First Cup: Thursday

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Bench-gate, as it has been dubbed by some Mavericks officials, reinforced the thinking that sometimes an NBA bench area gets a little too cozy to accommodate players who aren't in the game and support personnel. It also proved that anything can become newsworthy these days, especially during a terribly boring game. That point was driven home Tuesday night in Detroit when a couple of fans bought $750 seats that were right next to the Mavericks' bench. Since those were the seats they bought, those were the seats they wanted to sit in. Fair enough, right? But the Mavericks' bench was a bit cramped and when Vince Carter sat in a couple of empty fan seats on the other side of the two fellows next to the Mavericks' bench area, it gave the look that the fans were on the bench, drinking beer and having a good time. By all accounts - from Mavericks' officials and Carter - the two fans were very well behaved. "They were cool,'' Carter said. "I just didn't have enough room to sit so I went on the other side of them. That happens sometimes. They were good dudes. That was where their seats were, so it wasn't any big deal. But I have to admit, it looked funny when I saw the video.'' The NBA called the Mavericks during the game and requested that Carter move back to the bench area, which he did.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: With a free throw with 4:54 remaining in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 101-95 overtime victory over the Rockets, Spurs captain Tim Duncan passed former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird and moved into 27th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 21,792 points. Duncan finished the game with 17 points and now has 21,798 points. Typically, he was utterly unaware he had even been approaching Bird’s mark. “Really?” he said. “Wow. How’d I do that?” Duncan said Bird wasn’t one of his basketball heroes as a youngster but appreciates his greatness. “I was actually a Lakers fan,” he said. “Magic Johnson and James Worthy. But it’s great. That’s unbelievable.”

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: He [Doc Rivers] was speaking specifically of Garnett, who suddenly looks aged not old, and Paul Pierce, whose injury problems began before the season did. But Rivers could have added O’Neal as well, and if that remains the case, Danny Ainge’s worst nightmare could unfold in front of him — a replay of the painful demise of the original (and only, really) Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Aingeswore he would not see that scenario play itself out again, and perhaps it still won’t, but last night as the three of them went a combined 9-of-24 from the floor, there was an unsettled feeling in the pit of your stomach that this is a passion play without a happy ending. Certainly the arrival of Mickael Pietrus added an upbeat note as he played quality defensive minutes, hit his first 3-pointer and promised he was here “to fight for my teammates, to fight for my coaches.” Hopefully that will be the case and, at his best, he brings both a strong defensive presence and an ability to knock down treys from the wing. But when he hit that first shot, the prolonged ovation from the Garden crowd seemed desperate. It’s early, of course and as Rivers kept saying, his team’s best players simply need to get going to take the load off Rondo. What was left unanswered was the larger question that seemed to surface as the Mavericks were taking control of the paint. What if they don’t?

  • Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic: A column on ESPN.com suggested Kobe Bryant's 48-point outburst against the Suns on Tuesday was due in part to a personal vendetta against the Suns. "I don't like them," Bryant said. "Plain and simple, I do not like them. They used to whip us pretty good and used to let us know about it -- and I. Will. Not. Forget. That." A;vin Gentry scoffed at the notion Bryant has it out for the Suns. Whatever the reason, Bryant's 48 left a deep impression on Steve Nash. "That was one of the best performances I've seen," Nash said. "Grant (Hill) guarded him really well, but he still made shot after shot after shot."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: As Wednesday's game between the Orlando Magic and the Portland Trail Blazers approached, Dwight Howard spent part of his time in the Pacific Northwest on the campus of adidas' North America headquarters. During his visit to the adidas campus, Howard and company officials talked about their plans for All-Star Weekend in Orlando on Feb. 24-26. Howard said there would be "some kind of big celebration in Orlando for all the fans down there." "We're looking forward to having something crazy," Howard added later. "I can't tell you guys right now, but it's going to be fun."

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: While the New Orleans Hornets have been navigating around unexpected impediments on the floor, off the court the search for a team owner continues on a somewhat smooth path with the possible announcement of a new caretaker, as well as a long-term lease extension, coming within the next few months. Jac Sperling, the New Orleans native given the role by the league as the team’s custodian during this period of receivership, says all signs point to an uninterrupted time table as articulated by NBA Commissioner David Stern of a transfer of ownership in the coming months. Stern said on Dec. 14 the league hoped to have a new owner in place in the first half of 2012. Sperling said he foresees no difficulties reaching that goal. “I think we’re making excellent progress in connection with the sale of the team,” Sperling said. “One thing I want to note is that the team is being sold on the condition that there’s a long-term lease here with the New Orleans Arena and the state. That’s being made clear to all the potential purchasers.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: Lob City became Mob City. The Clippers hugged, their fans bounced, the rafters roared, the entire Staples Center danced as one late Wednesday in a coming-out party for the city's hottest new star. Lordy, what a show. In what could mark their first official step toward their promise of greatness, the Clippers grunted and ground and eventually soared atop their expectations in a 95-89 victory over a Miami Heat team that is considered the NBA's best. "Very intense," said Blake Griffin afterward with a very relieved, very sweaty grin. Intense and immense, the game featured an extended Heat lead until the Clippers fought back late and withstood repeated attacks from the great LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to force an extra period. At which point, the Clippers potential reached reality in one giant alley-oop of an overtime, the white-shirted, wild-eyed home team holding the Heat to one-for-10 shooting while finishing them with an array of jumpers, layups, and DeAndre Jordan's clinching dunk. Of course there would be a clinching dunk.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: It’s a shame the Heat and Clippers play just once. Wednesday night at Staples Center was the NBA regular season at its best. It was another late-night overtime game on the West Coast and another loss for the Heat, but the dynamics of Wednesday’s 95-89 defeat to the Clippers didn’t mirror Tuesday’s loss to Golden State. On Tuesday, the Heat just blew a 17-point lead, plain and simple. The back-and-forth physical nature of Wednesday’s marquee matchup at Staples Center felt like a playoff game. “It was a good, physical game,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who finished with six points and eight rebounds. “I can appreciate it. Didn’t nobody was going to back down and both teams came to play and lay it out on the court.”

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Norris Cole had two quick fouls in first minute of action. We could bring up the need for another point guard again, but clearly no one is listening. ... That happened while Chalmers was in the locker room getting his ankle re-taped. ... This simply was not a Norris Cole game. And can everyone puh-leeze calm down about the kid. Please. ... The need another point guard for these halfcourt, slowdown games. They just do.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: While the romantics swoon over Kobe Bryant's poetic scoring, the Lakers also are winning because of new Lakers coach Mike Brown's "hard hats." One day and one plane flight after scoring 48 points at home, Bryant stayed hot with a 40-point outburst Wednesday night in Utah. The Lakers rode that and another committed defensive effort through overtime to their first road victory in four tries this season, 90-87, over the Jazz. It was the Lakers' fifth victory in six games since their defense and Bryant's shot looked so bad in a defeat in Denver. Suddenly, they're 8-4 despite various injuries and fatigue from playing the league's most games along with Chicago and Oklahoma City. "Let's bring our hard hats to the gym every day and defend," Brown said he has told the Lakers. "We have a closer in Kobe, and he'll help us get wins offensively." Bryant hit 14 of 31 shots, including a key 3-pointer despite his long-distance slump with the Lakers down by four points in overtime. He told the Register after the game that the torn ligament in his right wrist is healing despite continuing to play, and he expects to be fine long before the playoffs. "It's getting better now," Bryant said."

  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times: With Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson sidelined with injuries, coach Tom Thibodeau was asked who’d start at point guard before the game Wednesday night. “Lucas,” he growled, referring to third-stringer John Lucas III. When he was asked who’d be backing up Lucas, Thibodeau said, “Lucas.” It was an honest answer. It also served as a rare moment of levity before the strangest night of what already has become a frequently bizarre season. Lucas, making his first NBA start, didn’t play 48 minutes but was on the floor for 45 and scored a game-high 25 points to go along with eight assists and eight rebounds in the Bulls’ 78-64 win over the Wizards at the United Center. “He didn’t leave any bullets in the gun,” Thibodeau said, shaking his head. “I give him a lot of credit.” Lucas launched 28 shots. To put that in perspective, consider that Rose, who was out with a sprained toe, has averaged 16 shots this season, and Michael Jordan averaged 22.9 during his career. For a third-string point guard, Lucas isn’t bashful. Lucas surpassed Jordan’s career average midway through the fourth quarter.

  • Steve Adamek of The New York Times: This was a test, only a test. Yet playing only their 10th game of this lockout-shortened season and just their second opponent with a winning record, the Knicks passed it Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. With defense. And despite subscribing to their own version of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan down the stretch on offense: nine turnovers and nine missed shots from the floor in the last nine minutes. The Knicks’ defense, though, held the fort in an 85-79 victory over the 76ers, who had won six straight to storm to the top of the Atlantic Division but were also playing for the third straight night and the fifth time in six days. So, unlike the Knicks, who got a day off after beating a third straight sub-500. opponent Monday (Charlotte), the 76ers had reason to be cooked.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Doug Collins has a saying about his team he likes to pull out often: "Fresh minds, fresh legs." Playing their fifth game in 6 nights and third in a row, the 76ers' minds were a little mushy, and the legs followed closely behind as they had their six-game winning streak snapped by the hot New York Knicks, 85-79, Wednesday night. The Knicks (6-4) have now won four straight. The Sixers were strapped from the very beginning of the game as center Spencer Hawes, who has been rock solid for the team from Day 1, sat out with a back strain. The team severely missed Hawes and his 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. Collins started veteran Tony Battie in Hawes' place, saying he wanted a veteran to start against New York's formidable front line of Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. Even if Hawes had been available, it might not have mattered. The Sixers defense, so instrumental in their early success, wasn't there at the start as the Knicks drilled 10 of their first 15 shots - mostly from long range and mostly uncontested.

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: I’ve covered a lot of games in this building, always sitting underneath the goal near the visitor’s bench. I never say much about officiating one way or another but I’m always amazed how officials let the Pacers beat up on the visiting team, especially around the basket. Seriously, I’ve probably watched 10 games from that seat and it’s the same thing every time. That being said, the Hawks didn’t always stay focused in spite of the contact. Josh especially seemed to let the no-calls bother him and picked up a technical and a couple cheap fouls. ... Lou Amundson went bush league and tried to score with the shot clock off in the final seconds. Collins came over and gave him a hard foul to let him know that’s not cool. Collins got a Flagrant 2 and an ejection for the move. “You dribble the clock out in that situation if you are a true professional,” Collins said. “That was not a Flagrant 2. I gave him a hard foul, that’s all I did. He went in to try to dunk the basketball, first of all. If you are going to stop a dunk you have to deliver a hard foul. That’s all that was.”

  • Phillip B. Wilson of The Indianapolis Star: Danny Granger, who entered with a 30.7 field goal percentage, sank 9-of-16 shots, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. The Pacers (7-3) put away the Hawks (7-4) with a 27-9 third quarter in which Granger had 12 points. Indiana is off to its best start since 2005-06. Granger notes that is what matters most. "It's crazy to make a big deal about how I'm shooting," he said. "We're 7-3, and people want to talk about how I'm shooting. We're winning. I don't care. If I shoot like this the whole season and we win an NBA championship, is anybody going to say anything about it? No. "I don't know why it was a big deal, but everybody wanted to make a big deal out of it. But I never did. This is my seventh year in the league. I know what to expect."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: After 10 games of this season, the Rockets are just where they were after 10 games of last season. They return home 3-7 and as Kevin Martin reminded, “You are your record.” This is different, however. The Rockets had to take steps back before they could move forward, adjusting to changes that came with a new coaching staff and some very different defensive philosophies. And they had to do it with the short training camp, further limited by the late additions of Samuel Dalembert, Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons. None of that changes what matters most. You are your record. The Rockets, however, are a much better team at 3-7 than they were at 2-4 when the Clippers smacked them around just a week ago and the Rockets surrendered. The problem is that they can’t have too many games like Wednesday’s, when a win was within reach and still slipped away, and rally back from 3-7.

  • Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail: You’d expect teams to improve offensively as the season goes on. Still, going into Wednesday’s slate of games, including the Raptors' 98-91 loss to the Sacramento Kings, a total of 15 teams were averaging more than 15 turnovers per game, compared to four at the end of last season. Fourteen clubs shot .460 or better from the field last season; this season, seven teams had done so. In the 2010-11 season, 11 clubs averaged over 100 points per game. Through Tuesday, just five teams were averaging 100 points. Using offensive efficiency – number of points per 100 possessions – as a measure, half the league (15 teams) was under 100 points going into Wednesday. Three teams finished the season under 100 in 2010-11. “Offensive efficiency is down,” said Casey, the Raptors head coach. “You watch some teams and you can see they’re making the same mistakes we make. It’s ugly – and we’re ugly, offensively, in spurts. But I’d rather get bad shots than turnovers, because at least you can get back into your defence.” Casey’s comments were made before the game. Then, one night after losing 93-78 to the previously winless Washington Wizards, in which the Raptors has a season-high 23 turnovers, they had 18 more on Wednesday in finishing their only back-to-back-to-back run of games with a 1-2 record. The Raptors have 73 turnovers in four games.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Jimmer Fredette, the biggest thing to come out of Glens Falls, N.Y., since Hacksaw Jim Duggan, nailed his first two jumpers, prompting Jamaal Magloire to stand up on the bench and implore Jose Calderon to “get up on him.” Fredette missed his next two shots and finished 3-for-10 ... If there is a team with more “iso” players than the Kings it is news to us. Pass is almost a dirty word on a squad featuring Cousins, Evans, John Salmons and even Fredette (plus Marcus Thornton, who was out). Most of those players could be good passers if they wanted to be, but they prefer to create for themselves. Cousins said the close-knit group needs to play more together on the court.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: This is a new DeMarcus Cousins. That's what Tyreke Evans believes. "He's a new player," Evans said. "I'm happy for him. He's done a great job of just going out there and playing and helping us. No arguing with nobody on the team. Just staying focused, and I'm happy for him." The "new" Cousins scored 21 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds to help the Kings beat the Toronto Raptors 98-91 Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre. ... One week ago, the Kings fired coach Paul Westphal, who sent Cousins home from the Jan. 1 game against New Orleans for demanding a trade the previous night, a claim Cousins denies. "Since the new coach (Cousins has changed)," said Evans, who led the Kings (4-7) with 29 points. "No disrespect. Ever since that trade stuff was going on, he's just been focused. If that's what it takes, that's what it is." In four games under Smart, Cousins is averaging 18.3 points and 13.5 rebounds and shooting 51.9 percent (27 of 52) from the floor.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: Much as they’d like to keep both, the Trail Blazers will likely have to make a decision between retaining small forwards Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum after this season. The Blazers hope it doesn’t come down to that, of course. “You’re always trying to balance your roster,” says interim general manager Chad Buchanan, “but we think both of those guys are valuable pieces to our team.” But can Portland afford to keep both? ... While retired guard Brandon Roy’s pay has been erased from the team’s salary-cap hit through amnesty, owner Paul Allen will still get stuck for paying his $16.46 million salary next season. Beyond that, the Blazers are on the books for certain for about $26 million in guaranteed contracts, mostly from LaMarcus Aldridge ($13.75 million) and Wesley Matthews ($6.5 million). If Wallace doesn’t exercise his opt-out, that’s another $9.5 million. Then there is Jamal Crawford, who would make $5 million if he doesn’t opt out after this season. Besides Wallace and Batum, the Blazers also must decide if they want to re-sign starters Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby – each on the last year of his contract – and Greg Oden. None of those players will come cheap. When you’re looking at a salary cap and luxury tax that are expected to be near what they are this season – $58 million and $70 million – the room can get eaten up quickly.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: Even with the Trail Blazers’ strong start to the season, even with Brandon Roy’s retirement and LaMarcus Aldridge’s All-Star game bid and new blood in the form of Jamal Crawford, Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith, the question I get most concerning the local NBA contingent is this: What’s going on with Greg Oden? ... When I approached the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft in the locker room before Sunday night’s game with Cleveland at the Rose Garden, he told me, “I’m still not talking about it right now.” Or about anything, I guess. ... Team trainer Jay Jensen won’t talk about Oden, and interim general manager Chad Buchanan speaks only in vague terms about the oft-injured, oft-maligned would-be player. I can’t get an answer as to what Steadman and the other medical people saw in Oden’s December MRI that was termed by team president Larry Miller a “setback,” slowing his progress toward a return to on-court duty. “It wasn’t as encouraging as we’d hoped,” is all Buchanan will say. One report said the MRI showed a problem area in a non-weight-bearing ligament in the knee, but nobody with the club will confirm that. Oden evidently had no symptoms or anything to cause alarm. What, then, was it? “I’d prefer not to talk about specifics,” Buchanan says politely.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: As for the Nuggets' offensive strategy, Karl said they "try to make it like football with reads: If this is covered, go here. If this is covered, this will be open. What's that word they use with Tim Tebow​? Progressions?" "What we try to teach is how to play basketball, rather than directing exactly where you go on the court," Karl said. "I think the freedom we give them, at times, can make you a little nervous. But if we do it the right way — and play aggressive on defense — fatigue usually becomes your ally. We try to wear people out. ... And we teach them basic stuff and ask them to have their aggressiveness, and we read the defense."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: If things continue on their current path, Charlotte Bobcats power forward Boris Diaw might have to be reminded why there's a line painted on the court 15 feet from each basket. Diaw goes longer between free-throw attempts this season than any other NBA player. And by a lot. He's taken two free throws in 10 games, which means he's averaging an attempt for every 161 minutes played. A spot check of NBA statistics through Wednesday games shows the only player close to that long between trips to the line is Detroit Pistons rookie Brandon Knight. He's taken three free throws, an average of 95 minutes between attempts.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Thunder coach Scott Brooks is well aware starting center Kendrick Perkins is on pace for 24 technical fouls this season. "Oh, we've talked a few times about it," Brooks said with a smile. "He says he's going to slow up when he gets to eight." Players will be suspended with their 13th technical this season and every other technical thereafter. Asked if he has whispered into Perkins' ear about the frantic "T" pace, Brooks said: "It's a loud whisper. We've had multiple loud whispers. "He's an emotional guy and other teams know that. If you want to pick a fight, he's ready and willing. We have to control it, but he plays with that. He needs to play with that chip on his shoulder. He makes us good because he has that. He brings toughness every time he's on the floor."