First Cup: Friday

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: This was supposed to be the season that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard improved his free-throw shooting. But Howard actually is doing worse from the free-throw line than he ever has. Howard entered Thursday's game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena shooting just 42.6 percent from the line. He struggled terribly when the Magic beat the Portland Trail Blazers 107-104 at the Rose Garden on Wednesday, missing nine of his 12 foul shots. Some of those attempts were way off, hitting the left edge of the rim. And the Trail Blazers' decision to foul Howard, especially late in the game, essentially served as Magic turnovers because Howard could not convert at the line. "I think sometimes I just want to make 'em so bad that I'm thinking too much," Howard said. "So I've just got to keep shooting — and they're gonna start falling — and not get frustrated with it. It's tough not to, but [I have to] just try not to get frustrated and just understand that it's a process. Sooner or later, they're gonna start falling." During the offseason, Howard hired personal shooting coach Ed Palubinskas, who had helped Shaquille O'Neal improve his notoriously bad free-throw shooting for a time during O'Neal's career. Howard and Palubinskas also have worked together this season.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Dwight Howard made history at Oracle Arena and gave Warriors fans even more reason to fantastically long for him on their squad. Howard totaled 45 points, 23 rebounds and an NBA record 39 free-throw attempts Thursday night, leading the Magic to a 117-109 win over the Warriors (3-7). Monta Ellis' 30 points and 11 assists, and David Lee's 26 points and 12 rebounds, weren't enough to overcome the monster performance from the best center in the game. Warriors coach Mark Jackson -- without his best defensive big man in Kwame Brown, who is out with a chest muscle injury -- tried to slow Howard by putting him at the free-throw line. A lot. "We have two bodies that can defend him one-on-one and force him away from the painted area," Jackson explained. "That's (Andris Biedrins) and Kwame Brown. ... Immediately, you have to figure out a way to stop a great player. And his weakness is foul shooting." Howard, who came in shooting a career-low 42.6 percent from the line, was 21 for 39 from the free-throw line. The previous record for free throw attempts in a game was 34, set by the Philadelphia Warriors' Wilt Chamberlain Feb. 22, 1962, against the St. Louis Hawks.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Sport Illustrated has a story this week about Michael Jordan and his former coach, Clifton 'Pop" Herring. Herring says he's still haunted by an urban legend regarding Jordan: In 1978, the story goes, Herring cut Jordan, then a high school sophomore, from the basketball team at Wilmington Laney High.In truth, Jordan was on Laney's JV roster that year, developing the skills that eventually made him one of the all-time NBA greats. But the story that Herring cut Jordan persists. “It’s a lie that you continue to tell,” Herring tells Sports Illustrated. A story by Robbi Pickeral published in The Observer in 2009, just before Jordan's induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, was one attempt to set the record straight. In that story Pickeral quoted Ruby Sutton, who called it her pet peeve to hear the story of Jordan being "cut" from the Laney High varsity basketball team as a sophomore, and of that event spurring him to greatness. ... Once and for all, maybe the Sports Illustrated piece will put the story, and the pain Herring feels in dealing with it, to rest.

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Al Horford — the one player the Hawks could not afford to lose, the one player on the roster that other teams actually want, was counted out by an MRI. Horford suffered what had appeared to be a shoulder strain in Wednesday night’s loss to Indiana when he had his arm pulled back after having his shot blocked by the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert. But an MRI revealed a torn pectoral muscle. This is not a day-to-day thing. It’s closer to a see-you-in-training-camp-next-year thing. Horford will have surgery and miss three to four months. It’s mid-January. The regular season runs through April 26. Do the math. Hawks coach Larry Drew was asked what the Hawks will miss without Horford, other than the 12.4 points, seven rebounds and a couple of blocks and assists per game. His answer suggested this was like a live body losing a vital organ. “Leadership and presence — that’s going to be sorely missed,” he said. “He’s kind of a glue for us. He’s a stabilizer. He’s a guy who huddles the team, who talks in the huddle. He’s a guy who’s not afraid to call people out. Certainly the guys respect him. You can see how guys respond to him.”

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: There’s no shame in losing a road game to the Atlanta Hawks. There’s shame in being outscored in each of four quarters. There’s shame in being outrebounded 55-30. There’s shame in the coach saying the starters looked disinterested. These are troubling times for the Charlotte Bobcats. Shooting guard Gerald Henderson articulated that well following a 111-81 loss at Philips Arena Thursday. ... Perhaps the only good from this game was center Byron Mullens’ successful debut as the starting center. Mullens had another career-high in scoring with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Mullens is expanding his offensive game quickly. Almost exclusively a jump shooter when he was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the preseason, he’s now rolling to the rim for layups or dunking alley-oop passes. Mullens didn’t know he’d replace Gana Diop as the starter until shootaround Thursday morning.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Rudy Gay took flight and it wasn’t to deliver a tomahawk dunk during his finest moment. The Grizzlies’ versatile forward caught everyone in FedExForum by surprise when he elevated and blocked New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler’s dunk attempt late in the third quarter. O.J. Mayo picked up the deflection as the action shifted toward Memphis’ end of the court. The Grizzlies swung the ball around until it reached Gay, who calmly buried a 3-pointer that extended their lead to 24 points. Gay just stood there, frozen in his shooting motion. ... “People don’t think we hear what people are talking about,” Gay said, referring the recent criticism he’s received along with the team for a slow start to the season. “Whether we like it or not, we know we have to respond.” Gay, who made 11 of 16 shots and scored all of his points through three quarters, then jokingly said: “Take that.”

  • Mark Herrmann of Newsday: Mike Bibby was available Thursday night, Mike D'Antoni said, after the veteran guard overcame a sore knee -- the latest in a series of physical setbacks. "Little nicks and nacks, taking it a day at a time. That's all, really," said Bibby, who has been consistently supportive of his teammates even when he hasn't been playing. "I'm an easygoing guy. It takes a lot -- a lot, a lot -- to get me down, so I'm fine." Proof of that came 90 minutes before game time when he was seen chatting with his father, Henry, a Grizzlies assistant. The two had a distant relationship after Henry, a former Knick, went through a divorce with Mike's mom. Mike conspicuously enrolled at Arizona when Henry was coaching USC. But the two broke the ice a few years ago and have remained in touch.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: When the Cavaliers travel to Los Angeles tonight to face former coach Mike Brown and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavs’ roster will look nothing like the team Brown coached to the best regular-season record in consecutive years. In the 15 months since Brown was fired, the Cavs have turned over every player but four — Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson, Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao. Of those four, Parker played for Brown for one season and Jamison spent only three months with him. Gibson was anchored to the end of the Cavs’ bench, leaving Varejao as the only player who logged significant minutes in Brown’s rotations. “Everything is different now,” Gibson said. “They say that’s how the NBA goes.” Cavs coach Byron Scott was working as an analyst for ESPN when the Cavs lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2010. He had been around the league long enough — and been fired twice himself — that he knew Brown was in trouble. But Gibson and Parker both said they were surprised when Brown was fired, and neither saw it coming. “I had no idea,” Parker said. “It’s always a surprise when someone wins 60-plus games [and gets fired]. I didn’t feel like it was expected.”

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Almost every day, former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is reminded that he's not in Cleveland any longer -- and it has nothing to do with sunshine, palm trees or the ocean. It started almost as soon as he was introduced as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers last May 31. One of his first invitations came from Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, a longtime Lakers fan who asked the new coach to come to his home to watch the NBA Finals. Brown's schedule didn't allow for the visit. About a week ago, the coach was rushing to catch the team's charter flight to Portland, Ore., when he was pulled over for speeding. The California Highway Patrol officer recognized the coach and let him off with a warning. As soon as Brown was aboard, the team's vice president of public relations approached him, telling him he had just gotten a call about the traffic stop from TMZ, the celebrity entertainment news service, and wondered if the Lakers had any comment. "In my six years in Cleveland, I probably had two or three speeding tickets, and I don't think that even made it in the West Life news," Brown said, laughing, in a telephone interview Thursday.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Tristan Thompson and Markieff Morris are rookie power forwards who were separated by nine picks on draft night. The difference did not appear that big Thursday night. They entered the game with similar stats and playing time, although Morris had an edge. Thompson was known not to be as NBA-ready as Morris, but Morris has shown more upside. Morris still has his rookie moments, but he has been the NBA's best rookie big man.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: With Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still out with right-knee tendinitis and Ersan Ilyasova struggling, coach Scott Skiles gave rookie JonLeuer his first NBA start, getting the call at power forward. The 6-foot-10 rookie was averaging 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18.3 minutes coming in, and was coming off a 30-minute outing in the Bucks' 106-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday in which he played the entire second and third quarters en route to 10 points and five rebounds. ... A second-round pick out of Wisconsin, Leuer has been a fan favorite not only for his state ties but also for an aggressive style that belies his rookie status. Still, Skiles will be taking a measured approach. "We're 3-6, and Luc is out. (Andrew) Bogut has been out," Skiles said. "We're still like a lot of teams, trying to find how we fit together properly. I made the decision to take a look at it. It's not that we're just going to throw darts at a board and hope to stumble onto something. Jon had to be playing well to warrant an opportunity, and Ers pretty much plays like Ers whether he's coming off the bench or starting. We're hoping it actually even gets him going a little bit more." Leuer certainly didn't let his starting assignment faze him. He set a career high by playing 32 minutes while chipping in 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Charlie Villanueva was eager to make a good impression on new Pistons coach Lawrence Frank. But a three-game suspension to start the season and now a sore right ankle have contributed to Villanueva playing only six minutes through 10 games. On Thursday, he missed the chance to face the Bucks, his previous team before he signed that infamous five-year, $35-million deal in the summer of 2010. "It's frustrating because you get a new start, new coach, new staff, you kind of want to go out there and show what you can do," Villanueva said after Thursday morning's shoot-around. "Then you start off being suspended the first couple of games, and then my ankle. So I really just haven't had the opportunity to go out there and play. It's been frustrating." The Pistons fell in Milwaukee, 102-93. Villanueva says he has no idea how he hurt the ankle.