First Cup: Tuesday

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Stephen Jackson knows his role in the Detroit brawl and subsequent off-court incidents shortened his time with the Indiana Pacers. The Charlotte Bobcats guard isn't making excuses for his actions. What he wishes, though, is that Pacers fans would have focused on his basketball skills. Say whatever you want about Jackson, but know this: He wins. 'I think people are not looking at the fact that I'm human and I make mistakes,' Jackson said after the Bobcats' practice Monday. 'I made two mistakes, but I haven't been in any trouble since. They need to realize I can play this game and I've been effective ever since I've been in this league. I help teams win and people should let the negative stuff go and look at the positive things.' Jackson has teamed with All-Star Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton to lead the Bobcats to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bobcats play the Pacers tonight at Conseco Fieldhouse. 'I love guys that care about winning and care about their teammates and love to play,' Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. 'He's a terrific player. I think he's underrated in every area. He's got a very high IQ.' "

  • Gary D. Howard of the Journal Sentinel: "Andrew Bogut has been crazy active on offense and defense, has kept his mouth closed - something he has learned to do during his tenure in the league -- and concentrated on helping this team move the ball on offense like no other collection of Bucks in recent history. Milwaukee is a whopping 28-11 when it wins the assists battle this year and 28-7 when it takes the rebounding edge over an opponent. Yes, Scott Skiles' system, unlike those of his predecessors, actually works. And players such as Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, Jerry Stackhouse, Luke Ridnour, Charlie Bell and, most of all, Bogut are reaping the dividends. With a tough schedule down the stretch that includes two more fights with Boston, two more with Atlanta, not to mention Denver, Miami, Memphis, Cleveland, Charlotte, Phoenix and Chicago, the Bucks will need Bogut. ... The new Bogut. The Bogut who smashes a dunk down on the Celtics' Glen Davis' head so hard that fans are still talking about the play (and his 25-point, 17-rebound, four-block effort in that victory over Boston). The Bogut who flies out of nowhere to send shots over the craning necks of the Bradley Center's court-side patrons. The Bogut who has become a winner. With that player on the court, the Bucks can't lose. ... At least it feels that way."

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "There's a chance Jannero Pargo, Flip Murray, James Johnson, Taj Gibson and Brad Miller will be the Bulls' starters tonight at Memphis. Does anything say 'keep reading' like that first paragraph? I'm not one to live in the past, but tonight's potential lineup does make you wonder how Bryce Drew and Fred Hoiberg might have fit in. There are worse things in the NBA than being an average team beset by injuries, but there aren't many things more boring. The Bulls are blameless in this, of course. Injuries happen. But mercy. The discriminating hoops consumer will turn the channel to the NCAA tournament play-in game tonight. You know, Winthrop against Arkansas-Pine Bluff for all the marbles. Or the marble that lets them play No. 1 seed Duke. If that doesn't excite you, there's always C-SPAN3. Or maybe it's time for that painful gallbladder surgery you've been putting off."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Aaron Brooks wanted just one more chance. One shot with the game on the line and in his hands. Brooks had missed a free throw, allowing Denver’s Carmelo Anthony to tie the game with 20.8 seconds remaining. The Rockets had been trapped in the sort of game -- down 11 in the fourth quarter -- they had been unable to win and the Nuggets had never lost this season. But the Rockets spread the floor and let Brooks go to work. He let the clock run down to its final six seconds, then made one sharp, one-dribble move to his right before nailing a 20-footer with 2.9 seconds left that lifted the Rockets to a 125-123 win over the Nuggets on Monday night at Toyota Center. 'That little man, he’s so good,' forward Luis Scola. 'I wanted to kiss him, but no, I’m not.' Even without the public display of affection, the win gave the Rockets their biggest fourth-quarter comeback of the season and the Nuggets their first loss in 28 games when scoring at least 110 points."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Monday was a day of contrition at Miami Heat practice. It also was a day when dark clouds lifted. Foremost, Dorell Wright was back on the court for the first time since last week's DUI arrest. 'It was just one bad night,' he said of what is widely considered an out-of-character moment for the 24-year-old forward. 'I don't want anybody to get that confused.' Then there was center Jermaine O'Neal making himself available to the media for the first time since being ejected from Sunday's victory over the Philadelphia 76ers following a tussle with Philadelphia center Samuel Dalembert. 'You have to play with some type of emotion,' O'Neal said. 'But you have to find a way to play with emotion, be effective in the game with emotions, and also stay in the game. I apologized to my teammates today and just want to move forward.' Both apparently will receive an unimpeded opportunity. NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league reviewed O'Neal's ejection and that there would be no further penalty for O'Neal putting his hand around Dalembert's neck. As for Wright, an executive with the players' union said the two-game suspension imposed by the Heat would not be followed up by any further league action."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "If the Hawks are serious about catching Orlando for the Southeast Division lead, then they will need more efforts like their performance against the Pistons on Saturday. The Hawks were intense on defense, worked for good shots, controlled the tempo and played with energy. The Hawks jumped Detroit early, turned back a Pistons rally and won by 13. 'That was the perfect game for us down the line,' Hawks forward Josh Smith said, 'except for the [17] turnovers.' It’s not easy for players to stay sharp. The season is long. Bodies are tired and the schedule can be rough, like the four games in six days coming up for the Hawks. 'It’s tough,' said Hawks center Al Horford. 'But you realize every other team is like that as well and a lot of these other teams aren’t playing for anything. You really have to focus in and get up and get motivated.' "

  • Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun: "Change is afoot in Raptorland, where the unplanned practice Monday attracted a Leafs-like media contingent. There’s blood in the water and the sharks are beginning to circle. But no matter what changes are in store for the visit by the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night, there’s one change that cannot be measured in field-goal attempts, minutes played or any other statistical number. Until the Raptors rediscover the mental toughness that surfaced in the wake of the team’s early season struggle, nothing substantive will occur."

  • Eric Koreen of The National Post: "Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh expects to be given a maximum-value contract this summer as a free agent. He has been clear on that for a while now. Still, there is the theory that players given those contracts should be A-level superstars, players that do not let their teams get in funks. Bosh's team is certainly in one, having lost their last five games, the five contests since Bosh returned from an ankle injury and stomach bug. So, a reporter asked Bosh if this slump should reflect on him. Bosh was defiant. 'What else do you want me to do?' Bosh said after a late practice on Monday. 'You want me to score 30? 40? 20 blocks a game? That's not my game. That's not what I do. I try to get these guys going and that's pretty much it. At the end of the day, we're going to be successful. I'm not weak-minded by any means.' Bosh has averaged 20 points and 8.4 rebounds per game on 46% shooting during the streak."

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "You can bash Bosh's merits as a No. 1 banana in this league, but the truth is he's currently co-manning a starting lineup occupied by a bunch of other highly paid pros who are grossly under-performing. The scientific term for the majority of Bosh's teammates is 'a bunch of gutless pooches.' 'It's perplexing,' said Bryan Colangelo, the man who concocted this mix and has continually acknowledged he's to blame if it bombs. 'There's no doubt that we've regressed back to the level we started the season with.' "

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "The Timberwolves hastily departed their ARCO Arena locker room on Sunday night with one lonely word left scribbled on a marker-board wall long after they headed for the airport and a flight to Phoenix. Adversity. They have already lived it during a 14-53 season in which the Wolves have lost their past nine games and 15 of their last 16. But, just as a reminder, the topic was coach Kurt Rambis' theme following a 114-100 defeat to the Kings that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates. Rambis has admitted often that he and team basketball president David Kahn have placed players in a difficult spot by making so many personnel moves aimed toward this summer's draft and free-agency period. The result of those decisions now is being played out night after night, loss after loss. 'These players, it's a good test of their character to see who fights and swings and plays hard,' Rambis said. 'Guys who quit, it's hard to win. It's hard to be a winner. It's easy to quit. It's easy to roll over. Most people when they run into adversity take a step back, just let things go by. It's a mark of a true champion, a competitor, a winner who continues to fight when things aren't going well for them.' "

  • Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times: "Mike D’Antoni often changed his lineup and rotation in a search for consistency. In the long run, the team might have been better off if Toney Douglas assumed a larger role earlier this season, hastening his development. If the Knicks are to sign an impact free agent this summer, they will presumably want someone to pass him the ball. As of now, Douglas is the only point guard on the team’s payroll next season. 'It wasn’t that tough,' Douglas said of his extended apprenticeship. 'I’m mentally strong. If I don’t play, I’m still going to work out, still do what I have to do and get extra work in and stuff like that. All I know is that whenever I get an opportunity, I have to produce.' Rodriguez, acquired Feb. 18 in the Tracy McGrady deal, will probably receive another shot at the job. He played six minutes Monday and scored 2 points. 'They’re both learning and they’re both trying to get experience and I can’t give them both experience at the same time, but Sergio is fine and we’ll come back to him at some point,' D’Antoni said."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "When he's finished playing, Vince Carter's career could compare favorably to some already in the Hall, such as Dominque Wilkins, Alex English and Dantley. Carter knows his detractors would scoff at the idea of him joining the game's all-time greats. Shortly after signing with the Magic, he was asked about what he's heard from his critics over the years. 'Can I win? Can I play? Do I have the love? I've heard ‘defense' … I don't know. I know it's out there, but I don't listen to any of it,' he said. Carter has never gotten past the second round of the playoffs despite five trips. He played his first six-plus years with the Toronto Raptors, where he became a high-wire superstar but exited as a villain. Dealt to New Jersey, he stayed with the struggling Nets for four-plus seasons. He was asked if he needed to win a title in Orlando to solidify his Hall-of-Fame candidacy. 'I don't know. I don't think so. If I'm not mistaken, Charles Barkley got in,' he said, referring to the fact that Barkley did not win a championship but was inducted in 2006. Lanier, Wilkins, Dantley and English didn't win rings, either. 'So there are some guys who have done it. We'll see. This was not my goal [Hall of Fame]. I wanted to enter into the league and be the best player I can be, play for as long as I can … and win a championship,' he said. 'Everything after that comes from the groundwork you laid from all your years. 'I never could come on a team and say, ‘If I average this many points or have this kind of season, I can be a Hall-of-Famer.' They look at your entire career and that's where it's judged.' "

  • Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman: "Last season, the Thunder didn’t sweep a season series, East or West. This season they’ve swept six East teams -- Atlanta, Miami, New York, Detroit, Washington and New Jersey. They can add the Bobcats, Raptors and Pacers to the list if they go 3-0 on the upcoming road trip. Oklahoma City’s East dominance has put them in position to not only reach the playoffs but finish with a high enough seed to avoid the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, possibly contend for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "The Lakers aren't supposed to be revered in Sacramento. They're not supposed to be loved at Arco Arena – not when their coach, Phil Jackson, mocked Kings fans as being 'semi-civilized' or "maybe redneck" nearly 10 years ago. But the Lakers have made themselves at home in Northern California. Tonight's game against the Lakers marks the third sellout of the season for the Kings. The other sellouts were the home opener against Memphis and the Lakers' first visit in late December. Cowbells no longer ring in the Lakers' ears. And based on the warm ovation they receive during pregame introductions, the Lakers might think they're at Staples Center if they closed their eyes. 'It's terrible, but it's something that we're partially responsible for,' said Kings center Spencer Hawes. 'If we were winning more, it probably wouldn't be the case. We just have to keep getting better and keep bringing the Kings' fans back and not be selling the Lakers' fans so many tickets.' "

  • Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News: "The 76ers are going to have to answer that question, either in the next week or so or after the season. The question doesn't seem to be whether Eddie Jordan is gone, just how soon? My problem is that the list of successors supposedly starts with Jeff Van Gundy, Jay Wright or Avery Johnson. No disrespect to those guys, but that could be a tragic mistake. Van Gundy probably would like a chance to win; Johnson apparently wants to be handpicked without going through a process. The Sixers had to interview Wright last year, even knowing he had no interest; both sides had to show they were doing their due diligence. Strangely, the one guy who truly wanted the job was Doug Collins, and he couldn't get an interview. In a way, I was happy about that, because as brilliant a coach as Collins can be, he is also the best pro analyst in the business. I would hate to see him walk away from that to take one more shot at coaching. So, again: Who's next? The one really fresh candidate last year was runner-up Dwayne Casey, the Dallas assistant. In recent weeks, I have begun wondering what might have happened had the Sixers chosen Kurt Rambis, the Los Angeles Lakers assistant and perhaps coach-in-waiting. Rambis would have come armed with the triangle offense, but without access to Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Exactly how is that working out in Minnesota, where Rambis ultimately landed? The Sixers' correct path this time might be to mine the rising (and relatively unknown) assistants around the league. As a colleague mentioned to me, the search should be for fresh ideas, for leadership, for a presence."

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "The good news from last night’s 119-93 pounding of the Pistons is that the Celtics did to such a lowly team what they should do. They got rid of them early, pounding them into pumice the same way the foreign car industry did Detroit’s economy. They played with energy and defensive dominance. They played like the kind of team we hoped they’d be this season before injuries and old age began to tie them into unrecognizable knots. The problem is it was just a rerun of a drama that has been played out over and over this season. The Celtics still beat up teams like the Pistons, losers of nine of their past 11. But the day before in Cleveland they got chased out of the gym, losing again to the Cavaliers, 104-93, because the opponents were younger, more aggressive and, frankly, probably more confident when the game was being decided. It is all well and good that the Celtics as presently constructed can still beat down the detritus of the NBA like the Pistons, but the sad fact of the matter is they are a combined 2-9 against Cleveland, Orlando and Atlanta. Add a 1-3 record against the top three teams out west - L.A., Denver and Dallas - and that makes them 3-12 against the league’s top six teams."

  • Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe: "Everybody around here is simply too negative. Not me. I still believe. I don’t care if the Celtics are 2-9 against the Cavaliers, Magic, and Hawks. Seeing them lose at home to the New Jersey Nets doesn’t discourage me. Getting whupped by the Grizz by 20 at the Garden is OK. Sometimes you’ve just got to see the glass as half full. This is one of those times. There was a point at the end of the 2009 Patriots season when everything crystallized. It became apparent that this was not your typical Bill Belichick “No I In Team’’ unit. The Patriots repeatedly coughed up second-half leads, never won a clutch game on the road, and ultimately imploded under the weight of their own arrogance and effort. It was not a team to be admired, not a team we liked. Now the naysayers (you know who you are) claim the same malaise has infected the 2009-10 Celtics. Some of the nattering nabobs are projecting a shocker in the form of a first-round playoff exit next month. Not me. I see what the Celtics are doing. The Green are Going Green. The NBA’s Team AARP is also Team Energy Conservation."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Only Miami's Dwyane Wade has averaged more free-throw attempts per game (11.3) this month than has Amare Stoudemire (11.0), and no team has gone to the line more than Phoenix, which is getting 26 points per game there by making 79 percent. ... Superstar wing players usually are the ones getting double-digit free-throw tries regularly, but Stoudemire's perimeter shot and reinstated confidence to attack put him in a top five with Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Coach Alvin Gentry said he has gone to Stoudemire's mismatches more this month, during which time Stoudemire has averaged 30.7 points. 'My explosiveness is back,' said Stoudemire, who has lost 20 pounds this season. 'My quickness is back. My IQ of the game. Everything's back at 100 percent.' "