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First Cup: Monday

  • Ron Green Jr. of The Charlotte Observer: "Paul Silas was surprised by how quickly some of the old thoughts and feelings returned when he stepped onto the practice court the first time last week as Charlotte Bobcats interim coach. He expects a similar reaction Monday night when he coaches his first game against the Detroit Pistons at 7 at Time Warner Cable Arena. 'It's been a while since I've had to sit there and go through all the problems that are going to occur, the players and the turnovers,' Silas said. 'I'm really looking forward to it.' Silas has had the benefit of three practices to get comfortable coaching a team he had watched regularly on television as it struggled under Larry Brown this season. He wasted no time adjusting the style, accelerating the offensive tempo. Silas has pushed his team through full-court scrimmages, using 14-second shot clocks to get the players comfortable with the style he wants to see them play."

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: "The Spurs took care of business Sunday night, as you would expect from a league power against a cellar-dwelling team. But their 94-80 victory over Washington might be their last easy breath for the next couple of weeks as they approach their toughest scheduling gauntlet of the season. The Spurs will face the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night, followed by games Thursday in Dallas, Saturday against Oklahoma City, Jan. 4 at Boston and Jan. 5 at New York. 'It’s a great challenge for our team,' Spurs guard Tony Parker said. 'We have three very good teams coming up. We’ll see where we’re at.' Parker might not be counting the East Coast road swing later next week. But those games added to the first three games week will give an accurate reading if the Spurs are really as good as their 26-4 record."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Clippers rookie Blake Griffin is a gladiator on the court, but it is possible to get under his skin. It took a 38-year-old small forward to prove it. After Griffin's 18-point, nine-rebound first half,Suns defensive fix-it-all Grant Hill took the assignment and held Griffin to two points (on free throws) and two rebounds in the third quarter. Griffin made two shots in the second half -- a jumper and a 3-point play -- before fouling out with five second-half fouls. ... Hill defended Griffin physically whether he had the ball or not, unnerving the 6-foot-10, 251-pound rookie into verbal and physical reactions. 'If he's going to be out there talking trash, I've got to say something to him,' Hill said. 'I go against Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron (James) and some of the great ones and they don't say nothing. The first-year guys shouldn't say anything either. But he is a great player. I've got a lot of respect for him. I like him. But when you're competing you don't like him. When you're competing, you've got to fight. Hopefully, I don't have to guard him too many more times in the future.' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "This is all Dwight Howard needs: Something else to think about when he's shooting free throws. Everybody has given Howard home remedies and suggestions to help him cure his ills at the line. Now it's his best friends -- the refs. They insist he hurry it up, pressuring him by conducting a silent countdown. A little-known NBA rule states a player has 10 seconds to shoot a free throw once he receives the ball. Officials enforced the statue against Howard on Saturday when the Magic faced the Boston Celtics. Referee Bob Delaney said Howard took too long and wiped out the attempt. Frankly, if anybody should have been penalized for slow play, it ought to have been Shaquille O'Neal. Did you see how long it took Shaq to get up and down the floor? Howard leans toward conspiracies. Now I don't think the NBA is out to get him. But I do wonder how many other superstars would be put on a clock during a national TV holiday game, and that's what irks Howard. I timed two of LeBron James' attempts when he toed the line in the fourth quarter against the Lakers on Saturday (thanks to DVR). LeBron held the ball on his hip, spun it, bounced it, recited the Gettysburg Address and then slowly released the shot….in 11 seconds by my clock. Another shot took about 12 seconds. No call. I'm just sayin.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The Miami Heat's Big Three are winning together to a degree because of how coach Erik Spoelstra has kept them apart. Saturday's Christmas crushing of the Los Angeles Lakers offered the most recent example. With 3:26 to play in the first quarter, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh left the court together. At the start of the second quarter, it was LeBron James who was out, with Wade and Bosh back in. Shortly after James returned, Wade and Bosh went to the bench. The pattern was the same in the second half, with Wade and Bosh checking out with 2:46 to play in the third quarter and then opening the fourth quarter together while James was on the bench. The rotation adjustment came just before the Heat's Nov. 27 game in Dallas. The Heat lost that night but have won 14 of 15 since. 'I was just looking for something to break it up,' Spoelstra said of the long division when it came to the playing time of his three stars. 'I was playing LeBron 14, 15 straight minutes and I didn't want to do that. So I just decided to sit him out after the first-quarter break and to do that, I wanted to keep as many of the other guys on the court as possible. Chris likes to come out in the first quarter. That's part of his comfort zone, already, from Toronto. It was a new thing for Dwyane. But to get both of them out, we had a lot more continuity to start the second quarter."

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "J.R. Smith's run of impressive play in games and practices has stretched into his recent stints in the starting lineup. The shooting guard earned high marks from coach George Karl as Smith has stepped into the opening unit in each of the three games Carmelo Anthony has missed because of the death of his sister. ... These have been the only games Smith has started this season. In past seasons, there were questions as to whether Smith would or could be a permanent fixture in the starting lineup. Inconsistency and a need for bench scoring derailed those plans. But if and when Anthony is traded, that might not be a problem this time around with Ty Lawson, Al Harrington and Gary Forbes having the ability to provide perimeter punch from the bench. Coming into Sunday night's game the Lawson/Harrington/Forbes combo averaged 29.4 points per game off the bench."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "As the back-to-work whistle blows for the Mavericks, it won't take long to see if an elongated break for the holiday took a toll. Going into a rugged post-Christmas part of the schedule, rust and loss of rhythm are bigger concerns than how the absence of their coach will impact the Mavericks. Rick Carlisle will miss tonight's game against Oklahoma City after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery during the holiday break. He had the procedure Wednesday and was walking without a noticeable limp Friday at practice. But doctors advised that he not risk going on the road just yet, so assistant Dwane Casey will be the acting coach against the Thunder. ... 'Too long,' Casey said. 'Six days [between games] is a long time. Seems like it's been forever. But we have to get that edge back. It's always a concern. You don't want to lose your rhythm.' The Mavericks were scorching hot, having won 16 of 17 games, the last of which was Tuesday at Orlando. They return now against the Thunder, who have won seven of nine and beat Denver on Christmas Day. The Mavericks are starting a stretch of five games in seven days that includes a grudge match with San Antonio on Thursday."

  • Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: "The lingering image here of Saturday afternoon was Kevin Garnett calling for the ball and willingly going into physical battle inside with Dwight Howard and Dwight Howard’s biceps. The more recent model KG has shied away from such confrontations, but he was different when he showed up this season. Christmas Day was just the latest giant step, and, for the Celtics, it was a gift that could give them so much more. Garnett made 10-of-14 shots on the way to 22 points against the Magic. He had four steals. He was the only Celt to shoot 50 percent or better; the rest of the lads were a combined 18-for-67 (26.9 percent). ... Coach Doc Rivers was understandably disturbed by the loss, but he was aware of the significance contained therein. 'He was great in the post for us,' Rivers said of Garnett. 'You can tell the difference in Kevin this year and last year. Last year, we would have never posted Kevin on Dwight Howard because he just couldn’t get away. This year we were looking for that matchup, and it didn’t bother us. That just tells you how much Kevin has improved health-wise in a year.' And it isn’t just that Garnett can perform the necessary physical feats to make the inside plays -- it’s that he’s demonstrably requesting the rock and shedding some of his unselfish nature when it most suits his team."

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: "Avery Johnson didn't hear LeBron James throw the Nets under the contraction bus, so he didn't feel the need to defend his Brooklyn-bound franchise on the upswing. But Johnson did take exception to James' belief that the league would be better off without the Nets and Timberwolves. 'I disagree,' Johnson said Sunday. 'Maybe the league would be better if we didn't have three stars on one team.' Speaking to the media prior to Miami's game Thursday against the Phoenix Suns, James said the NBA was better in the 1980s when 'three or four superstars were on one team.' He singled out perennial bottom-feeders New Jersey and Minnesota as candidates for contraction. ... In addition to ticking off a players union that is trying to avoid contraction as it negotiates a new CBA, James' comments insulted a team he was considering joining over the summer as a free-agent destination. Johnson said Sunday he left his July meeting with James feeling that "the king" respected the Nets, who have the richest owner in the league and are moving in two years to an $800 million arena in Brooklyn. The Nets (9-21), who face the Magic (18-12) tonight at the Rock, also have the lowest home attendance average in the league, more than 2,000 less than the Timberwolves. Johnson said he may discuss contraction with James during their next meeting. 'We're going to Brooklyn. We're not going to contract,' Johnson said."

  • Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle: "What a difference a month makes. The Rockets are on the cusp of climbing back to the break-even mark. With a victory over the Washington Wizards, owners of the worst record in the Eastern Conference and winless on the road this season, the Rockets can improve to 15-15 and reach one of their short-term goals since the season began terribly wrong. '(Getting back to .500) was our first goal,' coach Rick Adelman said Sunday after the Rockets returned to practice following a three-day Christmas break. 'It's hard to dig yourself out of it. It doesn't mean anything unless you continue to play well and continue to win.' The Rockets have done just that, winning 14 of 24 games since their 0-5 start. They have won seven straight at Toyota Center, with the next three games at home to end the year. 'We don't want to get to .500, then sort of relax and forget who we are,' forward Shane Battier said. 'If we can win and even our record, it means we're 0-0 with (52) games to go. For us it's about getting better. If we do that, the record will take care of itself.' Battier said the key to the turnaround has been the Rockets playing with more confidence and establishing an identity. 'We didn't really know who we were,' Battier said."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "As Dallas comes to Oklahoma City Arena for the final time this season tonight to face the Thunder, the sight of the Mavs' royal and navy blue road jerseys will cause some to wonder when the Thunder will find a rival and whether the Mavericks are it. ... Dallas has dealt Oklahoma City enough regular-season setbacks. The Thunder is 3-5 against the Mavs. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, meanwhile, has blossomed into the quintessential villain. In eight career games against the Thunder, Nowitzki has averaged 33.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals. Nowitzki has shot 59 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line. And he's made 76 of 82 free throws (92.7 percent). 'I don't think geography does it alone, though,' said Thunder forward Nick Collison. Collison spent his first five seasons in Seattle and took part in the “I-5” rivalry between the SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers. Collison said he remembers those games having more of a rivalry feel. 'We always had good crowds for those games,' Collison said. 'I think in those cities the fans really feel it because they have more history than the players do.' So does the Thunder and Oklahoma City need a rival? Having one could boost fan interest even further and turn regular season games against a particular opponent into playoff-like atmospheres. But the Thunder hasn't had an issue with interest. OKC has sold out 13 of its 16 home games this season. ... If the playoffs started today, the Thunder's opening round draw would be the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers -- the same team that ousted OKC from its first-ever playoff appearance in the first round last spring. Wouldn't be a bad rival."

  • Alan Hahn of Newsday: "LeBron James in a Knicks uniform would have been special because he arguably would have been the greatest player to ever call the Garden his home court. And from a pure basketball standpoint, he and Amar'e Stoudemire might have formed the most formidable pick-and-roll tandem the game has ever seen. LeBron grinned as he considered the thought. 'It would be very tough,' he said. But even without LeBron, Stoudemire has been almost unstoppable for the Knicks, and the pick-and-roll has been a big reason. 'To me, it's unguardable,' Mike D'Antoni said of the staple play in his well-known high-scoring offensive system. 'I don't care what they do, you can't guard it.' The pick-and-roll is one of the most basic plays in the game of basketball. You'll see it anywhere the game is played and at any level. The way it works is elementary: A player momentarily gets in the way of the ballhandler's defender and the ballhandler dribbles in the direction of the pick. Then the player setting the pick rolls off the defender toward the basket with a backward pivot, keeping his eyes on the ball. If the defender of the player setting the pick switches to stop the ball, that creates an opening for a pass. If the defender doesn't switch, it allows an open shot for the ballhandler. When you combine a strong ballhandler who can shoot and make quick decisions with a big man who has good hands and athleticism, you have the makings of a dominant pick-and-roll."

  • Mike Tierney of The New York Times: "Bruce Kreutzer is the man at the equipment’s controls for Andres Sandoval, a former college point guard and Dominican Republic national team player who is aiming for a spot in the N.B.A. Development League. He has fallen into a parade of professionals who have wound their way to the Suwanee Sports Academy, 35 miles northeast of Atlanta. The academy caters primarily to youngsters in several indoor sports, mostly basketball. A small section tucked off to the side is a minigymnasium less than a halfcourt in length. It has a low ceiling, mirrored walls and a scruffy floor. A sign identifies it as the Mark Price Shooting Lab, whose namesake and director needed no machines or technology to become an N.B.A. dead-eye. 'I call it the A.A. of shooting,' said Price, 46, a retired four-time All-Star who is the most accurate free-throw shooter in N.B.A. history (.904) and is 23rd in career 3-point percentage (.402). Through computer-generated video and stills, he said, 'You show them, and they go, ‘I’ve got a problem.’ ' The lab’s most renowned problem case was Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, whose transcendent 2009-10 season was in small part a result of Price’s handiwork. Rondo arrived with a host of maladies -- a flying elbow, which he neglected to keep tucked in; imbalance because of poor foot placement; and a habit of bringing the ball too far back before launching. Two dozen N.B.A. players, former gym rats all, have become Price’s lab rats in the off-season, along with others from the Development League, for which Kreutzer, the lab shooting coach and operator, is a consultant. Not all participants’ identities are disclosed; some consider the sessions a form of rehabilitation that deserve privacy."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "The campaign to get Indiana Pacers forward Josh McRoberts into this year's slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend is about to begin. McRoberts and teammate Brandon Rush filmed a scene from the movie 'White Men Can't Jump' for a video they plan to post on a website in the near future because McRoberts wants to take part in his first dunk competition. 'I grew up watching the dunk contest. Now I want my part in it,' the high-flying McRoberts said. 'It'll be fun being in it if it happens.' McRoberts played the part of Woody Harrelson's character, Billy Hoyle, and Rush was Wesley Snipes' character, Sidney Deane. 'We're trying to get our man Josh into the contest,' Rush said. 'It was fun taking part in it. Everybody should like it.' The scene, which was filmed at McRoberts' house, was from when Harrelson and Snipes are leaning on a graffiti wall at the end of the movie. McRoberts and Rush ordered the clothes Harrelson and Snipes wore in the scene off eBay."

  • John Reid The Times-Picayune: "For the second consecutive home game, the Hornets attracted a crowd larger than 15,000. The announced crowd Sunday night at the Arena was 15,626, the second largest crowd of the season. The announced crowd for Wednesday’s game against New Jersey was 15,423. The Hornets are expected to have a sellout for Wednesday’s game against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu have pushed for increased fan support because the Hornets can opt of their lease agreement with the state if they don’t average 14,735 at the Arena for a period ending Jan. 31."