First Cup: Thursday

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant brought the team with the NBA’s best record to his home town, and the expectation was that it would be a pushover against the team with the league’s worst record. But Wall played with passion and flair; Nick Young overcame a horrid first-half slump to erupt when it counted; Andray Blatche overcame a hostile crowd that booed him in pregame introductions; and the Wizards used their most inspired team effort to pull off the biggest upset of the season. Worst beat first, 105-102, but the downtrodden Wizards couldn’t rejoice until Durant missed a final desperation three-pointer and Trevor Booker corralled the rebound as time expired. The players exited the floor to a standing ovation. “Nobody expected it, that’s what it was. David bested Goliath,” Young said after scoring 19 of his 24 points in the final 17 minutes to help the Wizards overcome a 10-point deficit and their own nerves.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Before the opening quarter had grown eight minutes old, a female fan seated in Section 119 pulled out a stack of papers and a purple highlighter. While her boyfriend appeared focused on the action that actually brought the couple out, the woman deemed it a better use of her time to review a market report for her consulting company. By the midway point of the third quarter, an adult male fan halfway down Section 102 was slumped in his seat…sleeping. Throughout the remainder of the arena, rows and rows of empty seats represented the apathy that has set in for fans of the professional basketball team in our nation's capital. This, much more than the league-worst Washington Wizards, was what the Thunder was up against on Wednesday night. It was the ultimate test of mental fortitude, an opponent headed nowhere fast, looking for a fleeting, feel-good win against basketball's best team, whose lone goal is centered on a championship and whose preseason objective on the journey there was to not get bored with blips like these on the NBA schedule. And, boy, did Oklahoma City blow it? The Thunder got hit in the mouth early and often before the final haymaker finished it off and resulted in Oklahoma City walking out of town with a 105-102 loss that snapped a seven-game winning streak. After the game, few in the Thunder's party chose to concede that they actually had fallen prey to the same pitfall of indifference that pervaded the Verizon Center. But it was clear to everyone that the Thunder was as bored as the lady with the highlighter.

  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Former 76ers guard Andre Miller is one of the more easygoing players in the NBA. He laughs a lot, and very rarely does Miller have a negative word to say about anyone, especially his old Sixers teammates. But anyone who saw Miller almost single-handedly end the 76ers' home winning streakat six games Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center might think that Miller has nothing but loathing and malice in his heart for a team he played just a little over two seasons for before leaving via free agency. Miller, who started the game as a reserve, dominated in the Denver Nuggets' 108-104 overtime victory over the Sixers in front of 15,201 fans. He scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half. He finished with 10 assists, also a game high, and he came up with what was the biggest play of the night, stealing the ball from the Sixers' Jrue Holiday with 3.7 seconds to play in overtime to seal the victory. "It was a good effort," Miller said. "I do take it a little bit personal, but I had a good time here. That was probably my favorite group of guys being around. They are hard workers and they are unselfish. I enjoyed those guys over there. And really, it could have gone either way." For sure.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: In the past week, coach George Karl said the Nuggets were a team still finding their mental toughness. Well, after Wednesday's win — which followed Tuesday's win at Milwaukee — Karl said: "There's a mental toughness that a young team has to progress through and build. Tonight's game is going to be very helpful to that."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Tim Duncan ordered light Tuesday night. He had a Caesar salad. And that made you sick? “Bad eggs, bad dressing,” Duncan sighed. “Something bad.” So Duncan was up most of the night in his Orlando hotel room. “In and out,” he said, when it was mostly out, and he missed the team meeting Wednesday morning. Gregg Popovich didn’t want him to play against the Magic, and Duncan’s response was to the point. “He told me to go fish,” Popovich said. Duncan had worked too hard during the lockout to miss nights such as these. Popovich wasn’t going to keep Duncan from Dwight Howard, nor was a Caesar salad. And this is how the Spurs won their first road game of the season. They won it for other reasons, and the schedule was one. The Magic were not only on the third night of three games in a row, but Howard had also put in 39 minutes the night before. Duncan, thanks to LeBron James, played less than 27 in Miami.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Some players yell and gesticulate to earn a technical foul. It appears that Glen Davis goes a different route. He pulls down his own pants. In one of the more bizarre moments of an already strange season, was called for a personal foul Wednesday night on a San Antonio Spurs alley-oop attempt, then argued the call to a referee. As Davis protested, he pulled down his shorts to reveal black Spandex. A whistle for the technical followed a few seconds later. Tony Parker made the technical free throw to put San Antonio up 53-50. A Magic spokesman would not comment.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Wednesday night's meeting of familiar faces and offenses was more like one slow climb on the log ride but at least the Suns finally got the big splash of a victory with a 91-88 win at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. In the teams' past 11 meetings, the Suns had averaged 114.3 points and the Knicks had averaged 110.9. Both teams scored about 23 fewer points this time around but Steve Nash was still brilliant on a 26-point, 11-assist night and the early-season defensive improvement resurfaced to shut down New York stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Anthony and Stoudemire made 12 of 44 shots combined, and the Suns (5-9) remained 5-0 when leading at halftime, thanks to nine Shannon Brown points in the game's final 4:03 and six consecutive game-clinching free throws by Nash in the final 21 seconds. "I don't think they're putting it in a can and sending it to Springfield," Gentry said.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Steve Nash — D’Antoni’s protégé and friend and continued object of his basketball affections — went 6 for 6 at the line in the final 17 seconds, leading the Phoenix Suns to a 91-88 victory that silenced the Garden and sent the Knicks further into the abyss. The loss was the Knicks’ fourth in a row, dropping them to 6-8 and further eroding any sense of stability or progress. “It’s not fun,” said Amar’e Stoudemire who, like D’Antoni, enjoyed his best years in Phoenix, alongside Nash, the Suns’ All-Star point guard. “I’ve been winning my whole career. It’s definitely not fun. It’s just a matter of us, first of all, staying together, and with us playing with a sense of urgency.” Carmelo Anthony was again dreadful, missing 17 of 22 shots — including a 1-for-9 third quarter — while coping with a sprained left wrist. His 12 points were a season low. Stoudemire was only moderately better, going 7 for 22 to finish with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 turnovers. Anthony left without speaking to reporters. A team spokesman said that he was dealing with an unspecified family issue.

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: Nets general manager Billy King indicated he does not intend to offer injured center Brook Lopez a contract extension by the Jan. 25 deadline, meaning Lopez most likely will be allowed to become a restricted free agent this summer. “I’m sure I’ll have a conversation with (Lopez’s agent) Arn Tellem,” King said. “But I don’t know if we’ll do anything with him at this time. I think you’ve got to wait. Injury-wise, we know he’s going to come back from that, but ... they may throw a number at you that makes sense.” King, who talked before training camp started about wanting to work on an extension for Lopez, admitted the broken bone in Lopez’s foot has changed his thinking. “Yeah, obviously, the injury has had an impact on it,” he said. Lopez had surgery Dec. 23 to repair the broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot. The team said at that time he would be out 6 to 8 weeks.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Tim Roye was ready to have his hands, or his mouth, full with the call of Wednesday's Warriors-Nets game. New Jersey has featured four players with the last name Williams (Deron, Jordan, Shawne and Shelden) - the first time in league history that a team has had that many players with the same surname. Roye has seen just about everything in his role as the Warriors' radio announcer since 1995, but nothing like this. "You have to constantly remind yourself that there's always somebody out there listening who doesn't know these guys, so you have to find a way to identify each Williams," Roye said. "It's fun because it's a challenge."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: After the W they said a lot of things about guys stepping up to do more in his absence. Normally such cliches inspire eye-rolling from a cynical hack like myself but, I’ve got to say, that’s what’s happened so far. How else to explain a W in which the bench kept the Hawks in it until Joe Johnson got hot, and then the starters closed it out after the reserves faded and Jamal Crawford tried to do his thing where he shakes off all of his earlier misses with fourth-quarter shot-making? What else to think about a game in which Jannero Pargo and Tracy McGrady play big roles along with Joe, Jeff Teague and Josh Smith? ... The pieces seem to be fitting together.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Raymond Felton can't shoot. Gerald Wallace isn't consistent. LaMarcus Aldridge is fading down the stretch. Jamal Crawford has tied his mind into a pretzel. And Marcus Camby is injured. But the Trail Blazers' biggest problem? They are too nice. The players said so Wednesday night after the Blazers lost 92-89 in Atlanta, their fourth loss in five games. That character flaw was addressed, some players said, during a players-only meeting following the game. It was organized before coach Nate McMillan came into the dressing area of the locker room and aired his disappointment about the team's effort. When the coach left out a side door to address the media, where he told the cameras and microphones that "we've got to play harder," the players turned their chairs to face each other. LaMarcus Aldridge then informed a Blazers spokesperson to keep the media out. Players-only meetings are common throughout sports for struggling teams. The Blazers had one last season during their winless four-game trip in early December. The benefits are debatable. Usually it's to air grievances about a coach, or the attitude of a certain clique, or to just generally gripe. Exactly what happened in this Blazers meeting was not revealed during interviews with Aldridge, Crawford and Wesley Matthews. They all said it needed to stay in the locker room. But in private conversations with all three, a common theme was that they felt like the players were so close to each other that no one was holding each other accountable for mistakes on the court.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Before the Clippers' game Wednesday night at Staples Center, Chris Paul was on the court working out. Paul still did not play against the Dallas Mavericks, sitting out his third straight game because of a strained left hamstring. Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said there was no timetable for Paul to return, just that the All-Star point guard still was listed as day-to-day. "He's feeling better," Del Negro said. "He's doing all his therapy, headed in the right direction. But we just want to make sure that we get him some work [Thursday] and then see how he feels for Friday and then go from there. It's day-to-day for him right now, but there's a process involved that the doctors and trainers have. We'll abide by that and see how he feels every day."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: It was no surprise to Jason Kidd that he wasn't on the list of finalists for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. His playing days for the country are over. But his affiliation with USA Basketball probably isn't. After getting two gold medals as a player, Kidd said Wednesday that he's hoping to latch on in some other capacity with the national program. "I talked with Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] about maybe getting into the coaching end of it,'' Kidd said. "I want to stay connected with them in some form.'' No specifics have been discussed, but it's possible Kidd could get involved with the selection committee on who makes up the national teams at the junior and/or Olympic levels. Kidd won a gold medal with the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Mickael Pietrus once truly irritated Doc Rivers, which is why the Celtics coach likes his new swingman so much now. Pietrus can now irritate everyone else on the C’s behalf. Last night, from shooting 4-for-7 and taking every shot from beyond the 3-point line, to bringing intensity to every defensive assignment, Pietrus continued to win over his new coach. “He’s just such a great fit for us,” Rivers said after the 96-73 win over Toronto at the Garden. “He’s already done far more than I thought he would do this quickly. His energy is just infectious, and defensively he’s unbelievable. I remember not liking him when he was with the Magic, because of his defensive toughness, and you’ve kind of forgotten about it. “Now he’s reminding you why you didn’t like him. He’s terrific.” Pietrus believes the reason for his seamless transition is simple. “Because I enjoy life. I just try to help the Celtics get a championship,” he said.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Since joining the Hornets in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers before the start of the regular season, front-court player Chris Kaman has searched to find a comfortable role. A starter for all of his career previously, Kaman — now in his ninth season — started five consecutive games before returning to the bench again Monday afternoon against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers. Kaman came in in relief in the season’s first six games. ... Kaman said the adjustment period, in which he has shown flashes of the form that secured him a spot on the All-Star team in 2010, and at other times he has struggled mightily, an 0-for-10 shooting performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves the most glaring example, has been made more difficult by his inconsistencies. “Part of it is that,” he said. “And part of it is just some games you don’t play as well as you do other games. It’s basketball. Everybody has ups and downs, and basketball is a game of ups and downs. I personally have to go out and focus on taking care of the basketball and being a better leader for this team."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Reserve center Hamed Haddadi's long and drawn-out immigration process appears to be near its conclusion. Haddadi was not with the Grizzlies and instead traveled to Canada to pick up a work visa that has now been approved. Haddadi likely will be in uniform by the weekend or early next week. But don't expect to see the 7-footer appear in a game anytime soon. "He's got to get in shape and learn what we're doing," Hollins said. "He's weeks away from playing."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Pacers power forward Jeff Pendergraph can't catch a break. He missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Then he dealt with a sprain in that same knee most of training camp. Now a concussion has sidelined him. "I feel like everything happens for a reason," Pendergraph said in street clothes as his teammates dressed for Wednesday's game against Sacramento. "All this keeps building up and up. I got a little taste of being able to play already, and I think it's building to something that when I finally get to play, it's going to be something good." Pendergraph suffered a "mild concussion" when he took a charge in practice Monday.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: On Monday night the Lakers played Dirk Nowitzki, who displaced Kobe Bryant as king of the NBA last season. On Thursday night the Lakers will face LeBron James, favored to ascend finally this season. On Friday night it's Dwight Howard, the star stud whom everyone is waiting for the Lakers to partner with Bryant. Dirk, LeBron and Dwight ... Imposing, but to Bryant, it's no murderers' row. Before the Lakers embarked on this Dallas-Miami-Orlando stretch, Bryant said something revealing after losing to the Clippers: "Chris Paul is really the only other guy in the league, other than Derrick Rose, with the same competitive edge as myself." It's not just Bryant's personal opinion, either. In the recent NBA.com poll of general managers, guess which two guys got the most votes for the question of: "Which player is the best leader?" (Paul, 25 percent; Bryant 14.) That dream is dead for the Lakers, but we now know how fascinating they would've been if their deal for Paul had gone through.