First Cup: Friday

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Playing in the Crescent City for the first time since the Hornets were eliminated in Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last April against the Lakers, Chris Paul made his only appearance of the season here with the Clippers. During pregame introductions by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the sellout crowd of 17,209 in attendance cheered Paul, with only a tiny smattering of jeers mixed in. If that was a relief, Paul wasn’t about to say. “You always wonder; you never know,” Paul said afterward when asked if he thought fans would look upon his return with disdain. “It’s inevitable. You control what you can control. I always have love for this city.” Before the game, Paul said it was an odd feeling. “Coming into the Arena, being in that little (visitors’) locker room ... obviously, there are a lot of people here that I miss,” he said. “This will probably be the weirdest thing I’ve ever done. We’ll see how it goes.”

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Thursday was a rough day for the franchise, starting with an afternoon report that Del Negro was losing the Clippers’ locker room, something that could be inferred from the team’s performance on the floor over the past two weeks. As far as damning statements go in Chris Broussard’s story, this might be the worst. “Most of the players, according to sources, believe it’s time for a change. They cite the uncertainty of Del Negro’s rotation as a major problem. “ This means two things that are incredibly problematic if you believe the report. One, most of the Clippers think they have a better chance to win with someone else on the sidelines. The Clippers can’t go outside of the organization to find a replacement during the season. No one would take a job that has a month and a half of security. So, that means that most of the team would rather have one of two guys who have never been head coaches (assistants Dean Demopoulos or Robert Pack) or a guy who won less than 27 percent of his games in Memphis (Marc Iavaroni) lead them in a playoff push. The second thing that this statement means is that the Clipper players have virtually no sense of understanding of the challenges this team is facing. If an inconsistent rotation is the reason the guys are so upset, then they don’t have an ounce of understanding.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Blatche’s seemingly cavalier attitude at times on the court has drawn the ire of Verizon Center fans on a regular basis. The acrimony reached a point where Blatche was getting booed virtually every time his name was announced over the public address system. Blatche said he spoke with his family, including his mother, at length aboutfan disapproval, and his conclusion was that essentially the jeers were justified given his disappointing season. “I can’t go home at night as say ‘Oh, F them,’ because they didn’t know anything,” Blatche said. “They do. They’re the fans. They see it. My mom sees it. This was a bad year for me. One of my worst ones ever. I let my mom down, my family down, my teammates and the whole organization down this season, so I’m just focusing on this whole rest of this time and the summer just to get myself back to where I need to be.” A significant part of that effort has Blatche in the gym for many hours during the day as well as in the wee hours of the morning. Blatche recently tweeted that he was heading to work out at roughly 3:45 a.m. Blatche often has been a target of fan disapproval for his apparent lack of conditioning. “It’s the best time for me to do something,” Blatche said of exercizing during the overnight hours. “I’m up. I’m a night person, and I’m always awake, so that’s something that helps me get things off my mind.”

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers are getting some help in the middle to fill the gap left by Jeff Foster's retirement. The Pacers signed center Kyrylo Fesenko on Thursday for the rest of the season. Fesenko, a former second-round pick in 2007, spent his first four seasons with the Utah Jazz, where he averaged 2.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 8.3 minutes. He'll compete with Lou Amundson to be Roy Hibbert's backup at center. Foster announced his retirement Wednesday after 13 years with the Pacers because of chronic back problems. "It's bittersweet for him," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "He obviously had a great career. He's part of our identity. When we established smash-mouth basketball last year, he was almost the face of that with his defense, rebounding and protecting of the rim with his physicality. "Not having that in there is a challenge for us, but we have had guys stepping up all year."

  • Jonathan Feigen if the Houston Chronicle: With the Rockets shorthanded in the backcourt and experimenting with options at point guard, Luis Scola gave Kevin McHale another option – the point power forward. The Rockets’ passing was sharp all night and Scola needed 24 minutes to match his season high of seven assists when he fired a pass through the legs of Golden State’s Brandon Rush to a waiting Samuel Dalembert to chase his career-high eighth assist in style. But Dalembert was fouled before he could get his shot to fall, and Scola’s night was soon over. Still, they had dominated the Warriors inside together, and even if Scola did not quite audition for the point power forward role, he did typify the Rockets’ slick passing in an easy 109-83 blowout of the Warriors on Thursday night at Toyota Center. ... The Rockets moved to 15-0 this season when holding an opponent to fewer than 90 points, and they have won 27 consecutive games when opponents fall short of 90.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Newly acquired Warriors center Andrew Bogut ruled out a late-season return from a fractured left ankle and put into question his playing status for the 2012 Summer Olympics during a wide-ranging 1 1/2-hour interview with The Chronicle on Thursday afternoon. "At this point, I think it's safe to say that returning this season is not going to happen," Bogut said during lunch at a downtown Oakland cafe. "The most important thing is to get the bone right. If I come back at 99 percent, and the bone is unsettled, and something shards off, I'm in big trouble. It would be nice to play this season, but it's not going to happen." That hasn't slowed Bogut's efforts. Wearing a protective boot, he shot free throws following Monday's shootaround, and he spent Thursday morning doing the monotonous rehabilitation he's been doing every day since the Jan. 25 injury.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: A dose of reality was colored Celtics green Thursday night. The Milwaukee Bucks' six-game winning streak crashed to a halt in a 100-91 loss to the Celtics, who put a stop to the free-flowing offensive game the Bucks had been riding. And it was an ominous start to the Bucks' grueling stretch of three games in three nights and five games over six days as the Celtics spoiled Monta Ellis' home-court debut. Paul Pierce led the Celtics (25-21) with 25 points, and Kevin Garnett added 16 points and 10 rebounds while hitting three clutch jumpers in the final 4 minutes. ... Milwaukee had posted four consecutive games of 30 or more assists but could manage just 23 assists while shooting 40% against Boston's stingy defense. ... The Bucks (21-25) dropped 1½ games behind New York (23-24) for the final Eastern Conference playoff position and fell four games behind the Celtics.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Ryan Hollins is coming to the Celtics highly recommended by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce last night was talking about what the 7-foot center can bring to the club. But even the captain has questions based on the fact this will be Hollins’ fifth NBA team in his sixth season. “We’ve got to wait and see,” said Pierce, who played in pickup games with Hollins and Garnett during the lockout. “I guess you kind of wonder why he didn’t play a lot in Cleveland. “I saw a lot of potential. He works hard, and he’s got a lot of lift. You just wonder why he didn’t get an opportunity out there — especially on a team that’s struggling.” Hollins is scheduled to join the Celtics in Philadelphia tonight after agreeing to terms on a free agent deal yesterday.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Opponents have been poking holes in the Grizzlies’ defense for more than a week now. The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t have much success from point-blank range so they played the role of sniper. The Blazers made 10 of 25 3-pointers Thursday night and handed the Grizzlies a 97-93 loss in the Rose Garden. “We allowed another team to shoot the ball extremely well,” Griz coach Lionel Hollins said, referring to the Blazers’ 55-percent shooting in the opening quarter. It was another disappointing defeat against a team with a sub-.500 record. The Griz also weren’t exactly facing a stout defensive team. Portland entered having allowed at least 111 points in three of its last four games. The Blazers’ average margin of defeat in their past five losses was 24.4 points. Yet Memphis dropped its second straight contest to start a four-game West Coast trip that resumes Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Memphis has lost four of five games.

  • Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: When will Hickson make his Blazers debut? Canales said he wasn’t sure. “We want him to go through the process of practicing -- being fair to him -- in terms of offensive schemes and defensive schemes,” Canales said. By claiming Hickson off waivers, the Blazers gained the right to tender him a qualifying offer after the season and make him a restricted free agent. Hickson said he wasn’t sure what his future would hold. “That’s up to the organization,” he said. “That’s something I have no control over. That’s something players will never, ever have control over. But you know, I’m just focused on finishing out the season strong and making a run for the playoffs.” As for Hickson's role down the stretch with Portland, Canales said he will figure out where Hickson fits on a team that has an All-Star power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge.

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Alec Burks thinks Jimmer Fredette is a real cool dude. And, yes, the Utah Jazz rookie actually said "real cool dude" to describe the former BYU star, who was selected two spots higher than Fredette in last June's draft. But the Jazz's equally cool dude thinks Fredette was put in a tough situation this season — not because the somewhat dysfunctional Kings picked him up or that fellow rookie Isaiah Thomas zoomed past him into Sacramento's rotation midway through the season. Rather, Burks sympathizes with The Jimmer the pro trying to live up to The Jimmer the college superstar. "They had very high expectations because of what he did in college," Burks said. "But you know, in the right situation I feel like he could (meet them)." That, however, hasn't happened yet. Fredette is averaging 7.4 points this season on 38.5 percent shooting, and plenty of pundits, critics and fans have thrown the disappointment tag on his first professional campaign.

  • Matt Kawahara of The Sacramento Bee: Tyreke Evans was again a reserve for the Kings on Thursday and will be until he decides otherwise. Evans came off the bench for the second consecutive game and only the second time this season against the Utah Jazz. Evans returned from a sprained left ankle Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies but said that night he decided to keep himself out of the starting lineup because John Salmons and the Kings had been playing well with Salmons starting at small forward. He apparently saw no reason to change things up against the Jazz, entering the game with a few seconds left in the first quarter. Kings coach Keith Smart said that deciding when Evans returns to the lineup is "in his hands."