First Cup: Wednesday

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: The collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout about this time last year contains new language that allows the NBA to use a small number of “non-staff” refs through the first 90 days or 50 games of the regular season. These are the best of the D-League refs Bantom was talking about, and this season the small cadre includes Lauren Holtkamp and Brenda Pantoja, along with Ben Taylor, Sir Allen Connor, Steve Anderson and Scott Bolnick. The fact most players are unaware two more women are working games this season proves how far we’ve come the last 16 years. It was 1997 when Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner broke a barrier by becoming the first female officials in any of the four major North American sports leagues. “I think the ladies coming need to pay homage to Violet for her paving the way for them,” Spurs veteran Stephen Jackson said. “To me, Violet’s done a great job. Honestly, she does a better job than some men. She gets the utmost respect from me and she showed the NBA they could bring women in and they could get the job done.” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has never met a ref he wouldn’t berate, regardless of gender. His rule for evaluating any official is simple. “I think all anybody cares about is competency,” he said. “Gender has nothing to do with it. Competency speaks for itself.”

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Fooz-zhway. "I believe in that, what's that, fooz zhway?" George Karl said before Tuesday's tipoff. "How the room is (balanced), with the colors." The Nuggets coach meant feng shui, sure, but either way, there was some feng shui in the Nuggets' house. Karl said that the new canary yellow uniforms, with the classic "Skyline" logo, gave him a good vibe. So maybe that was it. Or maybe it was the fact they played the pathetic Detroit Pistons. Either way, the Nuggets' house, the Pepsi Center, was connected by positive energy of a sellout crowd, a home opener and the Nuggets playing well. Denver beat Detroit 109-97 in a battle of 0-3 teams, giving the Nuggets their first win in the Iguodala era.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: The landscape undoubtedly will change once injured big man Andrew Bynum can suit up for the 76ers, but until then, the case can be made that Joakim Noah is the best center in the Eastern Conference. Noah entered Tuesday’s game against the Magic third in scoring (14.7 points per game)among centers behind Chris Bosh and Brook Lopez, third in rebounds (8.7 per game) behind Anderson Varejao and Brendan Haywood, second in assists (2.3 per game) behind Varejao, first in steals (2.67 per game) and tied for fourth in blocks (1.67 per game). And Noah is still evolving, which has coach Tom Thibodeau excited. He took it upon himself to work out with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar this summer and is starting to understand the importance of film study and being a good practice player. The product isn’t finished. “[Noah] has done a great job watching film, which has helped him come into practice more focused,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s practicing as well as he’s ever practiced, and the one thing you learn about this league is, the better you practice, the better you play.’’

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Technically speaking, Rasheed Wallace has been more than the Knicks could have anticipated. He’s been a positive presence in the locker room and on the court, and get this: the player who holds the NBA record for technicals hasn’t been booked yet. Yes, ’Sheed still has never met a referee he agrees with, and the more Wallace plays, his streak of no T’s will end sooner rather than later. But the Knicks can live with an occasional loose lip as long Wallace remains productive, and like the rest of the Knicks’ aging roster, stays healthy. “He’s giving us so much out there,” Tyson Chandler said. “Not even when he’s on the floor but on the bench. Last year a lot of times my voice was the only voice out there. Now there are so many voices.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Jared Sullinger has not summoned up memories of Kendrick Perkins, except for the one Celtic who would know better than any other. When Kevin Garnett plays and practices next to Sullinger, something about the rookie’s approach and decisions shouts “Perk.” “I thought he did a great job,” Garnett said of Sullinger’s first start during the Celtics’ win in Washington last Saturday. “He’s a no-nonsense guy. Not that I’m shooting down the other guys, but he’s a young fella, he comes in and does what you tell him. He’s a great rebounder. His IQ is incredible. He reminds me a lot of Perk, man. Not the defender Perk was, but his IQ moving the ball and being unselfish is the same.” Sullinger learned this much — when Kevin Garnett speaks, the wisest thing to do is agree. “It means a lot,” Sullinger said of the comparison.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Out of interest that he heals his strained right foot, Kobe Bryant sat out of practice Tuesday for the second consecutive time this week. Out of interest to stop the Lakers' sluggish start, Coach Mike Brown has kept Bryant on the floor longer than planned. Bryant expressed optimism the past two days of treatment and rest will make his foot feel "90 percent" when the Lakers (1-3) plays tonight at Utah (1-2). Brown expressed optimism he'll reduce Bryant's current playing time, which has hovered at an average of 37 minutes through four games. "I want to try to really be conscious of Kobe's minutes, Brown said. "What I can do is as we go on, is continue to be more conscious of not throwing him out there."

    Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: I’ve defended Andrea Bargnani for quite some time. But I can’t any longer. He is a waste of a big man. All he wants to do is shoot jumpers.

  • Jonathan Feigen of Houston Chronicle: Basketball at some point becomes art, something more natural than can be predetermined, more creative than calculating. As Harden makes the transition from gifted sixth man to go-to star, he faces the challenge of the NBA balancing act — doing everything a team needs without trying to do too much. And he is doing it the only way he can — letting it come naturally and relying on instinct to guide him. … But it is a tricky part of carrying the load that so rapidly fell to him, as the Rockets’ first week demonstrated. He lifted them to opening road victories but faded down the stretch as his new teammates deferred too greatly in the home loss to Portland. The Rockets want Harden to look for his shot more than he has before, but they need him to take advantage of the defensive attention they know he will draw. They need him to create offense and make decisions for those around him but also to maintain their free-flowing, up-tempo style.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: The on-court lashings have yet to occur. For the past two seasons, Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers was often on the receiving end of yells from higher-profile teammates when he played poorly. These days, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been quiet when it comes to verbally scolding Chalmers. "We haven't been on his back," James said. "He's been playing well, so no need to be on him." Chalmers has been one of the brightest stars thus far. He had 11 assists in Monday's win against the Phoenix Suns. It was his second performance as such of the season, reaching the total in the season-opener against the Boston Celtics. Chalmers is averaging seven assists a game, easily the most productive start in his five-year career. He averaged a career-high 4.9 as a rookie in 2008-09.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Still, Hollins' status is no different from Skiles. They both must become salesmen even though Skiles' pitch will likely be more difficult. His Bucks haven't reached the playoffs the past two seasons. Skiles entered this season with a four-year record of 146-166. Milwaukee's last playoff appearance was 2010 when the Bucks lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. There's a strong feeling that Skiles will earn more time with a postseason berth — or a ticket out of town if the Bucks miss the playoffs. But Skiles doesn't believe a coach's status dictates how players play. … Hollins doesn't buy into the notion that players react differently to coaches in the last year of their deal. Skiles echoed that sentiment. … The support Hollins receives from his players is well documented. Many of them are on the record saying they can't imagine going forward without Hollins.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: No one expects the Nets to challenge the Heat for the Eastern Conference crown, but they were built with the Heat in mind. Indeed, the Nets’ lineup looks specifically designed to make Miami work. The Nets are strongest at point guard (Williams) and center (Brook Lopez), the two positions where the Heat have been weakest. In Joe Johnson, the Nets have a strong, skilled shooting guard who will challenge Dwyane Wade at both ends of the court. And in Wallace, the Nets have a muscular, agile forward who can wrestle with James. None of this is a coincidence. “My thought was looking at Miami, because they were the team,” said Billy King, the Nets’ general manager, who added, “I had to build a team that I thought could compete.” The strategy was to win the battle at a given position, if possible, or to “at least neutralize the battle,” in King’s words, at the spots where Miami had a clear advantage (i.e. James). Wallace gives the Nets a shred of hope, not only against the Heat, but against the Knicks (Anthony), the Boston Celtics (Pierce) and the Indiana Pacers (Danny Granger).

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Rick Carlisle is earning his money in the first month of the NBA season. His whole starting front line has been out of commission at various time, with Shawn Marion’s knee injury the latest blow. The other forward, a guy named Dirk Nowitzki, hasn’t played yet and center Chris Kaman was out for the first two games. “Is it tough? It’s supposed to be tough,’’ Carlisle said. “That’s why they pay me a lot of money to do this job, last I checked. If it was easy, they’d be pulling guys off the street to do it.’’ What Carlisle will do for the next week or two without Marion and Nowitzki is probably insert rookie Jae Crowder into the starting lineup, although he left the door open a sliver that it could be somebody else.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers that will be televised on ESPN from New Orleans Arena, Lopez is the Hornets’ second-leading scorer with a 14.3 average. In last Saturday’s 89-82 victory against the Bulls, Lopez made seven-of-10 shots for 16 points and had a team-high four blocks and grabbed seven rebounds. In his four seasons with Suns, Lopez never averaged more than 8.4 points a game. But he has scored in double figures for the Hornets in two of three games, including a 19-point performance against Utah last Friday at the Arena. "I don’t think anybody here is going to take credit for what he’s been doing, and yet he’s got a ways to go,’’ Williams said. "He’s got to become a diver to the basket; he can make free throws.'' … Although Lopez had a history of injury problems since 2009 that included a foot fracture, bulging disk and knee problems, Hornets General Manager Dell Demps said after the acquired in August that Lopez fitted in their timeline as a young player with experience who was looking for a new start. "We have a long ways to go, but I think you can see those building blocks and the foundation being develop,’’ Lopez said. "I think that puts me in a comfort zone.’’

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: While having injured center Andrew Bynum, who is weeks away from returning due to a right knee bone bruise, would help by giving the Sixers a low-post presence, Collins understands Bynum alone won’t be enough to turn the half-court offense around. “No, we don’t expect Andrew Bynum to come back and everything is cured,” Collins said. “We have a lot of stuff we have to do. What we have to do right now is to build trust in each other and the only way to do that is by playing when it counts. Exhibition doesn’t build trust.” Part of the issue is incorporating nine new players on the 14-man roster and figuring out how to make them most comfortable and effective. Dorell Wright said the 1-2 Sixers believe that they’ll perform better on the three-game road trip that begins Wednesday against the Hornets. They also face the Celtics on Friday and the Raptors on Saturday.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Jimmer Fredette made history in an unusual way. The second-year Kings guard was one of the first players involved in an application of the NBA's new anti-flopping rule. Minnesota guard J.J. Barea was warned by the league Monday about flopping after he acted his way into drawing an offensive foul against Fredette on Friday in Minnesota. Fredette was dribbling and Barea had an exaggerated reaction as if Fredette hit him in the face forcefully. "I told (the refs) in the game that I thought I didn't do too much," Fredette said concerning his foul.

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: A meaningless play in the final moments of an 11-point loss has resonated with the Jazz. With 3.4 seconds left in Monday night’s 104-93 loss at Memphis, Grizzly center Marc Gasol grabbed Randy Foye around the neck, knocked him to the court and was called for a flagrant foul. With Foye on the ground, Mo Williams rushed in, pushed Gasol and earned a technical foul. After the game, Williams claimed he reacted because Gasol did not make "a basketball play," which he repeated before practice on Tuesday. … Coach Tyrone Corbin didn’t mind Williams coming to Foye’s defense. "I thought Mo did a good job," Corbin said. "... But that’s who we are. We’re a close-knit group. It was a little aggressive on Gasol’s part, so [Williams] thought he’d step in and help his teammate. That’s all it was." Corbin believes such a play can have a long-term impact on the Jazz. "Teams have to figure out what little things like that mean and how they become big things if you don’t take care of them," he explained. "That’s a staple of who you are, and I thought Mo stepping in helped us grow in that area."