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First Cup: Friday

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: In the 22nd game of a compressed and fitful season, Amar’e Stoudemire at last re-emerged to lead the Knicks through the chaos, to within 12 seconds and one long jumper of a potentially huge victory. That last long jumper was one feat too many, and a few inches short, and it left the Knicks with just another tough defeat Thursday night — a 105-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden. As a snapshot, the game was a picture of encouragement, with Stoudemire finding his jumper, the Knicks’ offense thriving against the Bulls’ defense and the game coming down to the final seconds. But in the broader context, it was simply one more loss in a long series of them, imperiling their season. The Knicks (8-14) have lost 10 of their last 12 games as they head to Boston for a second straight nationally televised game Friday night. Improvement has been evident over the last week, in close losses to Miami and Chicago and a victory over Detroit, and with Carmelo Anthony starting to regain his health. “I’ll take it,” Anthony said. “We played hard. I’ll take it, take this one on the chin.”

  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: But the desperation talk about the Bulls needing to break everything up and deal for disgruntled and possibly available Magic center Dwight Howard — shedding Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, C.J. Watson and/or Omer Asik or Taj Gibson in the process — is scary chatter, no matter how you frame it. This current Bulls team has weaknesses, for sure. And no doubt the Bulls will have to get past the three-star Miami Heat to reach the NBA Finals. And a championship, you recall, is all reigning MVP Derrick Rose says he wants. But the Bulls narrowly lost to the Heat in the conference finals last season, and narrowly lost to them last Sunday, down in Miami, without Deng and Watson, in a game that Rose might have blown by missing two late free throws. So is that enough to scare us into nuclear mode? We’ll get to see Rose and the muscular Howard, clearly the best center in the league, together when they start for the East in the All-Star Game. But no matter how many alley-oops they connect on or how many monster picks Howard sets for the driving Rose, that game is just a fun-fest. Trading the core of the Bulls for Howard is not. People say the best guard and the best center in the league would make the Bulls unbeatable. But would it? ... This lock-out shortened season is more like a baseball season, with games constantly, and that has unnerved us. Maybe teams just want to make it to the playoffs rested and recovered, record be damned. So add Dwight Howard? I wouldn’t mess with that.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Duncan proved he can still dominate a game while weary. In 22 minutes and 28 seconds, he produced an extraordinarily efficient 19 points and nine rebounds, helping the Spurs secure a 93-81 victory. When Duncan wasn’t torturing the shorthanded Hornets in the post, backup big man Tiago Splitter was doing the same, making 7 of 9 shots and scoring 16. The Spurs, now 15-9, ran their home-court record to 12-1. Before the game there was speculation aplenty that Duncan might not suit up for the Spurs’ fourth in five nights. Coach Gregg Popovich had vowed he wouldn’t let Duncan play all four games in such a compressed stretch. Even when Popovich an? nounced Duncan would be in his starting lineup there was concern about how much the 13-time All-Star would have left in his legs. Duncan wasted no time proving he felt good. He scored seven points in a first quarter when his teammates made only 6 of 16 shots and had 11 by halftime. Teammate Matt Bonner knew Duncan was on his way to a standout game. “He was wicked spry out there,” Bonner said, flattening his vowels as only a New Englander can.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: The Spurs blew open what had been a back-and-forth game for three quarters, winning 93-81 over New Orleans, sending the Hornets to their 19th defeat in the past 21 games. Thursday’s loss was a snapshot of what has transpired this season for the youthful, rebuilding Hornets: streaks of solid play and strong defense followed by an inability to maintain either down the stretch. Just 24 hours earlier, in the wake of a crushing blowout at home to the Phoenix Suns, Smith had correctly assessed the Hornets’ problems. “We’re a young team,” Smith said. “We have a lot of new guys. I hate making that excuse. But we’ve been together for a month and a half, two months. It’s tough for any team to win. But that’s no excuse for us. We have to continue to go out there and play hard and really be smart: know the things that kill us in games, know that third quarters and fourth quarters are what we’ve been giving teams. We have to stop it. We have to correct it. And we have to come out and play better.”

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins started this season as a big fan of having full-contact practices during morning shootarounds before games. It was a way to work through on-court issues due to a lack of off days with the 66-game schedule. But Hollins is already cutting back. "We've cut that out," Hollins said. "You don't want to do too much. We just try to watch film and do a lot of talking." Hollins also said he isn't concerned about his key players logging too much time, citing the "real-time rest" that his guys get on game nights. "Too often people look at the stat sheet and say he's playing too many minutes," Hollins said. "There's so much dead action during the game that you can recuperate."

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Larry Drew was afraid it would happen. The Hawks coach issued a warning to his team. It didn’t help Drew feared a letdown against the Grizzlies after his team’s recently completed 4-1 road trip had them tied for first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference. The letdown came in a big way Thursday night in a 96-77 loss to the Grizzlies at Philips Arena. “When you come off a road trip like that the tendency is to have a letdown,” Drew said. “I was afraid today would happen. We weren’t sharp tonight. I’m not going to blame it on the road trip. Everybody else has to do it. They go off on long road trips and come back and play. We can’t use that as an excuse. The start of the first quarter that team just manhandled us. They played with physicality and we were a step slow in everything we did.”

  • Matt Kawahara of The Sacramento Bee: When the Kings and Trail Blazers played in Portland on Jan. 23, the Kings trailed by a score of 33-31 halfway through the second quarter. The Trail Blazers then scored 11 consecutive points, encountered little resistance and stretched the lead to 20 before halftime. Thursday night, the Kings trailed Portland 32-30 early in the second quarter. The Trail Blazers then scored 11 consecutive points -- and the Kings responded immediately, putting together an 8-0 run of their own to keep the game from getting out of hand. At times this season the Kings have seen a stretch of several bad minutes take on a kind of snowball effect. As forward-center Chuck Hayes said Thursday night, "Once teams usually get going on us, when it rains it pours." After the Jan. 23 loss in Portland, forward Jason Thompson said that allowing games to get away in those short spans showed "the youth of our team." Head coach Keith Smart later said the Kings needed to better maintain their composure when an opponent goes on a run. So after the Kings weathered that early Trail Blazers run Thursday and came back in the second half to win 95-92, it was hailed among players as a sign of progress.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Sacramento is a little more than 380 miles away from Los Angeles. But Thursday night's game between the Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings might as well have been played on some studio lot deep inside Hollywood. Blazers fans have seen this movie before. It was the same story on a different day for these maddening Blazers, who blew yet another early lead and suffered yet another road defeat, falling 95-92 to the Kings before 11,740 at Power Balance Pavilion. "We gave the game away, plain and simple," Jamal Crawford said. If the Blazers (13-10) continue this trend, they're going to give away the season. It was the Blazers' fourth consecutive road defeat and it dropped their road record to 3-9. And, like the meltdowns at Houston, Golden State and Utah, this was a winnable game.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors said Tony Robbins was not at Oracle Arena on Thursday night in any official team capacity. But the self-help author and motivational speaker, who has reached more than 4 million people in 100 countries, must have said something exceptionally inspirational to Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. The Warriors' backcourt made a strong return from the previous game's alternate universe, in which they weren't playing well enough to garner minutes over castaway Nate Robinson and rookie Klay Thompson in the fourth quarter of a victory over Sacramento. Ellis and Curry responded against Utah on Thursday with 62 points on 65.7 percent shooting, 14 assists, nine rebounds and six steals in a 119-101 victory to the delight of 18,123 fans. "They're too small, and not good enough. They don't take care of the rock. They can't play together," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said sarcastically. "No, they are a dynamic backcourt that can score. At their best, I'd put them up against anybody in the game. "We know what they're capable of doing. The challenge to them is not to tease us."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Overnight, Jamaal Tinsley went from being a rarely used bench player — the guy with the fewest minutes on the team, in fact — to the Utah Jazz's starting point guard. That scenario was almost as surprising as Tinsley going from being a D-League player — the league's No. 1 pick of 2011, in fact — to earning a spot on the Jazz roster as the emergency backup playmaker. But there Tinsley was Thursday, making his first start with the Jazz after a string of injuries left Utah without its top two point guards, Devin Harris (strained left hamstring) and Earl Watson (sprained left ankle). With only 10 players available — Raja Bell (strained right adductor) stayed in Utah — the outmanned Jazz weren't a match for a seven-win Golden State team, which improved its record to 8-12 with a runaway 119-101 victory at Oracle Arena. Despite a losing outcome, Tinsley held his own in his first NBA start since being in the opening lineup for the Memphis Grizzlies — get this, against Utah — during the 2009-10 season.

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: The Jazz have stayed with their company line that Sloan simply got tired and decided the time was right to jump aboard his John Deere and ride off into the sunset. Malone, who regularly talks with Sloan, called B.S. on that. “That defining moment when [management and ownership] should have stood up for Jerry Sloan, they chose Deron Williams,” he said. “And Coach Sloan, being the coach I know and love, said, ‘You know what? We should part ways.’ And he said what he said. And once Coach Sloan says something, it’s history.” O’Connor, who heard what Malone said on Friday, agreed to come on the show on Tuesday, and he called B.S. back. “Karl wasn’t in the room, I was in the room,” O’Connor said, “and the only thing I can tell you is, I’d like you guys to go ask Jerry. … Greg was in there. He did everything possible with Jerry to make him stay, to have him finish off the season. [Sloan] had complete autonomy to do anything he wanted to do, as far as any kind of punishment. “The next morning, we’d asked him to sleep on it, and Gail [Miller] came in and both Greg and Gail asked him. So, I can honestly say that there’s nothing farther from the truth than those kinds of comments. “The minute [Sloan] said [he was quitting], we said, ‘Don’t do it.’ … What I know is, I was in every meeting. I heard every sentence, every word, and I can tell you what transpired. I would love for you to go speak to Jerry and to Phil Johnson … and ask them these questions.” I have asked both Sloan and Johnson, and they refused to comment. The aforementioned confidant with knowledge of the postgame meeting contradicted O’Connor’s version of what took place to this extent: He said Sloan “definitely felt undermined.”

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Kenyon Martin wasn't necessarily in the plans for the Nuggets, but now it's official: A league source said Thursday that the unrestricted free agent will not return to the Nuggets this season. The power forward played in China but is looking to sign with an NBA team. Yahoo Sports reported that FIBA has cleared Martin to sign with a team now. Originally, he would have had to wait until his Chinese team finished its season later this month or in March, depending on the playoffs. Martin had already left his team in December to return to the States. Among the teams Martin is considering are the Clippers, Heat, Hawks, Knicks, Lakers and Spurs, Yahoo Sports reported. Martin, 34, is considered one of the league's better defenders. Last season for the Nuggets, he averaged 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Lob City was more like a library. In Thursday's fourth quarter, with the Clippers trailing by 20, they tried to pull out all the stops during a timeout — the pump-up music, the T-shirt tosses, the dance team jumping up and down — and the residents of said city were quiet, as if they were studying for finals. How about those Nuggets? Denver had lost two straight, including the first one to these very Clippers on Sunday, but on Thursday they slapped around the home team, 112-91, defeating Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the day both were named all-star starters. ... This win was huge. Here's why. Thursday was the first game of the rare back-to-back-to-back — Denver (15-7) hosts the Lakers tonight and then travels to Portland to play Saturday against the Trail Blazers. So nabbing the first one was key, knowing fatigue could be a factor in the next 48 hours.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Yes, they've acclimated themselves to one another quickly enough to burst out of the gate to a first-place start five weeks into this warped-speed season. Absolutely they overcame injuries, a roster in constant flux and the addition of three new players into the starting lineup to win 13 of their first 20 games. They navigated their way through a hectic schedule that included its share of back-to-backs and a stretch of three games in three nights and even managed to win in Utah for first time in nine years and only the second time in 20 years. Along the way they won 10 of 13 home games and forged an early identity of a resilient team that embraces challenges and more often than not, overcomes them. The loss to the Nuggets notwithstanding. All good. Mostly positive. But now comes some serious heavy lifting, and in a way a litmus test as they take to the road for six games in 10 days. And you have to wonder about any carry-over effect from Thursday's loss, in which the Clippers suffered too many defensive letdowns, got outworked on the boards and let the Nuggets dictate style and tempo.

  • Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times: Blake Griffin's posterizing dunk on Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins forced Twitter into a near-overload on Monday, causing each of their names to trend worldwide. But, out of relative obscurity, so did another name: Shawn Kemp. Kemp, whose 14-season NBA career ended in 2002-03 with Orlando, was known as an aggressive dunker himself. And as Kemp and the Clippers' star forward are each 6 feet 10, naturally there are comparisons. "I've talked to a couple of guys who've said, 'Was Shawn as powerful?'" said Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl, who coached Kemp in Seattle, before Thursday's game. "I think that's the guy who's closest." Legend had it that Kemp once dunked so hard that sparks flew off the rim. He later admitted it to be true, adding that the basket had a metal-chain net, which helped the sparks fly.