First Cup: Monday

  • Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: "Two years ago, Rajon Rondo might not have been capable of taking over a game against an elite opponent. At least not the way he did in the Celtics’ 91-80 win over the Orlando Magic yesterday afternoon. Rondo scored 26 points, not only leading the Celtics in scoring but coming within 2 points of the combined total of the Orlando backcourt (starters and reserves). It was not a flawless performance, but it displayed how close Rondo is to reaching his potential as a point guard. There was plenty of choreographing and setting up teammates, but this was Rondo’s time to show he really can make opponents pay the price for leaving him to help defensively on Ray Allen and Paul Pierce."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "There really was nothing out of the ordinary in the Boston Celtics' 91-80 victory against the Orlando Magic on Sunday. It was business --- monkey business --- as usual at TD Garden. The Magic had seen their antics countless times --- the yakety-yak, the ref-baiting, the bullying tactics. 'Extracurricular B.S.,' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy called it. 'They create it and the other team can't play through it.' The Magic are not only still falling for these shamrock shenanigans, but falling to the Celtics in the usual manner, helpless at times to do anything about it. The Celtics (38-12) did what the Celtics normally do to the Magic (32-20) when it counts: Frustrate them with thorny defense, toughness and timely shots, throwing in a rabbit punch and an ol' Dutch rub to aggravate them. The Celtics won the regular-season series, 2-1. They sent the Magic back home with a reminder if they meet again in the postseason for the third consecutive time. 'Not even close, not even in the same ballpark as these guys,' Van Gundy said, when asked about the gap between his team and the Celtics. 'We can be, but we're not right now. I think that showed today.' "

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Perhaps if both teams didn't come out in their pajamas, one could make more of the significance of Sunday's 97-79 Heat victory over the Clippers. But with the noon tip at AmericanAirlines Arena representing a 9 a.m. Pacific start for the Clippers, what you got, at least through the early stages, were botched Blake Griffin dunks, bungled Heat free throws and butchered possessions by both teams. While the victory extended the Heat's winning streak to six and kept the pressure on the Celtics at the top of the Eastern Conference, it merely was a warm-up act. As will be Tuesday's home game against the Pacers, as well as Friday's visit to Detroit. And then comes something that will wake any team out of a Sunday early-afternoon slumber, next week's game in Boston. Because for all the Dwyane Wade triple-doubles in Charlotte and the LeBron James 50-somethings in Orlando, the only trophy stage for the Heat is the parquet. The good part is the Heat, at least now, are close enough to at least acknowledge where next Sunday in Boston can deliver them. 'We're not obsessed with the other teams in the standings,' coach Erik Spoelstra said after Sunday's win. 'But what I told the guys is we might as well as put ourselves in position next Sunday to pass them.' "

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Who knows if the conversation at Amar'e Stoudemire's Super Bowl party Sunday night eventually turned from football to Carmelo Anthony. After all, it is the subject that just won't go away. In fact, the Knicks players are starting to realize that the next time Stoudemire hosts a team function at his SoHo pad, Anthony could very well be one of the attendees. 'I don't think we have anything going, but we're getting a feeling for possibilities,' Knicks president Donnie Walsh said before his club defeated the Sixers, 117-103, Sunday at the Garden. 'We have a better feeling for what's going to happen.' There are moments like Sunday when Stoudemire is so dominant and role players like Landry Fields so efficient that the idea of acquiring 'Melo seems unnecessary and misguided. But the Knicks are trying to negotiate a deal for Anthony that wouldn't include Fields and/or Danilo Gallinari and would make Carmelo and Stoudemire a formidable combination. In that case, it makes all the sense in the world."

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "Well, that was an interesting week. Richard Hamilton had the flu. Then he was deactivated. He responded by saying he thought he had played his final game with the Pistons. Then, the next night (Saturday), he scored 15 points in a victory against Milwaukee. Last season, the Pistons were bad and boring. This season, they are not faring much better in the standings, but they are anything but boring.?"

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Any road trip that makes the Warriors' defensive prowess a viable topic brings a plethora of unexpected possibilities into play. What's next? A healthy Greg Oden? A calm Jerry Sloan? An eventual Bulls' first-round playoff exit? Granted, that's a facetious take on what might eventually be viewed as a throwaway blip, a speed bump on the way to success. However, the Bulls' loss Saturday to the Warriors offered another example of an athletic team with defensive quickness on the perimeter that has vexed them. Derrick Rose has faced double-teaming all season, however the Warriors' creative traps helped force Rose into a career-high nine turnovers. The Bobcats are 2-0 against the Bulls this season mostly because of their ability to aggressively double-team Rose with athletic wing players.Though the Bulls have yet to face the Hawks, they're another team that can offer this defensive look. Granted, the Bulls own a 45-point blowout victory over the 76ers. But coach Doug Collins employed another strategy -- also used by the Warriors -- that has given the Bulls problems by going small and flooding the floor with shooters in the 76ers' revenge victory Jan. 7 at home. All of this should remind how important playoff positioning is for a Bulls team that, beyond Rose, can lack athleticism at times. If the playoffs started now, the Bulls would face the Knicks, a team that is 2-0 against them this season because they flooded the floor with shooters and played small and fast."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: “ 'Why are the Pacers playing better now?' That’s the question I get asked more than anything these days when it comes to the blue and gold. Part of their success can be pointed at the teams they’ve played. New Jersey, Toronto and Cleveland have a combined record of 37-117. Their recent success is also because of a new attitude. The players are loose again. They’re back cracking jokes in the locker room. ... As one scout recently texted me, 'The Pacers are playing like the shackles have been removed off them.' Then there’s the Frank Vogel factor. I don’t think I’ve seen Vogel frown yet. He’s always got a smile on his face. He encourages his players, not put them down. He doesn’t yank a player for missing two or three shots in a row."

  • Broderick Turner of Los Angeles Times: "The imitation Lakers Coach Phil Jackson did of Pau Gasol after practice Sunday was uncanny. He didn't do it to mock Gasol. Instead, when asked to describe Gasol's reactions after their frequent conversations in which he has urged his All-Star forward to be more aggressive, Jackson shrugged his shoulders, held his palms flipped upward and raised his eyes. Jackson smiled before he explained how Gasol plays the game. 'Pau knows who he is. We know who he is,' Jackson said. 'We know he's tenacious, aggressive. ... He's always a willing passer. The one thing I'm always on him about is getting that first rebound. 'Don't let them knock it out of your hands. Don't let them knock it away from you.' That's what I'm really about in Pau's aggressiveness, is go get the ball in tough situations and hang on to it. Otherwise, all this talk about how aggressive he's not, how aggressive he is, falls on deaf ears.' Jackson said Gasol understands what the Lakers expect from him. 'He is who he is,' Jackson said. 'We're not going to make him into Garnett. He's not going to go around punching guys [below the belt].' "

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "While the Grizzlies await a positive jolt with the arrival of free-agent point guard Jason Williams, they are enjoying Sam Young's coming of age. Plugged into the starting lineup when the calendar turned to 2011, Young has been a noteworthy part of the team's emergence of late. The Grizzlies have won eight of their past 10 games heading into their matchup tonight with the Los Angeles Lakers in FedExForum. Memphis (27-25) suddenly sits just a half game behind Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Not lost in that development is the fact that the Griz have found their most successful starting lineup. The Griz are 11-4 when Young begins the game with Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Young averaged 14 points per game during the Grizzlies' five-game winning streak that ended last Saturday in an overtime loss at Houston."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "I totally get it why Charlotte NBA fans would want to see the Heat or the Lakers (next week), even faster than they'd want to see the Celtics Monday. The Lakers always have sex appeal, and you don't know how many more times Kobe Bryant will be around for a once-a-year visit. And the fact that the Bobcats beat those guys regularly is odd and intriguing. The Heat is a curiousity in the free-agency era. Like when you were a little kid and you mixed Cap'n Crunch with Cocoa Puffs with Frankenberries. The Heat's off-season was the ultimate sugar-rush and you want to witness how it all works out. But isn't it cool that the Summer of LeBron could end with two old-school, hanging-on teams -- the Celtics and the Spurs (Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili) -- playing a Finals series that would be such a throwback to the fundamentals that built basketball? I was talking to Paul Silas after practice Sunday about what makes the Celtics so good. He captured it: They value defense, and on offense every player understands what he is and isn't, and doesn't extend beyond that. Big Baby is a great example of that: He could be a real hassle, a player extending beyond what he does best, but the positive peer pressure works on him."

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The Hawks' climb is about to get a bit steeper. In their past 15 games, they played five teams with records above .500, going 3-2 against those teams and 11-4 overall. In their next 15, 10 will be against teams with winning records, including two with the Lakers and Bulls and one with the Thunder, all division leaders. The Hawks are 9-11 against teams above .500, the fourth-best mark in the Eastern Conference."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Although the Thunder's erratic defense has been an eyesore at times, there are two reasons for optimism going forward. Thunder players haven't thrown in the towel on establishing a defensive identity. And they've shown at times that they can still be a shutdown defensive team. So long as the Thunder continues to stick with it, chalk up these worrisome wins to character building -- no matter how hard on the eyes they may be."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Lately, life on the court in the NBA has begun to feel a little more foreign for Spurs rookie center Tiago Splitter. This is a good thing. 'I’m feeling more like I used to be in Europe, more comfortable on the court,' said Splitter, the Spanish League’s 2010 Most Valuable Player. 'I’m not so anxious as I was before.' The curious case of Splitter, who has gone from summertime savior to midseason spectator to stretch-run X-factor in eight dizzying months, has been one of the more fascinating storylines of the Spurs’ race to the NBA’s best record. The Spurs are hopeful Splitter’s performance in Friday’s 113-100 victory at Sacramento, which closed the western leg of their rodeo road trip, might be a harbinger of things to come -- first on the trip’s eastern leg, which opens Tuesday at Detroit, then for the remainder of the season. With the Spurs desperately needing to rest middle-aged big men Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess on the second night of a back-to-back, Splitter scored 16 points against the Kings, made 7 of 8 field goals, and seized nine rebounds in a season-high 27 minutes, 55 seconds."