to the Detroit Pistons. Either that, or he just didn't like being asked about it. The Spurs fouled Wallace away from the ball on five consecutive possessions to send the career 41.9 percent free throw shooter to the line. Wallace went 4-for-10, and the Spurs cut what had been an 11-point deficit early in the period to four points by the time Pistons coach John Kuester replaced Wallace with Richard Hamilton with 2 minutes, 5 seconds on the clock. Wallace threw his headband to the floor as he made his way to the bench. 'It's garbage,' Wallace said when asked about the strategy. Wallace was asked how he felt about Kuester showing confidence by leaving him in so long while the Spurs employed the strategy. 'That's garbage, too,' Wallace said, then quickly ended the interview."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "Because my colleague and Kings beat writer Sam Amick took a break after Saturday's road trip to Los Angeles, I was able to watch Steve Nash perform before his home crowd. His act never gets old. It's hard to believe he's 35, hampered by a sore lower back, and still playing almost 34 minutes a night with two months of the season remaining. The man is a marvel, a 6-foot-3 magician with a basketball. His 17-assist effort against the Kings did the following: 1) Kept him locked with the injured Chris Paul at a league-leading 11.1 assists per game. 2) Eclipsed the Kings total number of assists (16), 3) Reminded everyone again of what an exceptional point guard Kevin Johnson was."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "With 11 of its next 13 at home, starting with Tuesday's visit by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Heat is in position to make a move in a season that has seen it hover around .500 since a 6-1 start. 'We're due,' coach Erik Spoelstra said. 'And this may be our time.' But only if his team finally makes a stand at home. The Heat is just 14-12 at AmericanAirlines Arena. 'We can't take these games for granted,' Udonis Haslem said. 'We haven't earned the right to take games for granted.' The key, Spoelstra said, is not to overstate a schedule that has the team leaving the state only once before March 22, with a game next Sunday against the Orlando Magic and a March 9 game in Charlotte its only trips over that span."

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Professional players, coaches and general managers are very, very competitive people. They don't get to the positions they are in without that being one of their strongest qualities. So don't hold your breath waiting for any of the above people to say that not winning many games for the rest of the season is a good things for the 76ers. 'Tanking the season' is not a phrase that will be uttered by them. However ... With Saturday's embarrassing, 122-90 loss at Chicago, the Sixers dropped to 21-34 and are now 6 1/2 games behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Can the Sixers make a big enough push in the final 27 games to get into the postseason? Probably not. When will we know that they have finally realized this? Keep an eye on the playing minutes for youngsters Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams and Marreese Speights. That will tell a lot. ... The more minutes those players get, the more evident it is that the brass is looking at the distant future more than the one that includes the 27 remaining games."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "More continues to come out about the Suns' flirtations with trading Amare Stoudemire. The final-hour talks between Houston and Phoenix apparently ended with no moves because Houston was unwilling to include draft picks without a physical on Stoudemire. The Suns were considering a deal sending Stoudemire to Houston for Luis Scola and Shane Battier but the Rockets' willingness to include draft picks was based on getting a physical for Stoudemire. The Suns turned down a deal without the picks."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Rookie forward Serge Ibaka has started a mini-campaign to be selected into the 2011 slam dunk contest. After watching the event live in Dallas over the All-Star break, Ibaka said he would like to participate in next year’s competition. 'I hope so,' Ibaka said. 'I feel like I can compete with them.' After listening to Ibaka from across the locker room, Russell Westbrook began having some fun with the rookie. 'I told you, you got to get some dunks in the game first,' Westbrook joked. 'Maybe if you give me the ball first,' Ibaka quipped. Ibaka won a dunk contest in Spain two years ago and boasts of being able to dunk from the free throw line."

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "Some athletes work in the city. Some live in the city. Some are part of the city. New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul falls into the latter category, the latest example being Saturday afternoon, when he dedicated a refurbished basketball court at A.L. Davis Playground in New Orleans, the third refurbished court he has dedicated in the city. I don't think it possibly can be overstated what athletes like Paul, a three-time NBA All-Star - and New Orleans Saints quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees -- actually mean to New Orleans. Not when they're willing to put to action their words and commitments, when they're willing to give back on a scale that might not match the level of adulation they receive, but certainly is above and beyond anything they have to do."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Former University of Memphis basketball standout Chris Douglas-Roberts had returned to the Nets' rotation since the All-Star break. But Douglas-Roberts didn't play against the Grizzlies. Officially, he earned a DNP Coach's Decision. Reports persist that Douglas-Roberts has fallen out of favor with New Jersey brass in part because of his unfiltered responses about the Nets, especially on Twitter. Douglas-Roberts recently expanded his platform. He's taken his gift for gab to a local radio show that debuted last week from 7-9 p.m. 'The Show with Chris Douglas-Roberts' is scheduled to air every other Thursday, and can be heard on sportsjourney.com."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "The passion for global basketball development was born early in Jama Mahlalela, a now ex-Raptor clinician and assistant who finds himself helping increase the sport's share of a burgeoning Asian market. The 29-year-old Mahlalela, Swaziland-born and Toronto-raised, has left the Raptors after almost a decade to become the director of basketball operations for NBA Asia, continuing a career arc he's been building for much of his life. It's a job he cemented by dipping into his own pocket to work at the NBA Cares week-long clinic in Africa last summer. 'I wanted to volunteer, I wanted to do it,' said Mahlalela, a former Toronto high school standout at Oakwood Collegiate. 'It's so important and so special. I spent the week and at the end of the weekend, I think ... they said, `we love your energy, we love your excitement, the passion for the game -- do you want to be involved?' '"