First Cup: Monday

  • Robbie Levin of The Miami Herald: With Shane Battier going 0 of 4 from the field Sunday, his shooting percentage on the season dropped to 31.3 percent, the lowest of his career. Battier is heralded for his defensive prowess, but he hasn’t been able to contribute much recently on the other end of the court. Not only is Battier adjusting to a new offense, he is only averaging 23 minutes per game, also a career low. “I’m struggling with the age old question of when to pass and when to shoot,” Battier said. “That’s the basic philosophy on offense. The great Hubie Brown said, ‘Know when to pass, know when to shoot,’ and I’m finding a way to mess that up.” Coach Erik Spoelstra, however, is not concerned with Battier’s cold streak. “A lot of this is rhythm and timing and getting used to his minutes,” Spoelstra said. “[Battier] is doing a lot of other good things that we notice and that a lot of other people probably don’t notice.”

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Sometimes no matter how hard you play, no matter how much you want it, you’re simply outgunned and that was the story for the Raptors on Super Bowl Sunday. Despite a solid effort for most of the 48 minutes, despite some of the most aggressive drives to the basket of DeMar DeRozan’s season and some solid success for Dwane Casey’s zone defence against the vaunted Miami Heat, in the end the talent gap was too wide as the Heat came away with a 95-89 win. The Raps were within four at the end of one quarter, five at the half and then opened the door just a crack with some poor decision-making and paid the price in the third quarter. It was in the third that the Heat held the Raps to just 14 points and opened up a 13-point lead heading into the final quarter, a gap they took a run at but could never close. The Raps fought back yet again and whittled the lead down to three with three minutes to play but could not get any closer.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Don’t call him Ray Allen, Mark Price or Reggie Miller. And whatever you do, don’t call him Brian Scalabrine. But Kevin Garnett wants to clear up a misconception. “I can shoot 3’s,” Garnett said after hitting a bomb yesterday for the third straight game during the Celtics’ 98-80 winover the Memphis Grizzlies. It marked the first time as a Celtic that Garnett has hit three 3-pointers in one season, let alone three straight games. But if he bristles a little bit that his downtown prowess would be questioned, consider in Minnesota he had three seasons of 20 or more 3-pointers — 1999-00 (30-of-81), 2001-02 (37-of-116) and 2002-03 (20-of-71). So yes, Garnett can shoot 3-pointers. But regardless of whether people like captain Paul Pierce and coach Doc Rivers are urging him to mine that deep range, forget about it. “Don’t get used to it, ya’ll,” said Garnett. “Listen. I can shoot 3’s. I’m 50 and I’m out here with one leg and a cane, some nights are better than others. I’m human and I mess up, but I can shoot 3’s. I don’t (do) 3’s because we have one of the all-time greatest 3-point shooters in Ray Allen. We have Paul Pierce, who has won the 3-point contest. We have other guys who can shoot 3’s. It’s not my role here. My job is to get those guys open, and if it’s thrown to me, dunk it or pass it, cool. But I can shoot 3’s.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: O.J. Mayo again logged minutes as the backup point guard while rookies Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby remained glued to the bench until garbage time. Mayo has been solid but the question now is if the Griz are in worse shape than last season? Greivis Vasquez was serviceable, and at times, clutch. Now he’s showing flashes of brilliance with New Orleans. Vasquez averaged 14.2 points and 7.6 assists while shooting 53 percent over his past five games. Last Wednesday, Vasquez became the first player in Hornets’ history to have at least 20 points and 10 assists off the bench in a game.

  • Broderick Turner of of the Los Angeles Times: The smile on Kenyon Martin's face said a lot. Martin had just joined the Clippers for practice Sunday in Orlando — he didn't take part in the session, however — two days after he signed a contract to play for team. Both Martin and Coach Vinny Del Negro said there is no timetable for him to play in a game, but Martin said he'd like to be in uniform playing before the team finishes a six-game, 10-day trip that continues Monday night against the Orlando Magic. The Clippers won Martin's services over the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. "The Clippers were a good makeup of a team before I got here," Martin said. "They were old and young. I'm about winning. I'm about winning basketball games. And I felt the best chance to help was here." Martin felt as if he could provide Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with a veteran's knowledge of how to be a successful big man.

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: The big talker out of Saturday's game came in the third quarter, when Kevin Love stepped on the face and chest of Luis Scola on his way up the court. Videos of the event were on the Internet before the game was over. Afterward Love apologized to Scola and said it was not intentional but was the result of his stumbling as he went to run up the court. Love should know shortly whether the NBA agrees. If Love is to be disciplined, the decision will be made before the Wolves' next game, which is Tuesday against Sacramento.

  • Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Kobe Bryant will make his only local appearance of the year on Monday when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Wells Fargo Center, making this a big event on the 76ers' calendar even though Bryant's team has been far from dominant this season. The Lakers are 14-10 after Saturday's 96-87 loss at Utah. If the playoffs were held today, they would be the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. And there are three teams not in the top eight that could vie for a postseason berth: Houston, Memphis, and Minnesota. That said, the Lakers are the NBA's No. 2 draw on the road, averaging 19,061. The only better road draw is the resurgent Los Angeles Clippers, who will make their only Wells Fargo Center stop on Friday. The Lakers' popularity is chiefly due to Bryant. At 33, the former Lower Merion High star is in his 16th NBA season and keeps producing at the highest of levels, averaging 29.4 points per game. When asked after Saturday's 98-87 win in Atlanta whether Bryant brings extra electricity to the building, forward Andre Iguodala didn't hesitate. "I think so," Iguodala said. "He's the best player in the game. Second-best player of all time, in my opinion." No. 1? "M.J., of course," Iguodala said, referring to Michael Jordan.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Players and coaches around the league are starting to recognize how special Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao is. But will it be enough to earn him a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team? The All-Star reserves will be announced on Thursday. Varejao had 17 points and 17 rebounds in the Cavs' 91-88 upset victory over Dallas on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena. He's making a late push to be an All-Star by averaging 16.3 points and 17.3 rebounds in his last three games. "He's an animal," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "We knew that coming in, and he's just great. He's relentless. He's got a great nose for the ball and he just keeps coming. He's very active. I don't think we're the only team he's done it to." The 6-foot-11, 260-pound Varejao is leading the league in offensive rebounds at 4.7 per game. He's fourth in total rebounds at 11.9. The only three players ahead of him are Orlando's Dwight Howard (15.1), Minnesota's Kevin Love (13.7) and the Los Angeles Lakers' Andrew Bynum (12.0). All three players will likely be playing in the All-Star game in Orlando's Amway Center on Feb. 26.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Luol Deng's return — and Derrick Rose's electric start — seemed to energize his teammates Saturday. Beyond his seamless return in posting 21 points and nine rebounds, Deng's presence impacted the team similarly to how he has set an example for Butler to follow. Kyle Korver called him a "safety net" when asked what the Bulls missed about Deng. ... This is why it's so critical for Deng to be able to play through the pain and avoid surgery. ... Deng's rookie season ended in March 2005 when he opted for surgery to repair the same torn ligament in his right wrist. He missed the Bulls' first-round playoff loss to the Wizards. The Bulls can't afford to play another postseason without him.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: After starting the season with relative calmness, the Orlando Magic are not keeping their composure. The team committed six individual technical fouls during its emotional, hard-fought win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, and the Magic are losing their cool far too often to suit Van Gundy. "We're gonna talk about it, because I don't like what I'm seeing," Van Gundy said after the win. "But, at the same time, as with all of us, part of that is fatigue and frustration, too." The Magic might be buckling under the influence of the compressed schedule and the frustration from their slump at the end of January. Monday's home game against the Los Angeles Clippers will be their 10th game in 15 nights, and the team appears to be a bit frayed at its edges. To be sure, the Magic were swept up in an intense, physical game Saturday when they committed all those technical fouls against the Pacers. Three of Orlando's techs came during one minor fracas in which Quentin Richardson and Danny Granger shoved each other after Granger hit Richardson in the face with a seemingly inadvertent elbow and then exchanged words. Earl Clark and Tyler Hansbrough also pushed one another. But three other technicals occurred during the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter and could have cost Orlando the game.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: During the past nine seasons, Spurs point guard Tony Parker has picked up a trick or two for keeping his wits on the team’s annual rodeo road trip. The secret to sanity, it turns out, begins with sticking close to coach Gregg Popovich. “Just go to nice restaurants with Pop and get tipsy sometimes,” Parker joked. “That’s the secret. Drink a lot of wine. It goes faster.” In the 18 days to come, Parker and the Spurs will have plenty of time for wining and dining out, in between a little road basketball. Tonight in Memphis, the Spurs tip off their 10th annual rodeo road trip, having again been ejected from the AT&T Center until after the All-Star break by the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. Between now and Feb. 23, when the odyssey winds down in Denver, the Spurs will play nine games, equaling the longest road trip in team history, and cover 7,941 miles. Traditionally, the rodeo trip has been a time for the Spurs to come together, to foment chemistry, to steel themselves for the playoff stretch drive ahead. Yada, yada, yada. It is a meme that has grown in national popularity over the years. In time, the idea of the rodeo road trip as some sort of character-defining crucible has become a part of the Spurs’ mythology. Popovich practically rolls his eyes at the notion now. Asked recently if he was eager to take his team out for a prolonged road test, Popovich answered honestly. “No,” he said. “I want to play all home games.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant is averaging 30.8 points and 12.2 rebounds over the past five games. Perhaps just as impressive, Durant has shot 51.4 percent over that same span. With 10 double-doubles this season, Durant ranks 14th in the NBA and is on pace to set a personal best for double-doubles in a season, even in a lockout-shortened 66-game season. His career high for double-doubles in a season is 25 in 2009-10. As a rookie, Durant recorded only one, getting it in his final regular season game. In 2008-09, Durant had 15 double-doubles, and last season he finished with 14. Oddly enough, Durant's five-game streak of double-doubles last season came at nearly the exact same stretch of the season. He averaged 30.4 points and 10.6 rebounds from Jan. 30 through Feb. 8. “That's something that coach wants me to do,” said Durant about rebounding after grabbing a season-high on Jan. 21 at New Jersey. “He said I can get 10 a game, so I'm just going to try to go out there and get 10 and play as hard as I can on both ends of the floor. I think if I help the bigs out it'll make it much easier for us to push the ball and get easy points on the other end.”

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: There are people who marvel at how rookie forward Ivan Johnson has become a key player for the Hawks. Coach Larry Drew holds up Johnson's relentless energy as an example for the rest of the team. Teammate Josh Smith nominates Johnson to play in the rookie game on All-Star weekend. Johnson's long-shot personal story has been a hit on NBA Web sites and among Hawks fans on Twitter and blogs. The only one who doesn't seem impressed by what Johnson is doing is Johnson. For instance, tell Johnson that his tenacity impresses Drew and Johnson says it should be no surprise. “The first time I interviewed with [the Hawks] I told them that's what I bring every game,” Johnson said. “And that's what I keep doing.” Or consider Johnson's response to queries about how he's been able to effectively play center despite regularly giving up three or four inches to opponents. “It's not too much of a challenge,” Johnson said after posting 14 points and 13 rebounds against Philadelphia's big front line during Atlanta's 98-87 loss Saturday. “It's just another person. I think physically I'm strong enough to hold it down.” That's about as much insight as Johnson provides about his game. He prefers to quietly go about his business, which lately means pulling his weight while playing out of position with center Jason Collins (ankle) out because of injury.

  • Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times: Almost since the day Seattle was robbed of its NBA team, a group of well-intentioned, well-heeled, basketball-savvy hoopaholics quietly has been working with both local government and league officials, attempting to get an arena built and a team returned to this city. Now, four seasons after the Sonics left Seattle and became the Oklahoma City Thunder, the possibility of the NBA returning feels more real than ever. What if the group that includes former Sonics president Wally Walker can accumulate enough property south of Safeco Field and gain a few concessions from the Seattle City Council (an increase in the hotel-motel tax, a surcharge on tickets) to build an arena that will be predominantly privately funded? Without fanfare, without news releases or news conferences, without any look-at-me showboating, people who want the league back in town have been trying to make it happen. Rapid recent progress has been made. Mayor Mike McGinn has been among those championing the idea. And once the plans for construction of a new arena near Safeco Field are finalized, I believe the NBA will return to Seattle. The financially strapped Sacramento Kings could become the Seattle Sonics as early as the 2012-2013 season. This is more than mere wishful thinking. And it could turn out to be more than the NBA.