First Cup: Wednesday

  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: "The circus that has evolved around the Nets truly becomes a three-ring affair tonight. In the center ring will be billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who is in the country for the Nets' 'Evening of Russian Culture,' but presumably also to seek a meeting with Carmelo Anthony if the Nets and Nuggets finalize the framework of a trade and if permission is granted to speak with the star about signing an extension. Those trade discussions comprise one sideshow ring as Nets and Nuggets execs seek to finish the three-team deal. In the third ring, the 10-31 Nets play a game, facing the Utah Jazz to numerically kick off the second half of the season. But games have taken secondary status to the NBA's continuing soap opera, the chase for Carmelo. Prokhorov, expected to be around for at least Friday's game with Detroit as well (he has other obligations in Russia that make his presence unlikely on Saturday), is scheduled to address the media before the game. It will be interesting to see what he says. Unless there is a major shift in the trade talks or Denver gives permission to talk to Anthony, Prokhorov can't really discuss the situation. Anthony is under contract. He could always discuss the merits of borscht."

  • Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com: "The Knicks are in a stretch of 10 consecutive games against teams from the West, which makes it convenient and somewhat easy to forget that the Knicks have a very small number of wins against the best teams in their own conference. Throw out their two victories against the Chicago Bulls (who haven't made anyone's elite teams list yet), and you know how many quality victories they have against the East's elite? No quiz on that question, just an answer. And that answer is a big, fat, round zero. That's why they still are following every twist and turn of the Melo Drama, waiting for the moment when the Nuggets finally reach out to them and tell them exactly what it'll take to acquire that second superstar. And if that answer includes the phrase 'at least two No. 1 picks,' the best news for the Knick to come out of Monday's loss was Donnie Walsh's disclosure that acquiring those two No. 1s is something he feels could be achievable."

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: "Esquire magazine had a recent feature on Dwyane Wade in which the writer (who must be pictured breathless) refers to the Heat as a team of 'ineffable puissance.' For those of us in the real world that roughly translates to indescribably powerful or mighty. Not lately, friends. Not lately.Tuesday night’s 93-89 overtime home loss to the Atlanta Hawks marked the Heat’s season-worst fourth consecutive defeat, which, around here, with this team, surely might foment a resumption of the wailing and angst and national dissection such as we have not seen since that staggering 9-8 start to the NBA season. It should do no such thing. If we have learned anything from the first half of this season, it is that everything about this team gets magnified, but that the real measuring must wait until the playoffs. Nobody wants to wait. That Esquire has joined the bandwagon of scrutiny verifies the Heat phenomenon has busted beyond sports into pop culture and beyond, the parade of evidence unabated."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Blake Griffin has become a recurring character on ESPN's nightly 'SportsCenter' highlight show, so much so with an array of high-flying acrobatics that Wolves forward Michael Beasley simplified basketball's complex strategies when he was asked about his team's defensive game plan against Griffin on Wednesday night at Staples Center. 'Don't get dunked on,' he said. Good luck with that. 'You can't rate a guy like that,' Beasley said when asked to rank Griffin among the NBA's best dunkers. 'He's off the charts.' Well, actually, you can rate a guy like that. And the NBA will when Griffin -- the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year -- competes next month in the All-Star weekend dunk contest. How'll he rank under such a staged format is anyone's guess. Griffin's unique combination of power and hops in real life and real games is threatening to produce the previously unthinkable: He just might make Los Angeles a two-team basketball town. 'He's on the highlights every night, plus there's an L.A. SportsCenter now,' Love said. 'Now it's the Lakers and the Clippers, not just the Lakers anymore. That says a lot. The Clippers are finally starting to make some noise.' "

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "If Dwight Howard ends up pulling a Shaq and leaving after next season for Los Angeles, the City of Orlando should immediately sue the Magic and the NBA for $500 million in damages. That's how much it cost to build the new arena that we were led to believe would be the Dwight House for years and years to come. Now there are rumblings and rumors and angst and anxiety that Dwight might try to orchestrate an exit a la LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony when his contract is up after next season. If he does then we were sold a half-a-billion-dollars worth of hot air. The Amway Center would suddenly transform into the Scamway Center. And this is why NBA commissioner David Stern needs to crush the player's union during the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations and implement an NFL-style 'franchise' tag that makes it nearly impossible for star players like Howard to leave teams, towns and taxpayers stranded. ... And please spare me the rhetoric about how 'unfair' it would be to NBA millionaires if the league restricted their movement. Puh-leeze. It's more unfair to NBA fans and taxpayers for the league to use a franchise player like Dwight Howard to get a $500 million arena and then stand there passively while that franchise player simply walks out the door. Don't kid yourself, Magic fans, The future of your franchise is at stake."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "The NBA should be really embarrassed by the absurd officiating at the end of the Bobcats-Bulls game. I’m a big proponent of video review. If the technology is there to get the call right, then it’s crazy not to use it. But implicit to the system is the premise that the call on the floor should stand unless there’s compelling evidence it should be reversed. There was no such evidence in the variety of videos I saw that the ball was last touched by D.J Augustin before falling out of bounds. Bulls guard C.J. Watson knocked it loose, in a desperate attempt to get possession. The play was 20 feet from where I sat and I didn’t think Augustin touched it. Then I saw the video views and there was nothing to change my mind. I can’t say irrefutably that the ball couldn’t have grazed off Augustin somehow. That’s not even the point. There’s no way someone could look at that video and know irrefutably that it DID graze off Augustin. Then the refs made a bad situation worse, after Tyrus Thomas blocked Kyle Korver’s reverse layup. There was a scrum under the basket to retrieve the ball and it went out of ball. Both teams thought the other one touched it last. The baseline ref said with conviction it was the Bulls’ ball. Perhaps that conviction was justified, I don’t know. But again, that’s not the point. As Bobcats coach Paul Silas noted post-game, if the officials felt compelled to reverse the previous call, doesn’t that obligate them to do a video review of the second one?"

  • Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times: "There's the looming sheer force of Griffin, Gordon and a rejuvenated Baron Davis but Jordan has become a major factor behind the Clipper resurgence. He is averaging 6.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in 40 games, and his free-throw shooting doesn't inspire quite as many cringes these days. Jordan's athleticism also shows around the rim. He's fourth in the league in dunks this season, with 75; Griffin leads the league with 91. 'Oh man, [Jordan] is the reason why we've been such a hot team,' Davis said. 'A lot of the things he's able to do on the defensive end allows us to be a great defensive team. That 41%, our field-goal percentage, that credit goes to him. He's our anchor. For a young guy, 22 years old, to be able to be back there and anchor that defense, it is amazing to see his growth and his progress. Just that confidence we have in him.' ... Griffin's impact on Jordan should not be minimized. They are close friends, videogame-playing buddies and feed off each other like skilled comics when shooting trick shots for the Clippers' website."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "For Antonio McDyess, this was supposed to be the last hurrah, the grand finale, the cherry on top. Even before he signed with the Spurs two summers ago, McDyess had made up his mind that his 15th NBA season would be his last. The first 41 games of McDyess’ supposed farewell season have served to lob an awfully big monkeywrench into those plans. At 36, the Spurs’ eldest statesman has been playing so well, and feeling so spry, he has lately begun to reconsider retirement. 'If I could play here another year,' McDyess said, 'I would definitely contemplate it.' For McDyess, 'here' is the operative word. He has so enjoyed his season-and-a-half in San Antonio, he might be willing to put off the rocking chair for a third. For the record, McDyess says he’s still leaning toward retirement but is leaving the door to a 16th season slightly ajar. 'I’m not going to say never,' McDyess said. The Spurs’ feel-good season -- they own the NBA’s best record, 35-6, as the second half opens tonight against Toronto -- is one reason McDyess might opt for a retirement audible. Another is coach Gregg Popovich, who has cultivated quite a reputation as career preserver."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Mike Dunleavy was traded to the Indiana Pacers from the Golden State Warriors four years ago this week. Dunleavy, the No. 3 pick in the 2002 draft, thought he was leaving a franchise that hadn't gotten a sniff of the playoffs in 13 years and heading to one that had been a regular in the postseason. Four years and 247 games later, Dunleavy is still searching for his first playoff appearance. Time is running out for him to make the playoffs with the Pacers. Indiana has been struggling for more than a month, and Dunleavy is a trade candidate. ... If he is not traded, the odds of Dunleavy returning next season aren't high, despite O'Brien saying he wants his swingman to return. The wing is the deepest position on the Pacers' roster. 'We've got a good group of young guys,' Dunleavy said. 'It's been fun growing here. I love being in Indiana. I love the organization and the coaching staff. We'll see what happens.' Dunleavy, 30, is at the point in his career where winning takes center stage. The Pacers, who will have plenty of salary cap space to work with this summer, haven't finished with at least a .500 record since going 41-41 during the 2005-06 season. 'You look at everything and not just focus on one thing,' Dunleavy said. 'I could not tell you what's a priority right now. Obviously winning is very, very important.' "

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Jrue Holiday is living on his own for the first time in a condo on the outskirts of the city, far from his close-knit family in the Los Angeles area. He is handling adult responsibilities long before many his age have even thought about the concept, and he is quickly on his way to becoming the unquestioned leader of the storied franchise that employs him. 'We just wanted him to focus on basketball his first year, and it was his mama's idea to have his grandmom live with him,' says Shawn Holiday, Jrue's father. 'We wanted to make sure that he was eating properly, taking care of his body. We knew with his grandmother there, she could cook for him and help him. Then over this summer, he felt it was time to be by himself. He felt he was more mature. We've been blessed with our kids as far a maturity.' Maturity is a word you hear a lot when you talk to those around the Sixers about Holiday: 'He's just so mature,' coach Doug Collins says in amazement. 'God dang, at 20 years old, I was a sophomore at Illinois State and barely even heard of Philadelphia, let alone running the pro basketball team there.' Jrue is California cool. He'll quietly shake and shimmy to a song during a timeout, showing moves that undoubtedly make him a hit on any dance floor. His smile does more than light up a room, it causes sunburn. He is a millionaire at 20. Yet he is just what he wants to be - a basketball player, first and foremost."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Halfway through a rookie season that was four years in the making, Spurs forward Gary Neal still has to pinch himself to make sure he’s not dreaming. A regular in coach Gregg Popovich’s bench rotation, Neal is averaging 18.7 productive minutes per game, averaging 8.7 points -- second among Spurs reserves -- after establishing himself as a reliable 3-point shooter who has become a game changer. After three seasons in European professional leagues, the 26-year-old from Baltimore never imagined his first 41 games in the NBA would include the sort of success he and the Spurs enjoyed on the run to the NBA’s best record at the halfway point. 'I couldn’t have written a script that would have been better than this is right now,' Neal said. 'As far as the team goes, we’ve got the best record in the NBA, and as far as me playing, I’m playing more, and better, than I thought I could play.' Neal has played his way into consideration for a spot on the Rookie Team in the Rookie-Sophomore game scheduled for All-Star Weekend at Staples Center in Los Angeles. While acknowledging he would love to participate in the game, he has not allowed himself to think much about it. 'To be honest with you, we have 15 games before then, and anything could happen between now and then,' he said. 'The rotation could change, or anything. I just take it day to day, one game at a time.' "

  • Victor Contreras of The Sacramento Bee: "It's not always easy to get to the root of a story, especially when it has taken on a life of its own on the Internet. Take last week's report by KFBK. Rob McAllister reported that an unnamed source told him Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli offered the Maloofs a $100 million loan to move the Kings to Anaheim's Honda Center. If the Maloofs default, Samueli would assume control of the Kings. The report, which said the Maloofs could not be reached for comment, spread like a virus. Bloggers from CBS Sports, the Orange County Register, the Seattle Post Intelligencer and others posted KFBK's story without further reporting -- meaning no calls for confirmation were made to the Maloofs or Samueli. But The Bee called Joe Maloof the day KFBK aired its report. Maloof told The Bee's Dale Kasler "No, no, no" when asked if KFBK's report was accurate. On a follow-up call Tuesday morning, Maloof told Bee sports columnist Ailene Voisin he can no longer comment on arena issues as instructed by the NBA. Also Tuesday, a Honda Center spokesperson wouldn't comment about possible discussions with NBA owners but reiterated that the arena would love to host an NBA tenant. So what's fact? The city is still entertaining ideas from developers on arena proposals that would keep the team in Sacramento long term. What's fiction? The Maloofs would put themselves in position to lose control of the franchise."