First Cup: Wednesday

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Dirk Nowitzki was on the Mavericks' bus to the Orlando airport when his phone vibrated and he saw the text from Larry Legend. It was a congratulatory message from Larry Bird, the man Nowitzki passed on Tuesday night for 25th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. 'That's pretty cool,' Nowitzki said. Pretty cool, indeed. Bird has been a fan of Nowitzki's throughout his career and Nowitzki said he feels privileged and humbled by passing Bird. He's also not going to spend too much time thinking about it. 'It's obviously an unbelievable accomplishment to be in the top 25 scorers in this amazing league with so many amazing players,' Nowitzki said. 'But it's going to mean more to me when my career's done. When I'm 15 or 20 years from now, I can look back and it's something I'll be proud of. But as of now, I'm still chasing the dream and trying to win a championship. But it'll be a sweet one in 20 years.' Nowitzki also said that the Mavericks have plenty to be proud of, not only for sweeping Florida on a quick trip, but also for their 10-1 road record. 'Two great teams down here, but we're more focused on the road, more together on the road and we showed it the last two nights,' he said."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "It was the night to introduce all the new faces to a largest-ever home crowd that probably wonders who hijacked their basketball team. And the question on the minds of Magic fans had to be this: When are the three hot-shot players we traded for going to show up? They did pass their physicals right? Because so far, they barely have a pulse. The Magic make-over continued Tuesday night in a loss to the potent Mavericks. The only thing that kept the Magic close were returning lettermen. Guys such as Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick, who have keys to the place. They combined for 66 of the Magic's 99 points points while freshly arrived Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson accounted for only 21 on a hideous 7-of-30 shooting. Counting Monday night's debacle in Atlanta, the three are now a robust 13-of-53. Is it too late for Otis Smith to get a mulligan? (Or I'm sure some restless fans might want to see the GM job open in Orlando about now). Sure, Dwight and Jameer and J.J. ought to be steadying forces. They know Stan Van Gundy's Xs and his O's. But there's no time in the NBA whirlwind for players to, oh, regress to remedial basketball 101. The three main men of these two separate trades have been playing too long to be this awful. They need time to get situated and forward mail. But they'd be embarrassed by these numbers if they joined a playground pick-up game. Turk and J-Rich, obviously, are on West Coast time."

  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: "The Charlotte Bobcats played hard and well for three quarters. But in the fourth quarter they did neither. They were abysmal. They lost, and coach Larry Brown criticized his players after the game. What happened Tuesday night atTime Warner Cable Arena doesn't happen every night. Some nights the Bobcats don't play hard and well. Some nights they win. There have even been nights on which Brown doesn't criticize them. But their 99-81 loss to Oklahoma City is typical of their work since November. The Bobcats have a record of 9-19. They've played more than a third of the season. And their parts don't fit. Can you envision them making the playoffs? Can you envision them winning half their games? Their motto is Play as One. They play like strangers. There were moments in the fourth quarter in which they should have worn name tags. They struggle to score. They lack outside shooters. They lack shooters. So the defense packs in around the basket. Nothing comes easily -- except the baskets they give up. ... Brown says he has to figure out how to coach better. As he says it, he looks exasperated and worn down and not terribly optimistic. Brown sounds like a coach who doesn't like his team. If the coach doesn't like his team, why should anybody else?"

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: "Lamar Odom was still feeling sick and missed shoot-around. Kobe Bryant was involved in a car accident on the rain-slicked roads. The Lakers star wasn’t hurt, but the fender-bender did contribute to the Lakers’ off-kilter day Tuesday that ended in a 98-79 loss to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks. 'We had kind of a disjointed day today and that contributed to it,' Jackson said of the team’s loss. 'There were some things that happened.' The flu bug and a minor car accident can’t be blamed for everything the Lakers did and didn’t do against the Bucks. They didn’t move the ball, they stood around too much, Kobe Bryant was ejected late in the game after receiving his second technical and they couldn’t stop 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins from scoring 22 points. 'It’s a little bit of everything,' Derek Fisher said. 'We deserved to lose. They beat us. It just happened. We obviously have to move on, but I feel like that is a game we should win.' The Bucks (11-16) had not beaten the Lakers (21-8) since 2007 and were without Brandon Jennings (foot) and Corey Maggette (concussion). They also came into the game having lost their previous three contests, including a lopsided xxx loss to Portland on Monday."

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: "Everybody said the right things at Pistons practice Tuesday. Richard Hamilton said he wants to be a Piston for life. President Joe Dumars said Hamilton is the least of his worries and that he loves his star. That is all fine and dandy. But now it's time for the Pistons to let Rip loose. Trade him. Let him go. Let Hamilton play meaningful games again. Let the Pistons move on so they can become a competitive team again. ... Ben Gordon has told me over and over he is just fine being a bench player. Sorry, pal. For the money he's making -- he's in year two of a five-year, $55 million deal -- he's a starter. Hamilton is a starter, too; he just can't be one in Detroit anymore. Instead, he can help a team in a playoff chase. My guess is if Hamilton gets traded, and with a bigger prize to play for, we will see a new and revived Rip Hamilton. During the Pistons' glory days, I always viewed them as playing for a unified purpose. And I looked at Hamilton as an elite player, who viewed every shot as important. Now the Pistons are just another basketball team and Hamilton is just another basketball player. But that can all be changed with the right deal."

  • Alan Hahn of Newsday: "Make no mistake, the Knicks want Carmelo Anthony. They know they need another talent of that level to compete with the Celtics and Heat for a championship. But if you can't get the Nuggets to engage in meaningful conversations about trades, you can't ever get to the point of actually making a trade. It's like constantly asking a girl out on a date. Eventually you realize she ain't ever going to say yes and you are risking losing potential dates with other girls if you keep your Saturday night's clear just in case she does eventually say yes. In the previous blog, I tried to come up with some creative scenarios that might work with the Nuggets, only to realize, upon deeper studying, that my ideas were flawed. And the more I talk to people about this situation the more I'm coming to the realization that it's less about what the Knicks have to offer and more about the fact that it's the Knicks, not their offer, that has the Nuggets turned off. Remember, the Kroenke's were there at Carmelo's wedding when Chris Paul made that infamous toast about he and Carmelo joining Amar'e Stoudemire in New York. There is a good relationship between the franchises at the ownership level, but that doesn't remove the competitive spirit. Plus, if you can get multiple first round picks and a 19-year-old power forward who was selected third overall, you've just set the foundation of a rebuild."

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: "Why on Earth would the Nets want Carmelo Anthony? With more reports flying around yesterday about the latest developments in the saga of Anthony, the Denver Nuggets superstar the Nets covet so desperately, they shrugged off all the distractions and closed out a tight game against the Memphis Grizzlies, winning, 101-94, in the FedEx Forum last night to give them an honest-to-goodness winning streak. The Nets have now won two straight games for the second time this season -- the first time since the first two games of the season. In the process, they also snapped a 10-game road losing streak, dating to Nov. 15, when they beat the Clippers in Los Angeles. But perhaps the most impressive thing was the way they were able to focus in the midst of all the Anthony stuff that is swirling around them. 'We’ve been through it before,' Devin Harris said. 'Obviously, they’ve broken up a little of our team, we’ve had a (trade) since the beginning of the season, but I think guys have realized that all they can control is on the floor, and I think that’s where our focus is, and you’ve got to (hand it) to those guys staying focused.' "

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Rashard Lewis had struggled going back to small forward this season in Orlando, where he averaged just 12.2 points, but said he doesn't have a preferred position with the Wizards. 'Depending on the match-up,' Lewis said. 'Smaller guys obviously, from playing the three, post up the smaller guys, put a big on me, try to bring them out on the perimeter, defend out on the perimeter. I think he's trying to use my size as an advantage, pretty much at the position I played when I was in Seattle for nine years.' Saunders said he would most like to see Lewis resemble the player he was with the SuperSonics. He had his two 20-point scoring seasons and made an all-star team in Seattle, where he played off Ray Allen and provided matchup problems most nights. 'He was moved around the floor. He wasn't as one dimensional. They brought him off screens into the post. They could post him off little guys. Spread him on the floor against bigger guys and move him around a little bit.' Lewis will come off the bench in his debut on Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls, as he tries to get acclimated to his new team. Saunders said he Lewis will probably play between 20 and 30 minutes 'to get him a comfort level.' "

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "After matching their season high with 31 assists against Golden State on Monday, the Rockets are third in the NBA in assists, behind only Boston and San Antonio. The Rockets have averaged 25 assists in their eight wins this month, 21 in the three losses. 'If they move the ball and move people -- that's the biggest thing -- we have to understand where the next option is,' Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. 'Sometimes we don't move the ball to the other side of the court, but we're getting better at it.' Point guard Kyle Lowry has helped key the success of the Rockets' offense, averaging 8.4 assists and 14.7 points (on 47.4 percent shooting overall and 52.3 percent accuracy from the 3-point line) in December. 'I think we feel we can always get good shots,' Lowry said. 'We can run the offense, but we have to execute and make hard cuts and make the right plays. When we do that, we can get good shots at any time.' "

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Al Jefferson traded his favorite fishing holes for the mountains and swapped perpetually losing teams for a new franchise that comparatively does nothing but win after he relocated from Minnesota to Utah last summer. That profound exchange of addresses and climates one morning recently made him do the math in his head. 'I won as many games in the month of November as I won all last season,' he said. 'When I think of it like that ... man, that's just crazy for me.' Actually, the guy known simply as Big Al -- says so emblazoned right on his size 18 sneakers -- exaggerates slightly. The Jazz won only 13 games in November when, so unlike the games he played with Boston and the Timberwolves the past five seasons, it found every possibly way to snatch victory from defeat. When Jefferson returns to Target Center Wednesday night for the first time since the Wolves dealt him for two future first-round draft picks, he will do so with a 20-9 team -- five more victories than Jefferson won all last season -- that plays now as a prelude for the playoffs. 'I hope they don't boo me like they did LeBron in Cleveland,' he said slyly, referring to his return to an arena where he played three seasons. 'But I don't think so.' "

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "There was an unconfirmed rumor the 6-foot-10, 280-pound center was offered to the Cavaliers, who had a $14.5 million trade exception. Jefferson, 25, was coming off major knee surgery in 2009, so the move would have been a risky one. The Cavs declined the offer. ... Jefferson does two things extremely well: score and rebound. The last time I checked, those are two pretty important traits, and two things the Cavs desperately need. ... Was not making a move for Jefferson the right decision? Watching him play on Monday brought all this to the surface. Jefferson had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Jazz's 101-90 victory over the Cavs. Surround Jefferson with Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao, and maybe this would be a playoff team. Certainly not a championship team by any means, but it would be close to .500."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks were six games above .500 when they played at Miami on Dec. 4; they were six games above the break-even mark after they beat Orlando on Monday night to finish 5-5 over that span. They trailed front-running Orlando by 2-1/2 games in the Southeast Division on Dec. 4; they trailed the front-running Heat by 3 games on Tuesday. It could have been far worse for the Hawks. All-Star Joe Johnson missed seven of those games following elbow surgery before unexpectedly returning to the lineup on Friday. It also could have been better. The Hawks lost to Detroit and New Jersey, teams that are currently a combined 22 games under .500 and likely headed for the draft lottery. 'All in all, I think we weathered the storm,' Hawks coach Larry Drew said. 'There were some disappointing losses along that stretch, but we did weather the storm.' The Hawks might have survived the grind yet they can't help but feel that they could have thrived."

  • Hayley Mick of the Globe and Mail: "If there’s a silver lining to having a chronically mediocre win-loss record (Toronto is 10-18), it’s that Christmas generally means some time off. So while ratings boosters such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat do battle on Christmas Day, the Raptors will be fanned out across North America, enjoying a three-day break that begins after they play host to the Detroit Pistons at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night. On Dec. 25, DeRozan will be watching the Lakers game on an 80-inch plasma television at his parents’ house in Los Angeles. Kleiza will be saying grace with his family in New York. Coach Jay Triano will kick back in Vancouver before hopping the red-eye to Memphis, where the Raptors will practise on Boxing Day before their Dec. 27 matchup against the Grizzlies. 'Maybe getting right away from basketball is not a bad thing, for the number of injuries that we have,' Triano said Tuesday. ... While most players are taking advantage of the break by going home, a handful will remain in Toronto over the holidays. 'Ghost town,' said Julian Wright. ... 'That flight’s gonna be crazy,' Wright said of the scheduled trip from Toronto to Memphis on the Raptors’ private jet, which should be pretty empty. 'I can lay out on all four seats.' "

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Pick a number from 0 and 99. It seems simple but Vince Carter and fellow Suns newcomers Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus all had a trying time with picking uniform numbers. Carter almost always has been No. 15. That is Robin Lopez's number. He wore Nos. 8 and 9 in national play but Channing Frye wears No. 8 and Dan Majerle is in the Ring of Honor as No. 9. He said he thought about Nos. 1 (Josh Childress), 5 (retired for Dick Van Arsdale) and 6 (Walter Davis' number in the Ring of Honor). He settled on No. 25, his number for an All-Star Game. 'It was kind of what was left,' Carter said. Gortat was as married to No. 13, saying he considered not playing for his Polish national team once if he could not have it. 'Coming here, I couldn't say that,' Gortat said of Nash's number. Gortat settled on No. 4 to honor Sasha Obradovic, a former teammate and coach. Pietrus had worn No. 2 (Goran Dragic) and 20 (Garret Siler) in the NBA. 'I tried to take No. 34 but I forgot about Charles Barkley,' he said. 'They told me it was retired. I was like, 'How come? Don't tell Charles.' Pietrus will wear No. 12."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "The Grizzlies’ annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day game always has star power, and this season will be no different. Major League baseball legend Willie Mays and NBA Hall-of-Famers Willis Reed and Lenny Wilkens will be honored for their contributions to civil and human rights Jan. 17 before the Griz tip off against the Chicago Bulls. Mays, Reed and Wilkens are the recipients of the sixth annual National Civil Rights Sports Legacy Award. The honor pays tribute to the athletes who have laid the foundation for future leaders through their careers in sports in the spirit of King. 'This is the first year we’ve gone with an icon that’s not a basketball player,' said John Pugliese, senior director of marketing and communications. 'We feel that this award and day is bigger than basketball. You’re seeing a maturation of the award.' "