First Cup: Friday

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: After what transpired Thursday in one of the most bizarre, surreal and awkward media moments in NBA history, the Magic need to do themselves and Coach Stan Van Gundy a favor. They need to part ways with their coach immediately, pay off the remainder of his contract and install Dwight as the player-coach for the remainder of the season. Why not? Go ahead and give Howard exactly what he wants as this Dwightmare of a season spins toward its dysfunctional, farcical conclusion. Let's face it, Dwight is already the new CEO of the team and the de facto general manager, so why not make him player-coach as well? Especially since there is no possible way for Van Gundy and Howard to coexist. Not now. Not after Van Gundy pulled back the curtain and made Howard look like a fraud and a fool Thursday. The bluntly honest Magic coach obviously was fed up and wanted no part of this ongoing Dwight dog-and-pony show. And so the media were treated to a scene straight from Comedy Central or a skit from Saturday Night Live. ... It's all on Dwight now to sign long-term in Orlando and lead the Magic to a championship. It's the least he can do. The best player in franchise history has sabotaged the best coach in franchise history. Stan Van Gundy will soon be gone. A no-nonsense coach saying goodbye to a nonsense operation.

Howard Beck of The New York Times: Against that bizarre backdrop, the Knicks rolled to a 96-80 rout that only added to the Magic’s woes. Orlando (32-23) has lost five straight games, a streak that began with a 22-point loss at Madison Square Garden last week, when Howard was seen laughing on the bench. The Knicks, who have had their share of dissension and woe, were happy to capitalize on Orlando’s dysfunction. “Absolutely, you can see it,” Carmelo Anthony said of the Magic. “You still have guys that are going out there playing hard, trying to win the basketball game. But at the end of the day, when there’s a lot of stuff like that that’s surrounding a team off the court, it can be very distracting.” Anthony had 19 points and 8 rebounds in just three quarters. J. R. Smith had 15 points and 9 assists in his best all-around game as a Knick — a performance that came just two nights after his flagrant foul and ensuing ejection drew criticism from Coach Mike Woodson. “I’m going to keep pushing him to do the right thing,” Woodson said, “as well as everybody that’s on this team, and hopefully the results will be wins.”

Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times: Derrick Rose is expected to return from a groin injury Sunday when the Bulls face the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, which means it’s back to the bench for John Lucas III. The third-string point guard proved during Rose’s absences that he belongs in the NBA, at least. “I’m not here by accident,” Lucas said. “I proved I can play with the best. That was my whole goal, toshow people I could play. People who said I was here because of my father, I didn’t want to hear any of that. Every night I step on that court I want to prove everybody wrong.” Lucas III, the son of ex-NBA player and coach John Lucas, has been the biggest surprise of the Bulls’ season, although players and coaches say they have long known what he can do. He scored 25 points against the Wizards in his first NBA start. He scored 20 against Orlando and had 24, including a late-game, fade-away jumper over LeBron James, in a victory against Miami last month. Lucas has been a bottom-of-the-roster player during his NBA career. He has also played in China, Spain and Italy. “I don’t even think about stuff like that,” Lucas said when asked if he has earned a measure of security. “It’s a business. This league is crazy. I go out there and play like it’s my last game every game. I don’t care if we’re up by 30 or down by 40, I’m going to go hard no matter what.”

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Bulls simply out-executed the Celtics on offense in the second half. And the Celtics were relegated to another moral victory, perhaps hoping that Mickael Pietrus can return from his concussion in time to help in the final stretch of games. Afterward, coach Doc Rivers wasn’t happy. “I had to use two timeouts to remind us that we were actually in an NBA game. I thought this was the worst loss for us this year with the way we approached the game. And then in the second half, I thought Chicago, they’re just too tough for us. I thought their toughness made us let go of the rope.’’ Rivers said. “We wanted to use all these excuses all night. I thought Chicago was just too tough for us. We’re not going to go a lot of places playing with that type of mental toughness. We have three weeks, if we play like that tonight, we’ll be playing one of those [top teams] in the first round. We gotta get better. That was unacceptable. Rivers didn’t limit his criticism to the players. “That is on me first,’’ he said. “I didn’t see something tonight. It’s always on the coach. That’s an unacceptable effort for us. I don’t say that often. I don’t think I’ve ever said that. That was a crime. It was tough to talk after the game. About what? We gotta be better than that.’’

Michael Lee of The Washington Post: If Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace’s free throw percentage were a batting average, it would still make him a marginal hitter. So, with the Washington Wizards desperately seeking any means to rally from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit on Thursday night, Coach Randy Wittman asked his players to intentionally foul the notoriously terrible free throw shooter, hoping that it would yield the same result as a turnover. The strategy backfired hilariously, and as Wallace kept knocking down free throws with his unorthodox form, he angrily stared down the Wizards’ bench. Wittman could only chuckle uncomfortably. Because when a man who entered the final period shooting 26 percent from the foul line connected on 5 of 6 in the final 2 minutes 18 seconds, the Wizards had to know they weren’t leaving the Palace of Auburn Hills with a win. “It ain’t your night if he goes 5 for 6,” John Wall said of Wallace after the Wizards lost, 99-94. “Amazing. If he misses those, we might have a tie game, going into overtime — or a chance to try to win it in regulation.” The Wizards didn’t get either, as they suffered their fourth consecutive loss with regular starters Nene and Trevor Booker still out with left plantar fasciitis. At this point, with the roster depleted by injury and the finish line to another forgettable season well within sight, the Wizards just needed to be in a competitive game and Wall needed to know what it felt like to be on top of his game again.

Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: It's a sight rarely seen during a Pistons game, and although it looks alarming there's a greater underlying positive message. Piston guard Brandon Knight snapped at teammate Greg Monroe during a crucial stoppage in a recent game, which on the surface could be cause for alarm. But in reality, Knight, a rookie point guard, was finding his voice — and promoting accountability. Frank believes in the perfect democracy, where no one is above or below giving or receiving proper criticism. "There's no pecking order in terms of holding each other accountable, guys who's been in the league an eternity compared to young guys," he said.

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Style points aren’t important this time of year, and that’s good because the Clippers didn’t earn any. Still, the team somehow picked up a key road win at Sacramento, beating the Kings 93-85. Despite leading by double digits in the second quarter, the Clippers let Sacramento hang around, and inside the final five minutes, found themselves trailing. But on a key stretch of possessions, the Clippers scored four straight trips. Blake Griffin, who was quiet for the second game in a row, scored once in the post and drained back-to-back 20-foot jumpers from the top of the key, and Chris Paul got to the rim for a righ-handed layup to put the Clippers back up for good. In the final minute, Randy Foye was perfect on four trips to the line to ice the win. Despite being 1-for-6 from deep, Foye led the Clippers with 20 points in the win thanks to some key penetration. Griffin and Caron Butler scored 14 points each, and Paul scored 13 to go along with five steals.

Matt Kawahara and Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said he won't change the way he plays knowing that he's one technical foul from a one-game suspension. Cousins picked up his 12th technical of the season in the Kings' win over the Utah Jazz last Friday. NBA rules dictate that when a player reaches 13 technical fouls, he will be suspended for one game. Every two technical fouls thereafter result in another one-game suspension. "Some of my technicals, just, I don't even understand," Cousins said before the Kings played the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday. "I see some of those technicals other players get, and I compare them to mine and they're completely unfair." ... Cousins was tied Thursday for the most technical fouls in the league with Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. Kings coach Keith Smart said he will not advise Cousins to subdue his passionate, sometimes fiery play in order to avoid picking up No. 13. "If it happens, it happens," Smart said. "He knows where he's at, and if it happens, he'll take a seat and watch."