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First Cup: Monday

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "Melo in Manhattan on Sunday was a predictable romantic comedy with a happy ending for the home folks. Unfortunately, it appears that ending is only just now dawning on the Nuggets' latest brain trust. Even without Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have a better record than the Nuggets after their entertaining but defenseless win at Madison Square Garden. For Melo, who professes to be all about winning, playing alongside Amar'e Stoudemire is looking better and better. Playing for the Nets, who made the best trade offer from the Nuggets' standpoint, is looking worse and worse. They're terrible again. They're also playing in Newark, N.J., for another year and a half. The Nuggets hoped that waiting to make a deal would help their bargaining position, perhaps by making the Nets appear more attractive than they did a year ago. Instead, it's had the opposite effect. More and more it's looking like their only trade option is the Knicks. ... The Knicks already have a star in Stoudemire. He, Melo and Chris Paul have done little to disguise their interest in joining forces. Most important, the Knicks' 16-9 record with Stoudemire, including a current streak of eight wins in a row and 13 of 14, fills in Anthony's final box -- a chance to win right away. With each Knicks win and Nets loss, the Nuggets' bargaining position deteriorates further. Increasingly, Melo's Sunday matinee in midtown Manhattan looks like a preview of coming attractions."

  • Anthony Rieber of Newsday: "Amar'e Stoudemire's eighth consecutive game with at least 30 points gave him the Knicks' record. He had shared the mark of seven straight with Willie Naulls, who did it from Feb. 22-March 4, 1962. Stoudemire -- who had 24 points in the second half -- gave an assist, appropriately enough, to his teammates, especially point guard Raymond Felton. 'It is a great accomplishment,' Stoudemire said Sunday after contributing 30 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the Knicks' 129-125 victory over the Denver Nuggets. 'Again, it wouldn't be possible without my teammates. Raymond is doing a phenomenal job. He is playing All-Star-caliber basketball right now.' Felton had 19 points, 17 assists and only two turnovers as the Knicks recorded their season high in points. He outplayed Denver's Chauncey Billups, who had four points and six assists and shot 1-for-7."

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: "When told after the game thate he had played 1,000 regular-season games in his career, Tim Duncan almost sounded sentimental as he reflected on his career winding to a close. He’s probably telling the truth when he said he wishes he had played only 10 and still had 1,000 more in front of him. But as it is, he does have the team record for games played and has at least one season to finish up. And he’s also played in 170 playoffs games, which is more than two seasons added to the 13-plus regular seasons he’s already played."

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: "A simple reward system has contributed to the Heat's current run of eight consecutive blowout victories. If Dwyane Wade grabs a defensive rebound, he has the green light to do whatever he wants offensively. If LeBron James makes a defensive stop, he controls his own game on the other end of the court. These are the parameters set by coach Erik Spoelstra, and the chance for offensive freedom has helped spark the most dominant winning streak in franchise history. 'Our job is to defend and then we get rewarded with what we want to do on offense,' James said. The Heat (17-8) has defeated eight consecutive teams by double digits -- a franchise record -- and returned home early Sunday morning from a four-game road trip that concluded with a 16.5-point average margin of victory."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "The Celtics didn’t practice yesterday. They won’t practice today either. They may win the NBA championship thisseason, but the title of 'Hardest Working Team in Show Business' is probably out of reach. And that’s by necessity. Doc Rivers knows he must preserve his veterans if he hopes to lead them to a successful June. If that means they lose touch with the moniker worn by the late James Brown, well, so be it. But the coach knows it’s a fine line he’s walking -- though it’s currently led to a 10-game winning streak. Rivers was talking about defensive slippage before the Celts pushed the listless Bobcats into 62 points on 33.8 percent shooting from the field Saturday in Charlotte, N.C. And he’s still disturbed that his club is losing touch with some of its principles and timing. 'Absolutely,' Rivers said. 'We’ve been talking about it a lot. There’s definitely been slippage. That’s why I keep getting concerned. But it’s there for sure. You can definitely see the difference in the way we play and the way we execute when we don’t practice.' "

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "For the first time since they were 1-0 at the start of the franchise’s first season in 1980-81, the Mavericks are over .500 They are 1,226-1,225 in the 31st year of their existence, no small feat given that they were 310 games under .500 in an eight-season sampling during the ‘90s. That’s what a 12-game winning streak will do for a team. It changes everything. And yet, it changes nothing. Everybody from owner Mark Cuban down the chain of command in Maverick land is stressing that this team can’t celebrate itself yet. The concerns that were there going into the season have been alleviated somewhat, Cuban said. But he knows this is early in the process of being a true championship contender. 'There’s always concern,’ Cuban said. 'You don’t know until you know, OK. I had concern, and then what. You see what happens and that’s what no one gets. You can’t do anything about it. You go with it and adjust. That’s what we try to do as an organization.' "

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Ever since Byron Scott changed his starters against Chicago three games ago, moving Antawn Jamison and Daniel Gibson into the starting lineup, the bench has been a mess. Although the Cavs entered Sunday with the most points scored by reserves, when Scott turned to them in the third quarter, the game got away for good. 'Our first unit is doing a pretty good job,' Scott said. 'I've got to find a combination of that second unit that's going to come in and play the right way and do the right things because as soon as all five [starters] are off the floor, we're just getting slaughtered.' J.J. Hickson, who went to the bench when Jamison was promoted, didn't want to hear that from his coach. 'Oh, so he's blaming it on the bench?' Hickson said. Then he caught himself. 'If he feels that way then, that's the way he feels,' Hickson said. 'That's his opinion. He's the head coach. He gets paid to make decisions to put players in and it's up to us to bring life to the game when we get in and cut the other team's lead down even more. We haven't been doing a good job of getting that done. But it's a long season; it's a work in progress.' "

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Chill out, everybody. That's the message Dwight Howard seemed to be sending after the Orlando Magic completed their shootaround Sunday at Staples Center to prepare for the Los Angeles Clippers. Howard was asked whether he, in his role as the team's co-captain, said anything extra to his teammates after their losing streak hit four games. 'This is a long season,' Howard said. 'We're going to have months where we don't play well, and there's no needing everybody, especially the captain of the team, after everybody's yelling and going back and forth, trying to figure out what we need to do. We've just got to play. The more you talk, the more everybody's just talking about what you've got to do, all the frustration just continues to build up. We're gonna have bad games,' he added. 'I don't think people understand that. You're never gonna go 82-0. You're going to have losing streaks. You're going to have winning streaks. All that stuff is a part of playing in the NBA.' "

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "About a third of the way into coach Larry Drew's first season and in the second week of Joe Johnson's absence, Jamal Crawford appears to be getting grooved into the Hawks offense. 'He's certainly starting to find his rhythm,' Drew said. Crawford has scored 26, 23 and 25 points in the Hawks' past three games, the first time he's scored 20 or more in three consecutive games with the Hawks. ... The Hawks have gone 5-2 without Johnson after an 11-7 start with him. More than one Hawk has used the phrase 'hold down the fort' in reference to the team's objective in Johnson's absence. If the Hawks can continue anywhere near that pace -- they'll have tests against Boston, Orlando, New Orleans and Oklahoma City before the end of the month -- it would be a stunning accomplishment. Undoubtedly, it will require Crawford's continued performance. 'Whether I'm being aggressive for myself or for my teammates, I think it puts other teams on their heels,' Crawford said."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "It's one sure way to tell that Andrew Bogut is feeling better. The Milwaukee Bucks big man is blocking shots again. After missing four games due to back spasms, Bogut returned with a vengeance during the Bucks' four-game home stand as the team went 3-1. The 7-foot Bogut blocked five shots in each of the last two games and moved into the league's top spot in that category, averaging nearly three a game (2.94). And he also was scoring and rebounding, punctuated by his 24-point, 22-rebound showing against Houston on Friday night. Bogut will try to continue his strong run as the Bucks perform a tough Texas Two-Step, playing at Dallas against the streaking Mavericks on Monday night and at San Antonio on Wednesday night. 'It's always good to block shots and tell my teammates I've got their back,' Bogut said. 'We can put more pressure on the (opposing team's) perimeter guys and make them drive.' "

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "Monday’s practice at the Air Canada Centre might be one of the most anticipated Raptors practices of the season. The team expects injured point guard Jose Calderon to take part in the full workout and see how his sore left foot holds up. Calderon has missed Toronto’s last two games -- a loss to Denver on Friday and Saturday’s miracle comeback against the Detroit Pistons -- and he hopes to be able to play Tuesday when the Raptors are in Charlotte. However, the six-year veteran, who stayed home to get treatment on his foot while his teammates were in Detroit, can’t be sure of how the foot will respond to a full workout until after Monday. Calderon has been on a tear since taking over the full-time starter’s job after the Nov. 20 trade of Jarrett Jack to the New Orleans Hornets. In the nine games since, he averaged 11.8 points and 7.9 assists per game while shooting 54 per cent from the field. Most importantly, he averaged fewer than two turnovers per game and with the Raptors coming off an 18-turnover effort in Detroit, his ball-handling and offence-running skills are in need."

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: "In desperate need of a home run after a series of ambitious, but ultimately massive, flops on the trade and free-agent market, Bryan Colangelo appears to have belted one out of the park with the acquisition of Jerryd Bayless. Sure, it is early and Jarrett Jack was a solid player for the Raptors, but through 10 games with the team it has become clear that Bayless has brought many aspects that were sorely lacking. Bayless was exceptional in Toronto’s stunning comeback from 25 points down in Detroit on Saturday night. After committing three of the Raptors’ 14 first-half turnovers, Bayless settled down to finish with 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 10-for-12 shooting from both the field and the line. More than the stats, though, was the attitude and energy that Bayless displayed. It has been a long time since the team has had a player with Bayless’ blend of talent, swagger, desire to get to the basket and supreme confidence in his play."

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: "The Pistons began the season with a system in which players did not know their roles. And six weeks into the season, that has not changed. 'Everybody's role is different this year,' guard Richard Hamilton said. 'We are all playing different roles and our minutes are reduced, so the way you are accustomed to playing, you are no longer playing that way any more. We don't know who is going to play in the fourth quarter, what we are going to run in the fourth quarter. It is all up in the air. We are trying to learn to figure out what we are supposed to do.' John Kuester took the blame for the Pistons' latest loss. He also should take blame for the Pistons' dismal season because he has not been able to lend stability to the team. A coach's job is to put players in the best position to win. That is not happening, because players don't even know what position they are supposed to be in."

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "Analysts such as ESPN’s John Hollinger, who have been studying these things for a long time, write about how the lack of free throws lowers Derrick Rose’s effectiveness as a player. This much is obvious: Rose drives to the basket with the intention of scoring. He’s probably the most athletic point guard to ever play the game, so he can jump over and around people, hang in the air and make ridiculous reverse layins seem routine. Does he get all the foul calls he deserves? Of course not, but there has to be more to this trend than a wrong decision here and there. I think one of the problems with the league in general is referees have let some players make a living by drawing fouls. The best example right now is Houston’s Kevin Martin, who seems to drives toward the basket with the sole purpose of twisting, flinching and flopping his way to a foul call. Martin averages 9 free-throw attempts per game, fourth in the league behind Orlando’s Dwight Howard (11.8), the Clippers’ Eric Gordon (9.2) and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (9.0). When you measure the percentage of a player’s points that come at the free-throw line, Martin easily leads those who currently average at least 20 per game with 35.8 percent. Rose, in comparison, gets 15.9 percent of his points at the foul line."

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: "Ekpe Udoh's NBA debut was much more celebrated than his drafting. With the Warriors off to an 8-15 start, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound big man represents hope for the future. To fans who have watched their team lose 11 of 12, partially because of defensive shortcomings, Udoh's reputation for shot-blocking and rebounding sounds desirable. During his three-minute, 20-second stint against the Heat, Udoh did something that might make Warriors fans embrace him even more. With about 2:30 left in the game, he got the ball on the low block, sized up the defender behind him, backed in a few dribbles and banked a right hook off the glass for his first basket as a pro. Sure, it was garbage time in a game already decided. Yes, it was against a little-used big man who offered little resistance. Certainly, it was one move executed one time. But the franchise is so starved for low-post scoring that the mere sight of a well-executed bucket from a post-up energized the crowd."