First Cup: Monday

  • Kate Fagan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "On game night inside BJK Akatlar Arena -- home court of Allen Iverson's new team, the Besiktas Cola Turka Black Eagles -- the image of Iverson hysteria is pure and true, but the arena seats 3,200 in a city of about 13 million. Iverson is not a sensation here, but rather an exciting curiosity for small pockets of basketball fans, playing for a club that doesn't even compete in Euroleague, Europe's most prestigious. The 76ers' former all-everything guard is broke -- by all accounts except his own -- and playing here in Istanbul for a number of reasons, none of which is to become an ambassador for Turkey's solid, but often overlooked, professional league. ... A member of one NBA front office, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the subject matter, said that prior to last season, a member of Iverson's family called to inquire about a contract for Iverson, explaining that Iverson owed that person money and would be unable to pay without a contract. A similar source explained that Iverson is broke, plain and simple. Over his NBA career, including his lucrative deal with Reebok, Iverson made more than $100 million. 'It's very surprising,' Besiktas teammate Mire Chatman said of Iverson's signing. 'I was a big fan of his. He paved the way for a lot of scoring point guards. Now that he's here, I just want to help him adjust to the European basketball.' Whether he's here for money or for a second chance -- and the likelihood is it's a combination of the two -- Iverson appears genuinely happy during practices. Sometimes, Besiktas practices twice a day, other times only once, but in each of them Iverson is smiling, high-fiving, singing, jumping on a teammate's back, and screaming after a missed jumper."

  • Alan Hahn of Newsday: "In another era, Clippers rookie Blake Griffin might have been planted on the hardwood after his first monster dunk Saturday night against the Knicks. But the NBA has discouraged such practices with the flagrant-foul rule, and regardless, Mike D' Antoni doesn't subscribe to the 'No Layups' mentality. And when it was suggested to him that perhaps Timofey Mozgov should be more aggressive when defending the rim and use his six fouls - especially to avoid the embarrassment of being on the wrong end of a play like that third-quarter dunk by Griffin, an instant YouTube sensation -- D'Antoni practically pleaded with reporters to not make this a topic of conversation with the 7-1 Russian rookie. 'We'll talk to him; leave me to do it,' D'Antoni said. 'I'm just afraid that -- don't say nothing to him, please, let us coach him. If anybody knows Russian, just keep it quiet.' The way the Knicks exacted revenge was in how they responded: by quelling momentum with a big play of their own after each big play by Griffin (44 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists). And although Griffin may have dominated the 'SportsCenter' highlights, the result was a 124-115 Knicks win that sent them home riding a three-game winning streak."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Doc Rivers tried, not very successfully, to bite his tongue following yesterday’s whistle-happy performance by the officiating crew of Dick Bavetta, Matt Boland and Brian Forte.At issue was a game-winning trip to the line by Amir Johnson with 2.7 seconds left after rebounding a Leandro Barbosa miss. The Celtics were not in the penalty, and Johnson didn’t appear to be shooting when he was fouled by Paul Pierce. Jose Calderon set up Johnson’s sequence when he hit Ray Allen on the arm for a steal. Of similar distress was an uncalled hack by Andrea Bargnani on Shaquille O’Neal in full view of Forte with 7:46 left. 'A couple of questionable calls down the stretch hurt us, but I told our guys when you put yourself in that position, that’s what can happen,' said Rivers. 'I thought Ray got fouled, but you know they’re going to swipe, you know they’re going to go after the ball. We didn’t execute very well. The Amir Johnson play was whatever.' The coach was asked to comment further. 'I need my money,' he said. 'I have four kids. I didn’t see anything. Let’s put it that way.' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Pau Gasol stole a page from Matt Barnes' script, scoring 28 points and making all 10 of his shots two days after Barnes made all seven of his attempts in a victory over Minnesota. In fact, Gasol and Barnes completed a bizarre run at history, two of a kind with their efficient, but obscure, stat lines. Before the last few days, Charles Barkley had been the only NBA player to get at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a game without missing a shot or free throw (minimum five attempts in each category). Barnes did it against Minnesota and Gasol did it Sunday, adding nine rebounds and five assists. He made all eight of his free throws. Perfection this early in the season? Twice in two games by Lakers players? Interesting, indeed. 'Don't know what to say,' said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who can usually find places to nitpick, though it would have been tough Sunday. Gasol seemed amused at his brush with the NBA record books. 'Coincidence has something to do with it. It's kind of weird it happened that way,' he said. 'It happened once before in the history of the league and then back-to-back games it happens for two of our players. It's weird, but obviously it's a good sign.' "

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "A late-November game against Golden State is as good an occasion as any to ask the question: What exactly motivates Kobe Bryant these days? ... Maybe everything he is doing on the court is just setting up his endeavors off of it. He has big plans for his VIVO Foundation, his personally backed charity organization that focuses on building connections across international lines. Odds are he'll be long retired by the age of 40. That leaves him 30 or so years before he'll be that 70-year-old man who finally sits back and basks in his records. '[What motivates him is] the thirst to be recognized as one of the greatest if not the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of shoes,' Chuck Person said. 'He's definitely knocking on that door of the upper echelon of players. So, I think that's what continually drives him -- the challenge of wanting to be the guy when the game of basketball is mentioned, that his name is called first.' There will be plenty of time for him to round out his life away from the game, but he'll always be ultimately known for the time he spent as a basketball-wired machine. I don't need that stuff. I really don't. I'm already wired,' Bryant said. 'For whatever reason, I don't need motivation. I'm good to go.' "

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: "Since high school, New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul and Jarrett Jack have been friends, despite developing into rivals when they played at rival colleges in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Paul said his parents and Jack’s know each other. In the offseason, Paul and Jack hang out together in New Orleans to attend Essence Music Festival. They haven’t been teammates since they played AAU ball, but now they are reunited. Jack, along with center David Andersen and guard Marcus Banks, was obtained in a trade Saturday from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for veteran forward Peja Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless. The trio will join the Hornets tonight when they play the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. 'Jarrett is going to help us and the other guys,’ Paul said. 'We’re going to need the adjustment period to be quick because we have a lot of things going great right now, so chemistry is going to be huge.' Hornets Coach Monty Williams said Jack will play both guard spots as a backup, and there is a possibility he could be paired together in the backcourt with Paul based on matchups."

  • Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail: "As votes of confidence go, this one comes with an asterisk: Jose Calderon is the Toronto Raptors point guard by default, but nobody believes that is a satisfactory situation, unless Nimble and Flexible are the names of incoming point guards instead of the words general manager Bryan Colangelo uses to describe the teams payroll structure heading into a possible labour stoppage. The Raptors play the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre with Calderon now holding the keys to the car because of the trade of Jarrett Jack to the New Orleans Hornets. The problem is Calderon is here only because a summer-time trade to the Charlotte Bobcats fell apart. He then compounded his lack of marketability when he lost the starter’s job to Jack. The good thing is that the Raptors’ young players now know with whom they have to fit in -- the better thing is that Leandro Barbosa, if healthy, can be the sort of late game, ball-handler who can create his own shot that Calderon cannot be."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Kevin Love says he is not the kind of guy to say I told you so, but ... He told you so. Or at least he told his dad so. Love played only one collegiate season with Russell Westbrook at UCLA but said he needed only one pickup game there to conclude that that the rather unsung recruit (at least by Bruins standards) from Long Beach, Calif., someday would be as good as he has become. 'I don't think I knew he'd be this good, this fast,' Love said. 'But I knew he could be, and would be. I hate to say that I called it, but I was always the guy telling everybody, 'This guy is going to be special.' ' He remembers calling home early in his freshman year and telling his father, Stan, about a sophomore guard who went relatively unnoticed nationally until Oklahoma City surprised everybody by taking him fourth overall in the 2008 NBA draft, one pick before Memphis picked Love, the Pac-10 Player of the Year. 'I was like, 'Dad, this kid's going to be special,' ' Love said. He saw it back then in such youthful promise, then saw it again last summer when he played with Westbrook, now all grown up, and Thunder forward Kevin Durant on the U.S. team that won gold at the FIBA world championships in Turkey."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Rick Sund explained why he stayed the course with the same players after the Hawks were swept from the playoffs last spring: it takes time for teams to break through. The Hawks didn't provide much opposition in losing to Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals, demonstrating they weren't ready. But Sund, Atlanta's general manager, thought it was premature to give up on Atlanta's talented core when it hadn't been through enough tests. In other words, the Hawks still had to become a team like the Celtics. 'You always want to get to that level,' Hawks guard Mike Bibby said. 'It's definitely something you look up to. We kind of mold ourselves after them.' The Celtics visit Philips Arena Monday night with the kind of rugged mentality Hawks coach Larry Drew wants from his team. The Hawks have lost to all five so-called marquee opponents they've faced, and after each defeat Drew has lamented their inability to stay determined when things got tough. The Celtics and all championship contenders have that attribute. "The mental side of it, the focus side of it and the toughness side of it,' Drew said. 'That's what I am preaching to my guys, so that when there are [rough] waters you don't panic, you don't fragment. You weather the storm [and] mentally you push through it.' "

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "In a revealing interview, Chauncey Billups repeatedly said he understands the business of basketball and that the new collective bargaining agreement, which could reduce the amount of money players make, has teams hesitant to extend contracts. But when asked about whether he wants a contract extension, Billups said: 'Sure, absolutely. I never want to leave here again. I want to be a Nugget for the rest of my career, whether that's four, five years, whatever. They know that. But I also know the business of basketball. Nothing really surprises me in this game. People talk about Carmelo (Anthony), the possibility of me being moved, the J.R. (Smith) situation -- there are a lot of uncertainties around here. I don't like being part of the uncertainty. But that's what it is, that's the nature of the beast. I've been down the road. ... I know how this business goes. I respect the process. At the same time, I know what I've done to change the culture around here. I'm not a me-me guy, but I know the position of the state of the franchise before I got here. I hope that doesn't go unappreciated.' ... Ideally, Billups wants to play for the Nuggets for another half-decade and then transition into a front-office role. But will he even be a Nugget come March? Denver execs Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri have so much on their plates that they need additional plates. But it's understood, through conversations with people throughout the league, that a decision on Anthony is the primary domino for the Nuggets."

  • Jonathan Feigen pf the Houston Chronicle: "Center Yao Ming returned to Rockets practice Sunday, restricted by the bone bruise in his left ankle to the video session, riding the stationary bicycle and free throws but determined to be optimistic. Yao, 30, learned last week that he would be out at least two more weeks, but he said he was relieved that the examination showed no complications in his surgically repaired foot. 'Be positive,' Yao said. 'It already happened. It could be a lot worse. At least that proves it was a very successful surgery in that area. We just need to deal with another injury.' Yao was concerned with how the time off will diminish his conditioning. 'It's definitely not enough,' Yao said of the workouts permitted."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Even if Dirk Nowitzki misses five of 13 from the line over the last two games or fails to box out his man, who happens to grab 18 rebounds, you tend to forgive him because of everything else he does. But there's somebody in the organization who doesn't excuse his failings. Himself. 'No one's going to be a harsher critic of his game than him,' coach Rick Carlisle said. 'One of the things we've all got to do is make sure he's not too hard on himself. He's going to take a lot of that stuff personally because, as the face of the franchise, he wants a responsibility for winning and losing. That's what makes him a special player. That's what's made [Jason] Kidd a special player, what made Reggie Miller great, what made Larry Bird great. They're different creatures. They're very special.' All true. Except from the free throw line lately. 'Yeah, I don't know what's going on with my free throws,' Nowitzki said. What's happened is that his percentage has dropped all the way down to .831, which would be fabulous for about 95 percent of all NBA players. But considering Nowitzki shot 91.5 percent from the line last season, it's a bit unusual. He recently said that all he'd have to do is make 25 in a row and he'd be back to 90 percent. After the last couple of games, he'd now have to make 53 in a row to get back to 90 percent."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Serge Ibaka explained his second-year surge with one word. Confidence. 'It's very important,' Ibaka said. In just 86 career games, Ibaka has transformed himself from a mystery draft pick to a spot starter for the Oklahoma City Thunder. With customary starting power forward Jeff Green having missed seven games this season with a nagging left ankle injury, Ibaka has steadied the frontcourt with his improved play. The Thunder is 6-1 with Ibaka in the starting lineup entering tonight's game against Minnesota. Ibaka has averaged 11.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocked shots and one steal in 32 minutes per game as a member of the first five. 'Serge works hard,' said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. 'Every minute he's on the floor he's going to give his best. But like all of our guys, it's not going to always look great.' "

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Leave it to Stan Van Gundy to compare one of his starting forwards to one of baseball's best sluggers. A couple of years ago, Van Gundy -- a lifelong baseball fan -- responded to the calls of doom and gloom when the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera started a season poorly. Van Gundy remembers telling someone then that Cabrera would hit .300, hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. And that's what Cabrera did. The same goes, Van Gundy says, for Lewis. The starting forward started the year poorly, but might have some traction now after scoring 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting Saturday night in Indianapolis. 'Rashard's going to shoot his percentage,' Van Gundy said. 'You're going to have slumps. When it's at the first of the year, it looks ugly, because your numbers don't come down from 47 percent to 42 percent. All you've got's the slump, and it looks ugly. But he's too good a shooter to continue shooting that way. If he continues to play hard and play with energy, he's going to shoot the ball well.' Lewis made five of his seven 3-point attempts against the Pacers. He's now shooting 36.2 percent from beyond the arc."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Charlotte Bobcats made plenty of shots during Saturday's 123-105 victory against the Suns and took one more after the game, when Gerald Wallace was asked how hard it was for teammate Stephen Jackson to record the franchise's first triple-double. 'Against Phoenix, not that hard.' Wallace said. The Suns can be offended all they want, but facing the truth would be a good first step. It is what happened last season when Dallas' Jason Terry said on TNT during a Mavericks-Suns game that the Suns "are not very good defensively." Claiming they were inspired by that comment, the Suns went 30-8 the rest of the season and limited opponents to 44 percent shooting. But the Suns' best defensive field-goal percentage season (45.2) since 2004-05 did not have a lasting carryover. The addition of forward Hedo Turkoglu and other individuals' drop-offs have turned the Suns into arguably the NBA's worst defense. They entered Sunday as the second-worst scoring defense (109.0) to Minnesota and were tied with Sacramento for the worst defensive field-goal percentage (48.9). The Suns are 9-19 when guard Steve Nash does not play, and he is expected to miss a third consecutive game Monday at Houston because of a groin strain. Nash is no defensive savior, but he could at least lead by example with effort."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "Many Pistons expressed excitement at attending UFC 123 at the Palace on Saturday night. Chris Wilcox compared ultimate fighting to boxing after Saturday's practice, and Charlie Villanueva sat courtside to watch Rampage Jackson's victory before a packed house late Saturday night. Pistons spokesman Kevin Grigg said most players attended, and you can count Will Bynum and Ben Wallace among those who witnessed Detroit's first UFC event since 1996. It was a first for Bynum, who casually follows the sport and watches his nephews play UFC on video-game consoles. 'I always thought it was exciting, but I never had the chance to go and see it,' Bynum said. 'It was crazy, man. It was extremely exciting. I mean, the adrenaline rush from the crowd, the players. It's just a warrior-like sport." Could Bynum see himself stepping into the ring? 'I wouldn't do nothing like that because I don't think it's inside my character,' Bynum said. 'But as far as if I were ever to get into an altercation or something, I could see myself doing some of the same things, but not as a sport.' Coach John Kuester passed on the action, but when told Villanueva was on Twitter about the night, he said: 'Oh, really? Obviously, I don't have Twitter.' "