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First Cup: Thursday

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Philadelphia 76ers are lording over the Atlantic Division after years of misery. The Knicks, bound in a cycle of perpetual dysfunction, are charging hard down the I-95 corridor, becoming a legitimate threat to the throne. The power shifted a bit Wednesday as the Knicks outhustled and out-scrapped the 76ers for an 82-79 victory, cutting the 76ers’ lead to three games with their fifth straight win. The game came down to defense, grit and Jeremy Lin’s unwavering self-confidence on a difficult night. Lin had 16 points in the fourth quarter — after shooting 1 for 11 in the first three periods — and scored the Knicks’ last 8 points, all from the foul line. “It’s just a credit to my teammates, how they kept the game close for me,” he said. “Man, the way they defended was unbelievable.” Amar’e Stoudemire, whose resurgence has been a huge part of the Knicks’ turnaround — and been simultaneously overshadowed by it — was energetic and demonstrative all night, leading the Knicks with 21 points and 9 rebounds. A defensive battle once would have favored Philadelphia. But the resurgent Knicks (23-24) have taken on the persona of their interim coach, Mike Woodson, who considers defense the highest virtue. They held the 76ers to 38.7 percent shooting and had a 47-39 rebounding advantage. The Knicks have not lost since Woodson took the reins, and Wednesday’s victory was certainly the biggest of the bunch. Despite speculation that Woodson might move away from Lin as a featured player, Lin continues to provide critical scoring and playmaking.

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News With gas in the Big Apple running around $4 a gallon, it's probably a $40 to $50 car ride down the Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia and back. You're looking at up to $20 in tolls and parking at the Wells Fargo Center runs at least $15. Then you still actually had to purchase tickets for Wednesday night's Sixers-Knicks game, and I doubt a lot of the $12 seats in the upper level were available. Add in concessions, and it was easily a $150 to $200 night for each Knicks fan. Funny thing is, that was still probably cheaper than taking the subway to Madison Square Garden for a real Knicks home game, assuming you could actually get access to a ticket. Average New Yorkers can't afford to go to a Knicks game, but they love their basketball team. That's why they think little of traveling the I-95 corridor to New Jersey, Washington and, yes, Philadelphia, where tickets are always available. That was not really a home game for the Sixers. At least half of the sellout crowd of 20,470 was cheering for New York, and at times it seemed like the entire building was. This was a hostile takeover of South Philadelphia - the type of invasion of somebody else's house that Eagles, Phillies and Flyers fans proudly brag about doing. The Knicks rode the love they got to an 82-79 home, um, road win.

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: Even though he’d been in Oklahoma City less than 24 hours and been through zero practices with the Thunder, he played 19 minutes against the Clippers. He scored five points, grabbed one rebound, dished one assist and even blocked one shot. “He fit in well,” reserve center Nazr Mohammed said of Fisher’s time with the second unit.“It helped that they played a lot of zone, but he’s played a long time. All the sets are the same, just different names.” Still, if Fisher can play that well cold, imagine what he’ll do after a practice or two. He’s more of a set-up guy in the mold of a traditional point guard, and that will be a lot easier once he has a chance to play a bit with these guys. “I think he’ll bring stability,” reserve forward Nick Collison said after one game with Fisher. “He’s good at handling pressure, at getting into offenses ... and being able to knock down open shots.” ... Today, the Thunder is closer to being a championship team because of the different things that Fisher can do. Yes, he’s going to be a great locker room guy, a fantastic community ambassador. But more than anything, he’s an upgrade in talent. The Thunder made the deal and spent the money because it expects big things from him on the court. “He’s not going to be this guy that’s going to be sitting down with our young players and saying, ‘I remember when we did this,’” Brooks said. “He has to be able to get out on the court and play and be a big part of what we do.”

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: Bruce Bowen got a little choked up when he talked about the Spurs organization Wednesday night as he became the seventh player in team history to have his jersey retired. “I thank you all for allowing me to be share this moment with you all,” Bowen said at the end of his 15-minute speech, his voice cracking just a tad. Looking resplendent in his customary bowtie, Bowen watched the action from courtside midcourt seats throughout the game. And it was fitting that his team took control of the victory over Minnesota in the second half with the kind of defensive effort that earned him five selections on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team. ... Bowen was joined on a makeshift stage at center court of the AT&T Center by former teammates Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, David Robinson, general manager R.C. Buford, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and many family members. Most of the sellout crowd of 18,581 stayed around more than an hour after the Spurs’ victory over Minnesota to watch the ceremony.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Wolves coach Rick Adelman compensated Wednesday at San Antonio by starting rookie Derrick Williams alongside Kevin Love in a small lineup, while 7-foot Darko Milicic remained on the sideline and out of favor. Milicic was inactive for Monday's victory against Golden State and its smallish lineup after he started Sunday at Sacramento but played only the first six minutes. He did not play in the two games before that and was inactive the game before. This season, he has missed games some nights because of a variety of injuries and other nights because Adelman has chosen not to play him. "He hasn't done anything to really give you a lot of faith that he's going to go out and do the job," Adelman said of Milicic. "He's gotten himself out of shape. He hasn't been as driven as you'd like so when a situation like this happens, it's time for someone to have their opportunity and get back in there. Today, [Williams] going to get his chance and Anthony Randolph is going to get his chance and we'll see if any of those guys can step up." Adelman then went out and relied on a small lineup that featured Love, Williams and Anthony Tolliver.

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: It figures to be only a matter of time before Ramon Sessions moves into the Lakers' starting lineup, returning Steve Blake to a backup role at point guard. That time wasn't Wednesday night, however. Blake started for the fourth consecutive game since the Lakers traded Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets and acquired Sessions from Cleveland in a multi-player deal at the trade deadline last Thursday. Sessions' impact has been difficult to miss, with his speed and ability to get into the paint among the chief reasons the Lakers traded for him. He isn't comfortable with either the Lakers' offensive or defensive schemes, however. "I'm definitely not up to speed yet," Sessions said. "I'm not comfortable like I would like to be just because I don't know exactly where everybody is supposed to be out on the floor. I'm starting to know more plays for myself as where I'm supposed to go. "But being a point guard, I want to dictate where everybody else goes and tell them where to go. I'm going to get it sooner or later. It's a little different than in Cleveland. I'm definitely trying to get all the concepts down as soon as possible." As for moving Sessions into the starting lineup sooner rather than later, Lakers coach Mike Brown said it's not a pressing concern at the moment.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Shawn Marion missed his third consecutive game Wednesday night when the Dallas Mavericks hosted the Los Angeles Lakers. Marion is suffering from a sore left knee that has been bothering him for some time. His absence left the Mavs in a difficult position to try and contain Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who was just 11 of 37 from the field with 29 points in two previous meetings this season with Marion shadowing him. Marion, one of the game's best defenders, wanted to play in the worst possible way. "It's not so much about playing against Kobe," he said. "It's just going out there and fighting with my team. "Other than that, it is what it is." Marion hopes to be back in time for Friday's game in San Antonio.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Sometimes words don't do an event justice. The Pistons' found a way to lose a game they had no business winning. After the Pistons came back from a 25-point deficit, two crucial mistakes in the final five seconds left to a demoralizing 116-115 defeat to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday at Pepsi Center. Flint native JaVale McGee dunked in a Arron Afflalo free-throw line miss with 5.6 seconds left, after Ben Gordon fouled Afflalo on a layup that cut the lead to one. It negated a historic comeback from the Pistons and a similar night from Gordon, who scored a season-high 45, three away from his career high. Gordon missed a contested fadeaway as time expired. "Sometimes you have to experience a little bit of hell to get to heaven," said Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, whose team's last two losses were heartbreaking.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: About 20 minutes after the Nuggets' great escape, George Karl sat down in front of the media for a postgame Pepsi Center news conference and flashed the grin of a coach who knew his team had gotten away with something. Detroit's Ben Gordon scored 45 points. The Nuggets blew a 25-point lead. The Pistons outran the running Nuggets, 24 fast-break points to 14. Detroit hit 14 3-pointers and almost as many free throws (21) as the Nuggets took (22). And yet, on Wednesday night, this happened: Nuggets 116, Pistons 115. In regulation. In hair-raising fashion. "I don't know if we were the best team," Karl said. "But I thought it was a (darn) good played game."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: For the first time in nearly 10 years, Nene stepped into an NBA arena and he wasn’t representing the Denver Nuggets or wearing the No. 31. The last week has been an emotional and reflective one for Nene, with him being uprooted from the only NBA franchise he has known and being thrust from a team with playoff aspirations to another headed toward the lottery. Surrounded by an unfamiliar set of teammates, in an unusual red uniform with a horizontal stripe and with hip-hop mogul and New Jersey Nets co-owner Jay-Z seated courtside, Nene didn’t waste any time settling in. On the first possession of the Washington Wizards’ 108-89 win over the Nets on Wednesday night at Prudential Center, Nene caught the ball at the foul line and sprinted around Nets center Shelden Williams for an easy layup. The rest of the evening, Nene showed why the Wizards added him to the roster at the trade deadline in a three-team deal. He set solid screens to get his teammates open looks, played effective defense in the low post, and finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in the decisive victory.

  • Andy Vasquez of The Record: For the second straight game Deron Williams left Prudential Center without speaking to reporters; his locker was empty when the Nets’ locker room was opened to media. Johnson questioned his team’s effort for the first time in more than a month. “I’m always one that’s tried to be really, really positive, at all times with our team,” Johnson said. “But [the effort] could have been better.” It was all part of one of the most frustrating nights in a season full of frustrating nights. The Nets would have to win their remaining 18 games to finish at .500. The team has lost six out of seven in a stretch that all but guarantees the team’s final month in New Jersey will be completely irrelevant. “Demoralizing,” Anthony Morrow said of the loss.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: By toning down their feelings to scattered boos, it’s nice that Magic fans either have 1)forgiven Hill for not re-signing 2) simply recognize an old, worn-out storyline. ... The Magic won their 30th game, although they’ve been inconsistent this season. The view on the other side of the glass is different. “They’ve won 30 games. I don’t know what everybody is complaining about here,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. ... Magic’s offense flamed out late in Miami and scored just 59 points all game Monday against the Bulls. Nothing like the arrival of the Suns’ defense to lighten the mood.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: If the Suns need a reminder of how far they have come this season, they just replayed how dismally they started the season. To find a game in which Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat were simultaneously askew as they were Wednesday night for a 103-93 loss at Orlando, rewind to the second game of this season against Philadelphia. The Suns never competed with the Magic anywhere nearly as well as the final margin indicates. Nash had two assists, nine fewer than his league-leading average, and five turnovers while Gortat had a scoreless first half and finished with four points, 12 fewer than his team-leading average. It was like Dec. 28, when Nash had one assist and six turnovers and Gortat had his other season-low four-point game.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: The rarity of it isn't lost on Klay Thompson. The Warriors rookie took 24 shots in Wednesday's 101-92 win over the New Orleans Hornets. Sure, he made only 11, which isn't a percentage worth bragging about. But the bigger point is he got to take 24 shots. Dorell Wright hasn't taken 20 in a game this season. Stephen Curry, though he's played only 26 games, tops out at 21. David Lee, a seventh-year vet, has taken that many shots just five times -- in his career. "As a rookie, to put up 24 shots is really rare," said Thompson, who set a career high with 27 points. "I'm really thankful Coach (Mark) Jackson has the confidence in me to let me take those shots and play my game." The Warriors have no doubt shown confidence in Thompson, anointing him the successor to guard Monta Ellis, the team's star shooting guard for years before being dealt to Milwaukee on March 13. But it's already obvious why Golden State is willing to stake its future on the rookie. In the six games since the Ellis trade, Thompson is averaging 20 points in 37 minutes. He's shooting 40.9 percent in those games, but that's probably more because he's working on his repertoire and learning how to be a reliable scorer. The fact that he's taken 24 shots -- and no one on the team is griping about it -- is a sign of his potential as a scorer.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Center Emeka Okafor remains the lone injured Hornets player without a clear timetable on his return with 20 games remaining in the regular season. He missed his 19th consecutive game on Wednesday with a sore left knee. “When you get injured, you have to make sure you take care of it,” Okafor said. “That’s the process here, I’m working hard and being diligent. I’m rehabbing.”

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Hawks coach Larry Drew often describes it as a seduction. When the Hawks, a good defensive team, take the court against a bad defensive team, they just can’t help themselves. Instead of clamping down and dominating the weaker foe, the Hawks are content to run up and down the court trying to trade baskets. The Hawks tried that plan against Cleveland on Wednesday, and it nearly backfired. They needed some big shots from Joe Johnson to save them. Johnson’s 25-foot 3-pointer forced overtime, and his basket provided the winning margin in the Hawks’ 103-102 victory at Philips Arena. The Hawks (27-20) won for the third time in four games. Johnson had struggled shooting all game, but made amends at the end.

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer Some high draft picks do not want to attend the NBA's summer leagueafter they have established themselves. Irving is not in that category. "Even if Coach Scott didn't want me to go, I was going to be there anyway," Irving said. Scott believes it would be good for rookies Irving and Tristan Thompson to play together, even if it's only for a few games. Irving went a step further: With as many as four draft picks joining the team in July, the newbies will have a chance to play with the starting point guard. Due to the lockout, neither Irving nor Thompson took part in last year's summer league in Las Vegas. Irving said he knows it can be an anxious time for young guys trying to make a favorable impression. "I'm going there to cool everybody down," Irving said. "[I'll] be the cool guy down there."

  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times: C.J. Watson missed all eight of his shots from the floor in Monday night’s 85-59 wipeout of the Magic in Orlando, but that doesn’t mean he played a lousy game, according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I don’t necessarily judge him by his shots,” Thibodeau said. “I measure him more on how he runs the team and how the team is functioning and how he’s playing defense. He can play well when he doesn’t shoot well. That’s what he did in that game.” The Bulls were 10-4 without MVP Derrick Rose heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, which says a lot about their depth at point guard. John Lucas III and Mike James also have played key roles. “C.J. has played very well whenever he has started,” Thibodeau said. “He’s been solid. John has been terrific. The bench has been very good. Then our starters have done a good job.” The Bulls will need continued solid play from Watson, Lucas III and James because Rose might not return from a strained groin for several more days, if not longer.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Stop if you've heard this one before: The Raptors played a solid three quarters before wilting in the fourth to lose a basketball game. It has happened a number of times this season and on Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls used a final frame flurry to disappoint the Raptors 94-82 at the ACC. After surrendering a disappointing 69 points through three, the league's second-stingiest defence buckled down and scored the first 10 points of the fourth and 16 of the first 19, to turn around a seven-point deficit and take complete control. "Chicago is not chopped liver. We competed for three and a half quarters of the game," summarized Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who said he is still looking to see his club put four good quarters together against a quality team.