First Cup: Wednesday

  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times: Derrick Rose’s groin and Rip Hamilton’s shoulder aren’t all the Bulls must monitor closely during a nine-game dash to the playoffs. The Bulls have the most victories in the league (43), but it’s not nitpicking to say slow starts and poor free-throw shooting might scuttle their championship hopes. Both areas have plagued the Bulls this season, most recently in their 100-99 loss Sunday to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and both were primary areas of concern as coach Tom Thibodeau prepared his team for a rematch against the Knicks on Tuesday at the United Center. Thibodeau must find solutions to both problems if the Bulls are to reach their full potential. ‘‘It’s a concern,’’ Thibodeau said after the Bulls again fell behind early Sunday. ‘‘It’s a big concern.’’ When a team that relies on energy comes out flat, it becomes a ship adrift. We’ve seen it again and again with the Bulls this season, especially Sunday, when the Knicks raced out to a 27-6 lead. That’s why those who claim they only watch the fourth quarter of NBA games haven’t been paying attention to the Bulls. The score at the end of the first quarter might be the best indication of whether the Bulls win or lose. They are 31-2 (18-0 on the road) this season when leading after one quarter, 10-12 (3-8 on the road) when trailing after one and 2-0 when tied after one.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Knicks were in transition and in need, the floor was open and Carmelo Anthony had that feeling again late Tuesday evening. As if replaying his own highlight reel, he stopped, elevated and launched a 3-point shot that carried the Knicks’ hopes with it. It would be a momentum changer, one way or another. But Anthony could not replicate his Sunday shooting heroics, nor the outcome. The shot missed, and the Chicago Bulls raced the other way and ran off with a 98-86 victory, avenging their defeat in New York two days earlier. ... At the moment, the Knicks (29-28) are not even assured of making the playoffs. The loss dropped them back into eighth place, with a mere one-game lead on Milwaukee Bucks, their opponent Wednesday night. A loss in Milwaukee would give the Bucks the season series and the tiebreaker, dropping the Knicks to ninth and out of the playoff field. They have reached the point of the season where every hiccup rattles the standings. “It’s a must win,” Anthony said, repeating the statement. “It’s probably one of the biggest games of the season for us, and we got to approach it like that. We got to be ready. Forget this game, it’s behind us.”

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics not only needed to prove to the basketball public, but perhaps themselves, that their recent stretch of impressive play was good enough to compete with the NBA’s elite. Last Thursday in Chicago, they hadnothing to show their audience in a demoralizing loss to the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, they displayed much improvement. Facing a Heat team promising to atone for a 19-point beating April 1 at TD Garden, the Celtics countered every Miami run with a damaging one of their own, finally quieting LeBron James and his mates in a confidence-boosting 115-107 victory. While moving Avery Bradley into the starting lineup has sparked the Celtics, the rejuvenated Kevin Garnett has been just as critical to their recent success. With Boston holding a precarious 5-point lead with nine minutes left, and the announced sellout crowd screaming for the Heat to go on a run, Garnett (11-of-14 shooting, 24 points) looked vintage, delivering four consecutive midrange jumpers as he torched counterpart Chris Bosh.

  • David J. Neal of The Miami Herald: Two ways to look at the Heat’s 115-107 home loss to Boston — a team that looked doddering during a blowout Heat win in December and retro 2008 in dusting the Heat twice this month. One way is to consider it an anomaly. Boston’s 67 first half points were the most they’ve scored in any half and the most the Heat’s allowed in any half this season. Nobody from Boston seemed to miss. Not point guard Rajon Rondo. Not Kevin Garnett, who went 11 of 14 shooting with equal proficiency whether against Chris Bosh or air. When a fan hit a half court shot to win a Kia, you half expected him to plop himself down on the Celtic bench. Boston shot 58.9 percent in the third quarter. It was their worst shooting quarter of a game in which they shot 60.6 percent from the field. ... The other way to look at the loss is it was indicative of a team that’s 5-5 in their last 10 and on search for chemistry and consistency with the playoffs nigh. “To give up 115 points on our home floor, that’s not our style,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

  • Martin Frank of The News-Journal: Spencer Hawes didn't really tear up his hotel room, or bust up his TV, or throw furniture around the room, like 76ers coach Doug Collins jokingly said one of his assistants told Hawes to do. But Hawes probably felt like it when he found out Tuesday morning that he had lost his starting job. "Obviously, I wasn't happy," Hawes said. "Anybody who plays the game isn't going to be happy. But there are two ways you can go: You can sit there and sulk about it or be mad, swallow it and try to make the most of it." Hawes made the most of it. He scored a season-high 19 points and added eight rebounds to lead the Sixers to a 107-88 win over the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday. Before the game, Collins replaced Hawes and Evan Turner in the starting lineup with rookie Nikola Vucevic and Jodie Meeks, respectively. Collins said he was trying to provide a spark to a team that had lost four straight and 10 of 14, falling to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. By winning, the Sixers (30-27) moved two games ahead of ninth-place Milwaukee with nine games left. But the spark didn't come so much from the new starting lineup as it did from the bench players.

  • Andy Vasquez of The Record: Despite this disappointing season that has seen the Nets dress 22 different players and lose more than 200 man-games to injury, Prokhorov is optimistic about the future. He praised coach Avery Johnson and general manager Billy King, and the team’s young talent. He said he has been impressed specifically with the talent of MarShon Brooks, Gerald Green and Gerald Wallace. “Of course, if it hadn’t been for the crazy injuries this year I’m sure we would have been in the playoffs, that’s for sure,” Prokhorov said. “But we are patient and I hope all our fans will share our approach to the championship.” If it doesn’t work out with Williams, Prokhorov — an avid sportsman — always has the kickboxing backup plan. “He says it because he can do it,” King said with a smile, picking his owner in any kickboxing matchup with Cuban (Cuban did not return an email seeking comment). But the Nets certainly hope it doesn’t come to that.

  • Gene Wang of The Washington Post: For a second night in a row, 10-day contract players James Singleton and Cartier Martin contributed significantly as reserves. Not coincidentally, the Washington Wizards won consecutive games for just the second time this season, prompting Coach Randy Wittman to speculate about how to get the most out his other players down the road. “They’ve been big,” Wittman said of Singleton and Martin. “We might have to go all 10-day contracts next year. Some of our guys might not like to hear that.” Wittman got some guffaws from the room with that comment, but the results, including Tuesday night’s 93-85 win against Orlando, are unmistakable. Martin has totaled 31 points in wins against Charlotte and the Magic, and Singleton has combined for 30 in those games. Tuesday night, both were on the court during seminal moments of the game. Martin’s three-pointer with 7 minutes 29 seconds left in regulation broke a 69-all tie and put Washington ahead to stay. Orlando called timeout immediately thereafter, but Singleton’s ensuing field goal was about all the Wizards needed to keep the Magic at bay. “I just come in and do what they ask me to do,” Martin said. “I come in and hit an open shot and will defend.”

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Ish Smith was promoted to the Magic's back-up point-guard role behind starter Jameer Nelson on Tuesday night against the Washington Wizards. On Monday night against the Detroit Pistons, Smith replaced Chris Duhon, who was suspended for the game after missing shoot-around Monday morning. Smith had seven assists and six points in 25 minutes. "We're going to play Ish," coach Stan Van Gundy said before the game against the Wizards. "Ish played well (Monday night) and Chris missed the game. We're giving him a chance to play." Van Gundy said that Duhon --- who was active for Tuesday night's game – also has a minor foot injury. Smith was signed by the Magic as a free agent on Feb. 2 after being waived by the Golden State Warriors. He has played sparingly, appearing in just 15 games. But he had another chance to impress Van Gundy against the Wizards.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: After watching newcomer Lester Hudson score 23 points on Friday in Toronto and 26 on Sunday in New Jersey, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was asked what he expected of Hudson on Tuesday against Charlotte in The Q. The coach smiled and said, "29, I guess." Hudson only had 25, but he led a strong bench effort that enabled the Cavs to rest their starters and cruise to an easy 103-90 victory before a crowd that included Indians manager Manny Acta and players Josh Tomlin, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Aaron Cunningham, who walked across the street after their game with Chicago was postponed. "I'm a little disappointed that he missed a couple of shots that would have gotten him to 29," Scott said of Hudson after the game. ... All kidding aside, Scott is thrilled with how Hudson is performing.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: The air seemed fresher and the drama certainly was behind them. In their first game post-Lamar Odom, the Dallas Mavericks put on one of their best offensive performances of the season in racing past the Sacramento Kings 110-100 on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. It was a game where the Mavericks got 15 points apiece from Dirk Nowitzki and Rodrigue Beaubois and13 points apiece from Jason Terry and Delonte West in one of their most balanced offensive showings of the season. And it all came on the heels on Monday's explosive events, when the Mavericks parted ways with Odom, who was the big-time off-season acquisition they thought would help them win back-to-back NBA titles. So, were the Mavs all-in against the Kings now that they know that the team's biggest distraction is no longer around? "This is a team, we've got a lot of veteran guys in here, so we've dealt with worse," Terry said.

  • Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee: Substandard ownership has allowed a rabidly followed franchise to deteriorate into a distressed property. I just didn't appreciate how distressed it is until we pulled up on Sunday and I got a good look at this mess in broad daylight. Approaching via the west entrance, you see it on your walk to the turnstiles: A veritable junkyard of discarded arena seats and debris strewn about as if it were a county landfill and not the home of an NBA franchise. Even worse, the building itself is covered in soot. It looks cheap and dingy. How much could it cost to pressure-wash the building so it could look respectable? Like distressed neighborhoods, basketball arenas fall into disrepair when the owners let it happen. This all makes sense if you consider the entire picture here. The owners – the Maloof brothers – do most of their talking through their Los Angeles-based lawyer and spokesman. They've taken an aggressive stance against the city of Sacramento, firing off Public Records Act requests as if the city were the enemy instead of a partner. In this context, the state of the Kings is perfectly understandable. It's the NBA version of a run-down home in a neighborhood where everyone else cares but the absentee owners responsible for the mess.