First Cup: Tuesday

  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: "I understand why people would wonder now about the Miami Heat’s mental toughness as inexplicable losses stack up, the locker room weeps and the national narrative from a laughing America becomes about an inability to win close games. And I get why scared fans would want legend Pat Riley to step in for his young coach, even though I don’t think that is an answer, and it ignores that Riley is already around Spoelstra and these players all the time with his teaching, prodding and counseling. 'Yeah, but he’s like your grandfather,' one NBA player told me. 'Your grandfather sees you once in a while. He spoils you. He enjoys you. Then he gives you back to Daddy, and that’s who has to discipline you and get your respect daily. How can Spoelstra teach them how to get to success if he’s never had it?' I don’t believe the Heat needs new discipline or new Daddy, and I don’t believe Dwyane Wade needs a diaper. I believe the Heat needs someone, anyone, to make a late shot. I believe the Heat needs Wade and LeBron James to stop standing uselessly in the corner while the other works. I believe Mike Miller needs to stop going 0 for 5 on wide-open threes. I believe, in other words, in the tangibles. But this Heat team has done a very good job of challenging some of the things I don’t believe over the past week, especially with this latest loss to the -Bulls."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Commissioner David Stern and his NBA referees should be ashamed of themselves for the way they allow Dwight Howard to get absolutely maimed without any repercussions or ramifications to the hacks who maul and massacre him. We all agree that Howard needs to find a way to stop getting technical fouls, but Magic coach Stan Van Gundy revealed an incredible statistic Tuesday. He pointed out that Howard has been fouled 593 times this season and not one of those infractions was called a flagrant foul. ... The more you listen to Van Gundy’s reasoning about Howard’s technicals, the more he makes sense. As blatantly and physically as Howard is fouled on a regular basis, it’s astounding that none of those fouls has been deemed flagrant. Can you imagine if LeBron James or Dwyane Wade got fouled as hard as Howard regularly gets punched, prodded, grabbed and groped? Perimeter defenders would be ejected from the game and suspended for such underhanded tactics. But with Howard, defenders are allowed to tee off on him and hang all over him after the whistle without fear of being called for a flagrant foul. Then, when Howard throws an elbow to get the goons off of him, he’s the one who gets called for a technical foul."

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "Chris Paul missed Monday night’s game at Chicago, and while it’s not clear if he’ll need to sit our more games or how many, let’s just hope that the Hornets aren’t heavily influenced by Paul in the decision as to when he returns to play. Yes, New Orleans desperately needs him as itmakes its playoff push, particularly since it appears Paul had broken out of what was the worst slump of his NBA career while leading the Hornets to two consecutive wins entering Monday. Everyone knows what historically has happened to the Hornets when Paul hasn’t played; the struggle to execute offensively multiplies by 20 and the leadership void -- in terms of fiery direction and physical performance -- is alarmingly gaping. But given the information available on concussions, erring on the side of caution is a risk worth taking by the Hornets with their franchise player. Not that there’s a belief that the organization won’t attempt to be conservative and to do the right thing with Paul. His welfare is paramount and no organization wants to be saddled with a reputation of rushing back players from injury, especially players who have suffered head injuries."

  • Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News: "Erik Spoelstra contributed mightily to the cause Sunday, following the Heat's 87-86 loss to Chicago on ABC, when he described his team's emotional state. Predictably, the Heat coach provoked immediate debate throughout the Valley of the Stupid and inside other media precincts. 'This is painful for every single one of us going through this. There are a couple of guys crying in the locker room,' a somber Spoelstra said. 'Now, it's not a matter of want. It's a matter of doing.' On MSG, at halftime of Knicks-Hawks, Kelly Tripucka accused Spoelstra of lying. 'I'm not believing that (players were crying),' Tripucka said. 'I mean they played bigger games than a regular-season game. There's no reason to be crying now.' He failed to mention this Heat team, as presently constituted, has never played together in a postseason game. Tripucka also neglected to describe the pressure -- albeit self-imposed -- the Heat is under. There is another side. How often has the NBA regular season been referred to as 'meaningless?' How often have its players been accused of mailing it in? After Spoelstra's comments were brought to Chris Mullin's attention on ESPN (Knicks-Hawks halftime) he took the debate in a different direction. 'It's nice. Those guys (who cried) really care. That's obvious,' Mullin said. 'Now it's important they don't overreact. This team is going to be ultimately judged by how they do in the playoffs.' Not by whether they cried during the regular season. Even if it is good for TV ratings."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t played since Feb. 1 at Sacramento. He was shut down with a sore right Achilles’ tendon, and that was after he missed games with a strained adductor muscle and various leg injuries. Celtics coach Doc Rivers claimed O’Neal was lean and in desirable playing condition after working out most of last month near his Florida home. Yesterday, O’Neal looked to be in good shape and said Rivers and team doctor Brian McKeon have mandated that his foot be completely sound before he steps on the floor again. And he is following their orders. ... O’Neal said he considered the possibility of a cortisone shot to return earlier, but Rivers and McKeon disallowed that idea. Rivers expressed frustration Sunday when he said trainer Ed Lacerte told him not to expect O’Neal back 'any time soon.’ 'If I can walk, I can play, and I asked many times to shoot it up and you know, they refuse,’ O’Neal said. 'And the Big Three said they want me at 100 percent healthy, so I’m getting there.’ When asked his condition, O’Neal said he is about 85 percent. ... The Celtics have a stretch of four games in six days beginning tomorrow against the Clippers, giving the newcomers more time to develop chemistry. And it seems as long as the team keeps registering wins, the Celtics’ brass is content to allow O’Neal time to heal."

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Over the past 12 years, few in the NBA have done a better job than Andre Miller in keeping teammates happy. Miller on Monday had seven assists, moving him into a tie with Guy Rodgers for 15th all-time on the NBA’s assists list. Miller has 6,917 assists, and if he continues to post his season average of 7.3 a game, he should pass Celtics’ legend Bob Cousy for 14th sometime next week, quite possibily on his 35th birthday, March 19 at the Rose Garden against Philadelphia. Miller is a student of NBA history, and on Monday night he admitted he was proud of moving into 15th with Rodgers, who made many of his assists to Wilt Chamberlain. 'It’s an accomplishment,’ Miller said. 'I’ve been playing for 12 years and to go out there and be up in that category with some of the best point guards of all time ... I still have a goal to accomplish, and that will come as I stay healthy.’ That goal? 'I’d like to finish in the Top 10,’ Miller said. 'If I play three or four more solid years and stay healthy, that will be my goal.’ If Miller has a similar year to this season (he already has 452 assists), he should pass Tim Hardaway (7,095), Terry Porter (7,160), Lenny Wilkens (7,211) and Maurice Cheeks (7,392) next season, placing him 10th."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "The numbers are beyond question, not that anyone seems to be questioning them. Rick Adelman moved into a tie with Dick Motta for 10th in all-time coaching wins. Among the members of that exclusive club, only Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach have a better winning percentage. (And for those that for some reason want to point out that nearly 400 of those wins came with Sacramento, Adelman has a better winning percentage as Rockets coach than any coach in franchise history.) 'Truthfully, I'm shocked by it,' Adelman said. 'When I got the job in Portland, I never expected to do it 20 years. I didn't know what to expect. To do it this long and have three really good situations, I know how fortunate that is. I've seen really good coaches get thrown into situations where you're not going to win. You may never get another shot. I never expected to be around those names. Red Auerbach, that's another stratosphere. The only reason you can catch him is because he decided to stop. I just never expected that.' "

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Proof that information doesn’t always move at light speed even in the information age, Spurs center DeJuan Blair said he hadn’t heard reports that members of the Miami Heat had cried in their locker room after a gut-wrenching loss to Chicago on Sunday. As manly a man as Blair is, he feels Miami’s pain. But only to a point. 'I don’t think I would cry about a game,' Blair said. Indeed, there were no tears shed in the aftermath of the Spurs’ own Sunday humbling, a 99-83 home loss at the hands of the L.A. Lakers -- only sweat spilled on the practice court Monday morning. A day after the Lakers ended their 22-game home winning streak at the AT&T Center, the Spurs endured one of their more spirited workouts of the season. In doing so, the Spurs left little doubt which end of their schizophrenic weekend would fuel them going forward. Friday’s 30-point thrashing of LeBron James’ Heat apparently meant less to them than Sunday’s meltdown against L.A."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "Everyone isn’t wired the same. I’m not sure it’s possible to light a fire under Boris Diaw regularly. Monday reminded us what happens when he’s motivated and assertive: The matchup hell that made Magic Johnson impossible to stop. He’s no Magic, not that anyone is. But he’s also far less most nights than what he might be. He can be such an asset to this Bobcats team, desperate for a way to compensate for Stephen Jackson’s injury and Gerald Wallace’s trade. I just don’t know if he’ll ever be reliable enough to make that happen."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Michael Redd is making steady progress as he prepares to play in his first National Basketball Association game in 14 months. Redd is about two weeks away from returning with a target date of around March 21. That might put the 31-year-old Milwaukee Bucks guard back on the court for a home game against Sacramento on March 23 or perhaps a March 25 game at New York. The moment he steps back in the arena is sure to be an emotional one for the veteran shooting guard, who has suffered two major injuries to his left knee in successive seasons and undergone two surgeries. Both times he sustained torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. But exactly what Redd's role will be when he comes back is something of a mystery. Even Bucks coach Scott Skiles admitted he couldn't say for sure how he will use Redd in the last few weeks of the season. 'We'll see where we are; we'll see where he is,' Skiles said. 'Those are the main two things.' "

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "It's a scene that has become routine for Indiana Pacers point guard Darren Collison. In the aftermath of a loss, Collison sits slouched in his seat, his chin resting on his hand, sneakers unlaced. 'Sometimes these losses can take a toll on me,' Collison said. 'Me, Danny (Granger) and Roy (Hibbert), we all feel a little pressure in helping this team get to where it needs to be. Sometimes we might not be in the best mood after these losses.' Collison's play has gone downhill of late, just as quickly as the rest of his teammates. While a lot of the pressure is on interim coach Frank Vogel and Granger, just as much is placed on the 23-year-old Collison, despite his youth. Collison is supposed to be an extension of the coach on the court. He directs the offense and is the point man on defense. ... Collison didn't have as much pressure during his rookie season with the New Orleans Hornets. He appeared in 76 games and averaged almost 28 minutes last season, but it was Chris Paul's show with the Hornets. Now it's Collison's turn to play ... and lead."

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: "The Sixers are not the Eagles, who will have 20,000 people on their waiting list for season tickets to Lincoln Financial Field no matter how they perform. The Sixers aren't the Flyers, who have an insanely loyal core of fans who keep the Wells Fargo Center near capacity. The Sixers aren't the Phillies, whose run of 123 consecutive sellouts at Citizens Bank Park is not expected to slow down amid their championship hopes. The Sixers always have been the franchise that had to work a little harder, win a little more, have a magnetic personality to keep its share of Philadelphia's sports entertainment ticket pie. And when the right circumstances do not all come together, Philadelphia lets the Sixers know by not showing up for games. Welcome to the tempest. After a dismal 3-13 start, the Sixers are 29-17 over their last 46 games. They are 32-30, two games over .500 for the first time in almost 2 years. The Sixers are 8-2 in their last 10 games. By all accounts, since that bad start, the Sixers have transformed into an entertaining and winning basketball team that would typically get support from the locals. It isn't happening. Not here. Not yet. 'We've still got to win them over,' coach Doug Collins said. 'We can't be a flash in the pan.' ... As an organization, the Sixers notice what's going on, but they refuse to lay blame at the feet of the fans. They understand how they got into this predicament and know it's up to them to create a new energy around the franchise. 'We actually do feel like people are starting to take notice, because our television ratings are up,' said Lara Price, the Sixers' senior vice president of business operations. 'They are paying attention and we're starting to pick up some in the building.' "

  • Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "After losing two games in a row, Hawks coach Larry Drew assured the team on Monday that it was no time to panic. He also said the Hawks needed to play better in transition and not settle for jump shots. ... It might not be time to panic, but the clock is ticking. The Hawks have 19 games remaining, starting with Tuesday night's match-up against the two-time defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers at Philips Arena. Since reaching a season-high 13 games above .500 with a win at Washington on Feb. 5, the Hawks are 4-8. They've lost their last two games, both at home."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Every campaign needs its defining moment. For John F. Kennedy's presidential election, it was his televised debate against Richard Nixon. For Doug Flutie's Heisman Trophy selection, it was his Hail Mary pass against Miami. For Grant Hill to get his first All-Defensive Team honor from the coaches in a 17-year career, his campaign moment might have come Sunday night with what he did to the NBA's leading scorer in Oklahoma City. The Suns lost in overtime to the Thunder but not because of Kevin Durant, who had his worst shooting game (21.4 percent, 3 of 14 from the field) in 136 games. Durant did not make a shot until there was 1:48 remaining in the first half and missed a potential game winner at the end of his scoreless fourth quarter. With the score tied and 9.2 seconds to go, Hill played Durant over the top, fought through a Serge Ibaka screen, met Durant at his catch 30 feet from the basket and got him to take a 22-foot fadeaway. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said Hill made Durant 'uncomfortable' on that play. That is no isolated incident. Hill makes every opposing star scorer as uncomfortable as if they were at dinner with the in-laws. 'It's fun, and it's a challenge,' Hill said."

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "We’re grossly generalizing and mostly joking, of course. But let’s not put too fine a point on the typical NBAer’s abilities between the sheets. They’re not just great nappers. They’re all-world, all-hours snoozers. Witness Leandro Barbosa, the Raptors shooting guard, who, not long after returning from the team’s historic road trip to England on Sunday, hit the hay. The best he remembers it, he fell asleep at 11:30 on Sunday night and didn’t awake again until 10 on Monday morning. Ten and a half hours in the sack. That’s a few days’ worth of shuteye for a lot of Twitter addicts and something like a week’s haul for some insomniacs. And how would Barbosa spend Monday afternoon, in the hours after the Raptors’ first post-overseas practice? Well, let’s just guess it started with the letters 'zzzzz.' 'If I don’t nap,' Barbosa said, 'it’s not a good day for me.' "

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "After some humble beginnings, Samardo Samuels continues to grow into a legitimate big man in the NBA. Perhaps some day, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony will know who he is. Samuels has averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in his three starts with the Cavaliers. He's shooting 53 percent from the field in that span. He was undrafted after his two-year career at Louisville. That continues to be a source of motivation for the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder. 'Every day I step out there, I feel I have something to prove,' Samuels said. 'That was one of the worst things I had to go through. Going undrafted was tough for me. I worked so hard and it didn't happen for me. Coming here to the Cavs, every day I have to give all I have. They gave me the opportunity to play in the NBA.' ... After the Cavs upset New York last Friday, Anthony dished out the ultimate snub. He said he didn't know who Samuels was. Chances are he does now. 'I think so,' Samuels said."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "As the end of the season draws closer, the realization the Kings could be playing in another city isn't lost on opponents at Power Balance Pavilion. That includes former Kings coach Rick Adelman, who said it would be "sad" if the Kings were to relocate to Anaheim. If the Kings move, Adelman would have coached his last game in Sacramento on Monday night as coach of the Houston Rockets. Adelman is the Kings' all-time leader with 395 coaching wins, from 1998 to 2006. 'I really always believed they were going to get an arena. I always believed that,' Adelman said. 'Even when I was here, this arena was old. It's hard for me to imagine there won't be a team here.' Adelman was the coach for the best years of Sacramento-era basketball. That makes the idea of the Kings leaving harder to imagine. 'When we were winning, this place was unbelievable,' Adelman said."

  • Eric Carpenter of The Orange County Register: "If Sacramento's NBA team does move here, 'Anaheim' must be first in the team name and the only geographical identifier, according to a city contract. While it's not clear if the team would remain the Kings, go back to the original moniker, the Royals, or come up with a new name, the contract makes one thing clear: The team won't be the Los Angeles Kings of Anaheim. Nor would it be the Orange County Royals or even the Mighty Kings of Anaheim. The jokes are already flying. But city officials apparently learned their lesson after the bitterness that erupted when the Angels changed the team name in 2005 from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The city's contract with the Honda Center spells out that any NBA team in the facility must be known as the 'Anaheim (followed by the team name).' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "After the Lakers' playoff push ends, Derek Fisher transitions from 13 teammates to about 420. As president of the NBA Players' Assn, he'll be on the front line during negotiations on a new labor contract, with the very real possibility of an owners' lockout that could stall the sport before it typically starts up again in October. Pro basketball might be paralyzed for an entire season. About half the team owners claim to be losing money and want to slash player payroll at least 35%. The players, though, are content to keep the average NBA salary at $5.8 million, perhaps agreeing to a slight reduction if the money is directly allocated to lower ticket prices, Fisher said. This gridlock probably won't be cleared before the collective-bargaining agreement expires June 30. Fisher, 36, remains buoyant. He has been on five championship teams and might hoist the trophy for another one in June, but he's been pointing toward this moment as a labor figure since his third pro season. ... Fisher has prepared for the worst. He has told NBA players to save money, sending them thick folders that deal with financial-planning questions. ... The players are on board with Fisher, confident he and Billy Hunter, executive director of the players' association, will seamlessly steer through negotiations with owners. 'I think D-Fish has been awesome, man,' said veteran New York Knicks guard Chauncey Billups. 'He stands up for everything that we talk about as a unit, as a body. I think that he carries himself in an unbelievable manner. I'm very comfortable with him.' "