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First Cup: Monday

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: For one night at least, the Magic erased the pain of Dwight Howard’s messy departure and the frustrations from the rebuilding process his exit set in motion. They also embarrassed Howard by forcing him to confront his Achilles’ heel, his awful free-throw shooting. Fouling Howard repeatedly late in the game and sharing the ball as well as they have all season, the Magic erased a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter and stunned the Lakers 113-103 at Staples Center. “It means a lot, honestly,” said point guard Jameer Nelson and Howard’s former close friend. “We can all say it was just a basketball game, but we know because of things that happened in the past, especially for our fans, it means a lot more to come get this victory. A lot of guys that are on this team now didn’t go through what we went through last year: myself, J.J. and Glen and Turk. We went through some things.”

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: Dwight Howard went to the free throw line 21 times and sank only nine. The Magic fouled him in the open court in the fourth quarter, knowing Superman's Kryptonite is his inability to sink a high percentage from the line. They hacked him again and again and he missed again and again. It wasn't the only reason the Lakers lost a modest lead and eventually the game to the Magic. But the Magic's strategy blunted whatever momentum the Lakers had after Jodie Meeks' 3-pointer gave them an 84-77 lead with 8 minutes, 12 seconds left. The Magic outscored the Lakers 36-19 the rest of the way. Howard sank only 7 of 14 free throws in the final period. "I've just got to keep playing, keep being aggressive, keep practicing and they'll start falling," Howard said when asked about his misses from the line after his first game since the Magic traded him to the Lakers on Aug. 10. Howard is shooting 46.5 percent from the line this season (87 of 187).

  • Nate Taylor of The New York Times: Another ho-hum victory for the Knicks, this time a 106-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns, was memorable because the Knicks (12-4) moved to 7-0 at home, but also because Rasheed Wallace was ejected after playing only 1 minute 25 seconds. The reasonthe referee John Goble ejected Wallace was unusual. Late in the first quarter, Wallace fouled Phoenix’s Luis Scola, who was driving to the basket. After the initial foul, Scola tried to score on a continuation play. Wallace then slapped the ball out of Scola’s hands. When Goble called a technical foul, Wallace, who looked dumbfounded, asked: “Who? What?” … Moments later, Phoenix’s Goran Dragic missed the Suns’ technical free throw, which led Wallace to shout, several times, “Ball don’t lie!” — his trademark phrase to suggest the referees made a bad call. Goble then gave Wallace another technical foul, which prompted his ejection. Wallace cursed at all three referees before going to the locker room. … When Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 34 points, was asked if Wallace’s track record played a role in the ejection, Anthony smiled and said, “I think so,” before adding: “He’s the only guy in the league that gets technical fouls for saying, ‘Ball don’t lie.’ That just goes to show you right there.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden was full of explanations, excuses, self-criticisms and regrets on Sunday, as it has been for every New York Knicks home game this season. New York is unbeaten at home, but the Suns are often beaten the moment they take the floor against superior teams. They flounder and then fight, but ultimately they have lost all eight games to teams with .500 records or better. The needle got stuck on the same song Sunday when the Suns fell behind as many as 20 points and came up short on a late rally for a 106-99 loss before a sold-out matinee crowd. “Copy and paste,” Suns power forward Luis Scola said upon leaving the Garden. Previous losses’ observations applied the same, putting Phoenix on a three-game losing streak on a 1-4 trip that ends Tuesday at Western Conference-leading Memphis. The Suns (7-11) have led after the first quarter five times in 18 games and appeared no more determined to change that against New York (12-4). The Knicks took a 21-6 lead in the first seven minutes of play after the Suns starters made turnovers on four consecutive plays, giving them seven on the game’s first 14 possessions.

  • Jeff McDonald San Antonio Express-News: Through 17 games, Tim Duncan leads the Spurs in scoring (18.9 points per game), rebounding (10.1) and blocks (2.4), numbers he hasn’t approached since 2008-09. By modern statistical measures, he is in the nascent throes of the top age-36 season in NBA history, his 27.6 player-efficiency rating challenged only by the 27.1 Karl Malone rang up with Utah in 1999-2000. Fresh and healthy, Duncan has so resembled his 20-something self that coach Gregg Popovich has had to fight the temptation to give him a 20-something’s workload. “His condition and age doesn’t change,” Popovich said, offering reasons for keeping Duncan’s minutes managed. “It seems like it has for some magical reason, like there’s some elixir he and Kevin Garnett have found and nobody else.” In a sense, Duncan’s early-season revival seems to flout the laws of nature, at least as they pertain to the NBA.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves veteran forward Josh Howard first met new teammate Ricky Rubio nearly three weeks ago, but he didn't receive a real introduction until Rubio returned to practice Sunday for the first time since tearing knee ligaments in a game last March. "He threw a bounce pass between my legs," Howard said, "so I know he's still got it." … Rubio waited nearly nine months for this moment, ever since he planted his left foot while trying to impede Kobe Bryant's path in a March 9 game against the Los Angeles Lakers, ever since he underwent knee surgery two weeks later to repair torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. "I don't know," Rubio said when asked if his body was where he expected it'd be after a long rehabilitation road back. "I mean, I feel pretty good. I want to be perfect. I wasn't imagining coming back and everything being perfect. It's not. I have to keep working and see where I'm at." Rubio's court vision and instincts never left him. Howard can attest to that. "For the most part, I don't take too well to people doing that," Howard said about that pass threaded through his legs. "I consider myself a defender." Rubio's conditioning and stamina still are somewhere yet to be found. Wolves coach Rick Adelman can attest to that.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "Hey coach, what do you think about Damian Lillard?" one might ask. "What makes Lillard so good?" another might inquire. It's become so commonplace, Stotts has run out of fresh material, so he regularly regurgitates the same few phrases over and over. It's so predictable, occasionally Stotts will turn to The Oregonian's traveling Blazers beat reporter and ask if he wants to answer for him. "Well," Stotts, or The Oregonian's reporter, will start, "Damian's poised. And he's mature beyond his years." The NBA will release its monthly individual honors Monday and Lillard, the Blazers' electric, do-it-all rookie point guard, almost certainly will win the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award. After 16 games -- which factored into the league's decision -- Lillard led all rookies in scoring (18.4 points per game), assists (5.9), steals (1.38), field goals (102) and minutes played (36.8), while ranking 11th in rebounding (3.1) and fourth in free-throw shooting percentage (83.9). His first month in the NBA was so dynamic, so polished, Lillard's lofty statistical accomplishments regularly drew comparisons to some of the best players in NBA history. Players like Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson. It started on opening night, when Lillard had 23 points and 11 assists in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, becoming just the third player in NBA history to record at least 20 points and 10 assists in a debut. Robertson and Thomas are the others.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Considering his offseason knee surgery and a few other minor injuries, Wade had pieced together a productive, if not characteristic, beginning to the regular season before Saturday’s 102-89 victory. Then, against the Nets, Wade reminded everyone that he’s still the best shooting guard in the NBA, even if a few talking heads think otherwise. “As much as people want to say certain things about me, I really can’t listen to it much,” Wade said. “On this team no one really knows what we deal with, and no one understands the sacrifice. For me, I have to try and be the best player I can be for my team. Some nights it will be a night like [Saturday] and some night’s it’s not, I just have to do what I can.” Wade’s 34 points in 35 minutes on Saturday was more than enough to topple the Nets, which had won five in a row before running into Wade’s refocused game. Behind the scenes, Wade has been putting in extra work to regain strength in his legs, the source of his career’s success.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Despite a 99-95 overtime loss Saturday night at San Antonio, the Griz own a 12-3 record and share the NBA's best winning percentage (.800) with the Miami Heat. Memphis took advantage of nine games in FedExForum, including a seasonlong five-game home stand. But the home cooking didn't necessarily make the Grizzlies' schedule a cake walk. They have played the league's third-most difficult schedule (.546) so far. Miami (.576) has endured the toughest schedule ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (.568). Even when the Griz have suffered defeat they haven't been an easy out. Although they lost fourth-quarter leads in all three losses, the Griz have had a chance to win those games in the closing minutes. None of the Grizzlies' defeats could be considered a bad loss.

  • Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: What’s left is the Thibodeau Paradox: He needs to develop a deep bench to win in the playoffs. But he wants to win every single game so badly that he can’t afford to give his reserves enough playing time to develop. Thibodeau does not believe in the concept of taking your lumps — trading wins today for bigger wins tomorrow. Without Derrick Rose, he can’t afford to. Developing a deep bench is critical for Thibodeau. But is it even possible? That’s the big question with the Bulls 8-7 in the formative stages of a season that can go in many directions. A year ago, Thibodeau turned the ‘‘Bench Mob’’ into a weapon. This season it’ll be a much more difficult trick. Last season he had to be Marshall Brodien. This year he’ll have to be Houdini. So far, his best chance is to accentuate his strengths. Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler are two players molded in Thibodeau’s image — fundamentally sound, tough all-around players who not only understand what Thibodeau wants to do defensively, but have the skills to pull it off.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Coming in with the second unit as they do, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson probably don’t get the credit they deserve. The NBA is a starters game for the most part (they do honour a sixth man of the year) leaving the bulk of NBA rosters to toil in obscurity. But Davis and Johnson are pushing the boundaries of late. Johnson has always been a pogo stick of bottled energy and now Davis has taken on a similar energized look, getting his teammates extra possessions, pulling down and fighting off would-be rebounders for loose balls. Davis likes the chemistry the two have developed. … Those two along with Calderon now that he’s back coming off the bench are a big reason the Raps are staying in games. On top of that, Davis and his revamped shot are proving to be one of the most efficient scorers on the entire roster. In his past five games alone, Davis is a combined 20-for-30 from the field for a .667 shooting percentage with plenty of those coming from outside the paint.

  • Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune: General Manager Dell Demps has earned the nickname Dealer Dell for his aggressiveness in making trades. His most recent move, a puzzling cost-cutting transaction that sent veteran Hakim Warrick to the Bobcats for, well, nobody, was his 15th trade in three years. All of this activity looks great on paper, which is probably why the Hornets devote a page to it in their press materials entitled "Busy Bees." Yet, while the flurry of activity might keep the Hornets' uniform seamstress busy and create the illusion that the club is working to improve, it hasn't done much for the bottom line. The Hornets' record is only one game better than it was a year ago and the roster remains filled with role players and supporting actors. Now in Year 3 of the Demps-Williams regime, all of this wheeling and dealing is starting to look more like deck shuffling than program building. It's also created an overwhelming sense of instability for the fans.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Center Anderson Varejao is the first Cavs player to have eight consecutive games of 15 or more rebounds and at least five offensive rebounds. The only other NBA player to ever do that was Houston Rockets center Moses Malone, who had 12 consecutive games of 15 or more rebounds and at least five offensive rebounds during the 1978-79 season.

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: Wearing a gray sweater, beige shirt and blue jeans, Leo Chang blended into the group chatting and laughing courtside at The Peake. Except for his shoes. His teal and pink Nikes. And we mean his Nikes. Chang is the basketball footwear design director at Nike and the lead designer for Kevin Durant's signature line. The Thunder superstar's latest shoe made its debut last month, and with the KD V set for full release in the next couple weeks — just in time for holiday shoppers — you might be seeing more of Chang's shoes around Oklahoma. Seeing his design on someone else's feet always gives Chang a charge. “It makes me proud that someone appreciates it,” he said. “Hopefully, they love it. Hopefully, it inspires them to play better or design or something.” Hold up. Even though the massive marketing machine at Nike would have us believe that its shoes can do anything, thinking that a shoe can be inspirational seems a bit far-fetched. But hearing the story of the man behind KD's shoes, you may think differently.