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First Cup: Friday

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Russell Westbrook once again ruled the roost for the Thunder. So this doesn’t sound like a broken record, I try to ask a different teammate to share their thoughts on Westbrook whenever he turns in a superb performance, and Thursday night definitely qualified with 36 points, six assists, two steals and only one turnover. Tonight’s guest speaker on Westbrook is reserve center Nazr Mohammed: “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Russ. He’s been doing an unbelievable job trying to get the ball to guys, taking over the game. His pace of play, his leadership in the huddle, he’s just been off the charts these last 5-6 games.” ... Just in case there was any doubt, Perkins can’t stand Pau Gasol. Perk has said as much, which is why Perk was booed louder than any Thunder player all night, including pre-game introductions. Perk was called for his 12th technical foul of the season after he flared his elbows and was fouled by Gasol. The tech has a good chance of being rescinded. Remember, 13 techs bring a one-game suspension, as does every other tech thereafter.

  • Mark Whicker of The Orange County Register: As Oklahoma City basketballs kept bouncing off Lakers heads, it became clearer just why the Lakers traded Derek Fisher. It wasn't strategic. It was humanitarian. Fisher is currently closer to his sixth NBA championship ring than Kobe Bryant is to his sixth, or Ramon Sessions to his first. He has taken a detour to basketball heaven on his way to retirement or Congress or his final destination. Who knew the angels would fly so high in Oklahoma City? With Russell Westbrook scoring 36 and turning Staples Center into his own Hawthorne backyard, Oklahoma City drilled the Lakers with extreme prejudice, along with a dash of contempt, 102-93, on Thursday. And if Fisher really was dispatched to OKC because he could no longer restrict the West's best point guards, Sessions' handcuffs were just as rusty. Westbrook scored 18 points in the third quarter as the Thunder, now 39-12, played with unity and strut. Time and again they broke down the Lakers defense, lured help, and hit large open people under the basket. And, time and again, Westbrook displayed the best first step in basketball. He also has the best second and third.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Roughly Roughly 90 minutes prior to Thursday's tip, Mark Cuban tried to enter through the door to the tunnel that passes the Heat locker room. The Mavericks owner wasn't trying to steal secrets; rather, apparently seeking a shortcut. Still, when a security guard stoppedhim, the casually-attired billionaire laughed and obliged, turning back the way he came. Once the game started, Heat players protected home court with the same purpose that the guard had protected their dressing quarters. In a continuation of one of the surprises of this strange season, Miami again looked like a much more determined and desperate squad at AmericanAirlines Arena than it has looked anywhere else. The 106-85 victory was the Heat's 15th straight in front of its fans. It doesn't seem to matter that the lower level doesn't fill until the second quarter. Nor does it matter that, since the Heat last lost here on Jan. 22 to the Bucks, Miami has dropped nine of its 19 games on the road -- including double-digit losses to Oklahoma City and Indiana in which coach Erik Spoelstra's squad appeared lethargic and lost. Nor does any of this make any sense to anyone who watched the Heat last season, as it won only two more games at home than on the road; this season, the splits are 21-2 and 14-11.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Unlike last June when they clinched their first NBA title with a Game 6 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena, this time there was no wild and crazy celebration by the Dallas Mavericks. Gone were the bubbly smiles -- and bubbly champagne -- that accompanied last year's championship season. That's what Thursday's 106-85 loss to the Miami Heat did to the Mavericks. LeBron James and Chris Bosh scored 19 points each, and the Heat used a suffocating defense to smother the Mavericks. "We had trouble getting the ball in the basket," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Second-chance points hurt us, and then they hit a flurry of transition points at some inopportune times for us. "It was disappointing because our start to the third quarter was strong, and then they answered back. It was a tough loss."

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: Two minutes into the second quarter, Nicolas Batum, the Frenchman who has established himself as the Trail Blazers' premier outside shooter, passed up a wide open 3-pointer ... and fed the ball to Luke Babbitt. "I was already running back on defense when he shot it," Batum said. "I knew it was going in." Portland beating New Orleans 99-93 Thursday night is far from a compelling story on its own — especially considering the depleted Hornets' roster which listed just eight active players. But when you look at the stat sheet, and see that 16 of those 99 points came from Babbitt, the Blazer who just two hours earlier was best known for knocking down an otherwise meaningless 3-pointer that gave the fans free Chalupas two months ago — then it becomes a tale worth telling. Nearly two years ago, when Portland selected Babbitt with the 15th overall pick in the draft, an anonymous poll revealed that the University of Nevada product's peers considered him the best shooter from their draft class. But when Babbitt followed with a rookie season in which he shot 27.3 percent from the field, 18.8 percent from 3-point distance, and an absurd 33.3 percent from the foul line, it would be hard to argue he was one of the top 50 shooters from his draft class. It's a much more sound argument now.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Another night on the road in a season winding down, and the Hornets found themselves again facing an opponent with similar unsettled storylines. And to make things more interesting for New Orleans, it had one less player than the night before. On Wednesday night in Oakland, New Orleans went against a team working through injuries and questions about whether it was coasting toward a more favorable lottery pick. Thursday night in The Rose Garden, the Hornets saw a Trail Blazers’ team that in the past two weeks fired its beloved coach Nate McMillan, named a 33-year-old interim replacement, and on Thursday afternoon faced news that it’s billionaire owner, Paul Allen, may be looking to sell the team. The 48-minute sanctuary on the court provided the Blazers with a 99-93 victory, but not without its scary moments against the thin Hornets. New Orleans played with just eight available players when it was determined less than 30 minutes before tip off that starting point guard Jarrett Jack would miss with a sprained right ankle.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: It’s a good thing Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards wasn’t based on style points because it would have been a toss up on which team would have won the game. Danny Granger said it best about their victory over the Wizards, “Very ugly game,” We clawed and scraped and got the win, so that was huge. A win is a win. We have to keep winning as many games as possible.” The Pacers will take a victory any way they can get one after losing at New Jersey on Wednesday. The Wizards shouldn’t have been able to stick around for most of the game. But there they were, a John Wall turnover over from possibly tying the game with less than a minute left. ... The Pacers get a day off before they start another six-game in eigh-night stretch when they head to the Lone Star state and play San Antonio and Houston on Saturday and Sunday. So don’t be surprised if you see some more ugly basketball from the Pacers. It’s all about wins and losses for them these days.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: In his 10th season, and back on a lottery team, Nene believes the Wizards (11-39) are going through similar growing pains as his team in Denver. And, after the Wizards lost, 93-89, on Thursday to the Indiana Pacers, Nene said he remained encouraged by how his new team is playing and drew a parallel to his challenging rookie season. “I learned,” Nene said. “This is a long process. It’s hard. I’m going to repeat this every time: This young team, a lot of second-year players, a lot of rookies. You need to learn. You need to get this type of game. See what you can learn from the loss and get better. To win, you need to learn from losing a game. It’s a big experience right now. We work, step by step, we’re improving in a lot of areas.” The Wizards have lost five in a row and are just 2-7 since acquiring Nene, but they have been a scrappier, more physical and more competitive team in defeat. And they have been staunch defensively. The Pacers became the seventh consecutive team that failed to score at least 100 points against the Wizards. The Wizards haven’t held seven straight teams below triple digits since December 2007.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Before this year, college basketball players had until May 8 to evaluate their NBA options, then were given until one week before the June NBA draft to declare whether they were coming out for the draft or returning to school. This gave players several weeks to not only get feedback from the NBA, but go to the Orlando, Fla., pre-draft camp, work out for individual teams and get all the information necessary to make a smart decision. Here's the rule now: College players such as Indiana's Christian Watford have to declare they are looking into the NBA by April 3 and must declare or withdraw by April 10. Which, by the way, is one day before the spring signing period. According to the NCAA, this coach-inspired rule is being imposed "to help keep student-athletes focused on academics in the spring term and to give coaches a better idea of their roster for the coming year before the recruiting period is closed." Right. Academics. Truth is, it's all about the latter, all about protecting coaches and the college product. Also, those coaches want to go off and take vacation rather than talk to NBA scouts about their prospect. ... The NBA draft isn't until June 28. So why should kids have to rush into an important decision April 10? NCAA President Mark Emmert has said he wants to rid the organization of its dumbest rules, especially the ones that have a deleterious effect on athletes. Here's one that needs to be expunged.