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First Cup: Monday

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Carmelo Anthony strolled into the Pepsi Center about an hour and 15 minutes before the game that could turn out to be his last -- or very close to his last -- in a Nuggets uniform. And there seemed to be a component of 'senioritis' to his game on a snowy Sunday night against New Orleans. On the bench, he was carefree. He bobbed his head to the music over the loudspeakers, and frolicked through a first half that was generally bad for his team. And on the court, the man who makes his living putting up shots and scoring in bunches took just two shots in the first half. The Nuggets lost this game 96-87 in front of 16,283 fans. But more than a game, for the first time it appeared the Nuggets lost the interest of their star as well. And when that became the perception, many in the crowd turned on the player, who they felt was thumbing his nose at them. Anthony was booed loudly in the fourth quarter when he entered the game on a substitution. 'You hear it,' Anthony said. 'Does it affect me? Not at all. It hurt a little bit knowing that it's coming from my home- team fans, but other than that, I try to go out and play hard every night. If they like it, they like it. If they want to boo, they want to boo.' "

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Amar'e Stoudemire has said publicly that he'd love to see the Knicks acquire Carmelo Anthony, but not everyone who has played with Stoudemire believes him. 'Amar'e will embrace any teammate, but if it were up to him, I know he'd rather just see the Knicks stay the way they are,' says a former Suns teammate, who requested anonymity. 'Amar'e likes being the guy. He likes the players that are around him. I know he's thinking, 'Why would we want to change this? I don't think he's going to be that upset if the Knicks don't get Carmelo, I'll tell you that.' On Friday, Stoudemire said of the Knicks, 'We don't really need much.' That doesn't sound like a franchise player pleading with the front office to make a move. The Nets are in serious talks with the Nuggets to acquire Anthony, who would first have to agree to a contract extension with New Jersey before a deal would be finalized."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for the Cavaliers, the team announced Sunday that center Anderson Varejao will miss the rest of the season with a torn peroneus longus tendon in his right foot that will require surgery. 'It's devastating,' said Mo Williams. 'Obviously he's a big partof what we do offensively and especially defensively. It's a tough one to swallow. It's hard.' Coach Byron Scott said he had not talked to Varejao, their defensive anchor who was averaging 9.1 points and 9.7 rebounds this season. 'When I heard the news, I'm not going to say I didn't buckle,' Scott said before Sunday night's game against the Suns in USAirways Center. 'A lot of it was because Andy's been playing great. He's been unbelievable. He's arguably our best player and for him to go down that way -- in practice on the last drill just running up and down the floor, no contact whatsoever -- that's tough. I feel more saddened for him because of what he has put into this season and all the other stuff he's been through. He's been through a lot this season. To come out and play the way he's been playing all season long, I feel real bad for him.' "

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Blame it on Nike. Blame it on the Trail Blazers' defense. Or just blame it on greatness. For whatever reason, whenever LeBron James steps into the Rose Garden, he suddenly adds shooting prowess to his already vast array of talents. James, whose status as the world's greatest basketball player is debated perhaps only because of his suspect outside shooting, put on yet another shooting display at the Rose Garden on Sunday, scoring 44 points in leading Miami to a come-from-behind 107-100 overtime victory over the stunned Blazers. It was all part of the Blazers' game plan: Go under screens and prevent James from penetrating, in a sense daring James to shoot. And shoot he did, making 17 of 26, including 3 of 5 from three-point range, one starting the Heat's comeback from a 91-84 deficit with 1:39 left, and the final two in overtime, piercing daggers to a Blazers team that thought it had its ninth consecutive home win wrapped up in regulation. After his final three-pointer with 16.3 seconds left, James played to the theater of the buzzing night after the Blazers called timeout, raising his hands to the sellout crowd and asking for more reaction as he strode confidently beyond the Heat's huddle. 'Nothing animated,' James said of his theatrics. 'Just love of the game.' Or perhaps more precisely, love of the Rose Garden. In eight career games in the Rose Garden, James has averaged 30.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists. In those games, he has shot 49.7 percent from the field and 46.8 percent (15 of 32) from three-point range, well above his career three-point percentage of 33.3. In his last four games in Portland -- all wins -- James is 12 for 21 from three-point range, and has had games of 37, 34, 41 and 44 points. 'For one, I spend a lot of time in Portland, Oregon, ... in Beaverton,' James said. 'I'm a Nike guy, so I feel at home sometimes. ... Or do I?' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Lakers forward Ron Artest oozes uniqueness and seeps entertainment, so it's easy to affix the word 'interesting' to anything he does. But the next couple of months will be interesting for a different reason. They're a chance for him to reclaim a season that has slipped away from him. His playing time and scoring are down, though that will change with Matt Barnes out until March because of torn cartilage in his right knee. Barnes said he would be out eight weeks, leaving plenty of minutes for Artest to claim. In fact, Barnes was averaging 20.8 minutes a game and was often Coach Phil Jackson's choice at small forward instead of Artest in the fourth quarter. Jackson thinks he knows how Artest will handle the challenge: 'I think Ron will look forward to it, actually. I don't think he'll be pressured at all. He knows that it's been kind of a cruise this year so far, so he'll step in.' Artest didn't have a great game offensively Sunday against the New York Knicks, scoring six points on two-for-nine shooting in 34 minutes. But he was feisty."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "Just five games separate the top five teams in the East, and the conference-leading Celtics (28-8, .778) have been caught by the Heat (30-9, .769), despite Miami’s well-chronicled dismal start. The Orlando Magic, who beat the Celtics on Christmas Day, are winners of nine straight, and the Atlanta Hawks are 8-2 in their past 10. There is an increased emphasis on the regular season, and scoreboard-watching has begun in earnest. Each time one of the other four teams drops a game, Boston realizes it has a chance to create more distance. That’s why the Celtics can’t afford to waste opportunities, such as Saturday night’s. 'You gotta treat every game like [it’s crucial],’ forward Paul Pierce said. 'All these games are going to count coming down to the end of the season where you have three elite teams, maybe four elite teams at the top, all battling for playoff position. With the way the pace is going, it could come [down to] a game, a game and a half at the end of the season. So a lot of these games are important, especially if you go head-to-head with them.' Such circumstances make the Celtics’ six-game homestand, starting tonight against the Houston Rockets, so critical. Four of those games are against teams with losing records and another is a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rematch with the Magic, who may come into TD Garden with a double-digit winning streak."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "He said it. I swear he did. Otis Smith said he might have made a mistake. In perhaps the first documented case in professional sports history of a general manager or coach perhaps admitting he made a personnel blunder, Magic GM Otis Smith told me the other day that the organization might have erred when it let Hedo Turkoglu leave two years ago. Now that Turk is back and meshing marvelously -- just like he did two years ago when he was the second-most important player on a Magic team that went to the NBA Finals -- Smith actually said these words: 'Yes, I was wrong.' But, of course, he added a qualifier. 'In its simplest form -- Hedo's gone and now he's back -- you could say we made a mistake, but there's more to it than that. We made a deal to fill a hole based on what we knew the economics would be down the road with Hedo.' Frankly, I never understood the Magic's 'down the road' mentality. The Magic were in the NBA Finals. They were this close to winning a championship. And when you're thisclose to winning a championship, you don't worry about down the road, do you? It's always been a nagging question among Magic fans that Smith and team president Bob Vander Weide broke up the greatest team in franchise history; the team that fell to the Lakers in the Finals. Even though the Magic lost the series 4-1, it was actually much closer than that. ... The Magic let Turkloglu leave and brought in Vince Carter to replace him. Now, two years later, the Magic traded Vince Carter and brought in Turkoglu to replace him. Sometimes, the best personnel moves are the ones you never make."

  • John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune: "Sudanese expatriates came by the bus load to the North Side on Sunday, jamming the lobby of a condo building for a vote that will shape the destiny of a land many were forced to leave. They were taking part in a referendum to determine whether southern Sudan should secede from the north and form a new nation. Some said it was the first time they and their families had been able to cast a ballot regarding the affairs of their homeland. 'My father voted in his village,' said David Deng, 30, of Chicago, who left southern Sudan when he was 6. 'He is 80 years old and never voted in his life.' Southern Sudanese have long felt subjugated by the north, and the economic and religious strife produced a 22-year civil war. That officially ended in 2005 with a peace agreement that promised a referendum on independence. The day finally arrived Sunday, and the excitement reportedly spilling over in the streets of Juba, Sudan's southern capital, was reflected in Chicago. The city is one of eight voting sites in the United States, and Sudanese came from across the Midwest for a joyful day of democracy."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Magicians do not work in the dark. The illusion is there, out in the open, teasing and drawing the eye toward it. The trap is set. Sleight of hand claims another victim. The defender knows it's coming but is fooled anyway. It's there on the video playing in every pregame locker room, all over the scouting report. Yet Rockets guard Kevin Martin makes his move toward the baseline or at the top of the 3-point circle and pulls up. He steps back, gaining separation. He goes into that quirky shooting motion, like a pre-teen struggling to reach the rim. Then at the last moment, as another defender leaves his senses and his feet, he pulls the ball back, waiting for the crash, the whistle and the walk to the free-throw line. 'You know who has a great up fake?' said former pump-fake master Sam Cassell, considered the magician's magician throughout his years tormenting defenders. 'Kevin Martin. Wicked. Wicked. He has a great up fake. He does everything slow. Martin is the main one in the league right now. He's No. 1.' ... The NBA leader in free throws made, Martin, 6-7, is fourth in 3-pointers, giving him a chance to be the first player to lead the league in 3s and free throws in the same season. Though the players who go to the line most to shoot and-ones are always the brutes and high fliers, Martin is fifth in the NBA in shooting fouls drawn, second to Wade among perimeter scorers. He is second to Jamal Crawford in drawing fouls beyond the 3-point arc."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "How much longer can the Oklahoma City Thunder keep Jeff Green at power forward? The question is not a new one. But it's one that has suddenly gained much more relevancy as the Thunder attempts to blossom into an NBA power. Shooters and centers have long been viewed as the Thunder's most glaring weaknesses. But Green's shortcomings at the four spot have emerged as a hefty handicap, standing out more this season than at any other point in his previous 3 1/2 years with the franchise. Last Tuesday's loss at Memphis marked the moment the issue became unavoidable for the Thunder. Green was woefully outplayed in his matchup with Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, who out-rebounded Green 16-0 and outscored him 31-8. It was only the third time in Green's career that he failed to grab a rebound. It was the umpteenth time Green has been bullied on the block. That's not an indictment of Green. At his natural small forward position, Green has plenty of value. But at power forward, Green walks into nearly each game out of position and over his head. ... If Green wants to remain with the Thunder, everything will work itself out, whether Green accepts a reduction in minutes or a move to the bench. For now, the Thunder continues rolling merrily along toward a second consecutive 50-win season. And that's satisfactory for the next 44 games. But at some point this summer, the Thunder must answer two burning questions. What is Jeff Green? And what is he to this team as it continues to evolve?"

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "When describing the Wizards' road woes this season, Coach Flip Saunders likes to talk about the 'evolution' of the team, but that process also includes the development of individual players. And, while Young has made dramatic improvements in his fourth season, bum-rushing his way from seldom-used reserve to starting go-to guy, the next step in his progression is being able to produce regardless of the venue. Overall, Young is averaging a career-high 15.1 points -- 17.3 points at home and 13.2 points on the road - but the disparity in his production has become much more glaring since he was inserted in the starting lineup following the Gilbert Arenas trade. In the past 11 games, all starts, Young is averaging a team-leading 18.4 points, but he is clearly thriving more in his home whites. In six home games, Young is averaging 23 points, shooting 47.4 percent from the field, and the Wizards are 3-3. In five road games, Young is averaging just 12.8 points, shooting 37.3 percent from the field, and the Wizards have lost all but one of those games by double digits."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "They are the most dissimilar of duos. The oft-laconic 7-foot Roman with the sweet jump shot he’ll take from anywhere and the athletic 6-foot-7 swingman from Los Angeles who has become almost relentless in attacking the basket. But as diverse as their backgrounds and abilities may be, there is a sense that whatever success the Raptors have offensively during the rest of the NBA season will come because Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan have figured out how to co-exist on a basketball court. It is no sure thing that they will do it consistently but for one afternoon it was if they’d done it a million times before as they led the Raptors to a 118-112 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. ... DeRozan really came into his own when Bargnani missed four games with a calf injury and hasn’t missed a beat since the big man has returned. 'I’m not surprised because I know what he can do,' Bargnani said of DeRozan. 'I see him in practice every day and I’m happy he’s finally showing in the games what he’s capable to do. We need that and he has to keep doing that.' Bargnani, meanwhile, has scored more than 20 points in three of his four games since getting back and it’s the same old, same old from the team’s top offensive weapon."

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Since returning from a nine-game layoff with a sprained left ankle, Warriors center Andris Biedrins has missed only one field-goal attempt. The problem: In three games, he has taken only four shots. 'I'd like him to score a little bit, and he's got to go to the basket to score,' general manager Larry Riley said. 'I can't have a guy giving me two points and 11 rebounds getting long minutes. If that's in short minutes, I'm all for it.' After missing an 8-foot hook shot in the opening minutes of Sunday's loss to the Clippers, Biedrins reverted to shying away from the ball. He twice was defended by guards on the post, but he didn't look for the ball - let alone demand it -- either time. 'I think sometimes he has the chance to take a rebound back up, but he brings it back out,' coach Keith Smart said. 'That takes us away from an easy shot and allows the defense to reset and reload.' "

  • Randy Youngman of The Orange County Register: "Are the NBA's Sacramento Kings contemplating a move to Anaheim? There have been rumors for years that the Kings, owned by the Maloof family, might leave Sacramento if the team doesn't get a new arena to replace antiquated Arco Arena. ... But is Anaheim a realistic destination? There are several obstacles that could complicate or preclude such a move. It has been widely reported the Maloofs have $69 million left on a loan with the city of Sacramento and reportedly have taken out $125 million in loans from the NBA in recent years. There's also a standard $30 million relocation fee that must be paid to the NBA if a franchise moves. And there will be territorial rights fees owed to the Lakers and Clippers (estimated between $30 million and $50 million to each team) for invading the Southern California market they share. Will the NBA allow three teams in the same market? That is another question. A simple majority of NBA owners -- that is, 16 of 30 -- would have to approve the Kings moving to Anaheim or another city, if the process got that far. A potential lockout next season, as NBA owners push for a hard salary cap and 'cost certainty', also complicates the situation. At the moment, there are more questions than answers with regard to the future of the Maloofs and Sacramento Kings, but the rumors are getting louder by the hour. NBA teams interested in relocating reportedly must inform the league of their intentions by March 31. Stay tuned."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "That was the drabbest the Suns' locker room has been after a victory in some time. Appropriately, nobody was giddy about getting the first win of 2011 against Cleveland at home. There was not much of a good feeling about having to scrap to hand the NBA's worst team its 16th consecutive road loss."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Once one of the NBA's most prolific tweeters and the guy who broke news worldwide that Kevin McHale wouldn't be back as coach, Love went silent and deep for well more than a year before returning to Twitter as @kevinlove just as 2010 passed by. He tweeted that his return was his New Year's resolution. 'It was about time,' said Love, whose 18-point, 17-rebound night Sunday in a loss at San Antonio was his 24th consecutive double-double. 'It's a good way to connect with the fans ... everybody's on Twitter.' Why so long away? 'I got some grief from some people with the Timberwolves,' Love said. 'Guys like Freddy Hoiberg would call me up and say, 'Tweet this,' or 'Don't tweet that.' They were always bugging me about Twitter. I said, 'Whatever happened to the First Amendment?' ' He proved free speech is alive and well with one of his first Twitter targets last week: Coach Kurt Rambis' haircut, which he tweeted is the 'same greatclips haircut' as 'Randy aka 'Freakshow' from the movie Harold and Kumar. 'Why?' he asked. 'Because it was easy.' "