First Cup: Tuesday

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Clippers guard Chauncey Billups suffered a left Achilles' tendon injury Monday night, and there were concerns within the team it could be ruptured, which would end his season. "It felt like somebody kicked me, man," Billups said after the game as he made his way to the team bus with crutches under both arms and a walking boot on his foot. "I don't know if it's torn, but I know it's not good." There was a hush in the Clippers' locker room after their 107-102 overtime victory over the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Chris Paul fought back tears when asked what Billups has meant to the team. Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro kept shaking his head, repeatedly saying how bad he felt for Billups and adding, "This is not good." Del Negro said Billups saw Orlando's team doctor after the game and will have an MRI exam Tuesday, after the Clippers arrive in Cleveland, to determine the severity of the injury.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Chris Paul understands what Dwight Howard's going through. As recently as December, Paul was in Howard's exact situation. Paul still was a member of the team that drafted him, the New Orleans Hornets. But Paul was unhappy with the Hornets' direction and was able to become a free agent during the summer of 2012. No wonder Paul has given Howard some advice on how to deal with Howard's situation with the Orlando Magic. "Just keep playing hard and doing what he's doing," Paul said after his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, prepared to play Howard's Magic on Monday. "It's a tough situation that he's in, but he can only control what he can. So the best thing that he can do is just keep going out there and playing as hard as he can."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Maybe Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal will eventually look back on what could have been accomplished. For now, the weird, cautious chasm continues between two of the best in Lakers history. Bryant passed O'Neal for fifth on the NBA's all-time scoring list Monday, and O'Neal was one of the first to send an opinion on Twitter. "Congrats to Kobe for being the greatest laker ever," he wrote in a conciliatory tone. "Thanks for making us the greatest laker one two punch ever and congrats on passin me up 2." Bryant took over the fifth spot on a long jump shot in the second quarter of the Lakers' 95-90 loss to Philadelphia. He now has 28,601 points, five more than O'Neal. Wilt Chamberlain is fourth with 31,419 points. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 38,387 points, most in NBA history. Bryant and O'Neal are not friends. They do not socialize. Bryant laughed when asked whether he heard about O'Neal's Twitter dispatch. "You're asking me if I saw his tweet?" he said. "I don't even know how that [Twitter] thing works." When told exactly what O'Neal wrote, Bryant was thankful but careful with his words. "Cool. I appreciate it," he said. "I'm sure Shaq and I will connect at some point and revisit history. We had some good times."

  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Sixers observers often ask management whether it needs a closer. But in the team's locker room, players were telling reporters that those people need to stop looking and open their eyes. "Lou came in and hit everything we needed late to get the win," center Spencer Hawes said. "He's our closer. When he comes in there at the end with his ability to make plays, he's a tough matchup for anybody." Williams, along with Andre Iguodala, may be selected as a reserve on the Eastern Conference all-star team. However, on Monday night, Williams just wanted to focus on the team's next game, Wednesday against San Antonio. And when somebody mentioned his name in the same sentence as Bryant's, Williams said he just answered the challenge to produce every night when his team needs it. "I like any challenge, especially when they are putting the ball in your hands and asking for big buckets," Williams said. "A game like this, it was a great win for us all. Hopefully, we can carry some momentum, especially going into a game Wednesday and the rest of the schedule."

  • Mike Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: It’s hard to tell if the Bulls are getting better or the competition is getting worse. Regardless, it won’t matter if Derrick Rose’s back spasms prevent him from playing more than one half for very long. Taking an edge off the Bulls’ second consecutive road blowout, Rose sat out the second half and played just 11 minutes of the 108-87 victory against the hapless New Jersey Nets on Monday night at Prudential Center. Nothing to worry about? ‘‘Just back stiffness. Day-to-day,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘We’ll see how he is tomorrow.’’ “Just back spasm. It’s nothing to worry about,’’ Rose said. ‘‘It was tight the whole game. Tonight was pretty rough. It’s just something where I’ve got to get a massage and [get it] stretched right away, and hopefully it’ll be gone.’’ Rose has dealt with back issues before in his career. The concern is that the frenetic pace of the compressed post-lockout schedule is aggravating what has been a manageable situation.

  • Andy Vasquez of The Record: Keith Bogans had some extra motivation against his former team Monday night. Bogans, who signed with the Nets last week, started every game for the Bulls last season and helped them to the East finals. But before the season started, he was unceremoniously waived by Chicago. "Every time I play them for the rest of my career it'll give me [something] added," said Bogans, who started his first game for the Nets and scored seven points in 20 minutes. Not only did the Bulls dump him — Bogans says he never got a reason — but they held Bogans out of practice for a week during the preseason. The team's signing of Richard Hamilton made Bogans expendable, and the Bulls waited until the deadline when they would have had to pick up his $1.73 million option for this season to jettison him. "That was kind of screwed up," Bogans said. "But it's a business, [stuff] happens. … That was kind of like a slap in the face a little bit, but it's cool." Bogans said he's stopped trying to figure out why the Bulls cut him loose.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Anyone who plays or coaches at Madison Square Garden is eventually inoculated against the boos and the taunts, building up a steady resistance to the crowd’s emotional whims. It is an accepted part of playing in New York, one that is rarely questioned. Coach Mike D’Antoni took a minute Monday night to question it, and passionately so. The subject was Jared Jeffries, one of the Knicks’ most maligned players. Jeffries is often booed for his inability to make shots, especially those at the rim. He is also one of the Knicks’ most dedicated defenders, which is often overshadowed by his air balls. After watching Jeffries bang with Utah’s Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap for nearly 34 minutes, anchoring the Knicks’ frontcourt in Amar’e Stoudemire’s absence and helping to key a 99-88 victory, D’Antoni felt compelled to defend his honor. He called Jeffries’s performance “unbelievably good,” then paused and said, “Indulge me one second. Anybody who boos Jared Jeffries has got to re-examine their life a little bit,” D’Antoni said. “I’m sorry to have to — I love our fans, and I like Madison Square Garden, the arena — but here’s a guy who came back to us, minimum contract. He could have gone to a lot of other teams. He plays as hard as anybody could possibly ever play, with injuries, everything you ask him. He takes every charge, every dirty play, every rebound. He works every second. And there are people that look at that and go, ‘I think I’ll boo him.’ I have a hard time believing that.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: If there was anyone Suns guard Steve Nash could look at as the model for what he could do as a 38-year-old NBA point guard, it would be Utah legend John Stockton. But growing up in British Columbia, few NBA games were available to watch for Nash, to the point that he did not know about Stockton when he was named to the 1992 dream team. Nash turns 38 on Tuesday and leads the NBA in assists per game and has the best shooting percentage of any guard. Nobody has played the position like Nash at his age since Stockton, who average 12.6 points and 8.6 assists when he was 38 and helped Utah win a playoff series. "I was always impressed with what he did, but I never thought I'd play this long," Nash said. "I never really aspired to do that. I just kept playing and playing, and here I am. When I looked at him playing at 38, 39 and 40, I just assumed I'd be done so I never thought to emulate him. He had tremendous longevity and was a great role model in that respect. I just never really recognized it at the time." Nash's idol, Isiah Thomas, was five years retired by the time he turned 38. Nash's first pro mentor, Kevin Johnson, at 38 was four years past a six-game comeback and six years past his original retirement. Magic Johnson retired at 36.

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: There are several reasons why this may have happened. The most obvious: Being undersized without two centers, Al Horford (potentially out for the season) and Jason Collins (sidelined for two weeks), has led to physical fatigue, which has led to mental fatigue. Players are not nearly as aggressive as they were earlier in the season. They’re not sharing the ball as much. They’ve probably has lost some confidence. “We didn’t respond well to their runs,” coach Larry Drew said after the Phoenix game. “I just don’t see how we can respond as if the game’s over.” Here’s what has become obvious: This team needs some help. General manager Rick Sund’s ability to make a trade is hamstrung by payroll issues. Any significant acquisition would put the Hawks into a tax situation, and there’s no indication that ownership is willing to pay that premium. But Sund can’t afford to sit back and do nothing, but to assume these problems are just going away is a dangerous game. The Hawks were just starting to get some deserved attention. But after three straight flat performances at home, they’re threatening to slip off the landscape again.

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: Bruce Bowen is gone. And so are standouts like David Robinson, Mario Elie, Jaren Jackson, Fabricio Oberto and Robert Horry who made the Spurs’ defense such a formidable weapon during the glory years of four previous NBA titles. So it was understandable after watching Minnesota torch the Spurs for 57.7 percent earlier this season and Miami rip them for 58.2 percent for Gregg Popovich to bemoan his defense as one of the worst he’s ever had. Maybe those stinging words have resulted in an attitude change. But since allowing Houston to shoot 55.7 percent in a loss on Jan. 21 and New Orleans to shoot 50.6 percent on Jan. 23, the Spurs have shown a remarkable transformation. Since that game, the Spurs have allowed opponents to score more than 100 points only once in eight games as opponents have shot 42.9 percent from the field and scored 87 points per game. In the first 18 games of the season, the Spurs allowed opponents to shoot 46.3 percent from the field and score 96.4 points. It was best shown in one of their better defensive efforts of the season down the stretch Monday night in a gritty 89-84 victory at Memphis.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Guard Tony Allen sat out a second straight game with a sore left hip and knee. Quincy Pondexter started this time. Sam Young, who started in place of Allen Sunday at Boston, was healthy but didn’t play. A more significant development was Hollins use of rookie point guard Jeremy Pargo. Pargo entered the game and played alongside Conley in the second period after Mayo picked up two fouls. Pargo later saw time as Conley’s backup at point guard, signaling that Hollins might return an otherwise little-used Pargo to that role.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Mired in one of the worst statistical seasons of his career through the first third of this year, Perkins admitted Monday that he hasn't played up to expectations. “I'm struggling,” Perkins said. Perkins ranks third on the Thunder in rebounding. But at 5.4 per game, he's pulling down his least amount of boards since he averaged 5.2 during the 2006-07 season. Perkins' 11.6 percent rebound rate (the percentage of total missed shots a player rebounds) is the worst of his career. Only four centers who have logged enough games and minutes to qualify have a lower rebound rate. In 23 games going into Monday's at Portland, Perkins had pulled down fewer than five rebounds eight times. Perkins is shooting a career-low 45.3 percent from the field. Last year, despite not being close to 100 percent as he recovered from knee injuries, Perkins shot 49.3 percent in 17 games with the Thunder. He shot 54.2 percent in 12 games with Boston. At 4.6 points per game, Perkins is averaging his least amount of points since he average 4.5 in 2006-07. ... Perkins said he gets frustrated just like fans when he looks at the final stat sheet and sees he's pulled down just one or three rebounds, which happened in the team's previous two games against Memphis and San Antonio. Perkins, however, said he's unsure of how to regain his productivity of yesteryear. For now, Perkins said he's just trying to find ways to continue impacting games while he's struggling.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: LaMarcus Aldridge on Monday learned he got one more vote to strengthen his chances at making the All-Star Game -- Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks being the latest to reveal he voted for the Trail Blazers forward to make the Western Conference roster. But right now, Aldridge and the Blazers would probably trade his certain All-Star berth for another title: Closer. Never has the retirement of Brandon Roy this season been felt so much as in late-game situations for the Blazers, who find themselves routinely in position to win games, but painfully absent when it comes time to do what made Roy a legend around here: closing. It was painfully apparent again on Monday when the Blazers couldn't hold a six-point lead with two minutes and change left in regulation, then couldn't get a legitimate look at potential game-tying shot in the closing seconds. It led to another painful loss, this time 111-107 in overtime to Oklahoma City. Just like he should, Aldridge was in the middle of all the late-game drama on Monday. But, like has happened so many other times this season, Aldridge and the Blazers came up empty.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: When Chase Budinger was benched for three games, he got the message. He fell out of the rotation when he fell back to his tendency to sit around on the 3-point line. When he returned, he shot well, but he was also much more active, getting on loose balls and on the boards, running the floor, playing with energy whether his shot was there or not. He had 14 of his 16 points in the second half, giving the Rockets a lift they desperately needed. But he also had five rebounds, showing he will do something besides score. Another message was sent on Monday. The Rockets hope it is as effectively received. Rockets coach Kevin McHale benched Samuel Dalembert after seven minutes and Jordan Hill after 7 ½. He found Jeff Adrien at the end of the bench and gave him 17 meaningful minutes. Adrien gave him what Hill and Dalembert had not, energy. He also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots. “We had no zip,” McHale said of benching of Hill and Dalembert. “Jeff’s been practicing hard. He’s a good kid. He probably deserved to play. Finally tonight, we just had no zip, no energy and we just got big horse in there.” McHale sounded as if he was seeking no more than a win, but whether he intended to send a message or not, it can still be received.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Four starters injured. A key backup away from the team. Then the backup center, who made a start, fouled out. The Nuggets were short-handed Monday night against Houston at the Pepsi Center, but they trailed by only four points with 1:21 left before losing 99-90 to the Rockets. The Nuggets (15-10) also might have lost Danilo Gallinari, who suffered a sprained left ankle during the third quarter. X-rays revealed a chip fracture in the foot. Gallinari will have a CT scan today. Denver began Monday's game without starting power forward Nene (heel injury), starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo (ankle and toe) and starting center Timofey Mozgov (ankle). And backup forward Corey Brewer missed the game because his father died. "The injuries take away our strength because our strength is playing a lot of guys, seeing who's playing well and fitting into the personality of the game," said Nuggets coach George Karl. Karl said Nene and Afflalo could return for Wednesday's home game against Dallas. Mozgov likely will be out the whole week. Brewer's date of return is uncertain.

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: There will be plenty on this issue in the upcoming weeks, but since the Sacramento arena issue has been part of the arena discussion these past few days in Seattle, here is the latest from the Northern California end: David Stern absolutely wants another franchise in Seattle - the Sonics' departure four years ago remains a sore spot within his administration - but he doesn't want it to be the Kings, which would tarnish his legacy after a brutal offseason, protracted labor dispute and his personal attempts to solidify the Kings future here these last several years. Also, the last thing Stern (and his fellow owners) wants is the relocation of another team with a history of stability and success - albeit, of late, addled by some serious mismanagement. Thus, he continues to work behind the scenes with Mayor Kevin Johnson on the financing of a new sports and entertainment complex in the downtown Railyards. Assuming the community and Sacramento politcal/business leaders continue making progress toward the financing of a new facility, I keep hearing Stern will remain committed to Sacramento. Given the stunning last-minute reprieve when the Kings appeared head to Anaheim last April, nothing would surprise me. I keep hearing whispers that Stern has a dramatic play yet to come - something "up his sleeve," as they say.

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: Is there an impact NBA veteran who would look at the Hornets today and say he wants to play for this franchise? Is there a rising young talent — including current Hornet Eric Gordon, who apparently is nursing the worst bruised knee in the long history of bruised knees, and will have a career in acting (he has the Invisible Man down pat) if he chooses to leave basketball — who is willing to lay it on the line for New Orleans? Are there draft picks — the Hornets have two first-round, likely lottery picks in the upcoming draft, which will make or break the franchise for the next five to 10 years — who are willing to hang around past their original contractual obligations because they like the direction in which the franchise is headed? Those questions are relevant because from the outside looking in, and contrary to what any Hornets official might say, the franchise looks anything but stable right now. It looks anything but wise. Its master plan, to dump this season and rebuild with youth, Oklahoma City-style, sounds good but requires massive and equal portions of skill and luck. Those questions are relevant because right now, with the worst record in the Western Conference (4-21 after Monday night’s 100-92 loss to Sacramento at the New Orleans Arena) dangling from the neck of the franchise, it’s hard to identify a single major decision that has been made this season that the franchise looks like it has gotten right.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: Timberwolves rookie Derrick Williams expressed concern over his limited role in recent games and indicated that coach Rick Adelman might have "a lack of confidence" in him. Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, hinted at his feelings late Saturday night after the Wolves' 100-91 win over Houston when he posted this message on his Twitter account, @RealDWill7: "Anybody ever felt like a caged lion?" "I just want to get out there and play a little more...everybody does, but I can't do anything about it," Williams said in reference to his Twitter posting after Monday's practice. "It's not my decision." Williams' playing time and production have been cut in half since Michael Beasley (foot) and Martell Webster (back) returned to the lineup. Beasley had missed 11 games; Webster was out the first 18 games of the season. In the past six games, Williams is averaging 10.7 minutes and 4.6 points, compared to 20.0 minutes and 8.2 points in the Wolves' first 18 games. He played 13 minutes Saturday night (six points, five rebounds) but only 2 minutes, 27 seconds of the fourth quarter. Williams has been used at small forward and power forward, but he admits having his biggest struggles on offense. "Playing off the ball more is the biggest thing for me," Williams said. "My whole career I've been more involved in the flow of the offense. People say I'm playing more hesitant than I did in college (at the University of Arizona). It's a different role, but everybody has to adjust. I have to earn coach's trust."