First Cup: Thursday

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Carmelo Anthony winced and grimaced because of his strained right groin, but also smiled and bounced around as if pain free as he and the Knicks were putting a hurting on the Magic. Anthony had 25 points in one of his best all-around games of the season last night, providing an emotional lift that sparked the undermanned Knicks to an improbably lopsided 108-86 victory at the Garden. "It definitely fires everybody up to see your star player sacrificing his body and playing defense and doing all the little things, the intangible things," Baron Davis said. "It's definitely an inspiration to the guys." For the second straight game, the Knicks were minus Amar'e Stoudemire (bulging disc in his back and Jeremy Lin (sore knee). Stoudemire is out 2-4 weeks, but two games into his rehab the Knicks seem to be doing fine. They're getting contributions from everyone. Their defense remains solid and Anthony, despite his condition, looks like his old self.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: It doesn't add up. The Orlando Magic own the fifth-best record in the NBA, and yet on too many nights this season, they have played terribly. They played without any passion Wednesday night and they paid an all-too-familiar price. The New York Knicks administered a 108-86 drubbing in which the Magic trailed by as many as 39 points and looked inept on offense. "What's shocking to me is that a team that's playing over .600 basketball can get absolutely rocked as many times as we have been," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, tonight — that's what's mind-boggling to me. It'll happen every once in a while if you're a bad team. To be a .600 team and get crushed like that as many times as we have? That's shocking." On Wednesday, nothing worked from the middle of the second quarter onward.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Not all compliments are created equal. Some even come disguised as a slight. So when the Clippers went through their little funk through the beginning of March, dropping successive games, losing to teams they should beat and tumbling backward in the standings, the calls for coachVinny Del Negro's job and cries of panic from the fan base weren't so much criticisms as they were flattery. It meant people were paying attention and invested. "Last year we'd lose two games in a row and no one cared," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. It meant actual expectations for this once despondent franchise were not being met, which led to anxiety among the fans and probing analysis from the media. That's growth. ... The real key to change, though, is how the Clippers responded. To the losing, the added pressure and the adversity. Could have been the same old Clippers if they caved in. But it looks like the dawn of a new day for this franchise, evidenced by the Clippers' 103-86 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday at Staples Center to push their winning streak to three games.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns forward Grant Hill arrived at the office Wednesday night with optimism that the improvement in his right knee would be enough to let him get back to work. As doubtful as Hill was about playing before Tuesday's game, he felt good about his chances Wednesday night until he tested the knee and became a pregame scratch for the second consecutive night. Hill missed consecutive games for the first time since January 2011 because of soreness in his right knee, on which he had surgery in September. The knee was hit Sunday while he was taking a charge at Cleveland. Hill, 39, left the game early, but he had progressed to the point that shooting was comfortable Wednesday evening. Moving laterally was the issue. ... Hill has missed five games this season, but two were for rest in the middle of back-to-back-to-back sets. Hill missed three games in the previous three seasons combined.

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: After all the mind-numbing losses they’ve had this season, and particularly over the past couple weeks, this was perhaps the last thing anyone could have expected. A double-digit victory over the Indiana Pacers? Really? Really. Deron Williams had 30 points and nine assists and the Nets, who started the game with 10 players in uniform and finished with only eight, stymied the Pacers, 100-84, tonight before a delighted crowd of 10,817 at the Prudential Center. The 16-point margin of victory, in the Nets’ final game before leaving Thursday on a four-game West Coast trip, was their largest of the season. ... The Nets finished with eight players in uniform after Jordan Williams left the game in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms, and Shelden Williams left in the second quarter with an eye injury. Shelden Williams was poked in the right eye by Hansbrough. “We’re really concerned about Shelden,” Avery Johnson said.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Many of the Indiana Pacers traveling party, including most of the coaching staff, took in the bright lights of Broadway on Tuesday night in New York. They attended "Magic/Bird," a play about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird's fierce rivalry during their playing careers. "I loved it. I thought it was great," coach Frank Vogel said. "I loved how they portrayed Larry because I know him the best of anybody in the show. But the whole story, the racial issues they were involved with in the '80s(, was great)." The Pacers had about 15 people, including six players, attend the play. Several of them took pictures with the actors who portrayed Johnson and Bird in the six-member cast. "It was cool because for me, Larry is new to me," forward Jeff Pendergraph said. "A lot of the stuff in the play the guys got, but it kind of went over my head a little bit because I haven't really hung around with him." Vogel grew up outside of Philadelphia watching Julius Erving play for the 76ers, but he admired Bird's Hall of Fame career with Boston.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Ever since the July 8, 2010, day the Bulls traded Kirk Hinrich essentially for extra salary-cap space to pursue the greatest free-agent class in NBA history, a segment of the fan base has clamored for his return. Hinrich, who still spends offseasons in the north suburban home he kept, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer for the first time in his nine-year career. So what about a Bulls return? "I wouldn't be opposed to it," Hinrich said. "It's still a ways away, and a lot can happen. We'll see. I have no preconceived thoughts on what will happen." He might have some financial ones, though. The Bulls will be hard-pressed to sign Hinrich unless he accepts a hometown discount. Because they're over the salary cap, the Bulls will have only cap exceptions at their disposal. And there are luxury-tax concerns, as well, when Derrick Rose's five-year, $95 million extension begins next season.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: It’s a dangerous game the Hawks are playing of late. After falling behind by large first-half margins the past two games, the Hawks rallied only to fall short. The latest came Wednesday night in a 98-77 loss to the Bulls at Philips Arena. The Hawks trailed the Bulls by 18 points in the first half. The used a 16-2 run to cut the lead to four points, 56-52, but would get no closer. The Bulls used an 18-4 run of their own in the third quarter to push the lead back to 18 points. Luol Deng provided the final nail in the coffin with a 3-pointer to cap the run. It came on a pass from Taj Gibson, who gathered the rebound of his own miss when Ivan Johnson failed to box him out. From there the Bulls' lead only increased. On Tuesday, the Hawks trailed by 17 points to the Bucks. They battled back to take a three-point lead before succumbing in the fourth quarter. They wouldn't get that close against the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. ... The Bulls took the season series from the Hawks, 3-1. The Hawks (30-22, 16-8 home) lost for the second straight night, losing the final two games of a streak of five games in six nights.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Jimmer Mania wasn’t all hype. This, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard firmly believes. Immersed in his own rookie season, Leonard admits he hasn’t seen Jimmer Fredette play much this season with the Kings. But he remembers how Fredette lit up the Mountain West Conference — and his own San Diego State squad — last season at BYU, led the NCAA in scoring and won national player of the year honors. Fredette, a 6-foot-2 shooter the Kings are hoping to remake as a point guard, has struggled to find a foothold his first season in Sacramento. Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Spurs, Fredette was averaging 7.2 points and shooting 38.3 percent in 18:23 per game. “It’s his first year,” said Leonard, selected 15th in the June draft, five spots lower than Fredette. “Everybody’s struggling as rookies coming in. With the lockout, you didn’t get to practice with your teammates. He’s a hard worker. I believe he’ll get better as time goes on.” For both rookies, life has changed since their epic battles in the Mountain West (BYU has since left the conference). In one meeting last season, Fredette had 43 points in a BYU victory, while Leonard had 22 points and 15 rebounds.

  • Matt Kawahara and Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Allowing opposing teams to shoot for high percentages has been a problem all season for the Kings, who entered Wednesday night's game against the San Antonio Spurs ranked 29th in the league in that category. Now that the Kings are playing at a faster pace, creating more possessions per game, there is even more of an emphasis on bringing that percentage down. Coach Keith Smart said the Kings ideally want to limit opponents to shooting 41 percent or 42 percent. Opponents were shooting 47.5 percent against the Kings before Wednesday. In their previous seven games, the Kings had averaged 111.7 points but lost four of those games in which their opponents shot 47.3 percent or better and averaged 112.3 points. Smart said lowering that percentage means working harder to contest shots and eliminating easy buckets that result from allowing second-chance opportunities under the basket or turning the ball over above the foul line.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: When asked if he would give his veteran players extra rest during the final month of the season in preparation for the playoffs, Doc Rivers said yes. But there may be an exception. “The problem without saying a name is one of the guys you would suggest sitting, it’s not fun to get him to do that. The conversation is no fun,’’ Rivers said, likely alluding to Kevin Garnett. “Maybe he’ll see that, maybe he will not. But that will be an interesting discussion.’’ Garnett contributed his 16th double-double of the season Wednesday with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: Gordon Hayward doesn’t just have the talent to be a game-changer. He’s becoming one. The No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft was the Jazz’s best player Wednesday during a 94-82 loss to the Celtics. He scored a team-high 19 points, while being second in rebounds (seven) and assists (five).Then there were his two blocks. When Boston suddenly turned a 66-all fourth-quarter tie into a 73-66 lead, Celtics guard Keyon Dooling stole the ball at midcourt and raced home for an easy layup. Until G-Man started flying. Hayward smoothly tracked Dooling’s path, perfectly timed his leap, then coldly swatted away a gimme shot that would’ve given Boston a nine-point advantage. Five seconds later, the just-turned-22-year-old from Butler was flying again. This time, a greedy Avery Bradley was the victim. Ray Allen’s replacement collected Hayward’s initial block and tried to toss in a quick putback. The Jazzman hit the replay button. Hayward destroyed Bradley’s layup, and Utah still had life.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Seldom-used reserve Austin Daye was going to get a little time with sixth man Ben Gordon sidelined with a sore right groin against the Cavs on Wednesday night. But when Rodney Stuckey (pulled left hamstring) left the game almost seven minutes in, the third-year swingman ended up with almost 30 minutes of playing time. Daye finished with eight points, two rebounds and two steals in the Pistons' 87-75 victory. It's the first time the Pistons (18-32) have won back-to-back road games this season. The team is 2-1 on its latest trip with the finale Friday night at Eastern Conference-leading Chicago. And with the nature of Stuckey's and Gordon's injuries, Daye can probably count on more playing time. "I thought Austin Daye really helped us because defensively he was very good," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. "He was in good position where he forced guys to make extra passes." Daye has been open about his displeasure at a lack of playing time -- he has played in 31 of the team's 50 games.

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: The easy thing for Anderson Varejao to do -- and some might say the smart thing -- is to forget about returning this season. The Cavaliers' center could spend the summer healing up, doing nothing more strenuous than working on his tan on some Brazilian beach. Not Varejao. As soon his broken right wrist heals, he wants to rejoin the Cavaliers. And as long as he's healthy, he also plans to represent Brazil in the Summer Olympics. Varejao has been out of the lineup since Feb. 10. According to the latest medical update supplied by the team, he won't begin to practice until early April. With the team falling out of the playoff race and the season ending on April 26, he was asked, why rush back? "Because I am part of the team and I want to help even if we don't have any more chance at the playoffs," Varejao said. "I want to play, that's what I get paid for. Last year, I was hurt [torn tendon in ankle] and this season I got hurt too. I want to play. This is what I love to do."

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: In an 88-83 victory over a Charlotte Bobcats team that played with more energy than one would expect from a seven-win team, Love, as it has been since March began, led the way. Love attempted a career-high 31 shots, but never forced one. He made 14, four from three-point range. He scored 40 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. (When informed of that number, Wolves coach Rick Adelman joked that Love must have missed a shot late hoping to get to 20). With Charlotte hanging around, Love scored 14 of his points and grabbed six of his rebounds in the fourth quarter as the Wolves secured an important victory. For a team still hanging on the edge of a playoff chase, coming off Tuesday's loss in Memphis, this had to happen. ... It was Love's 10th game with 30-plus points and 15 or more rebounds, the 19th time he has scored 30 or more this season. It was also the third time he has scored 40 or more points this month. And it's a tribute to the Bobcats that the Wolves, playing without Michael Beasley, J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic, needed all of that to win.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: The NBA wants to know in advance which Silas is the Charlotte Bobcats’ head coach for any single game. Coach Paul Silas told me at shoot-around this morning that the league has asked the Bobcats for a heads-up whenever lead assistant Stephen Silas is taking over the team for a game. With the front office’s blessing, Paul Silas is having his son coach about once a week the rest of the season as a training exercise. The likely next game Stephen Silas will coach is Saturday, on the road against the Detroit Pistons. It makes sense that the league office wants to inform that night’s officiating crew in advance that Stephen Silas is in charge. Referees give head coaches more latitude – to stand throughout the game, to argue calls, to ask for interpretations – than they do assistants. So it makes sense for refs to know how to delineate between Paul’s and Stephen’s roles. What Paul Silas is doing with his son isn’t unprecedented. Former Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson used to let assistants Avery Johnson and Keith Smart coach games on occasion. Johnson now coaches the New Jersey Nets. Smart now coaches the Sacramento Kings.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Mark Jackson says he's coaching the NBA's version of the Bad News Bears. If the Warriors are the Bad News Bears, then Brandon Rush is Kelly Leak - the neighborhood's best athlete who was once considered a troublemaker off the field. Rush has been quite the find for the Warriors, who got the 6-foot-6 swingman in a December trade after he wore out his welcome in Indiana. He tore his ACL during an illegal predraft workout in 2007, was suspended five games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy last season, and says anti-gay slurs on his Twitter account were posted by someone else. Rush has been a model citizen with Golden State. He consistently has been one of the Warriors' top perimeter defenders, their best rebounding wing and a knockdown three-point shooter. He backed up a season-high 23 points the night before with a 12-point performance in a 102-87 loss to New Orleans at Oracle Arena on Wednesday night.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: In many ways, Wednesday night’s game between the Hornets and Warriors was a matchup of two teams with similar problems. New Orleans was playing with nine players, and Golden State was once again without their starting point guard, Stephen Curry, who earlier in the day was ruled out for another two weeks with an ankle injury, and without two potential starting centers, Andris Biedrins and Andrew Bogut. The Hornets won this war of attrition, 102-87 in Oracle Arena, making a continued statement to the rest of the league, and themselves, that quitting on a season heading nowhere was not an option. The Hornets get right back at it tonight when they travel to meet the Trail Blazers in Portland, the third in this five-game West Coast road swing. Each of the clubs Wednesday night has dealt with adversity, primarily because of injuries.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: The 105-96 final was the first Toronto win against Denver since a 121-94 win at the ACC back on March 23, 2007. It was just the second win against Denver since the 2004/05 season. Offensively, the load was carried by Andrea Bargnani, who had that “pep in his step” back from before he was injured according to Casey. Bargnani, who had hit just five three-pointers in 31 attempts since returning to the lineup a dozen games ago, went 2-for-4 from beyond the arc in this game, both successful threes coming late in the fourth quarter and neither one of them the easy, wide open variety. “It was fun because in this stretch I have missed so many wide open threes and then I hit the two hardest I have had maybe,” said Bargnani who wound up with 26 on the night.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: So, when is Danilo Gallinari coming back? That's the question Nuggets fans are asking, as the budding star remains sidelined with a left thumb fracture. "I don't think it's going to be this week, but we'll try to push him sometime next week to get on the practice court and then push it a little bit more," Nuggets coach George Karl said Wednesday. "We have a couple of practice days (between the games Sunday and Wednesday), so that's what we're shooting for." The small forward is averaging 15.2 points per game, second on the team to Ty Lawson's 15.6. Gallinari had strung together some good games in March before injuring the thumb against Dallas on March 19. In his place, Karl has started Wilson Chandler, who is averaging 11.5 points in his six games since rejoining the Nuggets.