First Cup: Wednesday

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: It was the stuff of legends, but then again Blake Griffin's dunking exploits already are legendary and they just continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Just ask Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins, who was on the receiving end of such a furious tomahawk dunk by Griffin during the Clippers-Thunder game Monday that it set the Twitter and YouTube world on a viral blaze. But before that dunk is analyzed, there is a burning question to ask: Are the Clippers that good? It bears an answer because the Clippers just thoroughly beat a Thunder team with the best record (16-4) in the NBA and because Oklahoma City has a superstar in Kevin Durant and an All-Star in former UCLA standout Russell Westbrook. But the Clippers sprinted to an 18-point halftime lead and Griffin's signature dunk in the third quarter was the highlight of a convincing 112-100 win over the Thunder. The Clippers also defeated a Nuggets team Sunday in Denver with the second-best record in the Western Conference. ... The Clippers, with a 12-6 record and winners of three consecutive games, are leading the Pacific Division over the Lakers and have the third-best record in the West. But the win over the Thunder showed the potential and firepower the Clippers have.

  • Steve Adamek of The New York Times: Chandler said of Anthony’s presence: “It’s a huge difference. He’s one of the best players in the world. He demands so much respect, you can’t play off of him. He’s such a great passer. When he gets in a rhythm, he’s practically unstoppable.” That rhythm became obvious from the start, when Anthony drained his first shot, a 3 from the right corner, en route to a 4-for-5 opening quarter. Fields and practically everyone else fell in behind him, and the Knicks’ five starters finished the night 29 for 49. “My thing was just to see what I could do,” said Anthony, who did not decide to play until after a pregame workout. “My legs felt great out there tonight. I felt refreshed. Taking these five days off really helped. I could feel I had my explosiveness back.” With him, the Knicks had their offense back for at least one night. Next up is far tougher competition. “We know the system works,” Stoudemire said. “We just have to keep playing the way we did tonight and we’ll be fine.”

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: In a season full of them, this ranks among the Pistons' (4-19) worst losses of the season. The 113 points was the most they've given up all season, along with the point differential (27 points). By the third quarter, when the Pistons trailed by 20, only one Knick starter wasn't in double figures. It was the reverse for the Pistons, as Greg Monroe was the only one with any type of scoring flow. But Monroe took the baton the Pistons hoped to leave behind from the previous night's performance in Milwaukee: Turnovers. "There is not a lot to say," said Pistons coach Lawrence Frank. "We don't even give ourselves a chance. Between turnovers, the defense and miscues it's a cumulative effect." Monroe had six turnovers, five in the first half. Turnovers usually led to Knick layups, dunks or wide-open three-pointers and they converted on all of the above. The Knicks (8-13), led by Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler on the interior, shot 26 for 30 in the paint. ... Slow starts seem to haunt this Pistons team, along with every other facet that comes with playing cohesive basketball. In the first and third quarters, they were outscored by 21.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof sat courtside before tipoff against the Warriors at Oracle Arena on Tuesday night and expressed support for his head basketball decision maker and head coach. Maloof said any reports the team is considering replacing basketball president Geoff Petrie are "totally false." "Geoff's always been a part of the family," Maloof said. "We're in a rough stretch, but so what? Things will turn around." After Tuesday's 93-90 loss to Golden State, the Kings are 6-15, last in the Pacific Division with the second-worst record in the Western Conference. Petrie suggested replacing head coach Paul Westphal with assistant coach Keith Smart on Jan. 5. Smart is 4-10 since taking over, but Maloof said he is impressed with Smart's coaching. "I know sometimes the record doesn't indicate (improvement), but I like the way he's developing our young players," Maloof said. "I like the way he's working with them and helping them learn the science of the game. We're really, really high on Keith Smart."

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: At shootaround before the game, Mark Jackson said he had a good conversation with his starting center. Some air needed to be cleared after Andris Biedrins expressed to the media his desire for a bigger role. "I would like to play a little bit more, but this is the situation," Biedrins said Monday. "I have to accept it. I have to do what they tell me to do. That's the way it is." That isn't the way it was against Sacramento. Jackson leaned heavily on Biedrins, who set a season-high with 25 minutes, finishing with five points, three rebounds and three blocks. He played the entire first quarter, which is rare considering he averages just 16.5 minutes per game. More rare: Biedrins got four shots in the first quarter, all out of set post ups. Biedrins -- who hadn't scored a point in his previous four games, and hadn't taken a shot in the last three -- converted a three-point play by making his first free throw of the season.

  • David Woods of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers are casual about spinoff attention they could receive during Super Bowl week. They would rather be super later. "We just want to be a great team," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before Tuesday night's game against the New Jersey Nets. "That's all our focus is on. If we get noticed, that's fine. But really, we're just trying to get ourselves a good playoff position and make some noise come playoff time." People are noticing. TV analyst Magic Johnson recently called the Pacers the No. 3 team in the Eastern Conference behind the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. "Everyone tells us how good we're playing, but we really haven't begun to scratch the surface of what we can be," Vogel said. The Pacers skipped their customary shootaround, but that was for rest and not because of Downtown traffic. After two road games, the Pacers return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse against Orlando on Saturday night, the eve of the game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots. "Most of our guys live Downtown anyway, so we don't expect it to be much of a distraction," Vogel said. "We're just looking forward to the crowd, actually."

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: Avery Johnson declined to offer an update on the status of the injured MarShon Brooks, other than to say the rookie guard is “out for the next couple of games, for sure.” The Nets coach promised to give an update on Brooks’ status “probably at some point this weekend.” Point guard Deron Williams, though, hinted that Brooks, who is out with a broken pinkie toe on his right foot, might be on the same timetable as Brook Lopez, who is still out with a broken bone in his right foot. ... The Nets have been secretive about when Lopez is expected back. The fourth-year center has not played all season after breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot in the Nets’ second preseason game, against the Knicks, Dec. 21. He underwent surgery Dec. 23 to have a screw inserted into the foot, and the Nets at that time said he would be out six to eight weeks. Friday will be six weeks since the surgery. Lopez has been traveling with the team since last week, and has been participating in the video sessions and taking set shots. He said he did some running for the first time on Monday.

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: It's Metta World Peace's turn. It's anyone's guess whether he can do the job for the Lakers. He became their third small forward to start a game, the revolving door not spitting out much production at the position through 22 games. Devin Ebanks started the first four games, then Matt Barnes got the next 16, followed by World Peace the last two games. The trio averaged a combined 14.9 points before Tuesday's game against Charlotte, or only 51% of LeBron James' scoring average for Miami (29.2 points). "I don't know, man," Ebanks said. "It's funny with this team, how constantly it changes, how many rotations there have been recently. You've just got to stay ready with this team, keep your head straight, keep your confidence up." Ebanks has the lowest average of the three (2.5 points) but wants to be a starter. Barnes also wants to start, showing his displeasure by cursing and appearing agitated when taken out of last week's game in Milwaukee, his last as a starter. But World Peace doesn't seem to care whether he starts or sits.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Rudy Gay picked up two steals and tied Shane Battier as the franchise’s all-time steals leader. Battier needed 419 games to reach his record total (523), while Tuesday was Gay’s 393rd in a Griz uniform. Denver saw its five-game road winning streak end with their leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, rendered ineffective. Gallinari missed his first eight shots and finished with eight points but made just one of 10 shots. Meanwhile, Memphis avoided its first five-game losing streak since Nov. 10-19, 2010. Despite the win, the Griz saw a disturbing trend continue. They had just 37 points in the first half, and have now scored fewer than 40 points in the first half of the past three games. Grizzlies swingman Sam Young did not dress after complaining of back spasms. He is listed as day-to-day. Forward Zach Randolph had his MRI re-scheduled for today because he’s been under the weather the past few days. Doctors want to assess how much healing as taken place with the torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: The Nuggets, George Karl heatedly said, did not lose Tuesday because of missed shots at the buzzer — even though they missed two of them. Andre Miller missed a jumper, sending the game to overtime, and Rudy Fernandez missed a 3, sending the Grizzlies fans home happy. But after the Nuggets' 100-97 loss at Memphis, the Denver coach was steadfast that the lack of a closer — which Denver hasn't had since Carmelo Anthony forced a trade to New York — was not the main reason the Nuggets lost Tuesday. It was, Karl surmised, "fourth or fifth." "If you want to go to that, then that's because you want to write that because that's what everybody wants to write," Karl said. "If you watch this game — if we made free throws, we rebound the ball and don't turn the ball over, we win this game. So now you're going to the fourth or fifth reason why we lost the game? "We will find a better consistency on making shots when we have to. It was the turnovers, the frustration with their pressure." Indeed, Memphis mauled the Nuggets, who turned the ball over an eye-popping 25 times, two off Denver's season-worst 27 (Jan. 4 against the Kings). While Karl described the road team as one that "ran out of gas," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins described the home team as "diving and leaving their hearts and souls out there."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Doc Rivers isn’t making anything of Paul Pierce comments in the wake of Sunday’s loss to the Cavaliers at the Garden. In fact, he hasn’t even addressed the matter with Pierce. The Celtics [team stats] had an 11-point lead with 4:25 to go in that one, and the margin was down to eight when Pierce made his first appearance of the fourth quarter with 3:42 to go. When asked postgame if things would have been different if he’d been in earlier, Pierce said, “I wish I was a fortune-teller. I don’t think this would have been the outcome, though.” He said, “No comment,” when asked if he was disappointed by Rivers’ decision and added, “Maybe I should play a little more.” Yesterday, Pierce explained the situation by saying, “I was just frustrated.” Rivers let it go, as well. He said of his thinking at the time, “We’re up 11 or 12 and he had already played 33 or 34 minutes (actually 31). If Paul was 25, he probably would have been in. But he knows what I’m going to do, and he likes it most of the time. “When you lose, no one likes it. So I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t think it’s something I need to have a conversation about.” Rivers added before last night’s 93-90 win over the Cavs, “We haven’t said one word about it. . . . It’s so silly. I mean, he was frustrated after the game. He said a word. It probably won’t be the last time, and nobody makes a big deal of it.”

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Celtics coach Doc Rivers came into Tuesday’s game thinking Anderson Varejao might be an All-Star. After watching him record the Cavs’ first 20-20 game in eight years, he’s convinced. “Varejao’s energy is just amazing,” Rivers said after the Celtics’ 93-90 win over the Cavs before 14,798 at Quicken Loans Arena. Varejao had 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds. “It’s amazing to watch him run around relentlessly and pursue (loose) balls,” Rivers said. “Varejao’s always an All-Star as far as I’m concerned. “He had 20 points, and they didn’t run one offensive set for him.” People scoffed at the thought of Varejao making the All-Star team, but he’s playing like he belongs. The 6-foot-11, 260-pounder made 10 of 17 from the field. It was the Cavs’ first 20-20 game since ex-forward Carlos Boozer (23 points, 20 rebounds) accomplished the feat at Dallas on March 30, 2004.

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: I have a confession: After spending five years of covering NHL games from Vancouver to Stockholm, I had forgotten how good Varejao is and how valuable he is to the Cavaliers. That value might keep the franchise’s brass sleepless between now and the March 15 trade deadline. Would you move a 29-year-old forward who has given himself so completely to a team? Before you answer know his stock will never be higher than this career season in which he’s averaging 10 points and 11 rebounds a game. Remember, this part basketball player, part stuntman will be 31 or 32 before this team can do damage in the postseason. Right now, he’s easily worth a first-rounder and perhaps a young player to some contender. He has three seasons left on a deal that pays him $27 million. There’s been a lot of talk lately about what sports figures merit a statue in this city. I know this: Varejao would run through a concrete likeness of Jim Thome if he thought it might help the Cavaliers win a playoff game. Here’s how good Varejao has been in the last two games. The Celtics are practically lobbying the league to get an opponent into an All-Star Game. Varejao is on the ballot, but nowhere near the leaders in fan voting. Paul Pierce called him one of the NBA’s most underrated players. Coach Doc Rivers sounded like his campaign manager.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Tracy McGrady continues to hear boos when he comes back to Toronto. Really, hasn’t it been long enough? Toronto sports fans’ fascination with booing former players returning in opposing jerseys is well documented. And some of it is well deserved. But there comes a point where the vast majority of the crowd have no idea why they’re evening booing a guy. Coming out of halftime, one of McGrady’s contemporaries on press row was giving him the gears about being the old man. McGrady looked over and smiled before saying, “Man, every time I come back here I feel young again.” He then went out and proved it finishing the night with 15 points. McGrady was a young man in a bad situation in his Toronto days. Let it go.

  • Staff of the Akron Beacon-Journal: LeBron James is moving his Nike basketball camp from the University of Akron to Las Vegas this summer so he can participate at the camp while training for the Olympic basketball team. Nike announced the camp’s move Tuesday as part of its nonscholastic basketball events scheduled for this year. The LeBron James Skills Academy, which annually features some of the nation’s top high school talent, will run July 6-9. Past participants include John Wall, Anthony Davis and Cavs rookie Tristan Thompson. The U.S. Olympic basketball team will hold a weeklong training camp beginning July 5 in Las Vegas in preparation for the 2012 London Games.