First Cup: Monday

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Power Balance Pavilion isn't the Pentagon, but given DeMarcus Cousins' history, his recent outburst and repeated trade demands – as related Sunday by Kings coach Paul Westphal – sort of fit the profile. Sort of. Reputations aren't always reflective of reality. We weren't there Saturday and he wasn't around Sunday to explain his behavior during the previous night's player-coach encounter. The NBA has been global for decades, but this is still America; Cousins gets his day on the witness stand/hot seat. And by the way, he was far from the only Kings player venting his frustrations after Saturday's excruciating loss to the New York Knicks. Clearly, though, the second-year center is young and emotional and yet to master the art of self-censoring. It's what mothers have been telling their children for generations: It's not what you say, it's how you say it. "I think it's time for this solution," Westphal said before Sunday's victory over the New Orleans Hornets. ... Seriously? Cousins wants to be traded? The Kings would be nuts to entertain a single phone call, which apparently are not. "We leave that stuff (the benching) to the basketball people," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said before tipoff, "but we're not trading him."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: If you were wondering when the compressed schedule might catch up to the Magic, it caught them Sunday night, and lapped them. They played their fifth game in eight days, and it showed against the non-descript Toronto Raptors. The Magic have no time to lament their lethargic play because they face the Pistons tonight in Michigan, their third back-to-back of this breathless season. Whew. I'm not prone to making excuses for the Magic's paid professionals. They were outplayed by the Raptors until the end, but David Stern gets credit for half a sack. The commissioner failed miserably to protect his product. Stern and the owners forced 66 games down the throat of the players instead of creating a more sensible schedule of, say, 55 games. No matter that there was no way teams could effectively prepare for this gantlet. Appeasing TV executives who largely foot the bill was a priority. It's all about the cash grab for the NBA, squeezing in as many games as possible with no regard for the players' health and the quality of play.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: There will be nights when the Raptors are beaten entirely on merit, defeated by a team with superior talent and those nights will hurt but they will be understandable to some degree. And then there will be nights like Sunday, when they lose a game that have every right to win, when they give one away because of what they didn’t do rather than what an opponent did and the hurt from those will be excruciating. Kind of like it was in the locker room of the Amway Center after Toronto had pretty much given away a 102-96 game to the Orlando Magic. “It’s frustrating to play this good for three quarters and lose like that in the fourth quarter,” said a dejected Andrea Bargnani. “I don’t think it’s physical, it’s more mental. We’re young, we have energy, just our focus in the fourth quarter wasn’t the same as in the first three. We played great three quarters … but we’ve got to learn how to close the game.” There it is, the recurring theme of a short road trip that’s now included losses in Dallas and in here, both games that the Raptors had in their grasp and let slip away.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Paul Pierce was back in the lineup last night after making his season debut Friday. The bruised right heel that kept him out of the first three games held up well against the Pistons. “He said he was very sore, but it wasn’t his heel,” coach Doc Rivers said before tipoff versus the Wizards, a game the Celtics won 94-86. “It was just his body which is a pretty good sign, I guess.” Rivers said Pierce’s conditioning will determine how long he plays in the next few games. “I’m going to just look to his lungs,” Rivers said. “They’ll tell me. I told him that the other night. The plan was to put him on the Kevin Garnett plan of five minutes (five on, five off, etc.), and then after five minutes he wanted to stay in, so we left him in there. Then a minute later he was signaling to come out. He may be six-six-six now. “We’re working for the Herman Cain plan,” Rivers said with a laugh, referring to the former presidential candidate’s 9-9-9 tax plan, “but we haven’t got there yet.”

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: In the 94-86 loss to the Celtics at Verizon Center, Wall played with more passion and desire, encouraged his teammates, and finished with his best game of the season: 19 points, season highs of eight assists and seven rebounds and just one turnover. But the team’s overall performance didn’t give him much to smile about. “My coaches talked to me and told me what I have to do to be effective — just play, have fun and play my game. That’s what I did. I think the thing is, just try to win,” Wall said. “It ain’t no fun” losing. The Wizards are the NBA’s only winless team and have opened the season at 0-4 for the first time since 2008-09, when they lost their first five games and matched the franchise-worst record for an 82-game season at 19-63. They couldn’t shoot or defend early and discovered they could do both too late, and Wall had to watch his counterpart, Rajon Rondo, flaunt the benefits of being surrounded by a cast that features three future Hall of Famers.

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: The Cavaliers celebrated the start to 2012 by raining 3-point shots like New Year's Eve confetti on the New Jersey Nets in a 98-82 win Sunday night. But the most impressive "bombs" might have been hurled in The Q's home locker at halftime. Byron Scott is not a profane man, guard Daniel Gibson said, so when he delivers choice words from the Rex Ryan coaching dictionary, his players take notice. Scott was upset with his team's first-half effort and let everyone in a wine-and-gold jersey know it. "He told us flat out we were a step slow," Gibson said. "He felt we weren't playing with the intentions of winning the game. You are either going to play the game or play the game to win it. He dropped a couple bombs. ... He rarely drops them, but he gets his point across when he does." The Cavaliers (2-2) responded to their coach's challenge, lifting their defensive intensity, locating open shooters on the offensive end and outscoring the Nets, 55-33, in the second half. They also finished 16-of-26 from behind the 3-point arc -- one basket shy of a franchise record.

  • Andy Vasquez of The Record: For the first time this season the Nets went into a game with a solid rotation. It appears, at least for now, that Jordan Farmar isn’t part of it. "We think we now have found some sort of a rotation, and unfortunately everybody can’t be in it," coach Avery Johnson said. "But because this is a season of a lot of games in a short period of time, everybody’s [got to] stay ready." Farmar didn’t play against Atlanta on Friday or against the Cavaliers on Sunday. The 25-year-old played all 82 games of the regular season for the Lakers in 2009-10 and appeared in every postseason game of Los Angeles’ run to the NBA Championship that year. Farmar is making $4 million this season and has a $4.25 million player option for next season.

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: It would seem, then, that the whole “I’m back to my old self” routine was just a theme for this season that helps LeBron deal with the frustration of last season. But then Saturday happened. That’s when LeBron popped the question to his high school sweetheart and the mother of his two children, Savannah Brinson. It’s safe to say he wouldn’t decide to tie the knot after about a decade with Brinson if he wasn’t in a good place. And then Sunday happened. Not the game against the Bobcats — a team with literally the worst roster in the league that, in hindsight, had absolutely no business being within a bucket of beating the Heat four days earlier. It was after the 39-point win, when LeBron was discussing his engagement and, again, his new mind-set. There was a genuine feel to what he was saying — as genuine a feel as you can get coming from a player who has been trained to deal with media since his early teens. It wasn’t just about the engagement, which he described as “real cool,” leaving the details of the event for others to unearth. LeBron also reiterated just how settled he is now compared to last year.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Obviously Charlotte Bobcats power forward D.J. White was physically overwhelmed defensively by Chris Bosh on Sunday, but this game reinforced that trading for him last season was a wise move. White made his first eight shots and finished with a career-high 21 points. Tyrus Thomas' ankle sprain has been a platform for White proving he belongs.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: After 294 days and 18 consecutive defeats dating to March 11, the Timberwolves ended a franchise-record losing streak with Sunday's convincing 99-82 victory over Dallas, the defending NBA champion. Now that didn't take long, did it? "It's a new year," Wolves forward Kevin Love said afterward. "We're the best team in 2012 right now." For one night, they clearly were younger, bouncier, better out there on the same floor against a Mavericks team missing three important players -- including Wolves guard J.J. Barea -- from last season's title team. Leading by 15 points early in the third quarter but ahead by just a bucket with less than six minutes left, the Wolves scored the game's final 15 points and turned Target Center into what it so seldom has been late in games these past several years -- a rollicking party.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks don't have much to build on right now. As Dirk Nowitzki said after the game, "one win over Toronto doesn't really make the world great.'' Strangely, it was the wise, veteran Mavericks who fell apart at crunch time and not the young, rambunctious Wolves. Minnesota's lead was only 84-82 and the Wolves looked like they were ready to be had. Then they went on a 15-0 blitz to end the game and make the final score look like a blowout. The Mavericks missed their last six shots and had a costly turnover to kick-start the Wolves' closing run. Lamar Odom had a flash of decent play in the first half and then he knocked in a 3-pointer just in front of the third-quarter buzzer. He's still not in the best of shape and he asked to come out of the game during the first half -- then caught the ball and shot a 3-pointer that clanged off the front of the rim. He's not anywhere close to where he needs to be. But there were some baby steps taken. The Mavericks don't have a lot of time to dwell on their problems. All they can do is try to fight through it. They have unbeaten Oklahoma City in town Monday night and if they're looking for a breakthrough win, this would be the perfect time.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Denver's defense sure played great Sunday. The Broncos' defense too. The Nuggets, those pesky pests in powder blue, battled and rattled the Lakers all game, winning 99-90 before a sellout crowd at the Pepsi Center. Like five Champ Baileys, the Nuggets smothered and swarmed Lakers luminary Kobe Bryant, who shot only 6-for-28 from the field — including 3-for-10 in the fourth quarter, with two turnovers too. "He's Kobe Bryant, man. We wanted to focus on his ball handling and passing and try to take the element of Kobe Bryant out of the game," Nuggets center Chris Andersen said. "And the guards did a good job of that." Really, everybody did. Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari routinely stayed with the perennial all-star, thrusting hands in his face. But the bigs also rotated splendidly and systematically — especially in the fourth quarter, when coach George Karl called for more double-teams. Kobe tried to get into one of those Kobe rhythms he's famous for, but he kept on clankin' — including in the fourth quarter, when he missed all four 3s.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Maybe Kobe Bryant knew better than anyone what had happened. He uncharacteristically left the arena Sunday night without speaking to reporters. For sure, Pau Gasol knew how it looked in the Lakers’ 99-90 loss to the Denver Nuggets, but Gasol didn’t want to turn a spotlight on it. Bryant tested his theory about being due to get hot when he’s at his coldest and stayed one frosty snowman all through New Year’s night, missing 22 of his 28 field-goal attempts. He finished with 16 points and six turnovers. Gasol and Andrew Bynum were far more efficient inside, making 15 of 27 combined shots. Bynum said Lakers coach Mike Brown called “six or seven” consecutive plays for Gasol early in the fourth quarter, and Gasol did produce, but the game’s end was marked by Bryant missing jumpers and not getting back well in transition defense.

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: Kobe Bryant reached a milestone, then skipped out of a postgame interview after the Lakers' loss Sunday to the Denver Nuggets. He scored his 28,000th point when he sank a free throw with 10:43 left in the third quarter. At 33 years, 131 days, he is the youngest to score that many points. Bryant's scoring statistics are staggering. Only five players in league history have scored more points than Bryant, who trails only Shaquille O'Neal (28,596), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Michael Jordan (32,292), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) on the all-time list. Jordan and Bryant are the only guards in the top six, however.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Maybe it’s because he went to Duke. Maybe that’s how it all started. Something that simple, like his choice of going to a university where players seem to walk around entitled. At least that’s our perception. Damn Dukies. Then again, ‘‘perception’’ is an important word when trying to describe how four more years of Carlos Boozer in a Bulls uniform will work. In Sunday night’s home opener, it worked to perfection. There was the rebounding — Boozer had 11 of them by the half in what turned out to be a one-sided, 104-64 laugher over the Memphis Grizzlies. There was the fadeaway jumper — rainbowy, as usual. There was the explosion around the basket — or at least what’s left of it entering Boozer’s 10th year in the NBA. And there was applause from the sold-out crowd, drowned out by the bellowing of “Boooooozzzzzzzzeeeee . . .’’ ‘‘Showed a lot of love out there tonight,’’ was how Boozer described it. And is it important for him to feel that love? ‘‘I’m not concerned about that,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know what story you’re trying to write, but we’re just trying to get better and reach our goals. You can write that story.’’ Nah, let’s stick to you. Either the Bulls fans have forgiven Boozer for how Year 1 ended or there were a bunch of phonies wearing red and black in the stands on New Year’s Day. Safe bet is on the latter.

  • Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times: This is what superstars do. This was why the Clippers gave up so much to get so much more in Chris Paul. Why Laker fans still lament the NBA's refusal to let Paul be wrapped in purple and gold and dropped at their feet instead of a few feet down the hall at Staples Center. Faced with losing a 17-point lead over Portland on Sunday in a game the Clippers considered a measuring stick of their progress after being spanked by San Antonio and Chicago, Paul simply took over and refused to let them lose. He steadied his teammates' nerves with his poise, elated them with his shotmaking and wowed them with his ability to win a crucial jump ball against a five-inches-taller Jamal Crawford with 4.3 seconds left. If not for his leadership the Clippers would not have celebrated their first home victory this season, a gutsy 93-88 decision over the Trail Blazers that inspired the crowd to chant his name in tribute for what figures to be the first of many times.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: In one of the more interesting developments in this early Blazers season, there appears to be a budding relationship developing between McMillan and Felton, his new point guard acquired in a trade this summer. McMillan has given Felton the ultimate sign of trust this early season, changing the team’s entire style of offense to fit the uptempo skills of Felton. In turn, he has also held him accountable, pointing out in front of the team that the point guards need to take better care of the ball than they have in the last two games against Denver and the Clippers. “Did it in front of everybody,” Felton said. “But I can take that. I don’t care if he singles me out in front of everybody. I can take that type of criticism because it’s true. But at the same time, with him being a former point guard, he understands that I’m not out there kicking the ball. I’m trying to make plays. He understands the effort is there.” Said McMillan: “I’ve learned you don’t have to beat them down. They know what they are doing out there, and that they are better than that.”