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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: He was as good as he has been all season Monday. The Thunder point guard had his way with the lowly Pistons in a 99-79 blowout. He created good looks. He made pretty passes. He snagged big rebounds. He played stifling defense. He made great decisions. He played like a guy motivated to prove that he's worth every penny of his new five-year, $80 million deal. You can't always say that about players who get fat paydays. “Some guys kind of slow down and say, ‘I've arrived, I've got a new contract, I'm not going to work on my draft every day,'” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Russell's gonna keep working. “He's not going to stop.” Sure doesn't look like it. Of course, this was only his second game since Westbrook and the Thunder agreed to that long-term, high-dollar extension last Thursday. Still, all signs point to this being a positive.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: This is the final contract year of coach Scott Brooks, whose winning percentage has climbed steadily since becoming the Thunder's coach – from 22-47 (.319) as interim coach in 2008-09, to 50-32 (.610) his first full season, to 55-27 (.671) last season, to 14-3 (.823) so far this season. Asked Monday morning if he was concerned about extending his contract, the 46-year-old Brooks smiled and said: “I've got a contract. I have a job. There are 30 great jobs in the NBA, and I've got one of them. I'm with a great organization, a great place to be.” Brooks is represented by agent Warren LeGarie, who represents many NBA coaches and front-office executives. Brooks said he has no expectations to what a new deal might entail. “We'll see,” Brooks said with a shrug. “I'm not even focused on that. I've got a group of guys who love to be coach, and it's fun to see their development. That's all I'm focusing on.” Thunder general manager Sam Presti reiterated his policy of not publicly discussing contract negotiations involving team personnel, but added, “I think everybody knows how we feel about Scotty, and we hope he remains with the organization for many years to come.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: George Karl and the coaching staff have a plus-minus system they're fond of, which helps rate which combinations of players work well together on the court. Fifty combinations are charted. And? "Our top 50 combinations do not have a minus," Karl said. "There's not one of our top-50 combinations with a minus." Among thosecombinations are several lineups that involve reserve players. The Nuggets are one of the few teams in the NBA whose level of play does not drop when the second unit takes the court. In some cases, the team's level of play rises. After the lockout, the Nuggets were identified as one of the teams whose depth would see it through successfully in this shortened season. But no one saw this coming. One month into the season, the Nuggets arguably have the most productive bench in the NBA. Going into Monday night's games, the Nuggets' reserve unit ranked second in points (43.2), sixth in rebounds (17.2), first in assists (9.9), first in steals (4.8) and first in shooting percentage (.495).

  • Jason Quick The Oregonian: So the Trail Blazers were smiling again Monday night: Gerald Wallace no longer upset that the team held him out because of a sore finger, Jamal Crawford no longer worrying if his shot would ever come back, and Craig "Rhino" Smith no longer just a catchy nickname, but a bonafide go-to guy on the second unit. But it's hard to say the Blazers are back to that scintillating team we saw in the early season. Something is still missing. Something is still off. And that something is their legs. Nobody on the Blazers is going to say they are out of shape. That would be embarrassing. An indictment on their work ethic. But it has become apparent, with the team's drastic reduction in offensive pace, and defensive intensity, that this team is still working itself into shape. To be fair, so is much of the NBA. The lockout ended so quickly, and so unexpectedly, that some players just weren't as prepared physically as in a normal season. Throw in Jamal Crawford's extended free agency, and LaMarcus Aldridge's heart procedure, and only two exhibition games, and the Blazers were starting the season behind trying to catch their breath. "I think what we are finding out is we do need exhibition games," Crawford said.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: It is hard to overstate just how badly the Knicks need Baron Davis in the lineup. Entering Monday, they ranked 24th in the N.B.A. in offensive efficiency and 25th in assists a game despite the presence of the elite scorers Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Their woes begin in the backcourt, which may be the worst in the league. Iman Shumpert, a promising but impulsive rookie, took the point guard job after Toney Douglas played his way out of it, and Mike Bibby has tried to fill in the gaps. The Knicks tried to turn Anthony into a playmaking point forward, with mostly dismal results. Davis, who has averaged 7.3 assists in a 13-year career, is the only Knicks guard who can bring order to the offense. His pick-and-roll play will mean better shots for Stoudemire and Chandler. Anthony will be free to concentrate on scoring. Shumpert can become the high-energy sixth man the Knicks so desperately need, strengthening a weak bench. ... Davis also has the stature to hold Anthony and Stoudemire accountable when they stray from the offense, which has devolved into a muddle of isolation play. Anthony is the primary culprit, going 35 for 105 from the field over the last four games. He was booed in Saturday night’s loss to Denver, his former team. After that loss, in which he went 10 for 30, Anthony openly questioned his own play, wondering aloud if he needed to shoot less and pass more. By Monday, the feeling had passed. “I was just beating myself up,” Anthony said. “If I’d have made some of them shots, then I probably wouldn’t have said that.” He added: “I got to play basketball. I can’t worry about what somebody else is thinking about me.” So Davis becomes the latest in a long line of supposed Knicks saviors, his bad back and his checkered résumé notwithstanding.

  • Peter Vecsey of the New York Post: Once Mike D’Antoni’s mid-life crisis in New York concludes, the one and only question will be whether Steve Nash enters the Hall of Fame as a player or as a coach. It’s one thing to appoint Nash the offensive caretaker, but, does D’Antoni honestly expect the Knicks to win as a unit by making Carmelo Anthony predominately responsible for ball movement? I understand the improbability of coordinating any kind of cohesive drone strike or ground attack without a prototype playmaker, a current affliction shackling the Knicks. However, if D’Antoni is the superior coach he was cranked up to be in Phoenix, he would have adapted his approach to the talents of the team versus a single lost soul who apparently doesn’t grasp (or care about) the problems of playing off him. Let me rephrase that. Teammates hate playing with him because they never know what to do, never know where to go, only to get out of his way and be ready in case Melo runs out of time trying to scale grid lock.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: In their first 15 games this season, the Orlando Magic never folded, even in losses. There’s a first time for everything, apparently. The Magic unraveled Monday night, and the result wasin the worst single-game offensive performance in team history. They set franchise single-game lows for points scored and field-goal percentage as they absorbed a 87-56 beatdown from the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. “It didn’t start well, and it got worse as the game went on,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That’s the most dominating defensive performance, at least, that I’ve ever had against me. There’s no singling anybody out. It’s the first game, I think, in my career I’ve ever been through where literally not one guy played well. We didn’t play well. So there’s no finger-pointing, and it’s why you get dominated. Not one guy had a good night, and I’m foremost among them.” Just how awful was it? Orlando made only five baskets during the entire second half.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Stan Van Gundy has heard all of those reports of the Celtics [team stats]’ demise. He sneers at all of you. “You’ve got Hall of Famers — surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famers,” Van Gundy said before the Celtics made the Orlando Magic coach sound prescient last night. “When I hear people say that they’re struggling, I just sort of laugh to myself. They’re never easy to play against, they’re going to be one of the best defensive teams in the league year in and year out. When it’s early in the year, people see a record they don’t like and they panic. People put too much emphasis on the early part of the season, but you have to have something to talk about, too. If you’re going to have all of these sports talk shows then you have to talk about something. So now the Celtics are too old and these guys can’t play at all. I’m not buying it. But right now that’s the story. You’re going to have to revise it when they win nine out of 10 somewhere, they got younger or something as it went on. It’s all crap.” Witness the Celtics’ 87-56 win against the Magic, a game at the Garden played without the injured quintet of Rajon Rondo [stats], Ray Allen, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox and Mickael Pietrus.

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: Here’s what would best be called “sneaky scary:” the Bulls without the services of Luol Deng for an extended period. That might be enough for Thibodeau to check himself into a mental-health institution. Deng has a wrist injury that could keep him out for a while. He walked into the United Center on Monday night with his left wrist heavily bandaged. If there were thought bubbles over people’s heads in Chicago, many of them would read, “At least it’s not Rose.’’ Uh, not so fast. Rose is the NBA’s reigning most valuable player, which is a sufficient answer for how quickly the Bulls’ season would go down the drain if he ever were seriously hurt. But the scariness of losing Deng, the team’s best defender and an excellent all-around player, was clear if you happened to be standing near Thibodeau on Monday morning. I was, and it was interesting to watch him try to keep his blinders on when asked about Deng’s importance to the team. He had the dazed look of a man who had just found out that his wife had the remote and would be watching “Downton Abbey’’ instead of the Super Bowl.

  • Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer: This may be nit-picking, especially when the 76ers provided such a dominating performance, but was anybody else wondering why Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand were in the game so long in Monday’s 103-83 rout of the Washington Wizards? With the Sixers holding a 99-81 lead and 2:08 left in the game, Brand, Iguodala and Holiday finally got the rest of the night off. The Sixers led 33-14 after one quarter and the game ceased being competitive long before the quarter ended. At halftime, the Sixers led by 30. If ever a night for an extended breather, this was the one. Still, Holiday played 36 minutes, 45 seconds; Iguodala played 32:09 and Brand was in for 29:10. Not outrageous totals, except that this was one of the nights where they could have been even less. Plus, the longer the players are out there, the chance of injury is greater. Coaches throughout the NBA, including Doug Collins, talk about watching minutes in this condensed seasons. ... So it was a great performance, but this was a night where more minutes could have been saved, especially for future opponents who actually pose a legitimate threat.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: When the night began, “favorite son” Kevin McHale smiled through the boos. But he would laugh last. More than laugh, he seemed to have a good time Monday as Goran Dragic, who helped the Rockets dominate the game though the final 13 minutes, slipped in a flying reverse on a break to send them safely on their way to a 107-92 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves for their seventh consecutive win. “Whoa!” McHale shouted for all to hear after Dragic’s exclamation point. “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” The shot was nice enough. The win was the Rockets’ most impressive of their three on the road this season. And it gave the Rockets their longest winning streak since Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman led them on a 22-game run in the 2007-08 season. But more than that seemed to inspire McHale to offer an on-court Dick Vitale imitation. “It feels as good as the last one, brother,” McHale said of winning his first game in Minneapolis on the opposing bench after 15 seasons as the Timberwolves’ general manager or coach. “And hopefully, it will feel as good the next one.” The Rockets noticed his pleasure. “I didn’t hear it,” Dragic said, “but I saw after that. It was time out. He was pumped up. Very pumped up.” McHale had good reason, regardless of where the game was.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: Former Timberwolves guard Jonny Flynn does not have good memories about his final season in Minnesota. Flynn, traded to Houston on the night of the 2011 NBA draft, expressed disappointment about the criticism he received from Wolves fans last season and the ongoing speculation about Ricky Rubio joining the team. "I let that get to me too much," Flynn said before Monday night's game against the Timberwolves at Target Center. "Everybody was always talking about Ricky coming here. What I went through here taught me a lot about life." ... Flynn started 81 games as a rookie but struggled to recover from hip surgery in the summer of 2010 to repair a torn labrum. The surgery limited Flynn to 53 games and eight starts. His slow progress in adapting to former coach Kurt Rambis' triangle offense led to doubts about his future with the team and criticism from fans who questioned his playmaking skills. "I remember all of that," Flynn said. "It felt like we were playing 82 road games last year when your own crowd was on you. What did I do to deserve that? I never spoke bad about Minnesota or the organization."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: A career high in assists. Afterward, a heating pad on his sore back. Tony Parker had never looked so much like Steve Nash, had he? Parker laughed. “If I could finish my career that way, like Steve,” he said, “I’d sign up right now.” Parker said this the way the relieved do. Tim Duncan sits out a game to rest, and Manu Ginobili won’t return until February, and Parker keeps grinding. He’s closer to today’s Nash than he wants to admit, propping up an ordinary team, and Monday was another example in a recent string of them. Even on one of his best nights — even with Duncan tossing in the game-winner — the Spurs had to hold on to beat the worst team in the Western Conference. They are buying time now, waiting for both Ginobili to return and for their young guys to figure out a few things. Until that happens, everything will be a struggle, especially on the road. Until that happens, even teams such as the 3-14 Hornets will be a challenge. New Orleans hadn’t scored over 100 points all season until the Spurs came to town and, told this, Gregg Popovich opted for sarcasm. “We’re a defensive juggernaut,” he said, rolling his eyes.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins was asked to explain why his team has struggled on the road against the Golden State Warriors during its last several visits to Oracle Arena. Hollins chalked up his team’s past misfortunes to a lack of offensive versatility, crediting the Warriors ability to play small and exploit mismatches. “But I like the way we’re better equipped to match up against them,” Hollins said Monday night during a pre-game chat. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Grizzlies’ play came close to matching Hollins’ words, and it was worth the wait. After struggling to counter Golden State’s firepower for most of the game, Memphis erased a 20-point second-half deficit and earned a 91-90 victory to extend its winning streak to seven games.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Warriors coach Mark Jackson said his team should be embarrassed. Warriors small forward Dorell Wright said the 17,549 fans at Oracle Arena on Monday night should still be booing their team. Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said the team had reached a new low point. Those are the kinds of things that are said after a team does everything possible to blow a 20-point lead and remains in 14th place out of 15 Western Conference teams because of a 91-90 loss to Memphis. "We allowed them to take over this game, and we should be embarrassed," Jackson said. "You have to destroy the mentality that's been here. It's some deep-rooted stuff, but I believe in these guys."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks really didn’t solve their issues with holding second-half leads. They still had too many bad possessions, still gave up too many rebounds, and still had too many turnovers at key times. But they also had Joe Johnson, who took over after a rough opening half. In this league, sometimes when a lot of things aren’t going right a team just needs its best player to make plays. Joe did it tonight in spite of Stephen Jackson and Co.’s best efforts to slow him. "I just tried to alter my focus a little bit coming into tonight,” Joe said, “understanding that these five road games are very important and without Al [Horford] we all have to step up and do just a little more.”

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Mark Cuban has heard the whispers of people talking about the decline of his franchise player, Dirk Nowitzki. But the Dallas Mavericks owner brushes it aside like he does so many frivolous business deals that come his way. From Cuban's standpoint, the NBA lockout prevented Nowitzki from doing his normal off-season routine to prepare for the ensuing season. Cuban believes when that routine was broken last summer, it threw Nowitzki completely out of kilter. "Dirk has a process to get ready," Cuban said. "Dirk didn't feel right. It's not a situation where he can just walk on the court and get ready to play an NBA season." Lack of conditioning and a sore right knee has led to the Mavs sitting Nowitzki for four games. From there, coach Rick Carlisle said: "If he's not ready after four games we may extend this thing." Cuban said it's a natural that a player such as Nowitzki, 32, is experiencing what he's experiencing. "Twenty-one, 22-, 23-year-old guys, they live in shape," Cuban said.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Dallas coach Rick Carlisle acted almost like he was offended for Steve Nash when he was asked about Marcin Gortat as an offensive threat. Carlisle said nobody in NBA history has created more points off the pick-and-roll than Nash. "Gortat is an impressive player and getting better every year," Carlisle said. "The reality is if you do a good job guarding Nash on the screen-and-roll, you've got a better chance of guarding Gortat because a lot of his activity comes off the Nash screens. It's one of the hardest situations any team has had to deal with in the last 10 years."