First Cup: Friday

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Come on down to Amway Center before we run out of exclamation points! Yes, see us at Rent-a-Dwight! Of course, we take trade-ins!.... The Magic are talking to more teams than the ones on Dwight Howard's wish list. They will listen to anybody who is willing to take a risk and give up a few good men for Howard if he can lead them to the NBA Finals as a temp. It's another reason why they will wait until the March 15 deadline to make a deal for Howard, after he's played 44 games in Orlando. His new team would land him for 22 games, plus the postseason. Far-fetched? Absolutely. Sounds more like a means to put pressure on the teams that Howard has approved (Nets, Mavericks, Lakers). But the Magic think some teams might take a flyer, hoping they can convince Howard to re-sign with them. Would the Heat part with Chris Bosh? Would the Thunder offer some sort of package of Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and James Harden? Could Chris Paul pressure the Clippers into offering Blake Griffin? Might the Celtics sacrifice Rajon Rondo to rent Howard?

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: Deron Williams and Dwight Howard had dinner together in Orlando on Wednesday night, which was an interesting topic of discussion around the Amway Center today. If Williams was working on Howard, trying to convince him that the two of them should team up next season in Brooklyn, Nets fans will have to hope he did a better job of selling the Nets to Howard at dinner than he did in tonight’s game. Williams struggled with his shot all night, and the Nets, playing their third game in four nights, dropped their second in a row, 94-78 to Howard and the Orlando Magic. Former Net Ryan Anderson had 22 points, Howard did his usual thing, recording a double-double with 16 points and 24 rebounds, and Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick chipped in with 16 and 15 points, respectively. “It’s definitely frustrating. I’m not playing well right now, the team’s not playing too well right now,” said Williams, who had 10 points and seven assists, and shot just 2-for-12 from the field and turned the ball over six times. “But like I said, it’s not time to panic. We’re going to have a little bit of struggle, because everybody’s — we’re just learning. We kind of, scrapped our offense yesterday and started from scratch. It’s different. It’s a different season for everybody.”

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Mark Cuban has heard the grumblings from fans, and even one of his former players. The claim goes that the reason he broke up the championship team is that he's already given up on this season while looking toward 2012-13. The owner said Thursday that is an unwise accusation, and that fans need to look no further than Lamar Odom's acquisition for proof that this season is very much his top priority. "That's absolutely ridiculous," Cuban said when asked if this season has taken a spot on his backburner. "If that were the case, why would I take on Lamar's salary? No possible way. "When you're a team that plays like a team, you can't just walk on the court and have all the pieces fit together. You're going to feel old, fat and slow if you have to think about what you're doing and you're not quite in shape to do it. We're a team. We play like a team. And when you play like a team, it takes time to practice and get things together. It just takes time."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: There were two things Kevin Durant couldn't get out of his mind just before burying the latest clutch bucket of his young career. One was the costly defensive mistake that had just put his team in a tight spot. The other was the assurance that one of the Oklahoma City Thunder's rookies screamed in his ear. After sinking far enough off Dallas guard Vince Carter to allow him to catch a pass and can a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to put the Mavs up one with 1.4 seconds left, Durant walked back to the bench dialed in on doing something good. “He was focused,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of Durant in the ensuing timeout. Said Durant: “All I remember coming to the bench was Reggie Jackson screaming I was going to make the last shot. I just tried to be confident and tell myself I can make it and luckily I did.” The play unfolded like so many we saw last season. Durant caught an inbounds pass from Thabo Sefolosha on the right wing. He turned and faced as the clock began to tick. As Durant launched, he flicked his wrist to release a high-arching rainbow over helpless Mavs guard Jason Terry. When it splashed through the net in unison with the sound of the final buzzer, it signaled a 104-102 Thunder win Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: Thursday was a good night to watch, as the Rockets never trailed and so controlled the Spurs that San Antonio all but threw in the towel at halftime. Yet, as celebratory as the atmosphere was, not many in the crowd, not even those in the expensive courtside seats, approached Leslie Alexander. “People think I’m very standoffish,” he said. “I think they get that impression. I think people are afraid to come up to me. “I’m not smiling all the time, I guess.” One gets the sense that Alexander wouldn’t mind more fan interaction. After all, fans like being around fans. “I love Rockets fans,” Alexander said. “I love it that people cheer with me for the team. That we’re all in this together.” Just don’t approach him on a night when the team is losing.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Admitting it felt strange to be sitting in the stands 10 rows behind the Spurs bench, and even weirder seeing Tim Duncan sitting out the second half of the third game of the season because the Spurs were being blown out by the Rockets, Antonio McDyess put to rest any thoughts that he might elect to come out of retirement at any time this season. “Uh-uh,” he said, flashing his characteristic smile. “A lot of people have been asking, but it’s not happening.” McDyess and his wife are expecting their first child in a few days and he said he is comfortable with his decision to leave the NBA after 16 seasons, the last two with the Spurs. The former All-Star and Olympic gold medal winner paid a short visit to the Spurs locker room after the Rockets’ 105-85 drubbing, to the delight of coach Gregg Popovich. “The best part of this whole night was seeing Antonio,” Popovich said.

  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times: The Bulls aren’t going to sneak up on anybody after last year’s run to the Eastern Conference finals. Luol Deng has noticed a difference. “It’s totally a different mind-set,” he said. “I can’t think of a game this year or last year where we went into the game thinking we were the underdog. Teams come after us. It’s totally a different mind-set from a couple years ago. We used to chase teams. Now there are still teams we chase but teams are chasing us.” Noah said it’s about playing hard regardless of who you’re playing. “Underdog or not, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We just have to go out there and compete. We can compete harder.”

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: This season is supposed to be the one when the Kings evolve from a young team with potential into one that plays with consistency. But since late in the second quarter Tuesday in a loss to Portland, the Kings have looked a lot like the team from previous seasons. The good feeling from Monday night is gone. And after back-to-back losses, there's a sense of frustration. "It's the third game and it's negativity like we're in the middle of the season," said center DeMarcus Cousins. "We've got to fix that." The defensive problems coupled with another poor showing from the free-throw line were too much for the Kings to overcome. They entered the game having made only 35 of 57 (61.4 percent) free throws. That trend continued when the Kings connected on 20 of 34 (58.8 percent) attempts. "We could have and should have won that game," Westphal said. "It's pathetic the way we got back on defense. If we just did that and make our free throws we win the game." Westphal said there was no incident that made him call for players to not pass blame. But in order for the Kings to improve, he said it takes a commitment from every player.

  • Paul Buker for The Denver Post: The Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers know each other backward and forward, but the story lines are even better this season with former Blazers Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez both playing for the Nuggets and former Nugget Raymond Felton playing a leading role with the Blazers. There is also the close relationship between Denver coach George Karl and the man Karl has called his favorite all-time player, Portland coach Nate McMillan. Miller was asked before Thursday night's game if he and Fernandez had a conversation on the trip over about sticking it to their old team. "Nah, I don't think guys do that in the NBA," Miller said. "But I'm sure Rudy would love to come out and maybe hit like 10 3-pointers." ... Karl said the Denver-Portland familiarity factor makes for fun games, and that will be even more evident during this condensed 66-game season. "You always like to win against your friends," Karl said. "Your enemies motivate you, but your friends really motivate you. ... There's a lot of those combinations, (ex-teammates) Raymond and (Ty Lawson), me and Nate, Andre and Rudy with Portland. There's going to be some cool stuff."

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: The Trail Blazers gave away the ball, gave away points, gave away easy opportunities — but somehow, someway, didn’t give away the game. On a night in which it committed 25 turnovers and forced just seven, Portland did something in the final three minutes that seemed inconceivable through the first 45: Hang on. The result was a 111-102 win over the Nuggets that improved their record to 3-0 for the second consecutive year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Blazers have never had such a lopsided turnover disparity while still coming up with a victory. That, right there, is a fact. But if you’re looking for an explanation, well, you’re own your own. “I’m confused, too. I’ve got to look at the tape,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “Confusing game in the sense of what the stat sheet looked like and what we did.” Speaking of stat sheets, if one were to base his expectations on box scores from Portland’s previous two games, he would have been in for a surprise on Thursday.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: The Lakers have only played four games, but four games were enough to end an era last spring, so it should be enough to form an opinion now. I like Mike Brown. There, I've said it, mere months after writing that he was an uninspiring hire and the wrong guy to lead the Lakers into this strange new world. Yes, I've said it, just one long off-season after wondering what Brown could do for you, and guessing not much. I like Mike Brown, but it has nothing to do with his ability to coach the Lakers. It will be six months before we know whether he can coach the Lakers. My initial impressions could be correct. Kobe Bryant's initial refusal to comment could eventually speak volumes. I like Mike Brown right here, right now, not because of how he coaches, but because of how he works at coaching. Four games into the season, and, after the Lakers' 99-82 victory over the New York Knicks on Thursday, it's clear that his floor burn of a team is a direct reflection of him. Mike Brown is as old school as Josh McRoberts' socks. He is as frantic as Troy Murphy's hair. But he is as affable as Derek Fisher's smile. I like Mike Brown because, after spending last season watching basketball's greatest coach end his career here seemingly in a bored trance, it's nice to actually watch somebody sweating it.

  • Mark Herrmann of Newsday: The Knicks had no one to step up in crunch time, not even Carmelo Anthony , who had 27 points. They didn't make a field goal for the first 6:08 of the fourth quarter, by which time they were down 87-73, and they finished with 10 points in the quarter. Said Anthony, "The game is about acting and reacting. Right now, it seems like we're reacting. There's not too much to worry about. It's three games into the season. We will get better." Worse yet for the Knicks, Amar'e Stoudemire (15 points, 4-for-17 shooting) went down heavily on the offensive end of the floor after a collision in the fourth quarter and got up slowly. He suffered a sprained left ankle, did not play the final minutes and is day-to-day, he said. The Knicks have totaled 24 points in their last two fourth quarters and continue to search for offense. In other words, they had nothing like the long-range three-point bank shot that Bryant made in the third quarter, drawing a foul from Renaldo Blackman in the process.