First Cup: Wednesday

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "We are going to wake up someday soon and Stan Van Gundy will be gone. Gone without a trace. Nobody will know where he is. Not his family. Not his team. Not the police. Not even Chris Broussard of ESPN. This is what happens to freedom fighters who lead resistance movements and try to take on dictatorial tyrants like Colonel, er, Commissioner David Stern. They get captured, muzzled and shipped to either the Siberian salt mines or the Sacramento Kings where they are locked in a dingy cell and interrogated by Jim Gray. In a recent rant about Dwight Howard's one-game suspension for accruing too many technical fouls, Van Gundy made the monumental mistake of going geopolitical in his criticism of Commandant Stern and his secret police. ... Let me just say this in defense of the NBA commissioner: There's a big difference between David Stern and Moammar Gadhafi. Stern, at least, spells his name the same way every time. Let's face it, it doesn't really matter who Van Gundy was talking about; what matters is Stern is the focal point of Van Gundy's complaint. And that's not good. If Van Gundy's lucky, he will just get fined, but I think he gets worse. I think Stern exiles Van Gundy to his secret gulag where other outspoken NBA rebels have been imprisoned. Think about it: Has anybody seen Stephen A. Smith lately?"

  • Woody Paige of The Denver Post: "There's no 'I' in Nuggets any longer, and they have become the most entertaining pro basketball 'We' in Denver in 36 years. The Newggets On The Block won't win the NBA championship, but they sure are making it fun. Coach George Karl not only is a lot healthier, but a lot happier. Since The Big Deal, his team is 5-2 and playing get-up-and-go and get-back-and-stop basketball. And Karl finally received his deserved three-year contract extension Tuesday, so he can finish his career in Denver. This week, Sports Illustrated features an article on the new-look Nuggets with Karl, as a salty sea Cap'n Crunch Bunch, saying: 'All you (bleeps) who think we won't be any good anymore, (bleep) you.' By George, he's right."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "Erik Spoelstra said he doesn’t have the answers right now. And that, along with Bosh, will be looked at as the biggest concern for this team until things swing back in a positive direction. The pressure on the coach, fair or unfair, won’t get any greater than it is right now.Not only is one of his best players saying he has been misused, but he is admitting to not knowing the solution to his team’s struggles, and his use of the bench will be analyzed in great detail until those players start to produce. This isn’t a matter of dealing with an unhappy superstar. Spoelstra dealt with LeBron James beautifully early in the season when it appeared those two were at odds. This is the meat and potatoes of coaching right now. And it’s no secret that how the team comes out of this will be largely up to him. Wade actually used the words 'that’s all on coach,' when responding to a question about the bench production and how it’s utilized. It’s not the best time to be tested this way. But Spoelstra and his Heat have no choice. The questions are getting more difficult, and the time to answer them quickly dwindling. "

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Apparently, it was quite the scene inside the Portland locker room Tuesday night after a suddenly healthy and fortified group of Trail Blazers turned in the performance of their season during a 105-96 victory over the Miami Heat. 'You should have seen this locker room after the game,' said 15-year veteran Marcus Camby. 'Guys were cheering and jumping around like we won the NCAA championship. That's a great feeling to be around.' It was a surprising, if not spectacular, performance from the Blazers (37-27), who are tied with Denver for fifth place in the Western Conference and played one of their best games in years. It was made even more impressive because they repelled repeated surges from Miami (43-21) and superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who were on top of their games. Wade had 38 points and James 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but it wasn't enough to end the Heat's losing streak, which stands at a season-high five games."

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: "They began this road trip in San Antonio, and still have Miami and Dallas ahead. Huge games. That made this dump, this arena where a tetanus shot is as important as a ticket to enter the building, the ideal place to trap the Lakers into taking a night off. ... Let them believe what they want, but something has happened since taking a dive shortly before the break. They were sitting here in the cold for the better part of two days with nothing to do. They were coming off an emotional high after playing their best game of the season, leaving open the possibility they might show up here flat. One more game and they would be within a cab ride of South Beach. So was Phil Jackson concerned about the ultimate trap game? 'Yes,' he said. I told him I needed so much more to write a column, so he said, 'Put a hyphen between y, e and s.' Jackson is not only funnier, but the Lakers seem different since the All-Star break. But were they still going to be susceptible to overlooking an opponent? 'I don't know,' said Jackson."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "Kobe Bryant put off his postgame shower Tuesday night to get some treatment on his sore left ankle but also watch the end of the Miami Heat’s loss to Portland in the back area of the Lakers’ locker room. What he saw was a stark contrast to the togetherness the Lakers have found, and those inner workings formed the crux of my latest column comparing the Lakers and Heat. Later, Bryant said Miami’s five-game losing streak in conjunction with the Heat’s immense talent creates a firestorm for the Lakers on Thursday night. 'It’s a perfect setup for them to get back on track,' Bryant said. 'They have no option but to fight, to play their hearts out. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. They’ve lost five games in a row now. They’re looking at this game as a game that’s going to turn things around for them.' "

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "It’s one thing to lose to the Lakers. It’s another to welcome them into your home and fix them a sandwich. Then again, Philips Arena is starting to resemble at best a neutral site. Loud, drunk and obnoxious Knicks fans (triple redundancy?) took over Sunday. Slightly less drunk, loud and obnoxious Lakers fans (but strong in numbers) took over Tuesday. Hawks players don’t like this, nor does management. Neither does ownership. But they’re seizing on the economic possibilities. Kobe Bryant T-shirts were being sold for $30 a pop at the Hawks Team Gear store. You couldn’t miss them because they sat on a table, right next to the Al Horford shirts that were being sold for $25. The Bryant T-shirts sold out before the game. Selling a hockey team should be so easy. It’s a good thing the Lakers weren’t in town for a three-game series or the Atlanta Spirit might open a Lakers Team Gear store. When told the team was selling Bryant shirts, guard Jamal Crawford responded: 'In the arena? Are you serious? Unbelievable.' I took that to mean he did not sit in the marketing meeting. Team vice president Arthur Triche said the decision to start selling opponent’s merchandise was announced at a staff meeting last week. 'I can see where people would be upset about it,' he said. It could have been worse. It’s not like the Hawks flew in Jack Nicholson and gave him a courtside seat."

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Andre Iguodala smothered Danny Granger early, seemingly leaving the forward uninterested most of the game, and the Sixers kept their high-octane offense rolling in posting a 110-100 win over the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse. The win was the ninth in 11 games and the 16th in the last 21, improving the Sixers to 33-30. The Sixers right now are about as confident as Charlie Sheen is wackadoodled, and no one is playing with more confidence than Iguodala, who held Granger to 11 points and contributed 16 points, 10 assists and two each of steals and blocks. He is now averaging 11 assists in his past three games. 'I've said it all season long that he is such an integral part of this team,' said Elton Brand, who posted 12 points and eight rebounds. 'When people were talking about trade or whatever, I said that I didn't know what player out there is going to bring the defense he brings, the unselfishness he brings and the ability to score that he brings. It's all the intangibles that he brings to this club.' Intangibles are a key ingredient to this club right now. The bench is among the best in the NBA."

  • Mark Hale of the New York Post: "It's been seven games since Amar'e Stoudemire received his most recent -- and 15th -- technical foul of the season. He says he's become more acclimated to how little time he has to react. 'We're just trying to play smart,' he said. 'It takes time to get used to the quick whistles. I'm starting to somewhat get used to it now. The whistles are extremely quick, man. It's almost tough to have a reaction after a bad play. Whether you're upset at yourself or the official, you really can't react. It makes it tough on you.' If Stoudemire receives another technical foul this season, he'll be suspended for a game."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "From Glen Davis’ view as a spectator yesterday, the new faces kept multiplying. Carlos Arroyo, the newest face, joined Jeff Green, Troy Murphy, Nenad Krstic and Sasha Pavlovic in their attempt to find cohesion in a short stretch of time. But Davis, who is not expected back for at least another two games as he rehabilitates a sprained patella tendon, didn’t sound particularly concerned about blending in once he returns. 'Man, basketball is basketball,' he said. 'I play the Celtics way. They have to adjust to the Celtics way. I have no worries about that. But getting a feel for each (new) player, I have to do that. That’s why I try to interact with each one, try to see where they are as people, so that when I get onto the court it will translate into basketball terminology. The first group sets the chemistry, how we should play, within our limits and how the coach wants us to play.' Davis pronounced himself refreshed following a pool workout with fitness coach Brian Doo yesterday."

  • Lacy J. Banks of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Though many observers are surprised at the quick success of rookie coach Tom Thibodeau, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was optimistic all along. It doesn’t hurt that Reinsdorf’s optimism was fueled by a glowing stamp of approval from President Obama and his closest team of White House advisers, who had long lobbied for Thibodeau’s hiring. 'Tom Thibodeau was first recommended to me by [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan,' Reinsdorf said during an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times on Tuesday. ‘And that was two years earlier. The Celtics didn’t give us a chance to talk with him until after the playoffs, when they won the championship.’ After the season in 2008, Thibodeau was on the Bulls’ radar thanks to Duncan’s suggestion, Reinsdorf said. The Bulls had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and wanted their new coach to have input on whom they should take (they eventually picked Derrick Rose). With Thibodeau untouchable, the Bulls instead hired Vinny Del Negro."

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "As far as Tom Thibodeau is concerned, Carlos Boozer's dip in offensive production is the team's fault, not Boozer's. 'We have to do a better job of searching him out,' Thibodeau said. ... According to Thibodeau, Boozer's worth can't be measured fully in statistics anyway. 'Sometimes you don't see how efficient he has been,' Thibodeau said. 'When the double-team has come, without hesitation he moves the ball. Oftentimes he doesn't get an assist because it goes to the top and gets swung to the weak side. But it's the right play. And it makes us a very efficient offensive team. Those become high-percentage shots for us.' Boozer agreed. 'It's easy basketball,' Boozer said. 'When they put two on the ball and put attention on one or two guys, someone is going to be wide open. You just got to find them.' "

  • Jeff McDonald in the San Antonio Express-News: "There was a time, a decade ago, when Antonio McDyess would have felt blessed to just make it to 500. Betrayed by his left knee, which required a pair of major surgeries before his 30th birthday and wiped out nearly 2 1/2 seasons, McDyess seriously considered retirement in 2003-04, at the age of 29. The Pistons scooped McDyess from the scrap heap that offseason, breathed new life into his career and, the following season, nearly gave him an NBA championship ring. Which is what will make tonight so bittersweet for him. The Pistons and Spurs have taken divergent paths since their meeting in the 2005 NBA Finals. The Spurs have remained on the short list of title contenders and enter tonight’s game with the league’s best record (51-12). After breaking an eight-season playoff streak last year, Detroit (23-41) is on pace to miss them again. ... McDyess has played so well in his 14th season that some in the organization -- including Popovich and team captain Tim Duncan -- have wondered if maybe he ought to rethink his planned retirement at the end of the season. For now, McDyess is still leaning toward quitting. He doesn’t expect his career games-played meter to surpass 1,018. If this is to be his last season, McDyess -- who has also appeared in 94 career playoff games -- would like to go out with the one thing the Pistons could never give him. A title, he says, would be 'icing on the cake.' 'I would have accomplished all my goals,' McDyess said. 'I would be speechless.' "

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant said the last time he cried was after the Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs last season, but explained it happened because he was in a reflective mood. 'It was kind of like tears of joy,' Durant said. 'It was tough to see a good season like that end.' Many in the league agree Erik Spoelstra's misstep was taking a private locker room moment and making it public. 'I'm a guy who rarely gets mad over stuff like that,' Durant said, 'but as a player, you like to leave that type of stuff in the locker room.' "

  • Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times: "Elgin Baylor's wrongful-termination lawsuit against the Clippers tipped off Tuesday, with his attorney portraying the team as lacking a sincere commitment to success. Baylor's attorney, Alvin J. Pittman, in his opening statement, told the seven-man, five woman jury in Los Angeles Superior Court that Baylor was 'positioned to take responsibility for the [team's] losses' when he was ousted in 2008 after 22 years as a Clippers executive. Pittman told jurors that current team President Andy Roeser once told Baylor, then executive vice president and general manager, that 'teams sell one of two things: success or hope, and the Clippers sell hope.' Baylor, 76, is suing Roeser, Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the team for wrongful termination based on age discrimination. The Clippers deny any age discrimination."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Before Brandon Jennings began his post-game interview with reporters, he sat in front of his locker and pulled out a pair of brand new Under Armour shoes. Jennings was signing the Black Ice sneakers for someone who only lives a few blocks from the Verizon Center: President Barack Obama. 'I just signed him a pair of shoes,' Jennings said. 'A couple guys from Under Armour are going to go watch a game with him a couple days from now. So it's a gift from me to him. Hopefully I can hook him up with a pair of shoes and he'll wear them when he's out there hooping.' "