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First Cup: Monday

  • Anthony Rieber of Newsday: Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire walked off the court at the end of the third quarter Sunday with the Knicks trailing by 16 points. They never got back in the game as the Knicks lost to the 76ers , 106-94. Mike D'Antoni said he wasn't trying to make a statement by sitting his two stars. The Knicks, who face the Bulls in Chicago tonight, trailed by double digits for the entire fourth quarter. The closest they got was 10 points with 1:20 left. "In the sense that these guys [on the floor] were fighting, they had us back, I just didn't feel like it was fair to them to take them out and try something else," D'Antoni said. Neither player said he was upset with the decision, but Anthony sounded confused. "I really don't know what was Coach's mind-set," said Anthony, who finished with 22 points in 29:07. "Maybe he was trying to save us for tomorrow. I'm not sure. That's something you have to ask him." Asked if he was miffed, Anthony said: "I was fine. I guess he was saving me for tomorrow's game. That was the mindset out there."

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: Yesterday, at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks got a first-hand look at a team that has made a living out of always going hard for a full 48. The 76ers aren't perfect, they don't win every game. Sometimes the endless energy they commit to every game isn't enough to overcome teams that might have more talent. But when you do what the Sixers do game after game, instead of just talking about doing it, you beat a team like the Knicks 106-94 in what was supposed to be a big game in the Atlantic Division. Player-for-player, the Knicks may have a better collection of talent, but it's easy to see why the Sixers (25-17) are leading the division. "We have All-Stars, well, we have one [Andre Igoudala]," said Sixers guard Jrue Holiday, "but we don't have like [the Knicks] have with [Carmelo Anthony Anthony and Amare Stoudemire]. We know we have to play 48 minutes, which is something a lot of teams don't do. I think we go the hardest. The harder you work the luckier you get." The more you talk about working hard without actually backing it up, the more you look like the Knicks (18-23.), who lost their fifth consecutive game yesterday.

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: Prior to Sunday, we’d have figured it was more likely that Bryant would be a Laker Girl before he’d be a Laker lure. “It was probably,” teammate Pau Gasol said, “a little unexpected.” No, Jeremy Lin was a little unexpected. This, this was a whole lot shocking. And not only was Bryant reduced to mere bait in a deciding moment of a defining game in a definitive rivalry, it was his idea. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do,”Bryant said afterward. “The ball was going into the post.” The game’s No. 1 closer volunteering to be a setup man? Kobe, in the final seconds, suddenly acting like, oh this can’t be, LeBron James? OK, James shrinks from these moments. Bryant simply was being smart in this one. Still, it wouldn’t have been more surprising had Kobe taken the court for Lakers’ final possession against Boston wearing ski boots. But, sure enough, there he stood, beyond the top of the key, literally the farthest Laker from the basket and -- more notably -- the ball, as Andrew Bynum powered down low and scored the game-clincher. “Kobe came up with that play,” Bynum explained. “He said, ‘They’re not going to be able to know what to do.’ ” Asked to characterize that unlikely conversation in the Lakers’ huddle, Bynum said, “It was crazy.”

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics don’t have a legitimate center on their roster. Jermaine O’Neal missed his ninth straight game with a sprained wrist and Chris Wilcox is out indefinitely with a potential heart abnormality. So coach Doc Rivers was left with Garnett, a natural power forward, to play center. Garnett used his wiles to defend Bynum, forcing him to take 16 shots to score his 20 points, but down the stretch Garnett could offer little to no resistance. ... The result was a testament to the Celtics’ softness in the middle. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins last season because he believed Shaquille O’Neal could fill in at center, and that failed miserably because of injuries to O’Neal. Jermaine O’Neal played well in stretches but injuries have limited his minutes, so Garnett and Greg Stiemsma were all the Celtics had to offer. And the Lakers knew that. So with Los Angeles ahead by 1 point with 23.8 seconds left, Bryant suggested he play decoy and the Lakers allow Bynum to go one-on-one with Garnett. ... The Celtics were close to a momentous road victory. But scoring droughts have plagued the offense all season.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Orlando Magic Chief Executive Officer Alex Martins indicated Sunday that team decision-makers have not determined whether they will trade Dwight Howard before the NBA trade deadline on Thursday afternoon. The Magic face one of the most important personnel decisions in franchise history. Do they trade the sport's best center before the deadline to ensure they receive assets in return? Or do they retain Howard beyond the deadline and risk that he could sign a free-agent contract with another team in July and leave the Magic with no assets in return? Howard has not divulged publicly what he wants to do, and it's unclear what he has told the Magic. But one strong possibility is that he wants to exercise the early termination option in his contract after the season and keep the possibility of re-signing with the Magic on the table as he tests free agency in July. So what happens if Howard tells the Magic that is what he wants to do? Are the Magic prepared to accept the risk of not trading Howard before the deadline? ... "We're not at the point where we're ready to answer that question yet," Martins told the Orlando Sentinel before the Magic hosted the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. "Sometime in the next four days we will be, but we're not at the point where we're ready to answer that question yet."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Yes, the Pacers have impressive road victories over Boston, Orlando, the Lakers, Dallas and Chicago this season. But all those wins happened by Feb. 3. The way the Pacers played against Orlando quickly made you forget about how they were less than two minutes away from beating Miami the night before. ... The Pacers haven’t beat a team with a winning record since knocking off the Mavericks. That’s nine straight losses for the those of you counting at home. The Pacers should feel fortunate to still be the fifth seed in the East. Things aren’t going to get any easier for them. They have 12 games remaining against teams who currently have at least a .500 record. The Pacers will finally play a nationally televised game Wednesday against Philadelphia. The last thing they want to do is get embarrassed during a rare national TV appearance.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: O.J. Mayo seemed consumed by his six turnovers after he posted his third game with 20 or more points this season. In 12 career games against Denver, Mayo is averaging 19.6 points. His highest scoring average against any NBA team is 19.8 points against Washington. Mayo really seems to like the Pepsi Center given he’s averaged 21.5 points in the Nuggets’ digs where he also scored a career-high 40 points on Nov. 1, 2009. “He was aggressive,” Gasol said. “Sometimes he gets too aggressive, and I try to calm him down. But I love him for that.” Not everyone in Pepsi Center thought Mayo was the difference maker.

  • Lindsay H. Jones of The Denver Post: The Grizzlies' win moved Memphis another game in front of Denver in the Western Conference playoff standings. Both teams entered Sunday's game with 23 wins, with Memphis in the fifth spot and Denver in sixth. "It's frustrating because they're all winnable," forward Corey Brewer said. "It's just tough." Indeed, Nuggets coach George Karl said it was painful last week to watch film of Denver's first two losses to Memphis, and the tape of Sunday's game will be no better. "A close game, but we lose because we throw away too many possessions," Karl said.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The news for the Rockets got much worse on Sunday than a few road losses. Guard Kyle Lowry, a key to their success in the first half of the season, was diagnosed with a bacterial infection and will be out for two to four weeks. Lowry had been hospitalized in New York since Thursday. He underwent a laparoscopic examination after complaining of fever and abdominal distress. He is scheduled to be discharged from the hospital to return to Houston on Tuesday. “It’s tough, it’s tough,” forward Chase Budinger said. “He’s definitely our leader and our go-to player on the team. Missing him for the next month or so is going to hurt us very much. The rest of us have to really step up because it’s a big hole to fill. Goran Dragic has started the past two games with Lowry out with Jonny Flynn coming off the bench. The Rockets were not surprised by the news, but were hoping he would be back much sooner than now expected.

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: A week ago, sports obituary writers began crafting a rough draft on the Cavaliers' season. The club was in the throes of a six-game losing streak and coach Byron Scott was wondering aloud if anyone in locker room could hold teammates accountable for poor performances. But Scott, who studies the standings the way a broker does the Wall Street big board, refused to get caught up in the gloom. ... One week and three straight victories later, the Cavaliers and their playoff hopes have renewed life. They equaled their longest win streak in more than a year Sunday night with a crackling 118-107 win over Houston at The Q. The Cavaliers are tied with the eighth-place New York Knicks in the all-important loss column. Whether management will move veterans such as Ramon Sessions and Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline is not yet known, but the Cavs are showing there is fight left in them. "I feel like our confidence never died," said rookie Kyrie Irving.

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: At last season's trade deadline Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich was looking forward to the chance to leave the struggling Wizards for a playoff team. It's different this time around for Hinrich. His name is circulating in trade rumors because of Atlanta's glut of guards and his expiring contract but Hinrich hopes he's still with the Hawks after Thursday's deadline. “I like our team,” Hinrich said before the Hawks played the Kings late Sunday. “I feel like we can be a dangerous team come playoff time. I want to be a part of that.” Hinrich said it's the fourth consecutive year he's been part of trade speculation near the deadline but he's only been traded twice. The Bulls sent him to Washington on the night of the 2010 draft and the Wizards traded him to Atlanta in February 2011. ... Hinrich's contract expires after the season and Atlanta is deep at guard, two factors that have made him the subject of trade conjecture. He said he's accustomed to it by now. “You go out there and play the best you can and not worry about it,” he said. “If something is going to happen, it will happen and you deal with it from there. You can't let it affect you. It's just how this league is. It's probably lot harder on my family more than anything.”

  • Matt Kawahara of The Sacramento Bee: Used somewhat erratically during the first half of the season, beginning when he did not play at all in the Kings' first four games, veteran swingman Francisco Garcia has occupied a more consistent role lately. Before Sunday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, Garcia was averaging more than 20 minutes over the Kings' previous nine games as coach Keith Smart has worked to define roles for his bench players. "I've liked what he's done with the second unit," Smart said. "He's sort of the voice of reason over there along with (forward-center Chuck Hayes), and on top of that, the way he's been playing from a defensive standpoint has really helped our group. "Sometimes late in a game, he may be on the floor from (my) having a trust factor with him defensively." Hayes said Garcia, who has been asked primarily to guard opposing small forwards, is an "underrated help defender" who "seems like he's everywhere on the court" on defense.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors have become big trade scuttlebutt themselves this season, being mentioned in discussions about Orlando's Dwight Howard, New Orleans' Chris Kaman and New Jersey's Brook Lopez. Warriors sources said the buzz about Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut is "nothing more than hype." It can be argued that the Warriors' franchise has shown progress, just by getting into these conversations. But the rumors can also affect the usually harmonious locker room that has "Just Us" written on its wall. Coach Mark Jackson saw the need last week to address the rumors with his team. He said it would be ridiculous for the Warriors to trade Monta Ellis to Orlando in a deal that didn't net Howard. Other than that, he offered no promises. "They understand that we're in this together, but they also understand that this is a business," Jackson said. "You never want to get it twisted and think that you're going to be here, or anywhere else, forever."

  • Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times: A popular argument being thrown around since Chauncey Billups suffered a season-ending torn Achilles' tendon on Feb. 6 is how much his absence has affected the Clippers' record without him. It's 8-9. Del Negro said there's more to that figure than just Billups' absence, including a recent hectic road schedule and the fatigue that comes with it. Of those 17 games, 12 have been on the road. Nine of the 17 were against teams with winning records. And those 17 games were played in a span of 32 days — an average of about one game every other day. For as gaping a hole as Billups seems to have left the Clippers, who are lacking his veteran leadership, scoring and clutch free-throw shooting, Del Negro doesn't want to use that as a crutch. "I think we've let a few games slip away and I think we've stolen a few games as well," he said. "Usually, in the end, it balances out."

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Andrea Bargnani was a little crisper with his shot and took a little while longer to feel the fatigue in his legs, both signs that the Raptors’ leading scorer is indeed on his way back. But it’s a process and it doesn’t happen fast enough for most, Bargnani among them. “I just have to keep pushing aggressively and the rhythm is going to come back,” Bargnani said after an 11-point night against the Bucks. Casey saw improvement too from one night to the next and perhaps even pushed his own self-imposed limits with Bargnani allowing him to play just over 30 minutes a night after limiting him to 19 in his return. The difference, quite obviously, was the Raptors were very much in Sunday’s game while Saturday night’s was decided by pretty much half time. “I felt much better tonight but in the second half my legs weren’t there but that is going to come,” he said.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Larry Sanders has played a strong role off the bench in the Bucks' last two games. The 6-11 backup center had nine points and 11 rebounds Friday against the Knicks, and he added seven points, five rebounds and four blocked shots in just 14 minutes Sunday. Sanders provided starter Drew Gooden with some valuable rest and took a defensive turn on Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani. Sanders offered a defensive complement and shot-blocking prowess to go along with Gooden's strong offensive game. "Look, when Larry is out there playing with a lot of energy and changing ends, he can get a lot of opportunity baskets like he got the other night (against the Knicks)," Skiles said. "And he's always a factor around the rim defensively with his shot-blocking. It's a matter of him being in tune and ready to play, and when he is, he's normally pretty effective."