First Cup: Tuesday

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: If the goal was to make the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook uncomfortable then mission accomplished. If the goal was to bring the soaring Thunder back down to earth by reminding them which team has a knack for grinding out the most improbable wins then mission accomplished. If the Grizzlies intended to make a statement that they are still a team to be reckoned with in the Western Conference then their 94-88 victory over the Thunder sent a clear message Monday night before a raucous, sellout crowd of 18,203 in Chesapeake Energy Arena. ... In case no one noticed, that was Gilbert Arenas guarding and disrupting Durant for long stretches in the game. Yes, that Gilbert Arenas — the one who just signed on to play for the Griz two weeks ago. The Griz got away with Arenas defending Durant most of the second period and weren’t exploited by the matchup. It was a move dictated by Allen and Rudy Gay’s foul trouble, and Arenas’ confidence in his experience. “He surprised me,” Allen said of Arenas. “A few days ago, we saw Durant play Houston and Arenas said he use to defend him in Washington. He got his chance to defend him tonight and he frustrated Durant. That is the good thing about our team, we can mix it up and mix and match.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: If I was a Thunder fan I’d be very, very worried about meeting Memphis again in the playoffs. The Grizzlies don’t back down and they don’t go away. And Memphis’ contrasting style that combines paint points and physical punishment is a perfect recipe to oust the Thunder. Plus, not only are the Grizzlies great defensively but they also play with poise that young teams rarely exhibit. It would be another scintillating series. But this time, I’m not so sure the Thunder could get past them. The Grizzlies started Tony Allen on Westbrook and put Jeremy Pargo (filling in for an injured Mike Conley) on Thabo Sefolosha. It’s nothing new. We’ve seen it before. But I thought that one cross matchup explained a lot about the Thunder’s offense tonight. The Thunder missed some great looks early, but Allen helped disrupt OKC’s offense from the start. Westbrook was 1-for-5 from the field in the first quarter. By comparison, he was 5-for-6 from the floor in the opening period Sunday against Chicago. Through three quarters, Westbrook was 2-for-12. With him saddled, the Thunder’s offense was terrible. Now would probably be a good time to alert you to Westbrook and Kevin Durant responding to Skip Bayless. Durant in that response: “We’re worse when I take more shots.” Worth noting that Durant took 20 shots to Westbrook’s 16 tonight.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets had just about everything going against them Monday night, and that was before the game started. Then it got worse. Long before the Bulls opened a 15-point lead, they had come home from a loss in Oklahoma City holding the league’s best record. They had not lost consecutive games since February 2011, taking the second-longest streak in NBA history without consecutive losses to 86 games. The Rockets had been 1-9 when completing a second half of a back-to-back on the road and came in off an overtime loss. The Rockets were on the brink of being blown out when they began barely noticeable steps back, then took off. Before the Bulls could see them gaining on them, the Rockets turned up their defense, got on the boards and found their shots, stunning Chicago 99-93 at United Center. ... The Rockets not only climbed out of that 15-point hole, they rolled to a 14-point lead, then held off the Bulls late. The Rockets have come back from double-digit deficits to stun the Lakers, Thunder and Bulls.

  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times: The mission from the beginning of the season is to be healthy and playing your best basketball heading into the playoffs. The Bulls are so far from accomplishing both goals that not even the long-awaited return of Rip Hamilton was enough to prevent them from losing back-to-back games for the first time in 86 games. The Bulls are not only battered but looked gassed for the second consecutive game. This team needs an infusion of energy, which made Hamilton’s return for only his 17th game seem opportune, considering Derrick Rose remains out with a groin injury and the Bulls were coming off the embarrassing loss Sunday against the Thunder. Hamilton played mostly like his old self in limited minutes, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a second-half collapse that resulted in a 99-93 loss Monday against the Rockets at the United Center. Coach Tom Thibodeau called it the worst consecutive performances since he arrived before last season. “I felt like we let go of the rope,” Thibodeau said. “Usually, we’re a team that has shown great fight, great resolve. We get down; we fight back. I don’t feel we ever let go of the rope. The last two games, we let go of the rope.” “I don’t think we let go of the rope, but when you lose two in a row, questions creep in,” Carlos Boozer said.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Five wasn’t good enough for the Clippers. The Clippers won their sixth-straight game of the year thanks to Randy Foye’s assault from three-point range, beating the Mavericks 94-75 in Dallas. It’s the Clippers’ first six-game winning streak since 1992. Foye tied a franchise record with eight three-point baskets, leading the team with 28 points. “Whatever the defense gave me, I just took,” he said. “…I was just knocking down shots.” Chris Paul was the only Clippers who struggled, hitting 3-of-12 from the field, but Paul had 10 assists. Blake Griffin had his 33rd double-double of the season scoring 15 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Two of Griffin’s points came on a huge tip dunk on a rare Foye miss. The Clippers held Dallas to a woeful night shooting, keeping the Mavericks under 40 percent from the field. The Clippers also had 10 steals in the win. “We want to win games and control our own destiny,” Caron Butler said. “…We’ve got some great momentum right now.” With the win, the Clippers snap a 10-game losing streak in Dallas and take the season series from Dallas.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: It didn't take long for the injury bug to hit the Dallas Mavericks. Again. When center Brendan Haywood played Friday against the Orlando Magic, it was the first time since Feb. 13 that the Mavs suited up a fully healthy squad. Unfortunately for the Mavs, it only lasted one game. Forward Lamar Odom missed Monday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers with a stomach illness. Point guard Jason Kidd missed the Clippers game and will miss the next three with a strained right groin. "Unfortunately, injuries and stuff like that has become part of Mavericks basketball this season," Haywood said. "Nobody's going to feel sorry for us. At the end of the day we've got to find a way. It doesn't have to be pretty, we just have to get done." That sentiment is shared by center Brandan Wright. "It's one of those type of years," Wright said. "A lot of teams got a lot of guys out. You can't make that as an excuse. You've just got to keep chugging." Kidd, who recently turned 39 years old, is the glue that holds the Mavs together.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: March was another good month for Isaiah Thomas. For the second consecutive time, the Kings point guard was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month. Thomas and Tyreke Evans are the only Kings to receive the honor in consecutive months. Lionel Simmons and Brian Grant are the other Kings who have won the award. Thomas led Western Conference rookies with 4.9 assists per game in March and was second in scoring at 13.6 points. Among all rookies, Thomas led in fast-break points (64) and free throws made (54). He was second in assists (89) and third in points (245) and steals (24). Not bad for a player who was picked last in the June draft. "I didn't expect to get awards like this, but I always expected (to be honored) if I got the opportunity," Thomas said. "And coach has given me a big opportunity and a big chance, and I'm trying to do the best I can to take full advantage of it."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Here's a bit of advice if your favorite basketball team's season takes a fateful turn with one mounting injury after another: Never, ever ask if it can get any worse because it just did for the Timberwolves in their 116-108 loss to the Kings Monday night at Power Balance Pavilion. Just when the Wolves got Nikola Pekovic back from an injury list that already includes Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea and Michael Beasley, starting point guard Luke Ridnour went down in pain late in the third quarter clutching a right ankle he sprained after he landed on another player's foot. Ridnour didn't play again and probably won't be available for Wednesday's home game against Golden State at the very least. Ridnour's injury leaves coach Rick Adelman with just one healthy point guard: Malcolm Lee, a second-round pick rookie who played the entire fourth quarter. "It's something we didn't need," Adelman said. "But I think we had some guys play the second half. Our team is committed. We're not going to quit on the season. That's what I told them. I don't care what happens with the playoffs. We're not going to quit on the season, and it's up to the people we have right now."

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: How many times has Paul Millsap delivered? Owned quarters. Destroyed opponents. Stepped up and put the Jazz on his back, carrying Utah to a resilient, thrilling victory. Add another one to the list. The Warrior was at his peak Monday, at times single-handedly fighting off the Portland Trail Blazers. Millsap’s final tally: a team-high 31 points on 14-of-20 shooting, a co-game-high 11 rebounds, and a gritty 102-97 victory that moved Utah back in the right direction. The Jazz (28-26) rallied from a 14-point second-quarter deficit to collect the win, overcoming Wesley Matthews’ season- and game-high 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting. ... "We needed this win bad, and it showed how we played out there," Millsap said. "We got down big early. But the will not to want to lose — the will to make it to that next level to get into the playoffs — it came out."

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: For the first turnover, there was fan No. 1. "He's the worst. Seriously. We gotta get rid of him," a Rose Garden attendee said while exiting the building. For the second turnover, there was fan No. 2. "I'm not going to renew next year if they don't get rid of him," said an elderly Trail Blazer devotee one aisle over. If there is one 20-something multi-millionaire that no Portland resident would want to trade lives with, it is Raymond Felton. The consensus scapegoat for the Blazers' underachieving season before Monday's 102-97 loss to the Jazz, he somehow became even more loathed after two mishaps in the final 90 seconds of play. The first came with 1:27 remaining and Portland up one, when Felton bounced the ball off his foot and watched Utah's Paul Millsap dunk it in transition. The second came with 27 seconds left, when Jamaal Tinsley popped the ball out of Felton's hand off a suspect inbounds pass from Nicolas Batum — which again led to a Millsap jam. The boo birds flew down en masse when Felton's image was displayed on the jumbotron, and the Blazers would not score again. For many, it was only fitting that the man they felt responsible for the season getting away, let the basketball get away, too.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl was sitting in his usual aisle seat in Section 121 at the Verizon Center while his team took the court against the Washington Wizards on Monday night. And the Senator knew exactly what his team needed to boost its playoff chances. "We've got to go 4-0 this week," he said. Consider the first step accomplished as the Bucks' backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis did plenty of damage in a 112-98 victory over the Wizards. So did reserves Ekpe Udoh, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Shaun Livingston, who combined for 42 points. The 6-foot-10 Udoh had his best game since joining the Bucks as part of the Ellis-Andrew Bogut swap. Udoh contributed 15 points, eight rebounds and a career-high five assists in 21 minutes. Udoh was so effective that Bucks coach Scott Skiles was able to rest Drew Gooden, who was nursing a sore back, for all but 6 minutes of the second half.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Chris Singleton wasn’t one of the big winners for the $640 million prize in last week’s Mega Millions lottery, but he was certain his purchase of $10,000 worth of tickets did yield some return. Singleton said he planned on taking the tickets, which he purchased at various locations in the area, back for redemption to see home much money he actually won. The Wizards rookie, who will earn $1.485 million this season, wrote last week on his Twitter account that he was going to take a shot at the jackpot: “I’m about to drop 10000 on the lottery and cross my fingers #halfwaytoabillionaireifiwin” He later explained to his Twitter followers that he was making an “investment” and added, “If I get richer, I will change the world for the better.” When asked about the purchase on Monday, Singleton said he had to buy tickets at different locations because they weren’t allowed to print his requested demand at once. He added that he felt he made a wise investment, even though he didn’t win. “Either that or blow it in the club,” Singleton said.