First Cup: Tuesday

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Magic General Manager Otis Smith said the list of teams who are still calling about the possibility of acquiring or "renting" Dwight Howard are down to "six to eight." "I'd say everybody in the league has called us. …but this late, it's six to eight," Smith said before the Magic faced the Toronto Raptors on Monday night. Smith said there was "nothing new to report" about Howard's situation. With the trade deadline next Wednesday, Smith wouldn't get into any specifics about Howard. Check out pictures from the 2012 NBA All-Star game. "We still have a ways to go. It's early," he said. "Usually nothing gets done until the 15th." Howard has been talking with Magic CEO Alex Martins, who remains hopeful that the franchise can convince their superstar center to stay.

  • Ryan Wolstat of Toronto Sun: DeRozan continued his best stretch of the season (21 or more points in six of past eight games). Besides the offence, DeRozan is getting it at the other end as well. Richardson was held to brutal 2-for-10 shooting, while starting two guards had shot 22-56 (39%) in the previous six games, mostly while being defended by DeRozan. “Just being out there being aggressive, not settling as much as I did earlier in the season, just trying to get to the free throw line,” DeRozan said of his turnaround.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Pacers coach Frank Vogel was very honest when asked if this was an indication of how much more work they have to do before they can be mentioned anywhere near the Bulls and Heat. “Yeah, I guess so,” Vogel bluntly said about losing to those twoteams by a total of 70 points this season. What Monday and the two losses to Miami have shown is that the Bulls and Heat are clearly the best two teams in the East – and the NBA – and everybody else is miles behind them in the conference trying – and failing – to close the gap. A couple of Pacers tried to brush off the loss by saying the season series with the Bulls is tied 1-1. That’s 100 percent true, but that’s a poor way to look at it. They could get by with that mind frame if the Bulls beat them by four or five points. But 20 points? Mentioning the season series was the last thing they should have been talking about after the Bulls worked them over.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: That was fun while it lasted. The Bulls' rare streak of playing at full strength ended at four straight games Monday when C.J. Watson sat out with a sprained left ankle he suffered in Sunday's victory over Philadelphia. Then, just 83 seconds after tipoff, Richard Hamilton banged into a Roy Hibbert screen, immediately clutched his right shoulder and quickly retreated to the locker room. He didn't return. "He'll be examined Tuesday," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He tried to shake it off. At first, I thought it might be a stinger. But that wasn't the case." Players said Hamilton admitted to be in pain afterward but was in mostly good spirits. "Hopefully it's not as serious as it looked," Ronnie Brewer said. "We need him healthy for the stretch run."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Each time he drained a 3-pointer in the decisive fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki turned and raised both arms. He extended three fingers on each hand toward the sky, starting with his thumbs. The Dallas Mavericks star's signature celebration came complete with a snarl after each of his four long-distance bombs. It was as close to taunting as a player can get. And since it was totally legal, the Thunder, and the 18,203 fans inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, just had to live with it. “I don't particularly care for it, but that's part of the game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Nowitzki's showboating. “In order to stop the celebration, you've got to just stop ’em.” So that's what the Thunder did. Once again, Oklahoma City clamped down defensively in crunch time. And once again, the Thunder used that formula to emerge victorious, this time clinching a 95-91 win over the Mavericks on Monday night.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Jason Kidd hit on perhaps the most cogent point of the night. He lamented how the Mavericks can't seem to get the benefit of the whistles this season. "He didn't foul him,'' Kidd said. "That was a bad call. Clean block. It's been like that all year. We don't get the benefit of the whistle. I don't think we're looked upon as defending champions. That's a whole 'nother story. Dirk, he should live at the line, if they would call it the way it's supposed to. But he doesn't. We've just got to clean up our end of game situations.''

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Lamar Odom said he never asked the Mavs to buy out his contract so he could play for the Los Angeles Clippers. He also said he's happy with the Mavericks, and doesn't know how some of the wild rumors got started. "Some of the rumors were untrue and that's something you have no control over," Odom said, "It's just like you're not here for eight days in a row, or however many days, and people stop seeing you and start talking." Odom asked the Lakers to trade him and realize they did him a favor by dealing him to the defending champions. "You know how fortunate I am to be here," Odom said. "I'm a guy that doesn't mind staying and working things out -- even if they don't."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Ty Lawson got word that Kobe Bryant was — how should we put it? — displeased. "I heard he was kind of (ticked off)," Lawson said of the Lakers superstar, who had three monster games but lost the Western Conference player of the week award Monday to the Nuggets point guard. But there was Lawson, in overtime Monday night, hitting a Kobe-like 3-pointer — frighteningly fearless — a dagger with four seconds left, giving Denver the lead for good against Sacramento. The Nuggets won 119-116 at the Pepsi Center, a game that Lawson said, "At one point, we had no business winning." But for the second straight night, the little guy hit a big jump shot — and the Nuggets (22-17) have now won four straight games. "I've seen Kobe's stats," said a respectful Lawson, who became the first Denver player to average 20-plus points, 11-plus assists and seven-plus rebounds in a week since Fat Lever in 1989. "I'm just going to keep playing hard and try to get more of them." The Nuggets wouldn't have even gotten to overtime if it weren't for Arron Afflalo. Down three with less than a second left in the fourth quarter, Afflalo hoisted a 3-pointer and was fouled by the Kings' Marcus Thornton. "He lives for those moments," Lawson said.

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: While there are several reasons to recommend coach Keith Smart, the timing of the Kings' decision to pick up his option for next season is odd – and totally premature. Smart took over Jan. 5. This is March 6. That is a grand total of eight weeks. Why not wait until the end of the season before deciding whether to maintain the status quo or to pursue one of the highly regarded available veteran coaches – Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Jeff Van Gundy, among others? Given the team's young talent and salary cap flexibility and the excellent upcoming NBA draft – not to mention an apparent resolution of the arena quandary – the Kings' coaching job has become very appealing. So, again, why the rush to judgment? Besides the fact that longtime Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie hates the drama and uncertainty inherent in coaching searches?

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: If Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin was a defensive end in the NFL, he might have drawn a 15-yard penalty for his apparent horse-collar takedown of Timberwolves guard Luke Ridnour late in the fourth quarter of Monday night's game at Target Center. Ridnour and Griffin both fell to the floor under the basket near the Timberwolves' bench, but neither player was hurt and Ridnour expressed no anger toward the Clippers' star. "He wasn't doing anything intentional," Ridnour said after the Wolves' 95-94 victory. "He said he was trying to catch himself as he was falling." The play occurred with 2:22 left after Clippers guard Chris Paul stole the ball from Wolves guard Ricky Rubio. Paul was about to make a move to the basket when he passed to a streaking Griffin. Ridnour fouled Griffin and both tumbled to the floor, generating boos from the sellout crowd of 19,509. The game already was tense with players from both sides jawing at the referees. Griffin was hit with a technical foul for complaining after the play, then missed both of his free-throw attempts. "I think that was out of frustration," he said. "We've got to do a better job of not letting things like that affect us."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers need Caron Butler's offense now more than ever. But the small forward was ineffective Monday night in the Clippers' 95-94 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Butler missed all six of his shots and failed to score in 18 minutes 43 seconds. He didn't play in the fourth quarter, when the Clippers mounted their charge. "Part of that is my fault," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I played him too many minutes last night, maybe. But he's a pro and he'll bounce back." Butler played 40:46 during the Clippers' 105-103 overtime victory over Houston on Sunday night. He scored 14 points on four-for-12 shooting. Bobby Simmons played the majority of the minutes against Minnesota.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Eight Warriors scored at least eight points, but the player who logged the fewest minutes of all of them might have had the biggest impact in Monday's 120-100 victory over the Wizards. Stephen Curry did little more than make a cameo, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 9:18. But having the point guard back on the court for his first significant minutes in five games worked wonders for the flailing Warriors. "There's no question about it. It means something to this team," coach Mark Jackson said of Curry's return from a sprained right foot. "Everyone is well aware of what he can do out on the floor and how much better he makes us. Seeing him sitting there takes something away from the team. They get their hopes up that he's going to suit up and he doesn't."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Coach Randy Wittman didn’t have to see Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis torch his team from nearly every spot on the floor, including half court. He didn’t have to watch Warriors guard Stephen Curry track down an errant Ellis pass intended for no one in particular and bury a desperation three-pointer from 27 feet. He didn’t really need to watch 5-foot-9 reserve Nate Robinson soar above Andray Blatche to snatch a rebound, then dribble down the other end to bury an uncontested three-pointer. From the body language of his players as they joked around in the locker room prior to tip-off, to their dancing and giggling in pregame warmups, Wittman knew that the result at the end of the night was going to resemble the 120-100 debacle that unfolded at Verizon Center on Monday night. He fumed through every defensive breakdown, terrible pass, missed free throw and meaningless Nick Young second-half basket, and afterward, Wittman took the blame for what easily was the worst home performance since he replaced Flip Saunders. “That’s about as disappointed as I’ve been. I’ll take full responsibility for this one,” Wittman said. “I had a sense before the game we weren’t ready to play. But I ain’t going to put up with that again. Inexcusable and that’s on me. I’ll take responsibility for that, because I’m going to clean that up. That is unprofessional. I apologize to everybody that had to watch it and had to come here tonight.” The Washington Wizards (8-29) have lost 19 games by double digits, with 10 coming since Wittman took over.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Rookie Tobias Harris started again Monday after playing 21 minutes in a starting role against Orlando on Saturday night. "We're just trying to mix it up and get something going," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "Obviously we didn't start very well in the Orlando game, but we'll take a look at it again. It's a home game, see how it works." Harris played 15 minutes and had five points and four rebounds as Skiles went primarily with a smaller lineup. Carlos Delfino moved to shooting guard with Shaun Livingston on the bench. Delfino continued in his shooting slump, hitting just one of seven shots and scoring two points in 21 minutes. Livingston played 15 minutes and had two points and two assists after not playing a minute against the Magic. He had started the previous 23 games before Skiles made the lineup switch in Orlando. Beno Udrih played the entire fourth quarter in a two point-guard lineup and had six points and four assists in 24 minutes. Dunleavy also played the entire final period and finished with 10 points in 33 minutes. "He (Harris) got an opportunity because we haven't played well and it's time to take a look at him," Skiles said. "Not because he's playing out of his mind or anything out there."

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Sometimes change is a good thing, whether done out of necessity or just because. Sometimes it just doesn't make any difference. It was the latter for the 76ers last night against the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite a couple of changes to the starting lineup, the Sixers lost for the 10th time in 14 games, this time by 97-93. Coach Doug Collins decided his team needed a different look, so second-year swingman Evan Turner got his first start of the season in place of Jodie Meeks and rookie Nikola Vucevic replaced fellow rookie Lavoy Allen at the center spot. Though the lineup was different, the result was oh, so familiar. The Sixers now are 2-12 in games decided by seven points or fewer and 0-7 in games decided by fewer than five.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: For a night, at least, the issues inside the Trail Blazers locker room shifted from the dilemma at point guard and the team's lack of execution to more pressing matters. Like packing. Gerald Wallace says he figures he will need at least two suitcases for the Blazers' 12-day, seven-game trip, which starts today with a flight to Minnesota, and ends back at Portland International Airport in the early hours of March 19 after a flight from Oklahoma City. "Maybe three," Wallace said of the number of suitcases. "They say I pack like a woman." Wesley Matthews says he needs just one suitcase, and after being a third-year player who just graduated from being at the mercy of veterans on the road, he understood Wallace's apparent disregard for frugality. "That's because he's going to make everyone else carry his (suitcases)," Matthews said. Yes, it was all smiles and giggles inside a locker room that has been sullen and void of spirit for much of the past month. Running past a depleted and lifeless New Orleans team to end a three-game losing streak can do that.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: New Orleans came into Monday night’s game ranked 29th among the league’s 30 teams, averaging just 88.4 points a game. The Trail Blazers took advantage, outscoring the Hornets 24-10 in the third quarter to take a 70-48 lead, putting away any hopes the Hornets may have had about getting a road victory. Ariza played his first game since last week against the Toronto Raptors, but he couldn’t get into any type of offensive rhythm after missing four of his first five shots before finishing with four points. "I didn’t have a rhythm but it was fun being out there competing,’’ Ariza said. Except for Belinelli, all of the Hornets’ players appeared rattled from the Trail Blazers’ defensive pressure. Shooting guard Xavier Henry and Kaman mishandled passes. Starting point guard Jarrett Jack forced shots and struggled to get the Hornets into their offensive sets. Several times, the Hornets were forced to attempts shots just before the 24-shot clock expired. After 38 games, the Hornets have surpassed 100 points only three times. The Trail Blazers came into Monday’s game surrendering 100 points per game in their last three games.

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: Gordon Hayward entered Monday as the only Jazz player to have started all 36 games this season. But when the jump ball was tossed up against the Cavaliers, the Utah forward was stuck on the bench. His reserve role occurred because Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin made his biggest in-season lineup change since taking over for Jerry Sloan. Going all-in for a second-half playoff push, Corbin sent Hayward to the second unit and started the game with Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Josh Howard, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Hayward responded like a 10-year veteran instead of a second-year pro who doesn’t turn 22 until March 23. He scored 11 first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting, running the floor with passion and smoothly fitting in with a second unit led by veteran point guard Earl Watson. The No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft finished with a season-high-tying 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting, rivaling Al Jefferson as Utah’s MVP during a 109-100 victory against Cleveland. “I didn’t take it as anything but [Corbin] is trying to help the team win,” Hayward said. “That’s what we need is wins, so that’s what I’m focused on.”

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: It was Clint Eastwood in the movie "Magnum Force," who introduced the phrase, "A man's got to know his limitations" into the pop culture lexicon. It's a philosophy Tristan Thompson is embracing during his rookie season on the offensive end. The power forward averages 7.1 points per game, mostly on dunks, offensive-rebound conversions and the occasional baby hook. He rarely strays beyond five feet of the rim when shooting. "I know what the team needs me to do and as of right now a big thing is not shooting a 15 footer," Thompson said. But come off-season, the coaching staff wants to expand Thompson's offensive game and it plans to enlist the help of former Cavs All-Star Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Coach Byron Scott confirmed that Ilgauskas, named a special assistant to General Manager Chris Grant in January, will take part in training camp next season and work with the team's big men. Ilgauskas was not only good around the basket, but shot a solid mid-range jumper.