First Cup: Monday

  • Tim Tucker of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: While injuries are a big part of any NBA season, a compacted schedule increases the number of games lost to aches and pains that ordinarily might be nursed on days off. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram counted 19 key players around the league losing time to injuries in the first two weeks of the season. When the lockout ended, the NBA squeezed a 66-game schedule into four months, late December until late April. Normally, an 82-game schedule is stretched over 5 ½ months. While the difference amounts to two more games per month, back-to-back-to-back sets have become a reality and more than one day between games a rarity. In fact, the Hawks haven't had more than one day between games yet this season -- and won't until Feb. 16-17. Monday's 4 p.m. game against Toronto at Philips Arena will be the Hawks' 14th in three weeks. ... Injuries aren't the only issue with the compressed schedule; it's harder to sell tickets to four games in a week than to three. "Having games closer together is one of the biggest [sales] challenges; it makes it more difficult to sell individual game tickets," Bob Williams said. The packed schedule has prompted the Hawks to offer "more value-driven promotions," such as family nights, he said. Although the condensed schedule is a product of circumstance, not everyone is convinced it is necessarily a negative.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: I walked out to my seat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse expecting to see a lot of fans in the seats in the building. I thought I’d see a lot of Celtics green because we all know how things are when the likes of the Celtics, Chicago and Lakers come to Indianapolis. I saw of a lot of green in the fieldhouse, but it wasn’t Celtics green. It was the green of the seats in the building. The Pacers had an announced crowd of 14,203 in the building for their 97-83 victory over Boston on Saturday. I figured the game would have easily sold out. Boston’s in town. It was a Saturday. And the Pacers continue to turn the corner on a regular basis. I was wrong with that thought.

  • Randy Youngman of The Orange County Register: I know now this is a new team and a new era in the franchise's previously cursed existence because of what I saw when I asked a woman before Saturday's game how much her courtside ticket cost. It was a Clippers home game, so I wanted to know how much less it costs for a first-row "on the wood"seat than it does for the same seat at a Lakers home game in the same building. (A Lakers season-ticket holder who has courtside tickets told me they are $2,800 apiece this season.) "You're not going to quote me, are you?" the woman asked. No, I assured her, I just wanted to know the face value of her ticket. So she retrieved her ticket stub from her purse and showed it to me. Face value: $3,000! For a Clippers game! I'm guessing it's the first time in history a Clippers courtside ticket has had a higher face value than a Lakers courtside ticket. (Wait until Jack Nicholson finds out. He's going to demand to pay more for his.) There's a catch, though. The woman with the courtside Clippers tickets said the price on her tickets changes based on the Clippers' opponent. The Clippers-Lakers game presumably is the most coveted, so it costs more than others. Even so, this is a remarkable development in the metamorphosis of an NBA pretender-turned-contender.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: The Trail Blazers have sold out 166 consecutive home games. Which only makes what I'm about to ask sound odd -- but, also, very necessary: You in? Or what? Because when the Blazers return from their six-game trip, they'll host the Sacramento Kings on Monday, Jan. 23. The following night they'll host the Memphis Grizzlies, and insiders at One Center Court tell me that there's some minor angst internally about the streak surviving those back-to-back games against chronic lower-tier opponents. "You have no idea how difficult it is to pull off a sellout," one high-ranking Blazers official told me. "It's a siege to pull off a single sellout." Team president Larry Miller said he's looked at those two games and feels, "we have a pretty good shot at a sellout, but it's not easy." And the Blazers are hoping a productive road trip and some smart marketing will move Blazers fans to buy tickets and keep the streak alive.

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: There has been some angst over LeBron James’ late-game struggles. There remains an unhealthy obsession with Eddy Curry. And there are a bit too many fans who believe playing James Jones more minutes is the answer to all the Heat’s woes. But for the most part, there has been far less hair-pulling and teeth-grinding than there was throughout the entirety of last season. And here comes another opportunity to exhibit just how much perspective has been gained. Dwyane Wade needs to sit. He needs to sit as long as it takes to get him completely healthy. He needs to sit despite the three-game losing streak, despite the challenging homestand that lies ahead, despite the fact that he turns 30 on Tuesday when the Heat plays the Spurs, and despite the fact Kobe Bryant and the Lakers come to town Thursday when the Heat will show off those fancy new black-on-black uniforms. There’s not only too much to lose if Wade plays through pain only to extend the healing process, there’s also plenty to gain while he sits, which could significantly help this team in the coming months. For starters, there’s the benefit for James.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph is clutching a pair of black crutches instead of rebounds these days. He wears a somber expression and not that familiar game-time scowl. It has been two weeks since the Grizzlies' heart and soul suffered a slight tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. The bad news is Randolph still is looking at four to six additional weeks of recovery time. The good news is he'll begin a rehabilitation regimen this week after receiving nothing but rest since the injury occurred during a Jan. 1 loss at Chicago. ... The initial diagnosis determined that Randolph merely suffered a knee bruise. An MRI later revealed the MCL tear. If Randolph is inactive for eight weeks from when the injury occurred, he will have missed 31 games. That would leave 31 games remaining on the regular-season schedule, starting March 2 at Toronto.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: From Lamar Odom's vantage point, the Los Angeles Lakers did him a grave disservice during one of the lowest points in his career. And when he was most vulnerable. After Odom spent the past seven years with the Lakers and helping them win NBA titles in 2009 and 2010, the team that he thought he would finish his career with attempted to trade him to the New Orleans Hornets in a deal that involved Chris Paul. Although Commissioner David Stern voided the trade, Odom felt insulted. ... What really upset Odom is that he said the Lakers knew he'd gone through a traumatic off-season that included the murder of his 24-year-old cousin, who was buried on July 13 in New York. The day after his cousin's funeral, Odom was a passenger in a chauffeur-driven SUV in Queens, N.Y., that collided with a motorcycle. The motorcycle went airborne and hit a 15-year-old pedestrian, who died the following day of head injuries. Those incidents put Odom in a funk and had him assessing his future. He said his wife, reality TV star Khloe Kardashian, had to talk him into playing this season. After the Lakers-Hornets deal fell through, the situation led him to demand that the Lakers trade him.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The NBA's international man of mystery just a month ago, Timberwolves rookie Ricky Rubio's court vision and basketball sense no longer are secrets. Neither, perhaps surprisingly, is his defense. Rubio's reputation for fancy playmaking far preceded his arrival on these shores, but nobody knew how those active hands, gambler's sensibilities and suspect foot speed on display professionally in Europe all these years would translate at this level on the court's opposite end. Through his first 12 games, Rubio is eighth in the league in assists (8.3 per game) and tied for sixth in steals (2.0 per game), numbers that clearly make him the leader among rookies in each category. Yes, numbers don't always tell the entire story. The Wolves' 4-8 start, for example, is just one victory better than this time last season, but they are also allowing 14 points fewer per game than last season's incomprehensible 107.7 point average and have allowed fewer points on the road than any NBA team. And among the many reasons for the difference -- coach Rick Adelman's arrival and organized defensive principles, to name two -- is Rubio, who seems more comfortable, more active, more influential pressuring the ball as each game goes by and his minutes and responsibilities seemingly increase with each passing one.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Finally, the Milwaukee Bucks received some encouraging injury-related news Sunday. Center Andrew Bogut returned to practice and was cleared to play Monday against the Philadelphia 76ers after missing the Bucks' 102-76 loss in Dallas on Friday due to concussion symptoms. Bogut had to miss the Dallas game under the league's new concussion protocol, instituted during training camp. Players who do not pass a series of concussion-related tests are not allowed to play, and the director of the NBA program also must be consulted before a player can be cleared. ... NBA officials would not confirm whether Bogut was the first league player to be tested under the new policy.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: The Bulls are the NBA's stingiest defense for points allowed, surrendering just 83.8 per game. They rank third in opponents' field-goal percentage at a paltry 41.3 percent. In their last five fourth quarters, they have allowed an average of just 15.6 points. And they have set an NBA record by allowing just 66.8 points per game through their first five home games. "We're still slacking," Derrick Rose said. "I know I sound like Thibs, but we can always get better." Uh, how? "Contest shots harder," Rose said. "Stay consistent at the end of games. We tend to let teams get open shots at the end of games knowing we got the lead by so much. That's something we can't do." But what about that fourth-quarter average of just 15.6 points during the current five-game win streak? Doesn't that suggest closing games with closeouts? "I'm telling you," Joakim Noah chimed in. "We can get even better. We're a pretty good defensive team. But we're not satisfied. Neither is Thibs."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: So these aren’t the Mike D’Antoni, “Seven-Seconds-or-Less” Phoenix Suns. They don’t play offense as if shot from a cannon anymore. They don’t put up scores that would tilt a pinball machine. Steve Nash, at 37, is still proficient on the pick-and-roll, but no longer an MVP candidate. Amare Stoudemire is in his second season dunking in the Big Apple. Three weeks into this lockout season, Phoenix — once a running, gunning scoring circus with Nash as ringmaster — ranks as one of the NBA’s most pedestrian offenses. Given the Spurs’ well-chronicled struggles on defense this season, they’ll still take what happened in a 102-91 victory over the Suns on Sunday at the AT&T Center as a definitive sign of progress. “That’s where we want to go,” point guard Tony Parker said after the Spurs improved to 9-0 at home this season. “I thought overall, we played great defense.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Just as there is a treat in watching Steve Nash's artistry with basketball geometry on passes, there is a similar unique show in viewing Tim Duncan's shooting. It has worked for 21,829 points, which pushed him past Gary Payton on Sunday for 26th on the NBA career scoring list.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: There are times when too much cool isn't that cool, times where you need to drop the shades and the strut and just get down to the simple task of taking care of business. "I'm kind of fed up about teams coming in here shooting 50 percent, scoring 100 points," Nuggets coach George Karl said Sunday night after watching the Utah Jazz achieve both marks in a 106-96 victory over his team at the Pepsi Center. "Utah played with the intensity that we played with (Friday) against Miami in the first half, and we didn't show up with intensity," Karl said. "They gained some confidence. We didn't get a lot of confidence in the game early in the game. We missed layups and free throws, didn't convert easy opportunities like our offense normally does." Karl knew why. "I probably blame it on our NBA cool," he said. "We thought we were cool after kicking Miami's butt, and we got embarrassed. The NBA game does it quite frequently. If you think you're better than you are, or think you're cooler than you are and you don't think you have to put in the hard work to win games, you get embarrassed. We got embarrassed."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Remember that one time Paul Millsap entered molten mode against the Miami Heat? Of course you do. No offense to that 46-point Millsap masterpiece, but that was so last season. It was cold outside of Pepsi Center and there were no sandy beaches anywhere to be found here Sunday night. No matter. Millsap brought that South Beach-like sizzle into the Mile High City during the Utah Jazz's 106-96 win over the Denver Nuggets. The Jazz's starting small forward didn't hit any 3-pointers this time, but that's only because he scored so quickly and so often in his fourth-quarter flurry that he didn't have time to get beyond the arc. Millsap scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Jazz pick up their most impressive win of the season. "I just found a rhythm, found a zone," Millsap said. "My teammates did a great job of finding me and going to me, and I just knocked down shots."

  • David Mayo of Booth Newspapers: The Detroit Pistons are getting so much more out of their guards than a week ago that it essentially gives them three starters, which prompts another question: What happens when Rodney Stuckey is 100 percent again? Stuckey’s ability to play both guard positions will give him ample minutes, regardless what happens, but he also has sparked the Pistons off the bench since returning in limited minutes from a groin pull, and first-round draft pick Brandon Knight improved quickly at point guard in the interim. So when Stuckey is completely healthy, is he an automatic to step back into the starting lineup? Coach Lawrence Frank was non-committal before Sunday’s 99-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors at The Palace of Auburn Hills. "Before I addressed it with the media, I would address it with the team," Frank said. "Rodney’s going to play at a very, very high level. It’s not about whether starting or coming off the bench. Right now, we’re just trying to work him back into getting those game minutes that he’s normally accustomed to, then we’ll make a decision what’s in the best interest of the team."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: As DeMarcus Cousins was getting dressed there was a cameraman standing about five feet in front of Cousins' stall. Cousins asked could the camera man not point his camera at him while he was getting dressed. The cameraman said his camera was off. Cousins said he didn't care if it was off, he did not want the camera on him while he was getting dressed. Cousins eventually went back into the shower area to finish getting dressed. Cousins returned and by then there were other players in the area. At some point the cameraman is leaving and he makes a remark to someone (Cousins I assume) about making sure his camera wasn't pointing at anyone next time he was in the locker room. Cousins asked what was said. When he heard the comment Cousins stood up. Thomas tugged on Cousins' sweatshirt and said something like "it's not worth it." Cousins sat down and a few moments later, gathered his belongings and left the locker room after using some choice words. At no point did Cousins go after anyone or was he physically held back. Seriously, do you think the smallest player on the team could keep Cousins from going after someone if he wanted to? The cameraman (from what I was told) told the story in the media room and put way too much on how Cousins was acting toward him. Sorry if you were looking for a story about how Cousins went crazy and tried to chase the guy down while the team held him back. That didn't happen, nor did a Ryan Leaf-like outburst.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: In winning nine of their first 12 games, it’s really not easy to find much that has gone wrong for the 76ers. They’re scoring, they’re playing defense, they’re winning games against overmatched opponents by large margins. Those tangibles can be easily seen by just looking at the stats. But there is more going on with this team, things that can’t be seen in the numbers but are certainly huge attributes as to why the team is in first place in the Atlantic Division heading into Monday’s game against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks. During Friday’s home win against the Washington Wizards, a small bit of communication between coach Doug Collins and Andre Iguodala occurred and it spoke volumes as to where this team is.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "When the season began, Kevin Martin, 6-7, no longer made his living at the line. Some of that was due to the changes in the offense that have more often kept him on the perimeter. But he also has seemed less determined to draw contact, uncertain what he could gain from subjecting himself to roller derby defenses. In the past five years, Martin had averaged 7.7 free-throw attempts per game. Last season, no one made more free throws than his 594. Through the season’s first 11 games, he had taken just 3.4 per game. But Saturday, he seemed to go back to his recent past. He scored 12 of his 28 points from the line, making 12 of 13 free throws. He also demonstrated the adjustments needed and made. In the first half, he drew contact by using his shooting motion on a drive to clear space of defender Nicolas Batum. Martin was called for an offensive foul on a move that in the past had sent him to the line. But with the game on the line, he flashed a quick shot fake to get Batum off his feet, drawing a shooting foul. His two free throws gave the Rockets a four-point lead with nine seconds left in overtime. “It’s an important part of my game, along with the 3-point shot that I’m still looking for,” Martin said. “It’s an aspect of my offensive game I want to get back to, but I’m no dummy. I know how they’re calling it for me. I had to adapt to that."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Kyrie Irving is playing at an elite level. One can even make a case that Antawn Jamison is more than holding his own. But the one player the Cavaliers could least afford to lose right now is center Anderson Varejao, who is vying for a spot on the all-defensive team. The 6-foot-11, 260-pounder is fourth in the NBA in rebounding at 11.2 per game and has been the glue that has held the Cavs (5-6) together in the early going. They are 2-4 on their road trip, which concludes at 2 p.m. Monday in Charlotte, N.C. "I remember saying last year the one guy we can't afford to lose is Andy," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "Then three days later we lost him. I might have cursed myself. It's almost the same this year. He has to stay healthy for us to have a chance to be successful. "Obviously, when he's on the floor, we're just a much better basketball team."