First Cup: Tuesday

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Carmelo Anthony could have been a Knick Monday if only team president Donnie Walsh were willing to meet Denver's trade demands, which one team official classified as 'steep.' According to a team source close to the negotiations, "there is a deal to be made" but whether Anthony joins forces with Amar'e Stoudemire in New York between Tuesday and the Feb. 24 trade deadline likely comes down to the Nuggets either lowering their asking price or the Knicks turning over their roster to acquire one of the NBA's top players. The Nuggets, according to a source, are asking for three starters -- including Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton -- plus Eddy Curry's expiring contract and at least one first-round pick. In that proposed deal, Anthony and veteran point guard Chauncey Billups would be coming to the Knicks. It is believed that Walsh and Mike D'Antoni feel the team would be giving up too much. Garden chairman James Dolan has had direct involvement in the negotiations and may ultimately overrule his basketball staff. The teams have nine days to play their game of chicken and the Knicks continue to debate if they should trade for Anthony now or take their chances on signing him as a free agent this summer."

  • Ron Green Jr. of The Charlotte Observer: "Asked to explain the almost unexplainable hold the Charlotte Bobcats have over the Los Angeles Lakers -- their 109-89 victory against the two-time NBA champions Monday night was Charlotte's eighth win in 10 games against the Lakers -- Gerald Wallace broke it down in basketball terms. He talked about size and quickness and clamping down on Kobe Bryant. Then Wallace let his mind wander. 'Every team has their one escape route. I guess the Lakers is ours,' Wallace said. 'Hopefully we can make it to the finals and meet them. Our odds would be pretty good then.' The New Jersey Nets might be more than the Bobcats can handle on a regular basis, but give Charlotte the Lakers and everything changes. Three nights earlier, the Bobcats bombed against the Nets, then went to Atlanta and gutted out an important win Saturday. When the Lakers rolled in for the sixth game in their seven-game road trip, the Bobcats were ready. D.J. Augustin played through a sore wrist that threatened to keep him out. Wallace was brilliant with 20 points, 11 rebounds and grinding defense on Bryant."

  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: "Oh, it was an evening of love, all right. The Rockets even dressed like red roses for the occasion as they improved to 15-12 at home. But don't let a 19-point rout of the listless Nuggets, who were playing their second of back-to-back road games and now have lost four of their last five games, fool you.It is just another blip on the screen for a team that can't put enough blips on the screen for one to be confident it will make the playoffs. Can the Rockets do it? Sure. But it will take something in the final 26 games that they haven't displayed in the first 56. Consistency. Distractions and inconsistency are two issues that drive coaches nuts. One often leads to the other. It would be impossible to tell if the Rockets have been distracted by trade talk. They say they haven't. When a team has a disappointing record and hasn't played well enough to establish itself as a playoff contender, players have to start thinking that a trade is coming. Not that it is easy to play under such circumstances, but the Rockets have been so inconsistent this season that they can't blame losses on thoughts of players being moved. Some probably want out; most probably want to stay. That is a distraction. The trade deadline isn't for another 11/2 weeks."

  • Jeff Rabjohns of The Indianapolis Star: "An upset tonight and a win Tuesday in Detroit would send the Pacers into the All-Star break with nine wins in 10 games. 'This is not about this time of year, it's about the next couple months,' Frank Vogel said. 'I told our guys, our intention is to go into the playoffs like Green Bay went into the NFL playoffs, as one of the hottest teams, and I believe we can do it.' The Packers won the Super Bowl after almost missing the playoffs. The Pacers created so many issues for the Heat in last week's game, they put the 6-8 James on point guard Darren Collison to slow down pick and rolls. Even though James scored 41 points, the Pacers were in the game until the very end. ... The Pacers are averaging 102.5 points against the Heat, their highest against any of the seven teams above them in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The next closest offensive average for the Pacers against that group is 95 (Philadelphia). 'They're a team that plays with a lot of speed that can really score the ball,' Heat forward James Jones said. 'Whenever you have athleticism, versatility and speed and the ability to score, you make it tough for any team. With what they have and our defensive scheme, it's a battle, regardless of their record.' Possibly even in mid-April."

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: "The tinkering isn’t over. If anything, the Heat’s three-point loss to the Celtics on Sunday proved Miami is not yet a complete team, not yet primed for a run to the NBA Finals and, most importantly, not yet a finished product. Work remains. 'This is part of the process,' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. 'It doesn’t happen overnight for us. We have guys who care very much in that locker room and the trend with our team is when we have come up short in a certain area, that we have been able to objectively look at it, stay together and figure it out and I anticipate the same thing with this group.' The Heat (39-15), which plays the Pacers on Tuesday, entered Boston riding an eight-game winning streak. The team appeared to be balanced. The rotations seemed to be in order. Then Rajon Rondo happened. The Celtics’ pesky point guard played like a MVP candidate Sunday and the Heat had trouble adjusting. 'We lost our focus,' Spoelstra said. 'We did not play to our standards.' Led by Rondo, the Celtics’ aggressive energy on defense sparked a 20-3 run to begin the third quarter. It forced Spoelstra to improvise. Miami’s coach went off script, making a series of decisions that ultimately put the Heat in a position to tie the score in the end. Ultimately, however, Spoelstra’s coaching decisions against Boston revealed just how unsettled the Heat can be when matched against an elite point guard."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "LeBron James knows it’s coming because he’s been through it and if there comes a moment when Chris Bosh needs a teammate to lean on, he’s got one. James may not yet be aware of the venom that can spew from some Raptors fans who feel jilted by one of the best players in franchise history, and it’s not clear how much help he can be to his Miami Heat teammate this week. 'If he wants some advice, then he can ask me. He’s seen what I went through Dec. 2 (in Cleveland) so he should be prepared,' James said after joining a handful of Miami teammates -- Bosh not among them -- at an optional workout at Conseco Fieldhouse here Monday. 'First of all, it will not be as bad as it was for me,' James said. 'But he can expect boos, he can expect a little hatred from them, the fans giving it to him. As teammates, we’ll be there for him and we’ll make sure we’re in tune with our game plan, trying to get that win for him.' Bosh makes his first appearance at the Air Canada Centre with the Heat on Wednesday in what’s expected to be the most electric atmosphere in the building this season."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Can you go into the postseason with starting power forward Brandon Bass and veteran Malik Allen as Howard's back-up centers? Furthermore, can Bass and Ryan Anderson handle the likes of Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh at power forward? Can you throw young, undersized Earl Clark into the playoff mix? Bottom line: Can you win a title with this big-man group supporting Howard? The trade deadline is Feb. 24. 'We need another big,' Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide said Sunday, sounding like most fans. General Manager Otis Smith has even backed off his ardent stance of sticking with his roster of bigs -- well, at least a little. Smith told the Sentinel on Monday, 'We'll look, but I'm pretty content with what we have. If we need to do something before the deadline, we'll make a deal.' ... It is days like Sunday, when Howard overpowers the defending champs, that Smith feels the Magic can get along fine. 'That might have been the best game Dwight's played here,' he said. Howard has a matchup advantage against all but two teams. The question is, can he do it largely by himself during a series against the Celtics' collection of bigs and against the Lakers' twin towers in a title rematch? If Howard is out of the game, Smith said the Magic will play differently anyway. Nobody you bring in off the bench or in a trade can duplicate the power of Howard, although the Lakers might have felt at times they were facing more than one Dwight."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Coach Lionel Hollins is now charged with trying to integrate Mayo into a Griz squad that settled on a rotation, an identity and won eight of 10 games without their most trusted reserve. 'It doesn't put coach in a bad situation, but it does,' Mayo said. 'I'm pretty sure he wants to see if I can come in and make shots, and help the team even more. But at the same time they're definitely playing real well without me. That's why he gets paid to coach.' There is plenty to consider about adding Mayo back into the Grizzlies' mix: Does Mayo automatically assume his spot in the rotation? Mayo isn't Xavier Henry (a rookie without status) or Jason Williams (a player in the twilight of his career). So it is conceivable that Mayo will be afforded more of an opportunity to contribute right away. That doesn't mean Mayo will replace Sam Young in the starting lineup or Tony Allen as the first swingman off the bench. But expect Mayo to see playing time in an expanded rotation that likely would have Young spelling small forward Rudy Gay at times so that minutes could be divided between Mayo, Young and Allen, depending on who is playing well that night."

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: "When the Sixers were blowing games to the likes of the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, I wondered how ridiculous my prediction would look when this squad lucked into 33 wins. I knew the Sixers would keep improving under Collins, but I thought the hole they had dug was way too deep to reach the surface line. For a team to come back from 10 games below .500 to post a winning record would be a Herculean task over the final 66 games. And on Nov. 26, when the Sixers lost in Miami after dropping previous games to Washington and Toronto to fall to 3-13, there was little indication these players had that kind of ability. But the Sixers are on the brink of something extraordinary. With two games remaining before the All-Star Break, the Sixers (26-28) can actually reach .500 with wins tonight in Memphis and tomorrow in Houston. That is astounding. Since losing in Miami, the Sixers have gone 23-15. That's a winning percentage of .605."

  • Dwaine Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "The Rodrigue Beaubois saga is close to finally coming to an end. A second-year guard with the Dallas Mavericks, Beaubois pushed himself Monday in his first extensive practice session since he fractured his left foot Aug. 13. The lightning-quick Frenchman will have another extended practice today and then go through Wednesday morning’s shootaround. He said he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play in Wednesday’s home game against Sacramento. 'It went well, but it was the first one, so now I just need to keep going and we’ll see,' Beaubois said. 'But the first one was pretty good.' Beaubois became a fan favorite last year when he averaged 7.1 points in just 12.5 minutes per game. Beaubois can play point guard and shooting guard, so his return will create a logjam at the guard positions. Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson start in the backcourt and Jason Terry and JJ Berea come off the bench. Is there any room left for Beaubois? 'We’re all about team here, so as long as it translates into wins for us, then we don’t have a problem with it,' Terry said. 'Now if he comes in and its affecting everybody, it’s going to be a little rift here and there, but not anything we can’t work out. It’s a good problem to have.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "James Harden has developed a knack for drawing fouls on jump shots. The second-year shooting guard has exploited defenders by initiating the contact near the end of his shooting motion rather than going straight up looking for a clean shot attempt. Harden's act has led to multiple three-point play opportunities of late, and even some four-point play chances. Harden baited defenders in Sacramento and Golden State into fouling him on jumpers. But has Harden become too reliant on the move? 'I think you just shoot your shot and if you get fouled you get fouled,' said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. 'But if you go into every shot thinking about getting fouled you're not going to make it and you're not going to get enough calls on that.' "

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "In his past five games, Aaron Gray has collected a pair of double-doubles, 10 points and 10 rebounds in the start against the Lakers and 10 points and 11 rebounds against the Nets. He had eight rebounds against the Magic and Howard, a game in which Gray, 7 feet, 270 pounds, also hounded the Magic with three steals while recording two blocked shots. Until Jan. 1, Gray’s season resume was punctuated by 23 games on the inactive list, eight DNP-coach’s decisions and one game in which he did not travel with the club. Yet Monty Williams took notice of Gray’s persistence and work ethic throughout his in-game inactivity, admired the way Gray dealt with his situation and rewarded him with more playing time. 'He’s worked his butt off to get in this position,' Williams said. 'He earned that spot, and he’s produced. I played him 40 minutes against Jersey. Aaron understands communication on defense. And that’s the one thing that we need our bigs to understand. He’s big. He takes up a lot of space. The one thing I want him to do is be aggressive around the basket. Lately, he’s been passing up shots, and he’s right at the rim trying to find David. We don’t need him to be Magic Johnson. We need him to dunk the ball.' ... Last month, two Internet bloggers, writing for Fanhouse.com, graded Gray the second-worst player in the NBA, a rating of which Gray was unaware. 'If the second-worst player in this league can get double-doubles,' Gray said, smiling, 'then I guess this is a damned good league.' "