First Cup: Friday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Upon learning of the Lakers’ free agent coup over the offseason, forward Metta World Peace predicted his team would challenge the Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season. Not happening, says Dwyane Wade — not by the Lakers and not by the Heat. “Anything is possible,” Wade said. “Would it be very hard? Yes, it would be very hard. The game today, with how many good teams are in this league, that’s almost or as close to impossible as you can get.” Wade, a Chicago native, was 14 years old when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman set the NBA’s regular-season record for wins. LeBron James was a youngster in Akron, Ohio, and said he watched Bulls games on WGN. “What the Bulls did that year is special,” Wade said. “Think about that — losing 10 games. They lost something like four at the All-Star break. That’s crazy.”

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: The Heat had little trouble with the Pistons on Thursday night, with Dwyane Wade (21 points in 22 minutes) showing no hesitation on his surgically-repaired left knee, and LeBron James contributing 13 points, eight assists and four steals. So, after the game, much of the talk still centered on the story that served as the centerpiece of the ESPN.com site for much of Thursday morning and afternoon, a story suggesting that the Lakers were positioning themselves for a run at James in free agency if he opts out of his contract in 2014. James and Wade had some fun with it before the game, as I covered at the top of my column. After it, Wade offered more pointed words, albeit still with a hint of a smile. “They need to leave my teammate alone with that, and go mess with somebody else,” Wade said. “He’s gonna be here. We’re straight.” James, for his part, stayed on message, a message you’re sure to hear over and over from him: “I’m here. I’m preparing for the season. I’m preparing to defend our title.”

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: I sat down with Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss on Wednesday for nearly an hour, and one of the clear revelations was just how excited Buss is about the Lakers contending for the NBA championship in 2014, not just this season and next. "We purposely ended all contracts that year," Buss said. "I can't talk about Kobe (Bryant), but this is what he signed till. So basically we put everything to that, and we want to make a big splash in the free-agent market if we get to that spot. So we designed the contracts and the players and our future all around that." That makes for a completely viable scenario wherein Bryant retires in 2014 – and LeBron James signs a free-agent contract to replace him on the Lakers' marquee. One day after I spoke with Buss (longer profile piece coming in the Sunday paper), Miami-based writer and longtime LeBron tracker Brian Windhorst coincidentally was also looking ahead and reporting: "Several teams' executives have told ESPN.com they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014, when the Miami Heat star can choose to become a free agent." No doubt.

  • Craig Stouffer of the Washington Times: In its latest attempt to become the sports version of Big Brother, the NBA wants to speed up the start of games this season by instituting a 90-second clock from the end of lineup introductions to the opening tip. If teams aren't ready in time, they will be assessed a delay-of-game warning. Sacrificed to make this happen will be the often elaborate pregame player rituals, handshake routines and antics that have become commonplace in recent seasons. But selling individual NBA players and their personalities is part of what has made the league so popular. It may not be crucial to game outcomes, but it is part of what draws fans into arenas, connects them to the teams and encourages blind support and the endless spending of their money. What slows down NBA games are timeouts, especially TV-mandated ones, which have been joined by increasing replays and conferences over out-of-bounds plays and flagrant fouls, all of which hurt a game's rhythm. A reduction in timeouts could have an immediate impact, possibly making contests more unpredictable. Any reason to make viewers tune in before the fourth quarter is a good one. Even more effective would be reducing the length of games themselves. No one complains about Olympic games that are 40 minutes and even allow fewer chances to call timeouts. … All a 90-second pregame rule does is make things more complicated.

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Dwight Howard, jittery Laker? It's true. The six-time All-Star center and three-time NBA defensive player of the year said he would probably be edgy for his first game as a Laker, which won't come Friday in an exhibition against Sacramento at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. "Like I told Steve [Nash]," Howard said after practice Thursday, "I think I'll be a little nervous out there for the first time, but he said he would help me through it and hopefully it will be OK." Howard said he gets nervous before every game because he doesn't want to lose, but this is different. "New town, new city, I think everybody's expecting a lot out of this team and they're expecting a lot out of me," he said, "so I have to make sure I keep all of that out of my mind when I'm playing and just have fun."

  • Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: Knuckle push-ups? That even sounds like an exercise accident waiting to happen -- like "head crunches" or "kidney twists." Knuckle push-ups are straight from the world of Mixed Martial Arts, where fighters swear that they toughen the knuckles to the extent that a properly delivered punch can split an opponent's head in two. The long way. But basketball? Memo to Wolves training staff: Take that one off of the Approved Exercise List. Now Kevin Love has two fractured bones in his right hand, and the Timberwolves once again are hosed. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks, or just long enough to ensure the team misses the playoffs for the ninth straight season. Just when things start to go well, we are reminded that this franchise is cursed. Always has been, probably because Target Center was built over the burial site of some beloved Block E drug dealer.

  • Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News: On the status of Dirk Nowitzki's knee: I think some of these injuries come up right before training camp because they want to miss the preseason. We saw last year that Dirk needs some time to get into basketball shape, and the Mavericks pay for that somewhat. I think it’s the best think if Dirk sits out for the Mavericks; I really do. Get him healthy, get him cleaned up; even if he misses 40 games it’s like a freebie this year. This team is probably on the verge of being a fringe playoff team. So what? That doesn’t matter in this town. You might luck into the lottery or a top pick if you have a poor season, and then when all those contracts are expiring and Mark Cuban’s making his annual run at a big free agent, then perhaps they could make a run the next season with Dirk healthy.

  • Bob Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: In 10.2 seconds, Jeremy Evans became an Internet sensation. Evans boarded a plane from Los Angeles back to Salt Lake City late Wednesday as the proud owner of a string of plays that seemed sure to earn him a return slot on SportsCenter’s nightly Top 10. By early Thursday, video of Evans’ block-dunk-deflection had gone viral, earning praise from all corners of the sports world as one of the best sequences ever by an NBA player. If you missed it, it can be broken down into three distinct parts: 1) As Clippers’ forward Ronny Turiaf rose for an elbow jumper with 5:24 left in the Jazz’s 96-94 loss, Evans leapt from three paces away to spike the shot back down; 2) Evans chased the ball, picked it up beyond midcourt and, jumping from one step beyond the free-throw line, punctuated his defensive play with a stiletto dunk over Turiaf; 3) Evans nearly fell down from his own momentum, but made the turn and kept running back down the court, deflecting a full-court pass from Chris Paul intended for DeAndre Jordan. The whole thing took 10.2 seconds. "You still got to get back on defense," Evans said. "In a timeout, you can celebrate a little bit."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Leandro Barbosa isn’t about to change the world. He is a reserve guard who’ll turn 30 late next month, and his high earning NBA days are behind him. But yesterday’s acquisition by the Celtics is very much out of the Red Auerbach playbook. The club is getting a veteran who could quite possibility provide a key contribution in short bursts backing up minutes-eater Rajon Rondo. And if things don’t work out, well, he is costing the C’s just the veteran minimum. But his new teammates are looking forward to what the 2006-07 Sixth Man of the Year can provide. With adding him, that’s going to make it the deepest bench that I’ve probably ever played with,” said Paul Pierce.

  • Nate Taylor of The New York Times: How the Knicks will implement Stoudemire’s new low-post moves into their offense will be the biggest thing to watch in their third preseason game, against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. Stoudemire, who before this year has always been a face-to-the-basket player, said he was eager to get on the court after missing two preseason games with a bruised left knee. The new Stoudemire will be more of a back-to-the-basket player, after he spent a portion of the off-season working with Hakeem Olajuwon, a Hall of Fame center, to develop his scoring ability in the post. “We’ll see how the game goes,” Stoudemire said Thursday. “Hopefully, the opportunity presents itself that you will see a few post moves.”

  • Stefan Bobdy of the New York Daily News: Before the Nets begin their self-declared lofty quest of winning 50-plus games and competing for a championship, they have to answer to their weakness: defense. The Nets are built for running up and down, outscoring their opponent. Their interior defense is certainly suspect with Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries. They’re solid, if not spectacular, on the perimeter with Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Gerald Wallace can match up with most NBA small forwards, but Avery Johnson said the dropoff from the second unit has sullied their performance through the first three preseason games. “Our highest defensive rating this year is not going to be good enough to win in the regular season consistently,” Avery Johnson said.

  • Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times: After 12 NBA seasons and with a firm reputation as a pure shooter, Clippers guard Jamal Crawford tried something during the off-season he had never done before. He practiced shooting. It's astonishing to think that Crawford, who is the NBA's career leader with 34 four-point plays and ranks 21st all-time with 1,387 three-pointers, didn't routinely spend his summers in stuffy gyms trying to perfect his shot. "I've never actually been drilled before. Seriously. I told Blake that, and he couldn't believe it," Crawford said of teammate Blake Griffin. Crawford, 32, felt compelled to change his preparation after he signed a free-agent deal with the Clippers worth about $21 million over four years. Coming off a subpar season with the Portland Trail Blazers in which he hit 30.8% of his three-point attempts and shot a below-career-average 38.4% from the field, the NBA's 2010 sixth man of the year saw an opportunity for good things here, and he wanted to be ready. For him, that meant doing shooting drills.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: There was a moment in the second half when Rudy Gay crashed to the floor after being fouled on a layup attempt. He rested still for a few seconds. Suddenly, the Grizzlies' versatile small forward did a few push-ups before rising to his feet. The move drew a roar from most of the 4,314 in attendance Thursday night at the LaCrosse Center. Teammates chuckled on the bench while Gay smiled as he approached the free-throw line. That turned out to be a rare, lighthearted moment from Gay during this training camp. He's been all business and so has point guard Mike Conley for that matter. And the duo's unwavering focus and productivity were on display from start to finish in the Grizzlies' 97-94 preseason victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Conley and Gay each scored 20 points. … "I don't intend to take any games off," said Gay, who added six assists, four rebounds and four steals to his line. "I'll play in all eight (preseason games) if Coach (Lionel Hollins) wants me to. It can't do anything but make me better."

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: When the team acquired Nick Young, Jason Richardson and Dorell Wright, the whole philosophy of scoring had to change. Now in charge of a roster with a plethora of outside shooters, Collins is adjusting to playing a style that fits their games and, pardon the phrase, puts his players in the best position. In the team's four preseason games the team has made 34 of 72 (47.2 percent) from beyond the arc and has been able to get long open shots in a variety of ways. "This offense is great for three-point shooters and I think with [Collins] - a lot of coaches don't like early transition threes - he encourages us to shoot those," Richardson said. "Myself, Dorell [Wright], Nick [Young], we all are capable of making transition threes. We're not just standing and shooting in the corners. He's got the guards moving around a lot so it's not just spot-up shooting."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Judging from the last two games, Scott will start rookie Dion Waiters at shooting guard — ready or not. Waiters has been ordinary in the preseason. Much improvement is needed from the ex-Syracuse guard. He's averaging 8.0 points and 2.2 assists and is shooting 36 percent from the field. There are some things to like about Waiters. His outside shooting isn't one of them. His strength is as a facilitator. Unfortunately, the Cavs need his potential scoring in a big way. There's a lot of pressure on Kyrie Irving to almost do it all. The development of Waiters could trigger the Cavs' potential ascension in the Eastern Conference. Being a starter could also boost his confidence, even though he hasn't exactly blown away the competition.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Who knew that Vladimir Radmanovic was Serbian for Scalabrine? At least that’s what it seems like lately with Radmanovic receiving the Brian Scalabrine treatment on the Bulls’ bench. Radmanovic has been given few minutes in preseason and didn’t play Tuesday in the 100-94 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. He was one of the Bulls’ first offseason acquisitions and coach Tom Thibodeau said early in camp that he had big plans for the 11-year forward, so there would seem to be something more than what’s on the surface, but Thibodeau downplayed that Thursday. “I want to make sure he’s ready,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’ll see how it unfolds. He’s a good pro, comes in and gets his work done. He knows what he’s trying to get accomplished. I do want to see him some at the three, which I haven’t done yet, but I have a pretty good idea of what he could do.’’ It’s the “make sure he’s ready’’ part that seems to be the key. Radmanovic admitted that Camp Thibodeau is a lot more work than advertised, and he might need to play catch-up physically before those minutes are given.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Three exhibition games is hardly a large enough case study to make any grand declarations about the Trail Blazers, but an unmistakable trend is developing with rookie point guard Damian Lillard. He’s been a far better and more aggressive player in the second half than the first. Through three games — he sat Wednesday night because of a bruised left foot — Lillard is averaging 16.3 points, 5.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field. But almost all of his damage has come after halftime. His first half numbers: 4.0 points, 2.7 assists, 1.7 rebounds, seven turnovers, 23.5 percent shooting. His second half numbers: 12.3 points, 2.3 assists, 1.0 rebounds, four turnovers, 67 percent shooting. “In the first half, I’m too busy making sure I get guys involved,” Lillard said. “I think I worry too much about them and (whether) they get the ball enough. So I make sure I spread the ball around. And in the second half, I know I’ve done that throughout the first half, so it’s easier for me to come out and just attack.”

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Small forward has been a problem since Peja Stojakovic's back went out and the Kings refused to gamble long term on Ron Artest. Francisco Garcia. John Salmons. Donté Greene. Omri Casspi. Greene again. Salmons again. Tyreke Evans. Travis Outlaw. Terrence Williams. With Evans returning to the backcourt alongside Aaron Brooks or Isaiah Thomas, the three spot is back on the vacancy listings. Hence the offseason acquisition of Johnson. "I think James has the potential to really help us defensively," said Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie, who obtained the third-year pro from Toronto for a second-round pick. "His perimeter game needs to get better, but there are a lot of good parts to his game. He's active, he blocks shots, he takes pride in his defense."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Last year’s lockout didn’t end until Nov. 26, with the start of a shortened 66-game 2011-12 season pushed back to Christmas Day. Training camp lasted a little more than a week. The lockout took a toll on Bonner and the other players on the union’s executive committee. “It was an emotional roller coaster,” Bonner said. “You go from thinking you’re going to get the deal done and get back to your normal life and doing what you love to thinking it’s never going to happen. “It was up and down and down and up. And then when it did happen it was, ‘What?’ It didn’t even seem real after everything we had been through.” Bonner has played only 11 minutes in only two of the Spurs’ four preseason games and has yet to score, attempting only three shots. He knows his time will come.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Ask anybody about who the next Pacer should be that enters the Hall of Fame and they’ll say Roger Brown, a star on the Pacers ABA teams. Mel Daniels said Brown should have been elected into the Hall a long time ago. Brown’s No. 35 is hanging up in the rafters at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. There’s about to be a documentary released about Brown, who averaged 18 points a game during his eight seasons with the Pacers. The Pacers and Bankers Life and Casualty have committed to be co-title sponsors of an upcoming documentary about Roger Brown, the very first Pacer. “Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story,” produced by Ted Green and WFYI, is scheduled to be released in February.