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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com: "What the Heat have here is a golden opportunity. It’s an early crossroads the Cavaliers’ franchise reached about five years ago, but it didn’t quite grasp the importance. In the soul searching done since July, it was something the Cavs wished they could do over: Stand up to LeBron James. Whether you believe ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard’s report that several Heat players, particularly James, have grown frustrated with coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t really matter. James has already said as much repeatedly in recent days. ... There are only so many people to blame and in the NBA the first fingers are usually pointed at the coach. Check back in a few weeks. There’s a chance the conversation will sound completely different, which is what Spoelstra is counting on. Whatever the case, the Heat have encountered their first critical test with James. Now is when the organization -- be it president Pat Riley himself or Spoelstra in one of their series of meetings or perhaps both -- need to tell James that they won't completely accommodate him. Spoelstra will remain the coach and the team is going to stay the course. That means James, whether he likes it or not, will to continue to be asked to sacrifice parts of his game. It may be hard in the short term but this course of action will make a difference over the long haul. The evidence resides in the Cleveland Cavaliers' recent history."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The Heat knew going in that LeBron James would be high maintenance. Superstars almost always are. But pair that with a young, intellectual sideline purist and you have what you have right now, a leadership void that allows the ancillary to dominate. So reports emerge from within the locker about unease with the sideline guidance, with the same coach who first found a way to get two rotation rookies to the No. 5 playoff seed in 2009 and then a cap-conscious team to that same seed a year ago. And to the coach's aid steps ... Not a word from Pat Riley, even though a source close to Riley and his family insist that the last thing Riley wants to do right now is return to the sideline. Even worse, there are words from Wade that make you wonder how much support remains. 'In this league, and in sports in general, you really don't look at it and say a coach is your guy,' Wade said Monday morning. 'A coach is a coach and he has to take hard stances at times, more times than not. Players and coaches, it's always that kind of weird type of relationship. You don't look at him and say, 'That's my guy right there.' ' It was an odd distancing, on a day Spoelstra recorded his 100th victory as Heat coach. 'He's a different person and I'm a different player than when we came in,' Wade said. 'So I'm not going to say he's my guy, but he's our coach, you know.' For now. It's as if this team is channeling its inner Shaq."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "LeBron James must have learned from the Shaquille O'Neal school of how to defuse a tense situation. Just make a joke out of it. After he walked away from his locker Monday, donetalking about his supposedly disharmonious relationship with his coach and a shoulder bump between the two that has been analyzed for two days, James lightly tapped a media member on his way to the training room and loudly apologized. 'Oh, I'm sorry, I bumped you,' he offered with a wide grin, getting a laugh out of everyone in the room. LeBron's smile only got larger as he exited, adding a quiet 'craziness,' as he shut the training room door. Make 'em laugh. Works every time. So, drama over, right? All that talk about LeBron purposely bumping Erik Spoelstra and LeBron wanting a new coach, all of it is water under a hilarious bridge? Not exactly. But it is funny how, when you speak to the actual principles involved in a story, you get a better feel for what actually is happening. Truth be told, the Heat is a mess right now. A bit less messy Tuesday, a day after an easy win against the undermanned Wizards that included some heated moments that could help bring a team together, but a mess still."

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "Before the Cavaliers can worry about Thursday, before they can welcome back their former king, they have an equally important matter to tend to Tuesday: the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics. They are the same Celtics who eliminated the Cavs from the playoffs last season, and the same Celtics that the Cavs stunned on opening night at Quicken Loans Arena a few weeks ago. Sure, LeBron James and the Miami Heat will be here Thursday, and the entire nation will be watching. But those are worries for Thursday. Asked how he can focus on the Celtics now and not think about the Heat in what will be one of the most exciting weeks of the season, Mo Williams chuckled. ''It's easy. I've got Rondo [Tuesday],' Williams said. 'That should be enough said.' It is. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has enjoyed destroying the Cavs throughout his career. He has posted double-digit assists in all but two games this season — and one of those was against the Cavs, when he finished with 18 points and nine assists on the second night of the Celtics' season-opening back-to-back."

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "Center Shaquille O'Neal missed the Boston Celtics' 90-minute practice session on Monday due to what coach Doc Rivers suggested was confusion about the reporting time. While Rivers said he would not be disciplined for the mix-up, he didn't sound particularly pleased about O'Neal's absence on a day the team practiced with 11 players. O'Neal joined the team in time for its afternoon flight to Cleveland in advance of Tuesday's game against the Cavaliers. 'He got the times mixed up,' said Rivers. 'He missed one, so he owes us one. We're good.' Rivers even kept it light when asked about potential punishment. 'No, I was going to spank him, but it might not hurt,' Rivers joked. 'It may hurt me.' "

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "Shaquille O'Neal doesn't appear to be ready for retirement. The Celtics' starting center is averaging 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks and shooting 69.3 percent from the field this season. His field-goal percentage would be leading the NBA if he had enough attempts (O'Neal is 52 of 75 from the field). O'Neal played last season with the Cavs before signing a two-year contract with the Celtics for the league minimum. The Cavs plan to try and exploit the 7-foot-1, 325-pounder in tonight's game at Quicken Loans Arena. 'One of our reasons we were successful the first time: We got up and down the floor and put Shaq in a lot of pick-and-rolls,' Cavs coach Byron Scott said. 'That won't change. If we do that, our guards will get wide-open shots. (We'll try to spread the floor) as much as possible and move it from one side to the other.' The Cavs defeated the Celtics, 95-87, in the season opener on Oct. 27."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Unless --- knock on wood --- he is felled by a catastrophic injury, Dwight Howard is destined to join basketball's hall of fame. 'He's a sure-fire hall of famer' if he remains on course, agrees Magic coach Stan Van Gundy of his 24-year-old center. Oddly, 16 games into Dwight's seventh season, that heady forecast is more sure-fire than Howard ever being awarded MVP. I believe Howard is off to his best-ever start in the race, even though he shrugs, 'I don't care about individual stats.' His offense is finally catching up with his devastating defense. He's showing a more complete, mature game -- except at the free-throw line, of course. 'I don't think there's anybody in the NBA playing better basketball than he is,' Van Gundy said. Van Gundy concedes he's biased, but I think he's correct. There's little doubt that Howard has been the beast of the East after a month of play. The sentiment was given support on Monday, when Howard earned Eastern Conference player of the week honors -- his second of November."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown needs Stephen Jackson to stop getting himself tossed from basketball games. But based on Brown’s comments Monday, Jackson might not be capable of that change. 'It affects him, it affects our team. We’ve got a key player who’s in the locker room,’ Brown said, referring to Jackson’s ejection, 4 ½ minutes into Saturday’s loss in Milwaukee. 'I don’t know how things are going to change,’ Brown added. 'I understand from his perspective what’s going on, but that’s the way it is: As hard as it is for a player to understand that, you’ve got to play through (emotion). You’re too important to our team. We need you on the court.’ Seventeen games into the season Jackson has committed six technical fouls, tying him with Orlando’s Dwight Howard for most in the league. If he reaches 16, he’ll serve an automatic one-game suspension, but it might not take that long. Jackson was scheduled to speak with league officials Monday. He said at practice he’s 'pretty sure’ he’ll receive additional discipline that could involve a suspension."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Before any assessment can be made, the Hawks will have to prove they can maintain their new approach during a ominous December schedule that includes games at Miami, Orlando, San Antonio, Boston and Oklahoma City. Still, one trait of good NBA teams is the ability to consistently dominate lesser opponents by wide margins. Before the victories against Washington and Toronto, the Hawks had managed to do so just once, that coming at Memphis in the season opener. Joe Johnson, who had taken a skeptical view of the team's 6-0 start because of the quality of its opponents, is once again waiting to see of the Hawks can keep it up. 'It can happen for one game, but what about the next game?' he said. 'We will see how everybody responds through the season.' "

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "Kings rookie center DeMarcus Cousins was kicked out of Monday's practice. Cousins slipped to fifth in June's NBA draft because of questions about his maturity and attitude. He was fined earlier this season after a verbal dispute with the Kings' strength and conditioning coach. 'It was a necessary move in our continued attempt to help him develop,' said Kings coach Paul Westphal of removing Cousins from practice. Westphal declined to explain why Cousins made it through only two-thirds of practice. 'I'm not going to get into details,' Westphal said. 'He was asked to leave early.' "

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Sixteen games into the season, everything seems topsy-turvy for the Spurs. The team that won four championships on the back of choke-your-lights-out defense is scoring with the best in the NBA. Heading into tonight’s game at Golden State, the Spurs are outscoring even the high-powered Warriors, netting 107.2 points per game, good for third in the league. Defensively, coach Gregg Popovich says, the Spurs are 'relatively average.' They are allowing 98.9 points (14th in the league) and 46.5 percent shooting (21st). 'Our defense has to catch up to our offense,' Popovich said, 'or we’re not going to be where we want to be.' It might sound like nitpicking after a franchise-best 14-2 start, but the most experienced Spurs realize that come playoff time, simply scoring points isn’t always enough. 'We know in the playoffs, when things start to slow down, you’re going to have to get stops and rebounds,' forward Tim Duncan said. 'It’s good early in the season to be able to move the ball and score. But when it comes down to it at the end of the year, our defense is going to take us through.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Bring on the Lakers! Of course, they will be busy for a night in Memphis first, but one must assume they would be looking ahead to that clash in Houston on Wednesday if not for another Gasol family reunion. Then again, the Rockets might not offer LA, the league's best team (no matter what the Spurs' remarkable start might say), reason to excitedly look forward to a night battling the mighty Rockets. The Rockets, if they were to be completely honest, would probably prefer if the other LA team (the Clippers or maybe Mater Dei) were coming to town. But since the Lakers will be dropping by for their one and only visit, the Rockets might as well view the night as a chance to do what they could not in Dallas (or against Charlotte, Phoenix, Toronto, Washington, Denver or New Orleans). They need to face a team on a roll, which seems likely to happen sometime against the Lakers, and answer with their best."

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "The novelty of Oklahoma City serving as the New Orleans Hornets' temporary home from 2005-07 seems to have all but disappeared. Crowd reaction during pre-game introductions drew only polite applause for Chris Paul and David West. Monday would have qualified as one of the most lethargic crowds in Thunder history, but the eighth sellout (18,203) gathering of the season finally came to life with 4:17 left in the third quarter when Jeff Green sprinted down court and blocked Paul's wide-open layup attempt. 'I think that changed the game,' Scott Brooks said. 'I thought it was huge. We have great crowds here. They bring it every night.' "

  • Rusty Simmons od the San Francisco Chronicle: "About 30 minutes after practice ended Monday, Stephen Curry approached the media completely out of breath and chugged a Gatorade so quickly that he got brain freeze. Despite Warriors coach Keith Smart's assertion that the players don't look ahead on the schedule, Curry's post-practice marathon showed full well that the point guard knew he was about to face Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook and Jason Kidd in succession. 'That's the point-guard position in the NBA right now,' Curry said after finally catching his wind. 'It's the toughest position night in and night out of names you're going to have to face. One prepares you for the next one and the next one. As long as I give 100 percent focus to what I'm doing defensively, I should be fine.' "

  • Kevin Baxter Baxter of the Los Angeles Times: "Although the team is 2-8 in his absence, Chris Kaman says it's clear guard Eric Gordon and rookie forward Blake Griffin have forged a unique relationship. And it's a chemistry the All-Star doesn't want to interrupt by coming back too early. 'I just want to get back and be healthy,' said Kaman, whose return isn't expected before the weekend. 'With that being said, coming back do I mess up what they have going on? Blake's been playing a lot better and kind of getting into a groove. Eric's been playing real well. And I don't want to come back and mess that up.' Since Kaman went out, Gordon's scoring average has jumped nearly five points per game, to 25.6, and Griffin is averaging 22.6 points and 12.5 rebounds heading into Wednesday's game with San Antonio at Staples Center."

  • Gregg Krupa of The Detroit News: "Pistons fans say they generally trust the beneficence of Mike Ilitch, but it must have some limits. How might that affect the Pistons? They also know that while he supported local hockey in Metro Detroit and played minor league baseball before he and his wife Marian bought the Red Wings and the Tigers, there is no basketball on their resumes. (Marian Ilitch has since yielded her stake in the Tigers to become an owner of the Motor City Casino.) And, with Mike Ilitch now 81, fans also are aware that control of the operation will ultimately fall to the next generation. Will they be as generous? The circumstances are playing out at a particularly sensitive time. The Pistons are losing, unstable and on the eve of potential labor problems in the NBA -- a prospective, short-term revenue problem that underlines concerns about resources stretched thin. Meanwhile, it has happened only twice that one entity owned three of the four major sports teams in the same market: In Miami, for five years, ending in 1998, and in Atlanta, for four years, ending in 2003. The results were mixed, with fans often unhappy about skimpy spending and unfocused management."