First Cup: Thursday

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: A public feud between Jazz CEO Greg Miller and Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone is finally over. Miller and Malone exchanged smiles and warmly embraced Wednesday night in an EnergySolutions tunnel, minutes before the Jazz tipped off against the Phoenix Suns. "Karl and I have got it worked out and everything’s good," Miller said. The official reconciliation was announced during the same night NBA Commissioner David Stern visited ESA.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: You wanted this? You got it. You wanted LeBron James to grab a meaningful game by the throat, and not let go? Consider that done. You wanted the Heat forward to face down Kevin Durant, the only peer at his position - his only legitimate MVP competition - and rise above? He's rarely soared higher with the Heat. "Without even being biased, I think he's the best two-way player in this league," said his coach, Erik Spoelstra. And this was the best at his best, in arguably the best NBA game of the season, Wednesday's 98-93 victory against the West-leading Thunder, one that extended the Heat's home streak to 17 and served as a delectable appetizer to what could come in June. This was an entirely different team than had been sleepwalking since the All-Star break. This was an entirely different athlete from the one who appeared - and disappeared - in a blowout loss in Oklahoma City just 10 days earlier. This was James showing all the strength his skeptics have sought, not just physically but mentally.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: LeBron James just got my MVP vote. Kevin Durant is second. It’s not just about tonight, although it certainly played a part. But the guy has been phenomenal. He hit a rough stretch recently but so does everybody. What he did tonight — after rolling his ankle early in the first quarter, mind you —is what MVPs do. He put his team on his back, did everything he had to do, when he had to do it, and turned his mediocre performance ten days earlier in Oklahoma City into a distant memory. ... Not to mention James’ defense on Durant. Sure, KD had a team-high 30 on a pretty efficient 11-of-21 shooting, but it was the most difficult and uncomfortable 30-point performance I’ve ever seen Durant have. There were times when Durant couldn’t get open, couldn’t post-up, couldn’t seal for an entry pass and couldn’t even put the ball on the floor and go into a move because James was so airtight. Largely because of James, Durant finished with a career-high nine turnovers and never really got into a rhythm as crazy as that sounds after a 30-point night. ... The mood in the Thunder locker room after the game was sullen. It was clear that this was a big game and that everyone wanted it pretty badly. Most of the players said all the right things, but you could see in their body language that this one hurt.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Asked if he would consider extending the contracts of Stan Van Gundy or Otis Smith before the season ends, Alex Martins responded, "We're all evaluated at the end of the season. It's consistent. It's happened every year that we've been here. "I'm evaluated at the end of the season. Our general manager is evaluated at the end of the season. Our coaches are evaluated at the end of the season. And we don't deal with that during the course of a season, and we make our decisions about the future of everyone — and, in particular, the DeVoses make the decisions about the future of everyone — after the season's over." ... Now that Howard has waived his early-termination option, ensuring he remains under contract with the Magic for the 2012-13 season, the media speculation is centering around the futures of Van Gundy and Smith. Specifically, will Howard use his uncertain long-term future as leverage to exert influence on the DeVos family's decision-making process? Both Van Gundy and Smith are under contract through 2012-13. Martins insists that he did not make any specific promises to Howard to convince Howard to waive his early-termination option.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns forward Grant Hill already became the first active player to be on the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Board of Governors, and he seems destined for enshrinement there someday for his basketball career. But for Hill, those basketball honors can't compare with what the Hall of Fame did this week, recognizing him more as a person with the Mannie Jackson Basketball's Human Spirit Award. Hill was the professional representative, as Chauncey Billups and Samuel Dalembert had been the previous two years. Jim Calhoun was the amateur-category recipient, and the grassroots winner was Dr. Richard Lapchick, the founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. "It's a tremendous honor because of the award and what it stands for," Hill said

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: With the playoffs looming in three weeks the last thing the Lakers need is their All-Star center carrying around some beef with Brown, his teammates or the organization - or all of the above - and derailing their hopes of a long playoff run. The question is, why now? More important, can Bynum put whatever is bothering him aside long enough to help the Lakers in the playoffs? And at the very least, not be one of the reasons they crash and burn? Getting to the bottom of it is proving to be a difficult task.Maybe it's something as little and understandable as Bynum is growing up right before our eyes and like the teenager transitioning to adulthood he is testing his limits. Maybe with the increased role he's feeling an amplified sense of entitlement. Both are reasonable possibilities, and even somewhat predictable for a young player emerging as one of the brightest young stars in the NBA. It's the timing that makes it so bad. At his best, Bynum can be the difference between the Lakers winning another championship. At his worst, Bynum can be the difference in an early postseason exit.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: When he first arrived at Staples Center on Wednesday, Del Negro knew it was a special day. The hallway series at Staples Center always is. “This game is different,” Del Negro said. “Maybe it’s just me, but the energy in the building, walking into the building, the number of media here, and the feeling in the locker room, it’s just different. But is it a rivalry game? “I think people talk about the rivalry, and I think we have to perform at a high level to create the rivalry,” Del Negro said. “… We’re trying to make it a rivalry. I don’t think it is now. We have to play well consistently and have to win ballgames to make it a rivalry.”

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: For 15 seasons, Spurs captain Tim Duncan and Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett, two of the greatest power forwards in NBA history, have done battle against one another in the paint. With both players in the final seasons of their contracts, could Wednesday’s game at TD Garden have been the last time the two All-Stars would face one another? Neither player has given any indication of his intent to retire, but Duncan will turn 36 later this month, and Garnett will turn 36 in May. Duncan said he won’t begin thinking about his future with the Spurs until the season ends, but he didn’t hesitate to reflect on all his battles with Garnett. “It’s been difficult,” Duncan said after the Spurs emerged with an 87-86 victory that extended the team’s win streak to nine. “We’ve always had some great battles. It always seems to turn into a war at some point in the game, but it’s a lot of fun. We bring a lot out of each other.”

  • Scott Souza of MetroWest Daily News: Paul Pierce said he liked everything about the final shot except one thing. It didn’t go in. Down a point with 7.9 seconds left in last night’s game against the Spurs at TD Garden, the Celtics got the ball in the hands of the captain and he decided — as usual — to put the outcome on his shoulders. Pierce dribbled down the clock, got the defensive switch with Tim Duncan, then drove to the free-throw line before taking his patented step-back jump shot. Only Pierce’s shot rimmed out at the buzzer as the Celtics’ five-game win streak ended with an 87-86 loss. “I’m not going to second guess my decision,” Pierce said. “I thought I got a great shot, created some space right there at the free throw line. It’s just some days they fall, some days they don’t.” Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn’t second guess the shot either, only qualifying that he'd wanted Pierce to shoot it earlier in hopes of either drawing a shooting foul or allowing for a put-back at the buzzer.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies handled the most abrasive portion of their regular-season schedule so far relatively well until Wednesday night. They just couldn’t leave American Airlines Center unscathed. The Dallas Mavericks drew blood and then dominated the last five minutes in handing the Grizzlies a 95-85 loss before a crowd of 20,233. This time, there was no fourth-quarter magic for the Grizzlies despite starting their last game of a back-to-back-to-back set with great energy. Memphis led by five points with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Dallas delivered a knockout blow in the form of a 21-4 run. “We gave it what we had,” Griz coach Lionel Hollins said. “I thought we battled. It’s one thing to just play three in a row. But we just played five (games) in six (days). It was a tough stretch, but we did good and I’m proud of our team and how they kept battling.”

  • Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News: Will Roddy B ever make the jump to being a very good player? Sherrington: Great question. He's certainly not a point guard, or not the kind of point guard the Mavs need. He reminds me of Devin Harris. A one-man fast break. Dirk didn't play well with Harris, and he struggles with Roddy. It was very telling this year when Dirk said he had to basically ask for the ball. Not good. Roddy's shot is also unbelievably inconsistent. He can be a great 3-point shooter. And he can throw up an air ball on wide-open 6-footers. I just don't see it.

  • Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: Kevin Love is exhausted. You can tell by looking at him. Right now he's 23 going on 43. His face is drawn and his shoulders slumped. A league-high 40 minutes a game can do that. But it's not just all the time on the court, because Love is a young man. With injuries to key players - Ricky Rubio, Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic among them - he has had to carry more and more of the Timberwolves' load. Against the Golden State Warriors, he played 42 minutes, 30 seconds, scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Good-looking numbers to be sure. But there was virtually no defense in his game. And with the outcome in the balance, he missed the key shot in the final seconds. The net result was what coach Rick Adelman called the worst loss of the season as a huge first-half lead was frittered away by lack of defense. The Wolves recently have slipped out of playoff contention. I wondered if there was some sort of letdown after that. "A letdown is when you lose three or four of your best players and have to play undermanned," Love said. "That was a letdown for me. Tonight I missed that shot. It's tough to try and play Superman every night."

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: For a team that was starting to wonder if it had lost its defensive swagger, the night could not have gone any better. For a half it looked like those defensive concerns might be completely warranted. Both the Sixers and the Raptors were scoring with abandon. It was almost like defence had been outlawed or the first 40 minutes of any all-star game ever played. But a 15-point third quarter by the Sixers followed by a seven-point fourth has the Raptors talking proudly once again about their defence. It added up to a 99-78 win, their third in a row which is rarefied air for this franchise. They haven’t won three in a row since Nov. 17-24, 2010, which was actually the beginning of a four-game winning streak that coincidentally enough started right here in the City of Brotherly Love. The good feeling though came from once again proving to themselves and everyone else that they still have the ability to lock a team down.

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: A pair of Iguodala quotes in this week’s Sports Illustrated opened a few eyes Wednesday. In Lee Jenkins’ story on the Sixers featuring Iguodala, Iguodala said, “In Philly, it’s not about who you are — it’s about what you do for us. You could be the worst person in the world, but if you score a lot of points or win a championship, you can murder somebody.” After the game, Iguodala said, “It’s just a figure of speech. People are going to take it either way.” Iguodala also said, “It makes no sense to me why so many good scorers can’t defend. Like (teammate) Lou Williams — he’s one of the toughest guys to guard in the league, but he can’t guard anybody. I don’t get that.” Iguodala said Wednesday night that he “would rather use my teammate than somebody else. Using Lou — I’m just using our best scorer. I told him personally he can be a great defender. I don’t think he’s a bad defender — I’m just using him as an example.” Williams was unavailable for comment beforehand and had left the locker room by the time the media was allowed to enter. Collins downplayed Iguodala’s comments, saying, “The ‘Dre I know has been ultra-respectful toward me. He’s just not going to say a lot of warm and fuzzy things.”

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Arron Afflalo wears the losses on his face, a lather of anguish, a gloss of gloom upon his weary eyes. As he dressed in the losing locker room Wednesday night, the Nuggets guard looked up and said softly, "Unbelievable." It really was. The Nuggets, jockeying for a playoff spot in the airtight Western Conference, lost at lowly New Orleans 94-92. Told that he takes all the losses hard, Afflalo said: "This feels worse. For one, we've had opportunities all season long to build momentum against teams we felt we could beat if we competed hard. It's another lost opportunity."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: In a pregame media session Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, NBA Commissioner David Stern acknowledged for the first time the league is negotiating with three groups interested in purchasing the Hornets. Stern told the Salt Lake Tribune the league might be on the verge of getting the sale finalized by next week’s Board of Governors meeting in New York. “It remains my hope to tell the owners next week that we’re very close or at the verge of, or maybe just have made a deal, for New Orleans that will keep the team in New Orleans,’’ Stern told the Tribune. “That will have a very favorable lease, important capital improvements, intense tax benefits and a new TV deal to boot, that allows the team to be neither a revenue-sharing recipient, nor a revenue-sharing payer. That’s our goal.’’ A league source confirmed Wednesday night that there’s a third ownership group amongst the finalist to secure the team. During his annual state of the league address during All-Star weekend in February, Stern declined to confirm or identify if the group led by Los Angeles area businessman Raj Bhathal had emerged as the top candidate to purchase the Hornets.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: It was a game the Milwaukee Bucks had to win, but they just couldn't put away the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. At least not until Monta Ellis decided to take over. The Bucks' newly acquired guard hit all eight of his shots in the final 4 minutes, 32 seconds and scored his team's last 16 points, lifting Milwaukee to a 107-98 victory over the Cavaliers at the Bradley Center. The victory moved the Bucks (26-28) within one game of the New York Knicks (27-27) for eighth place and the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference and within three games of Philadelphia (29-25) for seventh place. "The shots just were going down," Ellis said.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: The Cavs are the first team in NBA history to lose consecutive home games by 35 points or more. They lost to San Antonio on Tuesday, 125-90, after a 121-84 loss to Milwaukee on Friday. The 37-point loss to the Bucks was the second worst of the season, after a 114-75 Chicago victory on Jan. 20.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: With the end of the regular season just weeks away and a lot of jostling still going on, some of the Indiana Pacers have made it almost a daily habit to look at the Eastern Conference playoff standings. "Every day I look at them," Pacers forward Danny Granger said. "I like to look at which teams we're competing against, who they're playing, how their schedule looks compared to ours." The Pacers hold the third seed. A losing streak, though, could cause them to fall quickly because the Pacers have only a four-game lead on seventh-seeded Philadelphia. "It's a constant battle with every game -- win or lose -- meaning something," Granger said. "It's kind of interesting to keep track of the teams we're competing with."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: John Wall tried the move again in the second half of the Wizards’ 109-96 loss to the Pacers on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. Driving baseline, he spun to avoid contact but his off-balance shot soared about two feet over the other side of the basket. Wall has been slumping and his struggles have been magnified as he attempts to lead his depleted team through a grinding, unforgiving schedule. His teammates have advised Wall to play through it. His coach has told him not to make the situation more complicated than it needs to be. “I think he needs to take a step back and simplify things. He’s trying to maybe do too much, too fast right now to fight through how he’s played the last couple of games,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards (12-42) lost their third in a row. “Sometimes it’s easier to take a step back and slow down. It’s not an easy thing to do. He’s a competitive kid who wants to play well and wants to play the right way and sometimes, you just get going the opposite way when you struggle a little bit.”

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Sure, it was just the Bobcats, whose minimal chances to win evaporated when Corey Maggette didn’t suit up and D.J. Augustin left the game after just 11 minutes. Then again, the Hawks beat them down with none of their starters playing more than 30 minutes, Joe Johnson scoring 16 points on 13 shots and a so-so effort on the boards. Aside from another lax defensive effort in the first quarter, there wasn’t much not to like. The Hawks attacked the basket, shared the ball (and took care of it), played with pace and got to the free-throw line while opening up the big lead in the first half. They even avoided a typical sluggish start to the third quarter and then the starters got to watch the reserves finish things off.