Robbie Levin of The Miami Herald: In last year’s Eastern Conference finals, coach Erik Spoelstra put LeBron James on Derrick Rose when no one else could stop the league’s MVP. James effectively shut down Rose, and without his lockdown defense, that series might have turned out differently. With Rose surging late in Sunday’s game, Spoelstra once again had James guard Rose. And it worked. Rose went off for six points and two assists in a 2 1/2-minute stretch early in the fourth quarter. With James on Rose for the final six minutes of the game, Rose managed only three points and one assist. “[Rose] is an unbelievable talent,” James said. “He’s a great player, and a great person. I always take the challenge, and it’s good to be out there playing against him knowing he’s one of the best in the league.’’
Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: OK, I was wrong. This is a rivalry. Already. Right now. Not like the contrived one against the Knicks.
Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune: If Magic center Dwight Howard has any reservations about playing for the Bulls, it has nothing to do with sharing the spotlight with Derrick Rose. In fact, the five-time All-Star is open to uniting with the reigning MVP. Approached Friday night in New Orleans after a 26-point loss to the Hornets, Howard shared his thoughts on a long-shot trade to the Bulls. "If I could play with Derrick right now and God wanted that to happen, it will happen," Howard told the Tribune. "It has nothing to do with me not wanting to play with Derrick Rose. I love him. That's my brother.'' Howard disputed the notion that marketing issues factored into his leaving the Bulls off his initial trade wish list. Both Howard and Rose have contracts with Adidas, and some believe the company doesn't want two signature players on the same team. "It has nothing to do with Adidas," Howard said. "In fact, Adidas would love that because me and Derrick have the same guy."
Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: The Heat beat the Bulls last May, then gagged against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. James was derided for sort of vanishing in the fourth quarters of the games against the Mavs. We expect a lot This being the first time the Bulls and Heat played this season, a lot was laid on the shoulders of James and Rose. There were spectacular plays by each.On one of his ferocious dunks — I believe it was the second one, with five minutes left in the first quarter — James jammed a one-hander over tiny Bulls guard John Lucas III so violently that Lucas could have been killed. James’ head was up by the American flag decal on the glass backboard, something you don’t see too often. James also made clutch baskets at the end of shot clocks, once draining a fall-away three-pointer. A man this big and this gifted probably never can satisfy the public. But as he himself says, that’s the world we live in. Rose was so upset about his missed free throws and lack of firepower at the end of the game that he seemed truly depressed. But there was James — the man who guarded Rose at the end, who won a jump ball after an inadvertent whistle with 16.8 seconds left, a tip that might have saved the game — getting grief, too. It comes with the turf. As ‘‘King James’’ said before he left, commenting on Rose’s misses: ‘‘He was 29-for-29 [on free throws] for the season in the fourth quarter. He made all the other ones ... so you expect him to make one.’’ That’s how it goes. We expect a lot.
Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: Beneath the Celtics' 17 championship banners and in front of his father, Drederick, who sat at courtside, Irving drove the lane, spun between two defenders and grabbed a piece of Cavaliers lore. His spectacular left-handed layup with 2.6 seconds remaining capped an improbable comeback and delivered an 88-87 win before a stunned sellout crowd of 18,624 fans. As the ball went through the cylinder and the Celtics called timeout, Irving pointed to his dad, a former player who had attended Boston University. It was a remarkable family moment and a pretty nice one for all Cavaliers fans. They witnessed their shorthanded team, playing without two injured guards, score the game's final 12 points in one of the nation's basketball meccas. The celebration began in earnest seconds later as the jumper by Paul Pierce, who had one of Varejao's long arms in his face, missed the mark. "He had another opportunity, and I thought he really focused in," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said of Irving's second chance at a game-winner. "I really thought at the end of the game, when he had the ball in his hands, I told him we're going to run a high pick-and-roll and see what you can get. We're going to spread the floor for you. He had the look in his eye like he wanted it, like he wanted to kind of redeem himself." Someone asked Scott about drawing up the last shot for a teenager. "At that particular time, I wasn't thinking about his age," the coach said, smiling. "I was just thinking about how pretty damn good he is with the ball in his hands."
Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Many things ruined Paul Pierce evening last night. His seven turnovers, which pushed his fumble total up to 13 over the last two games, had to top the list. He was on the floor for the last 3:42 of a 12-0 Cleveland run that wiped out an 11-point Celtics lead and replaced it with an 88-87 Cavaliers win. It wasn’t a healthy way for the Celtics captain and his teammates to end a four-game win streak, or to drop back under .500. But in a rare fit of pique, Pierce chose to question coach Doc Rivers’ decision that left him on the bench until that last 3:42. Asked if the result would have been different if he’d checked back in sooner, Pierce said, “I wish I was a fortune teller. I don’t think this would have been the outcome, though.” Asked if he was disappointed by Rivers’ decision, he said, “No comment,” but also said, “Maybe I should play a little more.” Pierce later said, “It’s not his job to explain that. The coaches make their decisions. But at the time we had a pretty good lead, so I could understand it.” Rivers, on the other hand, felt he had good reason to be unhappy with Pierce’s play last night. And the coach discounted the theory that Pierce’s turnovers are a byproduct of his added playmaking duties while Rajon Rondo recovers from a sprained right wrist. “It’s a byproduct of just doing too much,” Rivers said.
Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: I had an excellent back-and-forth conversation going on with fans on Twitter on Sunday afternoon. I think most of the fans were from over at PacersDigest.com (a little plug for you guys). The hot topic was the Pacers’ second unit. George Hill. Tyler Hansbrough. Lance Stephenson. Lou Amundson. Those were the players most talked about. Hill and Hansbrough for their shooting problems. Stephenson and his continued maturation on the court. Amundson? I don’t remember because I don’t think anybody had anything positive to say about Lou. But after Sunday’s play against Orlando, the bench deserves credit. Actually they deserve a lot of credit because they were the unit that broke the game open in the second quarter.
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: The Boston Debacle, The Boston Collapse and The Big Easy Beatdown all marked a wretched week for the Magic. If it weren't for a win at Indiana, Rick Scott would have declared a state of emergency in Orlando. They couldn't depend on the Pacers this time, even at home. Where this malaise stops, nobody knows. Bottom line: The Magic aren't this bad. They're like a golfer with troubling swing thoughts and the yips. Stan Van Gundy still needs to change the starting lineup, starting tonight in Philly ... He looks like a man staring at a Dali painting, trying to figure out what's going on. This isn't an easy thing to do with Nelson out and few candidates in reserve. But as Van Gundy admitted, "We need to do something. I don't know what that is." Why, Stan even suggested that "sportswriters" could see the problems.
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic are scrambling to find hotel accommodations prior to their game this upcoming Saturday against the Pacers in Indianapolis. There's just one problem: There are no hotel rooms available in Indianapolis because Super Bowl XLVI will be played there the following day. "You guys can comment on that and save me my money," Van Gundy told reporters, referring to a potential fine from the league if he said something controversial. "But when you come out with the schedule in December and have a game in the Super Bowl city, lodging might be a problem." The Magic had asked the NBA to be allowed to fly from Florida to Indianapolis on the day of the basketball game. According to league spokesman Tim Frank, NBA officials told the team they would consider the request and also would try to help the team find hotel rooms. But the league could not acquire the hotel rooms and ultimately determined that the risk of bad weather or mechanical issues was too great to allow the Magic to fly in from Florida on gameday, Frank said. So the Magic will fly to Cincinnati after its game on Friday night in Orlando. Sid Powell, the team's assistant director of basketball operations, now will attempt to book hotel rooms in Cincy.
Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: This is a week that could test the Clippers' resolve, demonstrating whether they are mentally and physically capable of playing five games in seven days and finding success. On the first night of this harrowing march, on a day when Chauncey Billups returned home to face a Denver team that has traded him twice, the Clippers stood tall in pulling out a 109-105 victory Sunday night at the Pepsi Center. They did so because Billups was outstanding in scoring a season-high 32 points, because Chris Paul had 13 of his 25 points and four of his seven assists in the fourth quarter, and because DeAndre Jordan made a clutch late-game free throw to go along with his 13 rebounds, five blocked shots and eight points. "It's going to be a tough week for us," said Billups, who grew up here. "We've got Oklahoma tomorrow [at Staples Center] and we go to Utah. It's always tough there. They always get us there and we get this tough [Denver] team again on Thursday. "So we wanted to start it off the right way. I think we did that. But unfortunately we can't celebrate long. We've got a tough team coming in tomorrow."
Woody Paige of The Denver Post: The Nuggets needed a miracle in the final seconds Sunday night. But Chauncey Billups was playing for the other team. And Tim Tebow was sitting in the front row. Billups, Mr. Big Shot, wouldn't help the Nuggets in his comeback, and Mr. Big Play, Tebow, couldn't help the Nuggets come back. In his return home, Chauncey flopped. Literally. He should have majored in theater at George Washington High School. With time running down, the Nuggets, trailing the Clippers by two, got what seemed like the ideal situation — the 6-foot-11 Nene guarded by Billups, 8 inches shorter. The two old friends and new foes were isolated about 15 feet from the basket. "We were doing a little bit of switching. I figured at some point I would probably be on (Nene), and they wanted to exploit the mismatch," Billups said. There's a reason George Karl said before the game that Chauncey is "one of the greatest winners of all time. ... He has great skills, but he also has a great head." Chauncey put a 15-year veteran move on Nene. He grabbed him. Nene shoved back, and "I went down," Chauncey said matter-of-factly as if he were reciting Shakespeare.
Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: So this is what it feels like to win on the road. And score 100 points. It was two-for-one night at Target Center, the Lakers incrementally improving their abysmal road record and breaking the century mark for the first time in 13 games with a 106-101 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Of course it didn't come easy for the Lakers, which is no longer a surprise this season. There was an air of desperation on their bench, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant playing the entire second half, tacking on more minutes in an already unforgiving season. "We wanted to win it and I just felt that's what needed to happen," said Coach Mike Brown, acknowledging he didn't want to do it but adding, "We'll rest later." An epic fall almost added to the Lakers' woes, an 18-point lead in the third quarter turning into a two-point deficit in the fourth. But the Lakers' go-to guys took turns scoring down the stretch to push past Minnesota. Bryant scored 35 points, Gasol had 28 and Andrew Bynum had 21 points, the first time all three scored more than 20 in the same game this season.
Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant noted Sunday night after the Lakers’ victory in Minnesota that there is a little something more to holding franchise records with the Lakers than some other NBA teams. Bryant, 33, just added to his portfolio by passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most career field goals with the Lakers. The night before, he had passed Jerry West for most career free throws with the Lakers, though the Lakers lost that one in Milwaukee. Bryant had already set Lakers franchise records for points, games, minutes, field-goal attempts, 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted. He ranks second in steals and free-throw attempts, third in assists. Bryant scored 35 points Sunday night to reach 28,503 points for his career — 91 behind Shaquille O’Neal for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune: The Wolves feature such a void at shooting guard that Rick Adelman spends every game looking for one guy who can make a couple of shots. Sunday night, he again started Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour, two pure point guards, together. Either could have been the 100-pound gentleman to whom Mr. Peace was referring. Wes Johnson, the shooting guard who can't shoot, started at small forward and made just two of his six shots, and none from outside. Wayne Ellington, a shooting guard who can actually, sometimes, shoot, went 0-for-4 in 10 minutes. He's a smart but limited player who belongs on the team but not in the starting lineup. With Johnson and Ellington making zero jump shots, Adelman turned to Martell Webster, recently recovered from back surgery. Webster made four of 15 shots. That was the difference in the game: Bryant, the Lakers shooting guard, made 14 of his 29 shots, including five three-pointers. Wolves shooting guards made six of 25 shots and two three-pointers. ... Adelman can't fake it at shooting guard. Either a guy makes his shots, or he doesn't. Either he scores easy baskets and forces defenses to spread themselves thin, or he's a liability.
Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: That large tab in Miami for the Mavs' party after the team won the NBA title last June cost owner Mark Cuban $130,000. Cuban purchased a huge bottle of Ace Of Spades champagne at Club Liv that cost $100,000, and left a $30,000 tip. The champagne is part of rapper Jay-Z's line of champagne. After Cuban ordered the champagne, there was a problem with his Black American Express card. In short, it was declined. "I had to get on the phone with them," Cuban said. "For whatever reason, I switched cards. I switch cards all the time because I got hit by identity fraud one time." ... There are some Mavs part-time workers who are not pleased they aren't receiving an NBA championship ring. "I bet there's a lot of people who didn't get them who thought they should get them," Mark Cuban said. "But we've limited it to full-time workers. I had to draw the line somewhere." Cuban said he purchased between $1.4 million-$1.5 million worth of rings only for the players, coaches, the support staff and the full-time front office personnel.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: If nothing else, James Anderson vowed to be ready. No matter that the Spurs had declined to pick up his contract option for next season, no matter that he might be shopping for a new NBA team this summer. “I still have confidence I can contribute to this team,” Anderson said. Sunday at the American Airlines Center, Anderson nearly helped the Spurs pull off the improbable. Anderson logged 20 minutes, 27 seconds in the second half of the Spurs’ 101-100 overtime loss to Dallas, scoring eight points with three assists and five rebounds. The 22-year-old guard was part of a reserve unit that brought the Spurs back from 18 points down and had them twice in position to win, first in the final 38 seconds of regulation, then in the final two minutes of overtime. For Anderson, the big night came four days after the Spurs’ front office informed the former first-round pick he would be a free agent this offseason. ... Anderson said it’s a tricky situation, hoping to help the Spurs win games while essentially auditioning for a job elsewhere. “I just tried to come off the bench and bring some energy to the team,” Anderson said. “I wanted to contribute on both ends.”
Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks (15-6) won their second straight and are now 3-1 with a game remaining on their five-game road trip. They are 11-3 in the past 14 games. The victory also kept the Hawks a half-game behind the Heat in the Southeast Division. Williams finished with 14 points. Drew said Williams has been more aggressive with his shot this season after recovering from off-season back surgery. Drew said he wants Williams to “get his feet set, lick his chops and let it go” when he has an open shot. “LD has been telling me to do that since I’ve been playing for him,” said Williams, who has hit 10 of 15 3-pointers on the Hawks’ road trip. “It’s fun to play for a coach who allows you to do that, wants you to do that. There is no second-guessing about doing it. This year, I knew he expected that from me so I worked hard all summer and it’s really showing.”
John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Monty Williams said the Hornets dropped the ball by not re-signing free agent shooting guard Willie Green, who played against New Orleans for the first time Sunday night since signing a one-year deal with the Hawks last month. Green came off the bench and scored 16 points in the Hawks’ 94-72 rout of the Hornets in front of 14, 962 at the New Orleans Arena. “He was somebody I was in contact with, and we were waiting for the right time,” Williams said. “If I could do it over again, I’d probably would have pressed the issue more. “Once I realized he was going to Atlanta, we had everything set up to sign him the next day. It was crushing because he can play.” Before accepting the Hawks’ offer, Green said he was under the impression the Hornets were going in a different direction.
Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star: DeRozan found his footing in the third quarter. He tried to end that frame with a quick baseline move to the rim. Net Johan Petro knocked him to the ground with a hard foul. DeRozan popped up, smiled straight at Petro and said grandly, “Get the f--- outta here.” Dwane Casey does not swear. Ever. But that’s exactly the DeMar DeRozan he’d like to see for all four quarters some night soon. This ends the most gruelling travel portion of the year. This nine-day road swing ends in the black — 3-2. The last time the team ‘won’ a five-game trip was a decade ago. The Raptors will now camp out at the Air Canada Centre for most of the month of February. Barbosa expects to be back for Tuesday’s game with Atlanta. Bargnani could be gone for weeks longer. Further bolts of strategic insight by Casey will be required, and nightly. Fortunately for the Raptors, the key member of their squad right now is the guy standing on the sidelines. And he doesn’t miss games because of injury.
Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: Maybe it’s human nature, and the Nets simply couldn’t help it. After two straight wins, maybe the Nets were just feeling so good about themselves they couldn’t imagine losing to a Toronto Raptors team that was without its best player in Andrea Bargnani and without another key player in guard Leandro Barbosa. How else to explain the Nets’ stunning 94-73 loss in Prudential Center last night to a Raptors team that was playing its fifth road game in eight nights, and its eighth road game in the last nine games? “I don’t think we put as much emphasis on this game as we should have, after the two wins we just had (on the road in Philadelphia and Cleveland) and coming back home, this was a winnable ballgame — a game we should have been a little more ready for,” Deron Williams said. Williams did his part — scoring 24 points and handing out six assists.
John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Oklahoma City has basked in breathtaking weather since departing last Thursday for games in Oakland and Los Angeles. Temperatures in San Francisco were near 70, and the team didn't leave until Saturday at noon following Friday night's 120-109 victory over Golden State. The Thunder stays in Santa Monica whenever it plays the Clippers or Lakers. Temperatures reached 80 on Saturday and Sunday, and beach area traffic has been significant. OKC players were given Saturday off and had only a 45-minute session on Sunday morning at nearby Santa Monica High School. That was followed by roughly 20 minutes of stretching exercises, during which players laughed throughout. “Look at those guys,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said with a smile, looking at his team across the court and stopping mid-sentence during an interview. “Thunder U at its finest today.”
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Because of the schedule compressed by the lockout, the Rockets have changed everything from the food players eat to the clothes they wear on flights. They have hired massage therapists and a doctor specializing in muscle-release techniques. They have purchased equipment, including, in the training room, a $54,000 Cryosauna that gives the effect of an intense ice bath. Coach Kevin McHale has barred players from the gym or cut practices short, especially for players logging long minutes. Weight training programs have been changed and stretching routines adjusted. Rockets director of strength and conditioning Darryl Eto and rehabilitation coordinator and strength and conditioning assistant coach Dave Macha would not comment about any of the changes in the team’s routine or training, citing techniques they consider proprietary. Jones not only knows when the Rockets are likely to practice through the rest of the season, he said he could likely predict when there will be tough ones and when McHale will take it easy. “Kevin and I talk all the time,” Jones said
Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns point guard Steve Nash healed from one thigh bruise and resumed a stretch of greatness two weeks ago. Nash will have to heal from another one to have a moment of greatness Monday. On the final play of Saturday night's 86-84 victory against Memphis, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol put a knee into Nash's left thigh while setting a screen on him. It might be enough to delay Nash from getting the seven assists he needs to break Kevin Johnson's career franchise assists record. Nash collapsed to the floor and limped off Saturday night. On Sunday, a day off for the Suns, Nash remained questionable for Monday's game against Dallas, an apropos opponent for a landmark Nash moment. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did not match the Suns' free-agency offer to Nash in 2004 for fear Nash's body would not hold up. The two-time Most Valuable Player is playing the fewest minutes per game (31.5) in 12 seasons but still is averaging 14.3 points and a league-best 9.9 assists while shooting better than any guard in the league (53 percent).
Ron Higgins of The Commercial-Appeal: Lionel Hollins? You mean, Grizzlies' coach Lionel Hollins, who could have rested on last season's laurels of advancing the Griz to the seventh game of the NBA's Western Conference semifinals? "You're always learning how to be a better coach, how to organize better, how to delegate responsibilities, how to motivate," said Hollins, whose 10-9 Griz hope to snap a three-game losing streak tonight at 7 in FedExForum against the Spurs. "You want to learn from the most successful guys. "I know a lot of basketball coaches, and they may show you a few drills. But they aren't telling you what they talk about in the locker room or at practice or when they talk to their players." So Hollins, who characterizes himself as someone who's "into other sports as much as I'm into basketball," chose to visit Saban, the only head coach in major college football history to win national championships at two different schools (LSU and Alabama). He phoned the Crimson Tide's fifth-year coach and asked if he could visit him to observe. Saban was more than happy to invite Hollins to Tuscaloosa the week of 'Bama's Sept. 3 season opener against Kent State. On the surface, a pro basketball coach making such a request to a college football coach seemed unusual. But when Saban was at Michigan State from 1995-99, he and basketball coach Tom Izzo often exchanged philosophies and ideas. Earlier when Saban was on Ohio State's staff in 1980-81, he recalled then-Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight visiting retired legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes.