First Cup: Friday

  • Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com: "The point guard was clairvoyant. Rajon Rondo doesn't talk much, but he sees plenty. Before the Miami Heat suffered another big-time, big-game meltdown against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, before Rondo dropped 16 assists on the star-studded (and noticeably sagging) South Beach caravan, before he spurred his team on to 60 percent shooting in the first half, he calmly predicted Miami would have no answers for him. He also hypothesized they would make a concerted effort to squelch his creative juices by throwing a variety of defenders his way, including the one Rondo feared most -- LeBron James, the 260-pound power forward. 'He's like Kobe,'' Rondo explained before the sufficiently hyped Celtics-Heat rematch that Boston won 112-107 at American Airlines Arena. 'He can give me space and still challenge my shot because of his incredible wing span. But if they put LeBron on me, who guards Paul? Who guards Ray?' Clearly, the answer was no one. The Heat did intermittently shift LeBron on to Rondo in the first half, which meant Pierce was left to gleefully feast on post-up opportunities against Dwyane Wade, Jerry Stackhouse and, later, old friend Eddie House. It should come as no surprise Pierce finished with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting. ... he Heat will get better. Their chemistry will develop and they have enough talent to become a legitimate threat. In the meantime, don't mind Rondo and the Celtics if they move on and start concentrating on teams that are ready to challenge them now. The point guard sees what could be with this Celtics team. He knows they could win it all. And this time, his fingerprints will be all over it."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "Uh-oh. You can almost feel the tidal wave of disappointment and furor and scrutiny forming. You can practically see an entire community of basketball fans hovering over the panic button ready to press. You can actually see Dan Gilbert wringing his hands in diabolical pleasure. This Heat team that wasn't supposed to lose two games in a row all year just lost three of four, including two in a row at home. This Heat team that was supposed to be relying on its defense while its offense caught up has given up 196 points over the past 77 minutes of basketball (that's about 31 points per 12 minutes). This Heat team that was supposed to challenge the Celtics for superiority in the Eastern Conference has been handled twice by those Celtics and at 5-4 is closer to the Pacers, Cavaliers and Bucks than it is to the top of the conference. If someone would've predicted before the season that the Heat would start off with this record, which included back-to-back home losses, you probably would've assumed some drastic change was on the way."

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "Chris Bosh, the former Raptors all-star, has enumerated another reason why he’s happy to be playing in his native United States. Bosh told reporters in Miami on Thursday that his seven years in Toronto deprived him of what he called 'the good cable.' He was speaking of cable TV. He said he was gladto be living in Miami because he can now subscribe to League Pass, the pay package that carries every NBA game. NBA types in Toronto couldn’t help but break out laughing, as they’ve been doing frequently when they’ve watched Bosh’s abysmal (albeit early) failure to fit into the Heat’s game plan. Bosh’s comments suggested that he spent more than half a decade in Toronto apparently unaware that League Pass is widely available in Canada. While Bosh clarified that his Etobicoke waterfront condo was exclusively loyal to a TV carrier that didn’t give residents that option, he was also apparently dumb to the fact that anyone with a brain and a bit of money -- and Bosh made $15.6 million (U.S.) in his final season in Toronto -- can arrange to have a grey-market U.S. satellite package installed in their home with one phone call. 'We should have informed him that he could have got (League Pass),' Jay Triano, the Raptors coach, said with a laugh. 'I don’t remember one day when he came into practice and said he was mad because he didn’t have good cable.' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Kobe Bryant's shot abandoned him. Pau Gasol no longer scored with ease. Shannon Brown, of all people, tried to keep the Lakers among the undefeated, but it all dissolved in front of an overjoyed Pepsi Center crowd, the Denver Nuggets dropping the Lakers on Thursday, 118-112. The Lakers surrendered 33 points in the fourth quarter, their defense sputtering badly, matched in ineffectiveness only by Bryant's outside touch. Bryant had 34 points but made only 11 of 32 shots. Gasol wasn't much better: 17 points on six-for-17 shooting as New Orleans (7-0) became the NBA's only undefeated team. 'Just another game in November,' Bryant said, not taking the loss all that hard. The Lakers (8-1) blew a chance at the second-best start in franchise history, though it could almost be predicted based on their recent play. They were sloppy against Toronto, stellar against Portland, but again apathetic in a slim victory against Minnesota. It all seemed to catch up to them Thursday."

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "If the Jazz were a stock or a tradable commodity, everybody would be buying. Everybody should be buying. They’re going to get better. They’re going to gain in value. And here’s the best part: The risk factor is low. What’s happened during the past few games, especially the last two, is just a glimpse at their potential. Skeptics might call it dangerous good fortune, this habit the Jazz have of falling behind by major double-digits and then finding a way, some stupid way, to come storming back to win. Living on the edge, some figure, is no way to invest. If Paul Millsap has to score 46 points and hit three three-pointers to give the Jazz a chance, then what’s sound about that? If the Jazz trail by large margins, not just against the Heat in the first half and the Magic deep into the third quarter on the road, but early against the Clippers at home, how is that supposed to create confidence? If the Jazz need to be yelled at by Jerry Sloan or inspired by Raja Bell during halftime speeches to wake up and play ball, again, where’s the assurance there? Well. The assurance comes in a simple equation that applies to any team, but especially to this particular version of the Jazz: E + E = W. Energy plus efficiency equals wins. It takes no Einstein to grasp that. Even Al Jefferson will understand it, and it won’t take him until January to do so."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "After tonight’s big win against the Lakers, Carmelo Anthony was asked about the Nuggets front office shakeup. Nuggets president Josh Kroenke and executive VP of basketball ops Masai Ujiri got rid of longtime front-office adviser Bret Bearup, who had been helpful in many past trades -- and had his hand in cooking up recent deals for Melo. Asked about the Nuggets getting rid of Bearup from the front office, Anthony said, 'That’s a step. I think that was a big step, not just for Josh (Kroenke) and Masai (Ujiri) but for the whole organization -- for the whole league to know what they’re doing here, to make progress. Positive (step). They made some changes obviously for the better of the organization. That’s their decision.' Also, asked about his looming trade possibilities, Melo said: 'TNT loves drama, don’t it?'

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "When the Trail Blazers invade New Orleans Arena Saturday night, they’ll be walking into a Hornets’ nest. Defense is New Orleans’ calling card. Opponents are averaging 90.1 points (tied for second in the NBA); so far, none have scored as many as 100 points. Foes are shooting .425 from the field (fourth). The Hornets are also committing 13.5 turnovers a game (third). 'We’ve been talking about defense from day one, and guys are buying in,' says Monty Williams, an assistant on Nate McMillan’s Portland staff the previous five years. “We’re taking care of the ball. It’s our guys who are doing this. They’re playing hard and have committed at the defensive end.' ... Williams deflects credit for the Hornets’ start. 'These guys would have responded to anyone,' he says. 'Our guys are motivated by competition, by trying to win games. They would have played this way regardless. I wouldn’t attribute it to me.' "

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "Heading into today's 8:30 p.m. contest against Portland inside Oklahoma City Arena, the Thunder is shooting 87.3 percent from the free-throw line, which easily leads the league. That is a monumental 4.1 percent higher than the NBA season record of 83.2 percent by the Boston Celtics in 1989-90. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it is unrealistic to expect his team to stay at such a lofty percentage, but he does expect a level of excellence to continue. Brooks has set a standard of at least 80 percent for his team. The Thunder finished second in free-throw shooting last season at 80.5 percent. 'That is the personality of our offense,' Brooks said. 'We want to get to the rim, attack the basket and get to the free-throw line. It's a great asset to have.' Not only is the Thunder's charity stripe prowess an asset, it's a weapon, particularly late in contests when an opponent fouls to stop the clock while playing catch-up."

  • Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "In the first half Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, the colleague to my left said he believed Ramon Sessions would prove to be the best player on this season's Cavaliers. The colleague to my right wasn't so sure, adding J.J. Hickson and Daniel Gibson to the list of one. That question might be answered sooner than either thought. The groin injury suffered by point guard Mo Williams in the 95-87 loss to the New Jersey Nets thrusts Sessions to the forefront. Although Williams echoed a postgame query that he hoped to be ready to play Saturday, his body language indicated otherwise. He missed almost a month of preseason and the first three games with the same injury in a different spot. Asked how he was feeling, Williams sighed and said, 'I wish I could say good.' Later he added, 'It's emotional for me because I'm thinking about so much stuff.' That certainly does not sound like someone who will play any time soon. The Dec. 2 showdown with the Miami Heat when LeBron James returns to Cleveland might even be out the window. But the low moment for Williams could be the breakout moment for Sessions."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Stan Van Gundy sent a message to Brandon Bass before the Orlando Magic started training camp. The coach told Bass that his playing time would be determined by how well he rebounds and plays defense. Message received, loud and clear. Perhaps no Magic player has improved from last season to this one as much as Bass. His rebounding numbers have soared. His defense has become more reliable. And, not coincidentally, his playing time also has increased. 'I think what he's done this year is exactly what we wanted,' Van Gundy said. Bass could play a significant role when the Magic play the Toronto Raptors on Friday night at Amway Center. Van Gundy has been disappointed lately with power forward Ryan Anderson, and Anderson's difficulties might open the door for Bass to play more in the days and weeks ahead."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "For nine-plus NBA seasons, Tony Parker has walked a high wire every night. He is the Spurs’ point guard, so he is supposed to facilitate the offense. He is also one of the Spurs’ best scorers, so his job is to put the ball in the basket. It’s a fine line Parker admits he hasn’t always walked with ease. 'That’s always the tough part, since I’ve been here,' Parker said. 'When to shoot, when to pass. Every year, I try to get better at it.' Through the first seven games of his 10th NBA season, Parker has tiptoed that tightrope with a skillfulness fit for both Barnum & Bailey. He is averaging 16.7 points, a tad off his career mark, but is also averaging 8.4 assists -- a number which, were it to hold for the entire season, would mean a career best by nearly two per game. While the Spurs’ season so far has been headlined by the scoring exploits of Manu Ginobili, the stunning resurrection of Richard Jefferson and the untapped promise of Tiago Splitter, Parker’s metamorphosis into a facilitator has been an overlooked facet of the team’s 6-1 start. 'Tony has done the best job that he’s ever done here, as far as playing that role between scorer and passer,' coach Gregg Popovich said. 'He has shown great leadership running the show, distributing the basketball and scoring when it’s appropriate for him.' In Popovich’s view, Parker’s approach has been more of a tweak than a transformation."

  • Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post: "The look on Allen Iverson's face in that moment he was introduced to his new life was one of pure amazement, equal parts shock and fear. And that gave way to the realization that these people halfway around the world - in a place he never thought much about and would never have reason to - loved him, adored him. The expressions on Iverson's face when he landed in Turkey the other day, and again at the soccer game where they stood and chanted for him, were priceless. Don't get me wrong, Allen Iverson shouldn't have to play in Turkey - or anywhere in Europe or Asia. Iverson, now 35 years old, should be taking his curtain calls here, at home, for an NBA team, preferably a contender. You can't convince me that Iverson can't help a good team, that he can't come off the bench and be an asset. ... Iverson will be playing with, as one writer put it recently, a bunch of guys who a few years ago would have been paying to see him play. The players, according to scouts, will be college-level, in terms of talent. His team plays in the Turkish league, not the superior Euroleague. Even so, the Turks will want to see the player they idolized as kids, the one who crossed over Michael Jordan as a rookie, who led the NBA in scoring four times, who led his team to the NBA Finals once, who was the league's MVP. And perhaps, if it's meant to end sweetly, Iverson will play up to expectation in Europe and the real curtain call will come in the NBA, in America, at home, where his final bows ought to come."