First Cup: Thursday

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Rajon Rondo’s future in Boston continues to be a story line as a report last night indicated the team is shopping its point guard and an NBA source said the Celtics are “listening’’ to offers. An ESPN.com report said the Celtics have decided to trade Rondo after his attitude and personality have become too burdensome for the organization. An NBA source told the Globe the Celtics aren’t trying to dump Rondo but his name is being mentioned in deals, similar to the way it was when the team made a play for Chris Paul in December. Rondo collected his 16th career triple-double and third this season in last night’s 102-96 victory over the Bucks. He has endured a difficult season with the trade rumors, an eight-game absence because of a sprained right wrist, and two because of a NBA suspension for throwing the ball at official Sean Wright. Rondo also was upset at originally being left off the All-Star team and responded with one of his worst games of the season Feb. 10 against the Raptors in Toronto. On Tuesday in Cleveland he missed all six shots from the field and dished out 11 assists but committed five turnovers. Last night he bounced back with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. Coach Doc Rivers lauded Rondo for his orchestration of the offense and pushing the pace. While he has shown flashes of brilliance, it’s uncertain if the organization feels it can begin the post-Big Three era around Rondo. He has three years and $36 million left on his contract after this season.

    Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: The calendar changes today, turning over to a new month in which last week NBA Commissioner David Stern predicted there could be a new owner for the Hornets some time today. There’s plenty of time left on the March 1 clock, but it’s unlikely, as Stern later conceded last Saturday in his “state of the league” press availability at the All-Star Game, that the league will be divesting itself of ownership of the Hornets before the close of business today. Two groups have been identified as in bidding for control of the team, a California-based consortium led by swimwear manufacturer Raj Bhathal, in union with Larry Benson, Mike Dunleavy, and potential New Orleans-area minority investors, and former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest. The Bhathal group, according to sources, is believed to be the one in the lead, as characterized last week by Stern, with Chouest as a backup.

  • Dano Woike of The Orange County Register: Fred Muir, the CEO of Grayling PR in Los Angeles, is a crisis management expert, reviewed FishbowlLA’s original Clipper Darrell story, Clipper Darrell’s own blog post and the team’s statement responding to today’s news. He had this to say: “In crisis communications the first rule is don’t make things worse. But it appears the Clippers have made the PR equivalent of a flagrant foul. Companies have a right and even obligation to protect their brands and trademarks. But once that’s been done, and it appears Mr. Bailey has taken it to heart, their best position would be to sit on their lead. Instead of lobbing a mean spirited and highly personal statement, the Clippers may have been better served by saying little and letting the clock run out on what could have been a one media cycle story. “

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: It's official: The Lakers are 1-0 in the Mask Era. Kobe Bryant and his plastic protective piece were a large part of the Lakers' 104-85 victory Wednesday over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center. Bryant had 31 points and eight assistsbut there's no need to send the item to the Hall of Fame. Mask Mania certainly isn't Linsanity. In fact, Bryant fiddled with it often in his first game since sustaining a broken nose, concussion and soft-tissue damage in his neck after taking a hard foul from Miami guard Dwyane Wade on Sunday in the All-Star game. He took shots without the mask at halftime, but it stuck around, unlike the Timberwolves. "It just felt like it started sweating immediately inside," said Bryant, who made 11 of 23 shots and had seven rebounds. "It felt like I had a sauna on my face. ... I was drinking my own sweat." Bryant had no harsh words for Wade, who apologized via phone message a day after fouling Bryant. The Lakers play host to Miami on Sunday. "He didn't mean to do it," Bryant said. "It's something that happens. He's not that type of person. Bryant added later: "He's a nicer guy than I am, to be honest with you."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Los Angeles eccentric sports-talk radio host Vic "The Brick" Jacobs -- dressed in a white fur hat and coat, a Lakers medallion hung from his neck -- cornered Beasley before Wednesday's game and asked him repeatedly how he would have responded if he had gotten his nose broken in an All-Star Game by Dwayne Wade like Bryant did. Beasley backpedaled. He avoided. He slipped the punches. Then he came up with an answer. "You know what I'd do if I was Kobe?" he said. "I'd sit out tonight's game."

  • Benjamin Hoffman of The New York Times: When your team’s starting point guard and rising star is a relatively small player, has never played a huge amount of minutes and relies on being able to get to the basket to score, it is a good idea to have a solid backup. If that backup is a former No. 3 overall pick who has played in two All-Star Games, then you’re in business. That is the situation the Knicks find themselves in. Jeremy Lin has been a revelation, but the abuse he is taking on a game-by-game basis has been brutal. To help him succeed, the Knicks will need to get him some rest, even in close games. The perfect solution is Baron Davis, a gifted passer and defender who in short spells gives the Knicks almost no drop-off at the position. In Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers, Lin and Davis combined for 21 assists. But the more important thing was the split of 33 minutes for Lin and 15 for Davis. Over the first 10 games of Lin’s run, he played less than 35 minutes just once. With Davis running at close to full speed, Lin has now recorded three consecutive games of less than 35. The situation is also beneficial to Davis, who has chronic back problems and probably could not handle being a 30-minute-a-night player at this point in his career. Better yet, Davis seems to be enjoying things.

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: The loss of Anderson Varejao (broken wrist) also is starting to take its toll. The Cavaliers, losers of three straight, miss his energy and ability of provide the club additional possessions. Once the Knicks started surging the Cavs could not regain momentum. Steve Novak rained 3-pointers. Lin penetrated and dished. Tyson Chandler grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. This was a bad loss, an uncharacteristic one for a team that had been fairly reliable with leads. Entering this week, they were 9-3 in games in which they led or were tied at halftime. They were 11-1 in games in which they led or were tied after three quarters. The Cavs blew one of each against Boston and New York. They have two days to regroup before the Bulls return to The Q for the first time since the 114-75 shellacking of Cleveland sans Derrick Rose on Jan. 20. There is a segment of the fan base delighted by these losses because it improves the Cavs odds, according to their logic, of drafting a difference maker to put alongside Irving. Some Cavs players might remind such fans the Knicks found their difference maker sitting at the end of the bench. On Wednesday night, however, they were in no mood to debate.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: C.J. Watson never had experienced a concussion until he ran into Nets forward Kris Humphries on Feb. 18, forcing him to miss the final two games before the All-Star break. The guard said he appreciated the league's new policy, which demands players exhibit no symptoms for 48 hours as they increase exertion before getting cleared by a league-hired neurologist. "I wanted to play earlier, but it's smart to be safe," Watson said. Watson said migraine headaches and nausea led to the concussion diagnosis.

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs tried to get Gregg Popovich to stay 20 years ago, but he never considered it. Sticking around to show Jerry Tarkanian how to call a 20-second timeout didn’t sound appealing. So Popovich left in 1992, and Tark filled out his staff with someone he didn’t know. Tom Thibodeau followed Popovich then. It took him a few years, but he’s doing it again. Thibodeau did more than follow Popovich on Wednesday night. Then, he leaned on his usual — Derrick Rose and defense. Rose scoring 29 points isn’t noteworthy. Holding the Spurs under 90 is. For Thibodeau, edging past the Spurs has become a trend. The Bulls had the league’s best record last season, after all, and the Spurs the second-best. Thibodeau earned coach of the year for that. So everyone acknowledges Thibodeau’s stature in the game now, which is why 1992 seems so long ago for both men. Who saw this coming for them? Thibodeau laughed about the old days Wednesday night. In his pregame media session, he praised Popovich’s Spurs, calling them “the gold standard.” And the Spurs he once worked for? “We were the bronze standard,” he said.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: With 4:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, Kendrick Perkins was whistled for a technical foul, putting him dangerously close to a suspension. Unofficially, it was Perkins' 12th technical foul this season. Under league rules, a player draws an automatic one-game suspension following his 13th technical foul. “We can't afford to lose any of our players,” Brooks said. “He knows he's flirting with that number. We have to play hard, and I like all of our guys to play with that type of passion. Kevin was feisty tonight. But we have to keep our composure.” Perkins drew the technical foul when he gave a Sixers player a forearm shove just after the whistle. Because of fuzzy bookkeeping on the league's official tracking log, however, it is unclear how many of Perkins' technical fouls have been rescinded. The league reviews all technical fouls, and it's possible Perkins' most recent one gets rescinded.

  • Rich Hofmann of Philadelphia Daily News: Their coach, when he was a broadcaster, remembers talking endlessly about the importance of playing to the end of every quarter - how 11 minutes of quality effort can be wasted by a wandering attention span in the 12th minute. There was some of that last night - but it was more than that. Until the Sixers can break through and win a close game against a good team, the thought will always be there. Until they can get past it a few times, the predicament will continue to stare them down. And you wonder how long, as a young group, they can handle such a repeating situation without their precious confidence being affected. For a team that has been so fun, that has made so many strides, it is becoming the question of the season.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Trevor Booker snared a rebound late in the fourth quarter of the Washington Wizards’ 102-95 loss to the Orlando Magic, swung his arms and kicked wildly to get Magic guard Jason Richardson to back away. Booker not only cleared space, but he sent Richardson falling on his backside. Richardson hopped back up and confronted Booker, as their teammates tried to separate the two, and then grabbed at Booker’s shorts. Booker angrily slapped away and pointed at Richardson, shouting some more. Even after the two were assessed technical fouls and situation was diffused, Booker calmly walked up to Richardson, unaccompanied, to explain the situation. “He came at me pretty strong, but you know me. I’m not backing down,” Booker said. “I don’t take anything from anybody.” Too often this season, the Wizards have been a pushover team, cowering at the first sign of struggle. But Coach Randy Wittman has tried to get his players to change that mentality, even if it requires major alterations to his starting lineup. Mainstays JaVale McGee and Nick Young were benched by Wittman in favor of Kevin Seraphin and Jordan Crawford and were used sparingly.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Dwight Howard's long-term future remains a mystery, but he entered Wednesday's game against the Washington Wizards a little bit farther from earning a league-imposed suspension for piling up too many technical fouls. For the second time this season, league officials have rescinded one of Howard's techs. The latest tech to be rescinded is the one Howard received Feb. 17 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Previously, league officials had erased the technical Howard incurred Feb. 4 against the Indiana Pacers. The latest decision left Howard with seven technicals as he began the game against the Wizards. In this shortened season, a player or coach can accrue 12 techs without receiving a suspension. But a player or coach will earn a one-game suspension when he is assessed his 13th tech; he'll also receive an additional one-game suspension for every two techs thereafter.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Coach Scott Skiles also said veteran Stephen Jackson did not make the trip due to a right hamstring injury. Jackson has been unhappy with his reduced role and said recently he expected a change in the near future, hinting he could be traded before the March 15 deadline. "I'm hopeful we can turn the whole thing around and he can be part of that," Skiles said. "We've had many conversations. I also read that he hadn't been talked to and things like that. I'll let other people judge that stuff."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: With today the first day players signed in free agency are available for trade, teams will be a lot more active leading up to the trade deadline in two weeks — which can lead to some very uneasy nights for even the most grizzled pros, if they think they might be moved. Ben Wallace has been through it four times, but he knows in his farewell season there's no chance he's going anywhere. But the call always shakes you up, he said. How you deal with it mentally, he said, is the key. "I'm sure every player, at one point, is affected by headlines, rumors," Wallace said. "It's been a part of the game since before we got here and it'll be here when we leave." ... For Daye and Bynum, two players who aren't in first-year coach Lawrence Frank's rotation at the moment, trade talk is like playing time — something they can't control. The Pistons haven't been actively shopping either, but Daye's youth and Bynum's ability to be a sparkplug off the bench can be attractive to many teams. What's more, they're cheap. Bynum makes $3.5 million while Daye makes slightly less than $2 million. Neither has asked out but it doesn't appear they'd be shocked to get that call.

  • Mark Kiszla of the The Denver Post: How valuable has Faried been at power forward? When Nene finally returns from a calf injury, coach George Karl should think long and hard about automatically returning the team's highest-paid player to the starting lineup. "I think every player is important to us," Denver general manager Masai Ujiri said. "Every single player is important to us. Our depth is an advantage to us when everybody is there, rather than when some players are not able to play." ... It would be unfair to question Nene's heart. As the Nuggets dig in for a tough fight over a playoff berth, however, it would be unwise to rely on Nene to lend a hand. His averages of 13.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game when healthy this season are not significantly better than the 10.3 points and 7.7 rebounds provided by Faried in eight games since Feb. 14. Faried has earned more playing time. There's more combativeness in the Nuggets when he's wrestling in the paint. Force Nene to come off the bench and maybe it might finally dawn on him that intensity can't be a sometime thing. Rather than celebrate his loyalty to the Denver market, Ujiri has been put in the awkward position of defending Nene's toughness, citing a similar calf injury suffered by Toronto's Andrea Bargnani, crippling a forward was playing with all-star flair for the Raptors. "I think Nene is working hard to get back," Ujiri said. "I think people are looking at this the wrong way. It's a tough injury."

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: By the time the locker room was opened to the media, the standings on the wall had already been updated. The 19 Grizzlies wins had been changed to 20. One game down, 31 to go. “Every day we take a look at the standings,” said Tony Allen. “We want to go as high as we can.” They do that by taking care of business. They do that by doing exactly what they did at FedExForum Wednesday night. “We came out ready, we had a plan and we executed,” said Marc Gasol. The emphatic result: Memphis 96, Dallas 85. So much for a game to get back in the swing of things, eh? So much for needing some time to knock off the All-Star rust.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Dirk Nowitzki's impact can never be overstated, but his absence for most of the Mavericks' 96-85 loss to Memphis on Wednesday night wasn't the tipping point. When you surrender a season-high 62 points in the paint, it doesn't really matter who's missing because you're making it way too easy for the opponent. The Mavericks know Nowitzki is perhaps the most critical superstar in the league when it comes to being the key factor in any success they have. That much was evident again as there were too many holes to patch on the offensive end, despite numerous players trying to step up. And so, the Mavericks lost their third consecutive game and have dropped four of their last five, the worst stretch they've had since starting the season 1-4.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: DeRozan was the focus of attention from the start after a somewhat intemperate note he sent out via his twitter feed in the aftermath of Tuesday’s three-point loss in Houston. Either displeased with the fact he sat the entire fourth quarter or with another tough loss (that was Wednesday’s message), the tweet — “straight bull---” — was up for a couple of hours before it disappeared. Coach Dwane Casey said he had a word with the third-year swingman about the wisdom of making his frustration known in such a manner. “We’re all frustrated but we have to turn that frustration around into another opportunity (Wednesday),” Casey said before the game. “It’s part of growing up, part of being a professional and, again, it was one of those things out of frustration.” But Casey suggested it was better that DeRozan lash out rather than accept a bad finish to a close game that he was forced to watch from the bench. “It shows everybody cares,” the coach said. “It shows you care and that’s why I didn’t make a big deal out of it. ... It was a good thing.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Klay Thompson makes basketball look like a pretty simple game. Told two weeks ago that he needed to start penetrating and drawing more free-throw attempts in order to take the next step in his rookie development, Thompson responded as if he could have done it all along. The 6-foot-7, 205-pound rookie went to the line four times in his first 25 games, including 19 consecutive games without a single free-throw attempt. Since the conversation, he's gotten to the line eight times in six games, including a career-high four free-throw attempts in Tuesday's loss to Indiana. "I just needed to be more aggressive off the bounce," the No. 11 overall pick said. "I knew I had the ability to get to the rim. I just had to pick my spots and do it more often. That's all."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: If you didn’t just click on the headline with the score, would you be able to tell which game Larry Drew was talking about when he said this about his offense: “We settled, especially in the first half. I thought we shot way too many jumpers. We cant’ be seduced into taking jump shots. We fell prey. We’ve got to be smarter and understand the flow of the game. It’s one thing if you are making jump shots but, if you are not, then you can’t settle.” I’ve been covering this team for 2 1/2 seasons now and Drew (and Mike Woodson before him) could say the same thing about the vast majority of the games the Hawks play. The difference between winning and losing often is the difference between making or missing those jump shots–with the occasional twist, like tonight’s 16 of 26 shooting from the free-throw line. A night after the Warriors were blown out by Indiana, they beat the Hawks not with a high-possession, high-efficiency game–which would still be bad but at least somewhat expected–but with defense, rebounding and David Lee and Monta Ellis doing what they do down the stretch.

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: Green, whom the Nets signed after he won MVP honors in last weekend’s D-League all-star game, scored 10 points off the bench for the Nets, including two 3-pointers and one crazy fast break alley-oop dunk in which he nearly knocked his teeth out on the rim. “I was telling the guys, I wish I could have done something a little bit better, but I’m just glad it went in instead of missing it,” Green said. For Green, Tuesday’s game was his first in the NBA since the 2008-09 season. But given the Nets’ need for athleticism and a true small forward on the roster, he has a good chance to stick around beyond his original 10 days and make a place for himself on the team the rest of the season.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Jazz reserve Jeremy Evans was presented with his Dunk Championship trophy in a ceremony before Wednesday’s game. The Rockets’ Chase Budinger, the runner up, was left with little more than the memory and a badly swollen and bruised right forearm from all the practice dunks smashing his arm into the rim. Though his arm is black and blue beneath the bandages, Budinger said it is not a problem. “It’s just sore,” he said.