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First Cup: Thursday

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "The Knicks made the Celtics dig very deep to bag this one. The score doesn’t lie: This was an old-fashioned NBA game showcasing extraordinary offensive skill, the kind of entertainment spectacle that made the league great before the game was hijacked by the fraidy-cat coaches who were happier when their team did not have the ball than when it did. Happily, D’Antoni is the polar opposite of those coaches. His Knicks will make it or break it on their own terms. They will be offensively aggressive and will dare you to match them. ... If this was indeed a Preview of Coming Atlantic Division Attractions, the good news for Rivers is that, unlike last year, his club will have a little healthy competition. There will be no 27-27 sleepwalk to the finish line this year. Competition is good. Competition is the American Way. Hey, Knicks, welcome to the race."

  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: "They came down the stretch the way they did Wednesday night, into all the noise that kept rolling in from the past, out of the collective memory of the place. And on this night, it wasn't just the Knicks who were back like this, big as they were Wednesday night and big as they have been this season, but the Knicks vs. Celtics was back, too. It was as much a part of the magic of the night as anything else. LeBron and them are here Friday night. It can't be better than what the Garden saw Wednesday night from the Knicks and Celtics. And what it felt. And what it remembered most of all. ... Twelve seconds left. Celtics ball. Game still tied. Knicks and the Celtics, going toe to toe again. All that. The last time they both had good records this late into a season was 18 years ago. When Doc Rivers, now the Celtics coach, was still a Knick. The ball ended up in Pierce's hands. Stoudemire ended up on him, right side. Pierce stepped back, made it. Four-tenths of a second left. Pierce ran a victory lap around the Garden. Finally the ball was in Stoudemire's hands again, then it was in the air. Then through the net. Ten years after the last basketball nights we had like this, one second too late."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The Heat very much need what comes next. They need Friday night against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, they need Monday at home against the Mavericks, and they need the following games in Phoenix and then againstthe Lakers at Staples Center in Christmas Day. They need it because there otherwise would be more of Wednesday, more of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade seemingly in a daze of 'what's my motivation?' For two weeks now we've heard how everything came together because of the team meeting that followed a 106-95 Nov. 27 loss in Dallas, which also is the last time this team lost. No it didn't. It mostly came together because of a schedule so soft that it would take profound failure to lose. ... For now, it's off to the Garden, the perfect place to plant such seed. 'It's the mecca of basketball,' James said. 'As a fan and then as a player, there is one building in America that you would love to play in before your career is over. So I'm blessed to be a part of the NBA and get an opportunity to play there.' So, at this stage, are the Heat."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "This was watchable. For the past couple of weeks, I've heard people saying the Cavaliers were 'unwatchable,' and I could not disagree. They were a shell of the team they'd been for years. It was as if LeBron James took their souls along with that devastating 118-90 loss on Dec. 2. But there was a heartbeat again last night. The effort they put forth last night would beat a lot of teams in the NBA, especially ones that don't have Dwyane Wade on their roster. Lo and behold, they actually ran the Princeton offense and, more important, they played some tough, physical defense, the sort of defense that should be consistent regardless of what's happening on the offensive end. I'm not sure coach Byron Scott can get away with playing eight guys every night. Every starter played at least 37 minutes. But if it produces this sort of result, you can count on him trying to get away with it until the Cavs snap this losing streak."

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: "Jordan Farmar, the ex-Laker who started two games when Devin Harris was out with a strained knee, will start in Morrow’s place when the Nets host the Washington Wizards tonight, coach Avery Johnson said. Sasha Vujacic, 26, is expected to be in uniform and should step right into the playing rotation. 'We’re going to need him to play immediately,’ Johnson said of Vujacic, who had only played in 10 games and averaged 4.9 minutes and 1.8 points for the Lakers. Both Johnson and GM Billy King said Vujacic, who, like Farmar, is a two-time champion with the Lakers, will be counted on to help a Nets offense that was 29th of 30 teams in scoring before last night’s games. The Nets are averaging just 92.7 points per game."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "By now, most Indiana Pacers fans have forgiven Ron Artest his trespasses during his days in Indianapolis. Artest, though, has not. Even as he continues to bask in the glory of his first NBA championship, Artest lives with deep remorse over how it all came down in Indiana. 'A coward, I was a coward,' Artest said before Wednesday night's game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Pacers. 'When you do coward stuff, you feel like a coward. I don't care if it was done intentionally or by mistake, you're still a coward. I don't care how young I was. That's not an excuse.' ... I'm happy for Ron Artest. Proud of Ron Artest. Most of us have forgiven him for what happened here. Now he's got to forgive himself."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Did the stomach virus that hit the Magic earlier this month sap the team of all of its momentum and continuity? Have the Magic suffered recently just because they played road games against good opponents? Or is it something else? 'I'm part of the problem, so I can't really tell you what it is,' point guard Jameer Nelson said. 'If I could, I would stop it. We just have to figure it out. It's a long season, and we shouldn't push the panic button or anything like that. But at the same time, we have to play with a little sense of urgency, especially with our intensity and our defense.' When the team gathered in late September to begin training camp, players decided they needed to be tougher in the months ahead. Dwight Howard was asked after the loss in Denver on Tuesday whether the team is tough enough. 'I don't know,' he answered. Howard's frustrations started to show after the losses in Portland, Salt Lake City and Denver. On one hand, he says that everyone -- players, fans and the media -- shouldn't overreact to the Magic's recent poor stretch of five losses in six games. 'Every team goes through stretches where they lose games,' he said after the loss to Denver. 'What do you all want us to do? Go watch a movie that talks about getting out of tough stretches? I don't know. I mean, we're going to have games like this.' But the superstar also hints at deeper problems. When asked for the umpteenth time whether he, as a co-captain, needs to say something to fire up his teammates, he responded: 'You've got to fire yourself up. If you want to win a championship, you've got to be dedicated. I can only do my part and I do my part every day. It's just got to be everybody has to be on the same page.' "

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "I've advocated for a bold move from the front office. And as I'm shouting into the halls at One Center Court, what I hear in response is a mostly empty echo. Feels a lot like the big moves and major decisions are Seattle-driven and out of the hands of general manager Rich Cho. And so it's again incumbent upon owner Paul Allen to make a shift and redirect the franchise, as he did in giving up on his Jail Blazers Era. End this Frail Blazers era. The priority needs to be on collecting reliable players with healthy knees and keeping them that way. The longer the Blazers cling to the current roster, the longer they insist this can be salvaged by waiting it out, the longer they lean on wishing and not on sound basketball business, the longer it will take Portland to escape itself. The Blazers are better than any sports organization at victimizing themselves. They've done it now for two solid decades. And without another shift in philosophy and a willingness to make a bold trade, we're left with an organization headed nowhere in particular. There are few professional sports franchises that pander to the fan base as much as the Blazers. It's probably why they're selling out with a mediocre product. Ultimately, though, when fans have had enough the Blazers won't have a choice but to make another dramatic shift."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Hawks coach Larry Drew normally deflects questions about his team's spotty record against top opponents by noting they take every adversary seriously, regardless of their record. It's the kind of thing coaches always say but, considering the circumstances for Atlanta's game at Boston Thursday, Drew put such talk aside in favor of more blunt language. 'I want to see what our guys are made of,' Drew said. That question was never more compelling for the Hawks this season than on Nov. 22. That's when the Celtics invaded Philips Arena and emphatically rendered moot Atlanta's 4-0 series sweep in 2009-10 with a 99-76 rout. The Celtics took leads of 13-3 and 24-6 and were up 39-13 after a quarter. The Hawks essentially surrendered from there, using more energy to bicker with each other than stand up to the Celtics. 'They kind of embarrassed last time,' Hawks guard Mike Bibby said. 'You always want to get that game back and show them that we are a better team than that. They jumped on us tough from the beginning and we couldn't bounce back. We just feel like we've got to go in there [Thursday] and make up for that.' "

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Deron Williams clearly has a chance to be a prime Most Valuable Player candidate once the 2010-11 season is complete. 'It’s a goal that he never talks about, but you can see it developing,' Earl Watson said. The development is most evident in Williams’ rising numbers. The sixth-year All-Star guard is producing initial statistics worthy of a career year. Through 26 games, Williams is averaging or tying all-time highs in points (23.0), rebounds (4.0), steals (1.4), free-throw shooting (86.0 percent) and minutes (38.0). He has recorded at least 30 points during Utah’s last three games. And since a victory Nov. 24 against a Chris Paul-led New Orleans team, Williams has averaged 25.7 points during an 11-game span, recording at least 21 points in all but one of the contests. Utah (18-8) has gone 8-3 during the run, and the Jazz have won 10 of their last 13 games. When Williams was asked Monday night following a 108-95 home victory against Golden State that saw him pour in 30 points and dish out 10 assists if he had MVP aspirations or simply wanted to be considered one of the top 10 players in the league, Utah’s team leader sounded sincere when he replied that he is not concerned about public recognition. The only thing that Williams cares about: winning."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Steve Nash entered the season as the sixth-best 3-point shooter in NBA history but has not looked like it since straining his groin before a Nov. 15 home game against Denver. Before that, he had made 13 of 29 (45 percent) from 3-point range. Since then, he was 5 for 26 (19 percent) on 3s entering Wednesday night's game. 'It's been really difficult for me,' Nash said. 'Hopefully if I can get healthy again, I can obviously shoot it better. It's just the movement. All these areas and problems are making me move incorrectly, and I can't just get the rhythm from distance.' ... Nash's ailments, including heel and back issues, have affected other areas, but his 3-point shooting is the most noticeable drop-off. He shot 42.6 percent or better in each of his previous six seasons with Phoenix. As a result, he has become more judicious in taking the shot, averaging 2.6 3-point attempts per game, his lowest average since he was with the Suns the first time 13 years ago. 'It is frustrating, but I'm just trying to make up for it in other areas and be as efficient as I can and know that when I feel better, it'll come around,' Nash said."

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Dorell Wright has proved to be quite a find since he signed a three-year deal worth about $11.4 million this summer. He has more than doubled his scoring and assist averages from last season in Miami, and he has done nearly the same with his rebound numbers. The days of being described an energy guy who plays defense and can knock down a corner three-pointer are probably over. He is now part of the conversation for the league's Most Improved Player award as he has displayed an all-around game. 'That would mean a lot to me, because it would mean people realize I have come a long way,' said Wright, who is averaging 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists. 'That's one of my goals, but my first priority is helping this team win.' As Wright's shooting percentage has wandered, his leadership has remained steady. He is connecting on 54 percent of his three-point tries in wins and 32 percent in losses, but his reassuring effect is at 100 percent in both."

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "Another addition to the Kevin Durant trophy case has come with his selection as 2010 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year. Durant led Team USA to a 9-0 record, the gold medal and was named Most Valuable Player at the FIBA World Championship last summer in Turkey. 'I had so much fun playing over there,' Durant said before Wednesday night's game against Houston. 'To be named as the athlete of the year is an amazing accomplishment. I'm so humbled by it. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can every day to maintain that level.' "

  • Shan Li of the Los Angeles Times: "Lakers star Kobe Bryant's two-year endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines has sparked protest among Armenian Americans in Los Angeles and nationwide, some threatening to boycott the basketball player unless he backs out of the contract. In a statement announcing the deal, Turkish Airlines described Bryant as a 'global brand ambassador.' The airline is seeking to publicize the start of nonstop flights in March from Istanbul to Los Angeles with the basketball star appearing in a blitz of TV, billboard, print and online ads early next year. For years, Armenian Americans have pushed the U.S. to recognize the early 20th century killings of some 1.5 million Armenians in what was then the Ottoman Empire as genocide, a term the Turkish government has strenuously rejected. California has 600,000 to 700,000 Armenians, with a heavy concentration in Southern California, said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America."

  • Victor Contreras of The Sacramento Bee: "Chris Webber had to be talked into coming to Sacramento by his father after being traded for Richmond in 1998. Nobody wanted to play for a perennial loser in a small-market town. Webber helped change that image. For eight seasons, the Kings were among the NBA's elite teams. But all that has changed and Sacramento has again become the Bermuda Triangle of the NBA. The Kings have money under the salary cap to get an impact player through free agency, a veteran who can put the team on his back and win games. But face it, folks. A franchise-changing free agent like Carmelo Anthony is not coming here on his own. Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie must trade for a veteran franchise-changer with years left on his contract and force him to be a King, like it or not."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "History was made at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night, dubious though it may be. Missing starters Jose Calderon (foot) and Andrea Bargnani (knees), the Raptors started the youngest lineup in franchise history in what turned into a 110-93 spanking administered by the Chicago Bulls in front of 17,750 spectators. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jerryd Bayless, 22 years, 117 days; DeMar DeRozan, 21 years, 130 days; Amir Johnson, 23 years, 228 days; Sonny Weems, 24 years, 160 days; and Ed Davis, 21 years, 19 days, represent the youngest starting five ever, averaging 22 years, 239 days. The previous record-holders? Tracy McGrady, John Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Marcus Camby and Doug Christie on March 22, 1998, a group that averaged 23 years, 95 days. Surprised Toronto trailed by as many as 29 points and lost its second straight? Coach Jay Triano really wasn’t."

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: "David Stern didn't say Memphians have to do a better job of supporting the Grizzlies. He said the franchise has to do a better job of connecting with the town. ... In other words: Memphis is a viable NBA market, the Grizzlies have just screwed it up. They've taken his 'perfect confluence' and turned it into a perfect bungle. They've alienated too many powerful Memphians and Memphis businesses to succeed in a market of this size. 'I think the Memphis Grizzlies are going to do a better job of that for the second half of this year and certainly for next season,' said Stern. One can always hope. In the meantime, Stern will be trying to forge a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, one that gives markets the size of Memphis a better chance to succeed. Whatever you might think about the philosophical fairness of a hard salary cap, it's plain that the local franchise would be better off if the NBA had one in place. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, wealthy teams like Boston and Los Angeles can go over the salary cap to sign players if they elect to pay a 'tax.' If Stern is has his way, that will no longer be allowed."