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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: The biggest upset of the night wasn't Magic 104, Heat 98. It was Dwight Howard doing a 180, a stunning about-face, saying after the game that he wants to stay for the rest of the season. No, it's not April FooI's Day. I and a lot others were so certain that he was going to be an ex-Magic player and headed to wherever the club could deal him. That could still be the case, considering Howard isn't expressing his undying love to the Magic beyond the season, visions of free-agency floating in his head. Howard merely has put the burden on the Magic. Same rock, same hard place for them no matter what he says now. A "maybe" from Dwight is a no. The Magic can't take this gamble and let him stroll away with no compensation. They can't be another team in his free-agent pool. They have to try to trade him, perhaps to the Lakers or the Nets, two teams on the trade-me manifesto he delivered during training camp in December. The Magic and CEO Alex Martins have exhausted all possibilities of persuading him to sign an extension, not an extended stay. They must receive something in return to avoid repeating the Shaq gaffe, 16 years later.

  • Brant Parsons of the Orlando Sentinel: At one point on Tuesday night, the NBA’s official online store was selling Dwight Howard t-shirts — with the New Jersey Nets. Astute shoppers quickly got a photo of the page out on Twitter but eventually the link to the shirts went dead. With the trade deadline looming, rumors have been picking up on Howard being moved with the Nets a possible destination. Howard spoke after the Magic beat the Heat and said he had told the team that he has asked them to let him complete the season with the team. Not sure if he will or not, but if he goes to the Nets, at least we know that the NBA Store is ready.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The Heat plays its second game in two nights on Wednesday at Chicago’s United Center. The Heat is 6-5 on the second night of back-to-back games and the Bulls, the top team in the Eastern Conference, have lost five in a row to the Heat. “Trying to get to where we want to go you’ve gotto meet and exceed expectations and challenges and this is one of them,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said before the team embarked on its current three-game road trip. “We know all of these teams are great on their home floor, but we’re a great road team.” The Bulls are 17-3 at home. Only the Heat (18-2) has a better home record this season. Chicago (35-9) has won 10 of its past 11 games. Chicago had the day off on Tuesday. Immediately following Wednesday’s game in Chicago, the Heat will fly to Philadelphia for Friday’s game against the Sixers, fourth in the East. “It’s a tough week,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “When you talk about the Eastern Conference, it can’t get any tougher.”

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: They gave up a lot to get rid of a lot of headaches. Oh, and the Warriors acquired Andrew Bogut -- a potential top-line center -- in the process, too. That's a short way of saying that the Warriors finally relented and traded Monta Ellis on Tuesday, probably at least two years later than they should have. So this is the biggest, riskiest move in the Joe Lacob era, by far. It's also the largest sign that Lacob is at last grasping the full limitations of the roster he inherited more than a year ago. Simply put: The Warriors will take an early hit for it, but they had to make this move, and they had to make it now. Before things destabilized completely, the Warriors gulped hard and pulled the trigger to trade one of their most popular players of all time.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Bogut, 27, has played only 12 games this season after he fractured his left ankle Jan. 25 and won't be back before April, if at all this season. For that reason, several players expressed concern about the message management was sending. In essence, the Warriors gave up two starters for an injured center and a question mark in Jackson. "So we're just giving up on the season?" one Warrior asked aloud before the game. Said forward David Lee after the game: "It certainly on paper looks that way. That's the best way of putting it, I think. We acquired two great players, but from what I heard, Bogut is out for a long while. So, it certainly seems that way. We lost two guys who are a huge part of what we do." Management isn't convinced the trade is a death sentence to Golden State's playoff hopes. After the win Tuesday, the Warriors have won three straight and are among five teams in pursuit of Houston for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. Golden State trails the Rockets by three games. The Warriors did not want to trade Udoh, one source said, but the Bucks would not do the deal without Udoh in it. Figuring Bogut and power forward Lee will dominate the minutes, Golden State was willing to sacrifice Udoh.

  • Matt Kawahara of The Sacramento Bee: Kings coach Keith Smart said that Clifford Ray, the former NBA center and longtime coach, has delved into his role as a consultant working with the team's big men. "He's really getting them to understand how to play the five (center) position and see the floor … being a big man in the back line of a defense and communicating and talking," Smart said. Smart added that after observing the Kings' bigs playing too upright at times, Ray has begun encouraging them to adopt a lower, more athletic stance. Ray has worked one-on-one after several practices with Hassan Whiteside. The second-year center said Ray is advising him to hold the ball higher around the basket – when preparing to dunk, Whiteside said, he sometimes brings the ball down first – and be active on defense.

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: They really should send the box score of this one to the Hall of Fame, as one of the all-time great defensive performances. What the Lakers did Tuesday was nothing short of miraculous. They never fouled. Or almost never fouled. In a tough, physical game that went two overtimes. The Lakers shot 34 free throws. The Grizzlies shot 5. And two of those were technicals. In other words, the Grizzlies put up 116 shots and were fouled exactly twice. Like I said, the box score should be saved for posterity. “It was a playoff atmosphere,” said Grizzlies guard Tony Allen. Right. Complete with the shafting from the officials. So the Lakers defeated the Grizzlies, 116-111, in a wildly-entertaining game at FedExForum. The place was packed. The crowd was jacked. The Grizzlies refused to give in to the circumstances. Last year, the Grizzlies figured out how to win without Rudy Gay. This year, they’ve figured out how to win without Zach Randolph. Tuesday, though, was something new altogether: No Zach or Rudy.

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: Is he going to Houston? Is he going to Orlando? Is he going to Chicago? Or is he staying in Los Angeles? Pau Gasol went to the one place he knew he could forget about his own worries and think about somebody else's troubles for a change. After the Lakers arrived Monday in Memphis, he went to St. Jude's Children's Hospital to visit some sick kids. Coach Mike Brown tagged along with the Lakers' power forward. "You can't really get away from it too much," Gasol said Tuesday of the trade rumors swirling around him with the deadline approaching Thursday at noon. "This year has been pretty intense as far as the uncertainty. My situation and how it's going to end up and play out, I really don't know. But I still come in and love what I do. I love being here (playing with the Lakers) and I'll continue to do that for as long as I can." Gasol began visiting St. Jude's during his rookie season with Memphis and his mother and father, both in the medical profession at home in their native Spain, came to work at the hospital. Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies, Pau's brother, has joined them.

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Josh Smith wants out. That was reaffirmed publicly recently, even if behind the scenes it wasn’t news. He has wanted out all season. The only thing that really has changed is why Smith wants out. Before, he wasn’t happy that he was viewed as the weak support beam seemingly every time the Hawks crumbled. Now it’s more about needing a new start, wanting to play for a true title contender, his perceptions of the way the Hawks have dealt with him in negotiations (contrasting with teammates), a general lack of appreciation. Here’s the Hawks’ dilemma: Those no-no-Josh-don’t-do-that moments are few and far between now. His game has matured. His head has matured. He has morphed, dare we suggest, into the team’s strongest support beam. ... So what kind of message would it send if the Hawks dealt their best and most popular player six weeks before the playoffs? And do you really want to see Smith, an Atlanta kid, go elsewhere right now and see him potentially flourish with a title contender? ... Given Smith’s play this season and the level of resiliency the team has shown despite injuries, the Hawks would’ve been an interesting team to watch in the playoffs at full strength. But they’re not built for greatness now and, Smith’s pleas notwithstanding, an earth-shaking deal from Sund isn’t likely. The Hawks don’t feel any pressure to move their best player right now. This week’s deadline is not their deadline.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: There's an old line about how to win in basketball — it's not about X's and O's as much as Jimmies and Joes. But not, it seems, Zazas. The Atlanta coaching staff drew up a beautiful X's and O's play with 2.2 seconds left Tuesday night, but Zaza Pachulia missed an open layup in the final ticks of overtime and the Nuggets escaped with a 118-117 victory at the Pepsi Center. On the final play, Denver zeroed in on Hawks star Joe Johnson. After a pick pushed Arron Afflalo out of the play, Al Harrington picked up Johnson. But with the ball being inbounded from under the basket, somehow Pachuliua slipped into the lane untouched, until Danilo Gallinari spotted Zaza. "I don't know why he was wide open" said Gallinari, who forced Zaza to readjust in midair. "So at the last moment I just jumped at him, because it was the only option I had." This was a quality win for the Nuggets, who are 6-2 since the all-star break and 24-19 overall. And to think, they could be 8-0 since the break — the loss to Cleveland was by one point and the loss to Memphis was by three.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: In an NBA season, one game either way usually means no more than its impact on the record. The Rockets, however, were reeling. They had lost six of seven games. Lowry was out. Martin was struggling. They face Charlotte in the fourth game in five nights then head out to a road back-to-back against the Clippers and Suns. They needed more than just a win. They needed to feel the way they felt when Kevin Durant missed his final jumper and Patrick Patterson blocked Serge Ibaka’s final attempt at the win. They did not do everything well. They did not even shoot that well through most of the game when they held the lead. But the Rockets played with great intensity throughout, making Scola’s final point about backing it up with more of the same valid. When the Rockets beat the Thunder in Houston, Kevin McHale said, “I told the guys … if we play that hard every single night, we’d be OK.” The same goes after they beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City. “The guys played really hard,” McHale said. “It was fun.” With Thursday’s trade deadline looming, they could get through this tough stretch of the season expecting to enjoy themselves again. The deadline will almost surely bring changes. The Rockets could make a huge move to set up future teams or could work just to create more cap space. As mentioned last week, they would take Dwight Howard without a contract agreement and take their chances on keeping him. That and other deals for stars seemed extremely unlikely late Tuesday.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The bad Russell Westbrook showed up Tuesday night in the Thunder’s inexcusable 104-103 loss to the depleted Houston Rockets. Not the Westbrook who can be careless with the ball. A backup point guard from Slovenia stole the ball twice from Westbrook in the final 65 seconds, but this is the NBA. Those things happen. But the bad Westbrook who failed to understand time and place, and apparently still hasn’t learned, was center stage. Westbrook’s competitive zeal, which has made him an NBA superstar, went all Mr. Hyde at the worst of times. Weary from game-long clashes with Goran Dragic, Westbrook lost his cool with 48 seconds left in the game. Up four points and having just tumbled to the ground courtesy of a Dragic foul, Westbrook sprang to his feet as if told his mother wears combat boots. Westbrook barked at and moved toward Dragic, held back only by Rockets guard Courtney Lee. Technical foul. A free point, on Lee’s foul shot. A sip of water to a team about to die of thirst. Check the final score. The Rockets won by a solitary point. ... The Thunder likes to talk about lessons learned. But future Thunder foes learned a lesson Tuesday night. Get in Westbrook’s head, hang around and he just might hand you the game.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: All it took was for the return of one player for the Pacers bench to get some life back. George Hill, out the previous two games with a sprained left shoulder, set the tone for the bench when he asserted himself on the offensive end by scoring nine points in the second quarter when the second unit got the lead up to 17 points. Then it was Lou Amundson’s turn to become a fan favorite. Amundson, who is in the rotation because of Jeff Foster’s ongoing back problems, made his first eight shots from the field and had fans chanting “M-V-P” for his hard play. There’s no doubt that Amundson was the MVP of the game for the Pacers. ... The bench picked the perfect time to play well because they’re about to face a team that has just as good of a bench. The 76ers come to Indy for a nationally televised game Wednesday. The 76ers’ leading scorer – Lou Williams – and third leading scorer – Thaddeus Young – both come off the bench. This is also another chance for the Pacers to get a victory against a team with a winning record.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Portland has stomached the Jail Blazers era. It has outlasted the Frail Blazers era. But now, with losses mounting at an alarming rate and a once-promising season continuing to nosedive, it looks like a new and equally painful time has arrived: The Fail Blazers era. A season of disappointment added another forgettable chapter Tuesday night, when the Indiana Pacers demolished the Trail Blazers 92-75 before 10,933 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Blazers, who were sluggish and sloppy from the opening tip and trailed by as many as 29 points, had just five assists and made just 20 field goals during the cover-your-eyes performance. It was the fewest assists and second-fewest number of field goals the Blazers have recorded in a game in franchise history. "We went harder at each other in practice yesterday," Jamal Crawford said afterward. They probably shot better, too.

  • Ryan Wolstat of Toronto Sun: The Raptors have been fielding calls all year but have not been particularly aggressive on the trade front. The plan remains to keep all options open for next season, which means not taking on any more salary extending past this season. “No. I don’t sense anything happening, especially anything that’s going to affect our flexibility, cap flexibility next season, us going into free agency,” Dwane Casey said when queried whether he is expecting any action at Thursday’s trade deadline

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavs are shifting through a number of trade proposals just two days before the NBA trade deadline. ESPN reported a possible three-way deal in which the Cavs would send Sessions to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Lakers would send their first-round pick to Houston and the Rockets would send point guard Jonny Flynn to the Cavs. The Cavs aren't interested in that deal unless the first-rounder is coming to Cleveland. Scott said things are quiet right now. "I like this team," he said. "I like the guys we have. I love the way we're playing. I've been in this league long enough to know something might happen. Anything we do is for the betterment of this organization."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Don't look for the Mavs to be involved in any trades by Thursday's 2 p.m. trading deadline. With one exception, owner Mark Cuban said. "Unless somebody has a brain lapse and makes a mistake,'' Cuban said. "Then we'll happily take advantage of it.'' The Mavs, who have roughly $16 million of salary cap space, are hoping to be a major player this summer when Dwight Howard and Deron Williams will likely be among the top-tier free agents available.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards are unsure if the team that took the floor against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday will resemble the squad that takes on the New Orleans Hornets after Thursday’s trade deadline. But if little to nothing changes with the roster, Coach Randy Wittman made it clear before the team arrived in Dallas that the Wizards would have to make a more solid commitment to playing defense for a full 48 minutes if they are ever going to improve as a team. “We can talk about it all we want,” Wittman said. “It’s just a matter of understanding that and going out and doing that.” Wittman is still waiting for the Wizards’ play to support the talk. Despite NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki missing significant time because of foul trouble, the Wizards were unable to fend off the Mavericks’ ancillary pieces down the stretch and lost, 107-98, at American Airlines Center.