First Cup: Wednesday

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Well that went well, except for any ugly moment or two late. It clearly is easier when your returning championship roster doesn't include Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Gary Payton on their last legs. LeBron James? Simply sublime, in his first game stating his case not only for a repeat championship, but also a repeat MVP. Until leg cramps got the best of him late, bringing back NBA Finals memories of another type. Ray Allen? He'll fit in just fine, showing he can be and is more than merely a 3-point specialist. Dwyane Wade? A supporting player early, able to step forward late when LeBron stepped out. What it shows is that not everyone has to be at the top of their game, with Chris Bosh instead offering quiet quality. Somewhat lost in it all was Mario Chalmers' playmaking. His assist total tells that story.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Not even Kevin Garnett’s frustration, when he feels it, will burn as bright as the spark inside Rajon Rondo. And in terms of demerits, the Celtics point guard got off to a fast start late in last night’s 120-107 loss to the Heat with a technical foul and a Flagrant 1 foul after grabbing Dwyane Wade around the shoulders. Rondo thought it was simply a hard foul. Wade described the play as a clothesline and a “punk play.” “I don’t have any response to that,” said Rondo. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion. He has a voice, but he didn’t say anything at the time. . . . I fouled him. It’s not my call.” An amused Doc Rivers had a similar take on the play. “I don’t know what a flagrant is anymore,” said the Celtics coach. “He grabbed him around the shoulders, and as he turned — I would have been out of the league in two years. Our hand checks were harder. It’s late in the game, and officials rightly call it tight when you’re down. We can’t do that, but it’s not a big thing in this game and it shouldn’t be made one. I’d rather kindle a fire than start one. Rondo has a fire, and I’ll take that all day.”

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks obviously did a lot of good things in their 99-91 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, which ended early Wednesday morning, Dallas time. … Roddy Beaubois shook off the lingering effects of a sprained ankle anddislocated finger and had one of his best overall games of the last two seasons. He finished with 11 points and five assists, but more important was a steal he had on Steve Nash, plus an offensive rebound of his own miss that he converted into points. “Roddy might have been the key guy in the game,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “He went in and kept the tempo going. He showed what he’s capable of doing at the point guard spot in our system. He and Darren (Collison) are going to cause problems for teams with their speed and tenacity.’’ Beaubois said the rebound of his missed jumper was just a matter of hustling, as was the entire game plan of playing as fast as possible against the Lakers.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: The Lakers didn't make liars of themselves. Standing around most of Tuesday night instead of going hard after their goals, the Lakers backed up all their preseason preaching that it'll take time for them to become the super team everyone expects with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The more energetic Dallas Mavericks took it to the Lakers on Opening Night 2012 at Staples Center, scoring a 99-91 victory behind Darren Collison's 17 points. Collison's point-guard counterpart, Nash, looked tentative in the new equal-opportunity offense, and Howard shot a demoralizing 3 for 14 on free throws. "We're thinking too much instead of just playing," Nash said. Most critically for a crew that Lakers coach Mike Brown believed would sustain itself early in the season with tenacious defense, the Mavericks shot 63.2 percent from the field in the third quarter despite missing Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman to injuries. "We're going to have to defend with multiple efforts until our offense catches up to our defense," Brown said.

  • Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: His Cavaliers teammates call Anderson Varejao a horse. As in workhorse. As in the kind of player who never stops trying, never gives up, always is full of energy and always scratches and claws for the ball every time he's on the court. As in the kind of center who grabs a career-high 23 rebounds -- 12 offensive -- dishes a career-high nine assists and adds nine points in Cleveland's season-opening 94-84 victory over Washington. "You can put him in the Kentucky Derby and ride him and you might win some money," forward Tristan Thompson joked. It was the kind of performance the Cavaliers have missed for nearly nine months -- Varejao broke his wrist in February and hadn't appeared in a regular-season game since. Before the game, coach Byron Scott challenged his young team to play hard, to play with energy. Which, of course, is like telling Varejao to simply play the way he always does.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: When the Washington Wizards ushered out a starting lineup of Bradley Beal, A.J. Price, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker for Tuesday night’s season opener at Quicken Loans Arena, they couldn’t have sent a clearer message about how much they desire to move beyond a four-year period in franchise history when losing was synonymous with hijinks and seasons that ended with lottery trips. Of the five Wizards who were on the floor for the opening tip in Cleveland, four weren’t on the team last season, and Booker was sidelined with plantar fasciitis. These Wizards may be more professional and accountable, but they were also missing point guard John Wall, center Nene and forward Kevin Seraphin — three important players who were responsible for the team finishing last season with six consecutive victories. And until one or all of the members of that injured trio returns, the Wizards will have a difficult time overcoming nights like Tuesday, when they had no counter for an explosive point guard (Kyrie Irving) and an active big man (Anderson Varejao) and lost to the Cavaliers, 94-84.

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: The Sixers sent out a release Tuesday evening in which they said that “while Andrew and the 76ers are both eager for him to resume playing as soon as possible, the team intends to act with caution as to the date of the return.” Bynum, who the release claimed had begun low-impact conditioning, will likely need several weeks to get into playing shape once he is deemed pain-free and cleared to begin basketball-related activities. He’s started on the Sixers’ antigravity machine, then will move on to running, drills, scrimmaging and eventually putting on his No. 33 jersey.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Frank Vogel plans to start Gerald Green without Granger out. Doing that doesn’t put as much scoring pressure on Paul George. Green can help score and George’s defense won’t have to suffer as much. Vogel could have started Sam Young if he wanted to make George their top-scoring threat because Young can guard the opponent’s best wing player. Granger’s knee problem is the reason why I slid the Pacers down to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s not a given that they’ll win the Central Division if Granger’s out for an extended amount of time. … For all you fans who said the Pacers are better without Granger, we’re about find out if your notion is true.

  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: Remember in that Dr. Seuss book when the Cat in the Hat introduces Thing 1 and Thing 2? That’s what I think of while watching the final minutes of the Bulls’ practice Tuesday at the Berto Center. The team here before us is Bulls 1. The team we will see sometime late this winter or early next spring, when Derrick Rose returns from rehabbing the repaired anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, will be Bulls 2. Thing 1 and Thing 2 were just about the same. And maybe the two Bulls teams will be almost identical, too. But what a crazy situation this creates for Bulls management. Quite simply, nobody can know what that second team will be like. Then again, nobody knows for certain what this Bulls 1 team will be like. Coach Tom Thibodeau stood on the sideline as players shot free throws and announced the 2012 starting lineup: ‘‘The usual group — Kirk, Rip, Lu, Carlos, Jo.’’

  • Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: The Portland Trail Blazers have declined the team options for next season on three of their young players, Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams. General manager Neil Olshey said Tuesday that the decision was based entirely on the team’s desire to maintain salary cap flexibility for free agency next summer. “Based on our evaluation of the free agent market and the number of teams with significant cap room next summer, in order to be a player at all in free agency, we needed the flexibility,” Olshey said. By declining the options, the Blazers will have between $11.8 million and $13 million in cap space next summer, Olshey said. He added that if they had picked up all three options, the space would have shrunk to about $6.5 million.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: The Jennings-Ellis guard combination is unquestionably one of the best in the Eastern Conference. Some league executives and coaches contend only the Brooklyn duo of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson is better. Is it fair to say the Bucks, who open the regular season Friday night against the Celtics in Boston, will go only as far Jennings and Ellis take them? “I think that’s true,” Jennings said. … With a few exceptions, NBA history shows teams with smallish backcourts usually don’t have big seasons. It’s why some NBA pundits contend the Bucks will struggle to make the playoffs. “I don’t listen to them,” Ellis said of the critics. “We know what we can do. We don’t need to get caught up in what others are saying on the outside.” Added Jennings: “I don’t buy that at all, that Monta and I can’t play together. People say we can’t defend guards coming back down (on defense). I feel the same way when we come down at them. We’re quicker and we’re faster than them. We’re going to be just fine.”

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: The season also will help determine Greg Monroe's worth. Next off-season, he will be eligible for a contract extension worth up to five years and $75 million, which would begin in the 2014-15 season when Monroe will be 24. The inability of the Oklahoma City Thunder and swingman James Harden to agree to a contract extension before the deadline of midnight tonight was why Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets, tonight's season-opener opponent for the Pistons. Harden will sign an extension with the Rockets. Such extensions are rare with teams preferring to hedge their bets with a simple qualifying offer after the third season to make the player a free agent. But they will make the commitment with an obvious franchise cornerstone. Monroe figures to be such a player. He promises to keep his focus on the floor. "Flat out, I'm happy where I'm at," Monroe said. "I'm happy to be here. I believe they feel the same way on the other side. I'm just focusing on what I have to do to win games.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: Is he a point guard or shooting guard? That question should have a more definitive answer this season regarding J.J. Barea. The Timberwolves have improved their depth at shooting guard with Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Russian rookie Alexey Shved, leaving Barea with more time to focus on his duties at point guard when he relieves starter Luke Ridnour. Barea has spent more time at point guard during training camp and the exhibition season while Ricky Rubio recovers from his knee injury. The challenge for Wolves coach Rick Adelman and his staff is to help Barea manage the process of when to shoot or pass.

  • Erik Koreen of the National Post: When Bargnani does play, he will not be expected to reinvent himself. Bargnani has averaged 5.8 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career — paltry production on the glass for a 7-footer — and Dwane Casey does not need that to change for his own sanity. “One thing I’ve come to understand, and we did the same thing with Dirk [Nowitzki in Dallas], he’s never going to be a great rebounder,” Casey said. “Turning him into a rebounder is like turning [former Raptor and current Nets forward] Reggie Evans into a three-point shooter. That’s not going to happen. But the one thing he has to do is box his man out. Do not let his man get the ball. That’s the deal we have. That’s [what] he’s got to give us on the rebounding side.” The hope is that Jonas Valanciunas turns into the rebounding vacuum at centre that might be necessary when your starting power forward is Bargnani.

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: Tyrone Corbin is happy to have the final year of his contract picked up by the Jazz, an exercised option on Tuesday that makes him the team’s coach through this season and next. That’s a positive for him and it’s a positive for the Jazz. And here’s why: From the start of the 2012-13 season, Corbin can focus on the business of building something potentially great instead of concerning himself with something realistically good. He has that opportunity now, without the immediate duress of feeling the pressure is on to win every single game no matter what, to the point where he worries too much about his win totals, and how they look, and not at all about developing a young team that could have an eventual shot, if it is grown properly, at accomplishing more than what this team will do this year. Translation: He can go ahead and give more minutes to Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. He can experiment more to find the right combinations for the present and the future, without grabbing hold of the same old safety of good. That safety includes giving Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and other veterans the vast majority of the minutes.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic's future is 19 years old, didn't take basketball seriously until high school and still calls his mother "mommy." The Magic's future is ridiculously grounded, never wanted a tattoo and just retired mommy from working as a waitress at Applebee's. The Magic's future hung 30 on Duke at Duke last season. The Magic's future is 6-foot-8 and still growing, full of promise and humility, dusting cobwebs off a jump-shot he didn't use much in his only year at St. John's. His name is Maurice Harkless, and the great hope is, by April, he'll need no further introductions. If the Magic are what they say they are now, then the franchise will be wrapping its arms around Maurice this season, spoon-feeding him or prodding him to swallow the NBA whole.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: The release of Stephen Jackson’s rap album “Jack of All Trades” — originally scheduled for Tuesday — has been delayed for promotional purposes, the Spurs forward said. Instead, Jackson has released a single, titled “Lonely at the Top,” for download on iTunes. The track features vocals from one of the Spurs’ biggest rivals, Oklahoma City scoring champion Kevin Durant. One of Jackson’s teammates is none too happy about the pairing. “I asked him if I could rap a little on his album, and he told me no, straight out,” Duncan said. “I was very offended. He’s never even heard me rap. He doesn’t know what I could do.”

  • Denny Walsh of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings and swingman Francisco Garcia have settled their product liability lawsuits against the manufacturer of an exercise ball that exploded and severely injured Garcia. Prominent Sacramento personal injury lawyer Roger Dreyer, who represented the Kings and Garcia in their federal civil suits, said the amount of money paid by Ledraplastic S.p.a. to his clients is confidential but described the resolution as "extremely favorable" to them. On Oct. 9, 2009, Garcia was balancing on the 75-centimeter ball and lifting weights at the same time when the ball burst and he "fell forcibly to the ground with the (90-pound) weights in each hand," according to Garcia's suit. It said he suffered serious injuries, including a fractured right forearm. The Kings alleged a breach of the manufacturer's warranty and sought recovery of more than $4 million in salary, which the team was required to pay while Garcia was unable to play.