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First Cup: Monday

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "The game ended a weekend filled with intrigue (Blake Griffin's dunk over a parked car) and drama (the Carmelo Anthony trade saga). Griffin has elevated the future of the Clippers but had a quiet eight points Sunday after being put in in the fourth quarter. Durant had 34 points for the West and Gasol added 17. The game had some humorous moments, including Orlando center Dwight Howard launching two three-point attempts (he missed both, of course) and possible soon-to-be teammates Anthony and Stoudemire guarding each other. Bryant was jovial with media members afterward, though he became serious when asked if the Lakers (38-19) were ready to capture some momentum. They lost three consecutive games before the All-Star break, including an inexplicable one in Cleveland, and trail San Antonio by 81/2 games. 'We are up for the challenge,' Bryant said. 'Pau and I have been talking this whole time about looking forward and getting back at it. We have been in communication with the rest of the fellas, and we all can't wait to get started.' Lakers fans in attendance demonstrated decent basketball knowledge, booing when four Celtics checked into the game midway into the first quarter (Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett). They also showed good judgment by applauding when Celtics legend Bill Russell was honored. In fact, the entire arena gave him a standing ovation."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "Gregg Popovich got a close look. And with seconds left, he got an even closer one. He gave Kobe Bryant a high-five and a slap on the rear. In less than two weeks, he will see Bryant again, and then Popovich will be sure of a few things. For one, he can’t give up 143 points and win again. For another, the Bryant he saw Sunday night could resurface, and again in May, and this is what Popovich will take away from All-Star weekend. The Lakers may be broken for the moment. But Bryant will continue to be what he has been for more than a decade, trying to fix everything by himself. At times, it’s a quality that has hurt both Bryant and the Lakers. It happened even on Sunday night, when Bryant won his fourth MVP award. Twice at the end, Bryant opted to take on the Eastern Conference all alone, resulting in turnovers. ... Still, this has been Bryant’s way, and Popovich was in attendance to see it. Bryant took 14 shots in his first 15 minutes, then went on to add 14 rebounds and three steals. Your thoughts on Kobe? 'He’s one helluva player,' Popovich said. What do you think made him so good today? 'He’s Kobe. He’s done things like that. We shouldn’t be surprised.' Popovich won’t be surprised if this Kobe shows up again. Not after what he saw, up close."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "If Paul Pierce had any notion that the All-Star weekend crowd would be more transient, that was rectified during Saturday’s 3-point contest and again last night when he was verbally drilled during the pregame introductions that lasted longer than some Third World regimes. 'Tru-u-u-u-th' or consequences? 'No,' said Pierce through a laugh, 'those were boos.' He rebutted the allegedly neutral atmosphere, saying, 'Yeah, but most of the fans in the house are LA fans. They bought the tickets first. Even though it’s an All-Star Game and people come in from all around the world, the majority of the people are going to be from LA.' In terms of his play, it was a fairly quiet evening for Pierce in his ninth All-Star appearance. He had six points on 2-of-6 shooting in 11 minutes. And the crowd booed on. Famed Lakers public address announcer Lawrence Tanter noted in the intro that Pierce was from Inglewood (it was in the script, not an ad lib, Tanter said later), but that didn’t help Pierce’s cause. 'I had no part in that,' Pierce said. 'That was kind of nice. I liked the fact that they did that.' Then he shrugged. 'This is LA. I’m a Celtic. You’ve got to expect it,' Pierce said. 'If you walk in the water, you expect to get wet. But from here on out, I’m not going to be claiming LA. I’m from Inglewood, California. The people of Inglewood, they love me. That’s all that matters. I’m not from LA, so I expect the boos.' "

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Dwight Howard has said that he’s 'retired for life' from the dunk contest. But the temptation to compete again might be too much for the Orlando Magic superstar to resist if the owners and players avoid a protracted lockout and All-Star Weekend is held as scheduled Feb. 24-26, 2012, at Orlando’s Amway Center. A dunk contest that features both Howard and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin would be the most widely anticipated dunk contest since Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins faced-off against each other in 1988. What current NBA player wouldn’t want to top M.J.? One reason Howard gave for skipping the last two contests was that he wanted to save his legs for the rest of the regular season and for the postseason. But I think Howard could be coaxed out his self-imposed retirement. The event will be held here in Orlando, and he will be pushed to treat the hometown fans to a spectacle. ... Griffin has emerged as a bona fide contender to that unofficial title. Griffin not only has the repertoire of dunks to challenge Howard, but he also has a comparable sense of theater. Bringing out a local choir to sing 'I Believe I Can Fly' and jumping over a car last night proves that. A victory in the 2012 dunk contest -- on his home court -- over Griffin would keep that title squarely in Howard’s camp. That temptation may be too much for Howard to resist."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "It’s now time for the stretch run, the fine-tuning, the battle for position and attempt at dominance. And even before the postseason comes, or before that final meeting with the Celtics on April 10, the Heat’s schedule reads like a season’s worth of showcase games. There’s the Bulls, the Knicks, possibly with Anthony, the Magic, Spurs twice, Lakers, Thunder, another trip to Cleveland. Watching the development of this Heat team has been frustrating and gripping. But watching the team reach for the finish line and attempt to complete what it so badly wants to in Year One of the SuperFriends will be exponentially more fascinating. The Celtics are waiting, prepared to defend what’s theirs. The Bulls are running, with Derrick Rose sprinting by everyone. The Lakers are coming, undoubtedly. The Spurs might be the most challenging of them all. And LeBron is comfortable (his All-Star Game triple-double a sign of things to come?) and waiting to take on all those challengers, armed with stronger teammates than ever. All-Star weekend in Los Angeles was the perfect breather in fantasyland -- at least if you could catch your breath in between all the gasps. Because the finish to this season is going to make your heart race."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "While the NBA is basking in its juggernaut status, there has to be a realization that several of its members are being forgotten. Reports surfaced this weekend that the Kings are looking to move to Anaheim, as if Southern California needs a third NBA team. That has to be perplexing to Stern, who encourages smaller markets and one-team cities in the NBA. That’s why he yanked the SuperSonics out of Seattle and repositioned them in Oklahoma City. The question for Stern is whether his fan base finally will begin to tire of lack of competitive balance. So far there are no signs of that. An estimated 8.1 million viewers tuned in Saturday night to watch Blake Griffin leap over a Kia to win the slam dunk contest, a record for the showcase event. The NBA’s popularity is at an all-time high, even eclipsing the Michael Jordan era. But the untold secret is that many of the smaller-market teams are suffering, and that’s a byproduct of bad management and players choosing to play in more attractive cities. There’s nothing to celebrate about that."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "The Anaheim Kings? The Orange County Kings? The Coto de Caza Kings? Heck, at this point, we're even willing to let Arte Moreno name the club. It could happen, it should happen, someone please make it happen. Honda Center needs an NBA team. You need an NBA team. We need an NBA team. Our own NBA team. Their Lakers and Clippers and now our Kings. Sounds perfect. If there's enough room for all of us here already, there's enough room for a third NBA team. What, like the I-5 is gonna get that much more jammed? Reports swirled this weekend about Kings officials getting more serious about leaving Sacramento because their team currently plays there in a Holiday Inn parking lot. That's just a joke. We've been inside Arco Arena. It's really not that bad. More like a Hyatt parking lot. ... These opportunities are fleeting in a remarkable way. Even more remarkable than the fact Southern California still hasn't landed an NFL team. So bring on the Kings -- our Kings -- and do for the start of the 2011-12 season. Honda Center needs an NBA team. We need an NBA team. You need an NBA team, a new NBA team. Or maybe you've forgotten just how poorly the Lakers have been playing lately."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Eastern Conference coach Doc Rivers wasn't too concerned about the state of the center position in the NBA. Rivers said the shortage is only a phase. 'If you remember, seven years ago everyone was saying there are no point guards in the league,' Rivers said. 'Now we're talking about it's the point guard renaissance. It's more point guards than it's ever been. It'll happen again with bigs. It just will. It'll just take time.' One reason there is a shortage of centers, Rivers said, is they're simply more difficult to create. Not everyone can be a center. 'The first thing is you need to grow,' Rivers said. 'That's the one position where, if you don't grow to be 7-feet tall you can't be a center. All of us could be guards.' "

  • Dave Krieger of The Denver Post: "If it's all business, which is the usual refuge of parties to these messy divorces, then Carmelo Anthony and other larger-than-life athletes are no more than aggregations of points and rebounds, or possibly catches and touchdowns, as the case may be. And so we tell ourselves, with the bitterness of lovers scorned, that these guys were never worthy of our devotion in the first place. Anthony may score a lot, but he doesn't rebound enough. Brandon Marshall may catch a lot of passes, but he doesn't score enough. Not only that, they must be deeply selfish to want out of Colorado. These rationalizations soften the sense of loss. In both of these cases, the loss may actually be more about management of the teams they played for than the players themselves, but we don't want to go there. These are our teams, for better or worse. So let's leave the breathless Melo updates just long enough to consider these guys as people. We'll get back to the commodities market soon enough, probably this week, if Thursday's NBA trade deadline has anything to say about it."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "Two questions about the Hall of Fame voters, who somehow failed to make Reggie Miller a finalist for induction Friday: Who are they and what the heck could they be thinking? A reasonable person could rationally argue Miller is not a first-ballot Basketball Hall of Fame candidate. There are some small holes in the resume, and I've always believed that first-ballot inductees should be absolute no-brainers -- and Uncle Reggie (sorry) is not a first-ballot no-brainer. Close, but not quite. A reasonable person could not, however, argue that Miller didn't belong on the Hall of Fame's list of finalists. Especially -- and I mean ESPECIALLY -- when you look at the less-than-august group of players who made the final cut, and will have a chance to reach the Hall when the vote is announced at the men's Final Four in April."

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "This is your team. Joe Johnson stayed. Smith stayed. Bibby stayed. Williams stayed. The only change of significance the Hawks made after being swept in the second round of the playoffs two straight years was to fire coach Mike Woodson. The message delivered: This is the core -- let’s see where it takes us. Time’s about up. If the Hawks don’t do something this season that makes us stop slapping our forehead, blow the sucker up. Rick Sund never has been one for public analysis during the season. He certainly doesn’t discuss trade possibilities. But he did say this Sunday: 'The next two months and our performance in the playoffs will indicate as to exactly what this team is. The challenge is up to them.' And this: 'We’ve put ourselves in position to do something, so let’s see where it goes. We have to do it collectively and with chemistry and coaching and all that.' I think he just said: 'Bob Pettit is not walking through that door.' We can debate whether retaining this core for another season was right or wrong. But it’s significant that Sund is declaring it’s show-me time. The Hawks obviously aren’t as good as Boston or Miami. But they’ve shown at times they can be better than a second-round punchline."

  • Scott Lebar of The Sacramento Bee: "Shoes still matter. Or, at least, shoe endorsements still matter, big time. That was an amusing sidelight over the NBA All-Star Weekend, brought to you by BBVA, Haier and, of course, Kia, which wheeled out an Optima for the slam-dunk contest. Sorry -- the Sprite Slam Dunk. Not to be confused with the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest or the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. The whole event started to sound like a college bowl naming contest. Next up, the Bounty Dribble Drive … Yeah, we're starting to make things up, wondering where events begin and selling ends. TNT's Charles Barkley was wondering about shoes as JaVale McGee kept changing them for each of his slam dunks. Reggie Miller told him they were Peaks, a brand from China. 'What are those, the Chinese version of PF Flyers?' the Chuckster joked. Kenny Smith called them 'runner-up shoes' as McGee lost to Blake Griffin and jack-in-the-box Baron Davis, who popped through the Kia's sunroof and passed to Griffin. Davis should have gotten a fast-food sponsor. Aside from the ribbing, Peak did win. McGee got to wear his special Wolverine model and tweet about his collection, and Dorell Wright wore them for the three-point contest. Other players wear them (including the Kings' Beno Udrih and Carl Landry), but before this, the most publicity they received was when Lakers coach Phil Jackson complained they gave Ron Artest plantar fasciitis. You have to hand it to the fancy Peak footwork. You're probably now more likely to buy the shoe than the car."