First Cup: Thursday

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Commissioner David Stern spoke with reporters before Wednesday’s Lakers-Hornets game in New Orleans and fielded some questions about the $250,000 fine he handed the Spurs for resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green against the Heat a week ago. Stern defended his action and hinted that he might have intervened to prevent the benchings had the Spurs informed him of their intent before sending the players home from Orlando. “The beauty of that is I don’t know,” Stern said. “It depends. I said it’s the totality of the circumstances. I would suggest to you if we had been notified it wouldn’t have happened. So maybe from their perspective they did the right thing, but not from mine.” Stern told reporters that coaches should have the authority to rest players at the end of the season, but not this early.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Carmelo Anthony, his middle finger needing six stitches and wrapped in a thick bandage after the Knicks’ thrilling 100-98 win over the Bobcats Wednesday night, wouldn’t commit to facing the Heat Thursday night. But he certainly hopes his finger, which was numb when he spoke to reporters after the game, will allow him to face LeBron James. Anthony sliced his middle finger on a metal container diving for a loose ball with 2:10 left in the game after game-winning, buzzer-beating hero J.R. Smith had blocked a shot. “I want to play in Miami, but at the end of the day I have to do what’s right for my finger,’’ Anthony said. “We’ll talk to the doctors. If I can’t play, I’ll see them two more times.’’ Coach Mike Woodson said afterward he thought Anthony would probably give it a go. And Anthony is optimistic and even took a shot at Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for sending his star players home and not to Miami last week. “[The finger’s] not off,’’ Anthony said. “I’m going to see how it feels. It’s numb right now. But I’m not going on Southwest. I’m going to Miami.’’

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: As if on a mission to make up for all the Lakers missing parts, Kobe Bryant resorted to what's carried him all these years. He scored. Bryant's team-leading 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting in 34 minutes carried the Lakers to a 103-87 victory Wednesday over the Hornets in New Orleans Arena to snap a two-game losing streak and give the team its second road victory. Bryant's effort helped the Lakers forget for one game about the absences to Steve Nash (fractured left leg), Pau Gasol (tendinitis in both knees) and Steve Blake (surgery to treat a lower abdominal strain). Bryant's four dunks, baseline jumpers and floaters also cemented him further among the NBA's elite. He rests at 30,011 career points spanning a storied 17-year NBA career that includes five NBA championships, two Finals MVPs, one regular season MVP and four All-Star MVPs. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) have scored more baskets in NBA history. "That means he's old," D'Antoni said, drawing laughs. "Not many people can get that achievement. That's something that's earned."

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: But, as a fan of the Heat, you can feel free to go on a hunt of your own. See if you can spot a pulse. Thursday, that ought to be a slightly easier task. If Saturday’s home game against New Orleans, another outmatched opponent missing its centerpiece players (Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon), represents an opportunity to better learn the Heat’s threshold for embarrassment, Thursday’s visit by the Knicks should give everyone a sense of the Heat’s threshold for interest. If you don’t care enough to give your very best against your franchise’s traditional rival, which is off to its best start in eons, which hit 19 3-pointers in routing you by 20 in the first meeting this season, and which is trying to establish itself as a legitimate, rather than laughable, threat to your Eastern Conference supremacy – well, then, seriously, when will you? Against the Thunder on Christmas? Against the Lakers in January? Against some first-round opponent in April? Or is this destined to be a listless journey until May and June?

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: NBA Commissioner David Stern indicated before Wednesday night’s game against the Lakers that the New Orleans Hornets’ application to change their nickname likely will be expedited and he will support whatever change owner Tom Benson wants. Stern, who visited the Hornets offices at the Saints' complex and met with team corporate sponsors and team officials Wednesday, shed no light on the possibility the Hornets could be changed to the Pelicans. "Everyone seems to know about this but me,’’ Stern said. "I’m sure whatever it is, I’m sure it will be good. If that’s (Pelicans) what it is, that’s fine, too.’’ Based on recent Twitter activity, a high percentage of Hornets fans apparently are not in favor of Pelicans as the team's nickname. A large percentage have suggested such names as Krewe, Brass, Jesters and Revelers. Some tweeted that it should stay the Hornets.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Marco Belinelli, who played in New Orleans, and Cavs coach Byron Scott, who coached there, both chuckled when asked about the potential name change from Hornets to Pelicans. "That doesn't sound like the name of a team," Belinelli said.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: While the Celtics continue to search for cohesion and production from their frontline players, Avery Bradley is getting closer to returning for coach Doc Rivers. Bradley has been working out before practices and rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulders, and said before Wednesday’s 104-94 win over the Timberwolves at TD Garden he is close to practicing with the team. Bradley has not played or participated in full-contact workouts since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers. Bradley underwent surgery on both shoulders to repair a condition that caused them to pop out of their sockets. The Celtics have been cautious with his recovery. “I feel a lot better,” Bradley said. “I’m just so excited that I’m getting more closer medically. I can’t wait to see my teammates. Every single day I come in, I tell the trainers to have them test me out to see how strong I am.”

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: A week after making a surprise return to the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups is back on the bench. Billups is suffering from peroneal tendinitis in his left foot. The injury is not related to his Achilles' tendon, which he ruptured last February. Billups has played in three games this season and is averaging 7.3 points and 20 minutes a night. "It was something I really wanted to get checked out because I felt like I worked too hard to get back to play hurt," Billups said. "...I knew coming back, I would deal with a lot of other things in my body that were trying to catch back up to the speed of playing in real games. I think that this is part of the process." The Clippers and Coach Vinny Del Negro said there's no timetable for Billups' return, though the injury will probably keep him out for a couple of weeks.

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Mo Williams chuckled when asked about the NBA giving Chauncey Billups an official warning for the flop he performed in Monday night's game between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. "Guess it was bad call," Williams said. "We lost the game, so it don't help us." That summed up the general reaction the Jazz had Wednesday in response to the league's action. It wasn't exactly a consolation or vindication, and it didn't address the fact the Jazz still ended up losing to the Clippers 105-104 at ESA. "It's like Monday morning quarterbacking," Jazz guard Earl Watson said. "It's too late. It doesn't matter." … So far, though, Brooklyn's Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace are the only NBA players who have tallied two flopping violations and a $5,000 fine this season. However, Billups became the seventh NBA player to be warned. The list of players with one flop warning includes Billups, Cleveland's Donald Sloan, Minnesota's JJ Barea, Oklahoma's Kevin Martin and Houston's Patrick Patterson. It might come to some NBA fans' surprise that the San Antonio Spurs, even Manu Ginobili, have not yet been warned for flopping.

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: Kevin Love's right hand still doesn't feel right. On Wednesday, Love played his eighth game since returning from two broken bones in the hand. He led his team with 19 points and 13 rebounds. But it took him 15 shots to score those 19 points. And, on a night when the Wolves missed 16 of 30 free throws, Love went 6-for-12 from the line. After the game, Love said the healing hand is giving his shot all kinds of trouble. "A lot of this is me getting my legs back, getting in the weight room. But when I shoot, it feels like the ball is coming off the outside of my hand, rather than these two fingers like I like it," Love said, pointing to the index and middle fingers on his right hand. "It's something that will give eventually," he continued. "I still feel confident shooting it. I'll still shoot those shots. Eventually it will get there, it will just take time." In his eight games this season Love is shooting 36.1 percent from the field, 26.4 percent on three-pointers and 64.3 percent from the free-throw line.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said in a courtside interview on ESPN's telecast of the Mavs game Wednesday night that he "got some shots up" Wednesday for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Oct. 19. Nowitzki agreed that it was a good sign that he was making his first road trip with the Mavericks since the surgery, but said it would be "in a few weeks" or "a couple of weeks" before he foresaw a return to games. "It's kind of hard to say," he told ESPN's Lisa Salters, but when she noted a return by Christmas, he indicated possibly sooner. Next week, Nowitzki said he will try to push his court work with running and some cutting.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Damon Stoudamire is the only person in Memphis who knows Zach Randolph better than anyone outside the Grizzlies power forward's household. Before Stoudamire became a former Griz assistant now working under University of Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner, he was Randolph's teammate with the Portland Trail Blazers. Stoudamire connected with a 19-year-old Randolph over a decade ago. And Stoudamire has pinpointed what's different about Randolph so far this season. It isn't just that Randolph's knee is healthy. "He's trying to be a leader," Stoudamire said. "It's amazing. Zach's never tried to be a leader, man. I'm not saying it in a bad way. He's just trying to do some things bestowed upon him. Guys took him under their wing as a youngster and he's doing that now. He's done a great job of leading. You can tell. And he needed to be the voice on that team."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: The praise keeps rolling in for Pistons rookie center Andre Drummond -- adding fuel to fans' desire to see him more. ESPN.com NBA analyst Chad Ford was asked about Drummond during an online chat, and his praise was strong. He wrote: "He has physical tools that very few NBA players have. For his size, he moves as well laterally as any big I've ever seen. The question, coming into the draft, was about his motor, his passion for the game and his poor production as a freshman at UConn. He's exceeded everyone's expectations in his rookie year. If he keeps up this learning curve, the Pistons will have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA in a couple of years." So with that kind of analysis, it's understandable that the fan base wants to see more of Drummond. Drummond is patient.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: For one night, the grand plan was on display. That plan has Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins performing like big-time players in the same game to lead the Kings to victories. It happened Wednesday, when the Kings ended a three-game losing streak by beating the Toronto Raptors 107-100 at Sleep Train Arena. After drafting Evans in 2009 and Cousins in 2010, the Kings are banking on the two developing into cornerstones for the franchise. But as the Kings stumbled to a 4-12 start, both players struggled at various points. Evans was playing better before he was sidelined for two games because of a bruised left knee, while Cousins has been in a shooting slump most of the season. … "We're the best two players on this team along with Marcus (Thornton)," Cousins said. "When we're having good games, we're a tough team to beat."

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: With Andrea Bargnani trade speculation at an all-time high, there's another guy flying under the radar when he shouldn't be. … When Bargnani is sat down it's normally Ed Davis who comes in behind him. And while Davis will never be the scorer that Bargnani is, his overall efficiency this season has come as somewhat of a surprise. Davis came into the year having completely overhauled the mechanics to his shot and that has resulted in a much better success rate with the ball in his hands. But that's only a small part of it. Ask any of the stats gurus out there to pick one stat that gives a good day-to-day indication of how much a player is helping his team and he'll send you to PER or player efficiency rating. It's a formula that gives you an overall rating of a player's per-minute statistical production. For the Raptors the far and away most efficient player on the roster has been Kyle Lowry, who sits 17th overall in the NBA with a PER of 22.37. Davis, with a PER of 19.71, sits second among Raptors and 44th overall in the NBA, just ahead of Blake Griffin and just behind Indiana's David West. Davis had no idea where he sat in relation to the rest of his teammates, but he is well aware that his game has taken a major step up from last season.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks forward Larry Sanders had 22 blocks in the previous three games. And it appeared he had rejected Nando De Colo on the opening possession of the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 76. But referee Scott Wall ruled goaltending, causing an outcry from the Bucks and drawing a technical foul on coach Scott Skiles. Sanders wound up with just one blocked shot in the Bucks' 110-99 loss to San Antonio at the AT&T Center.

  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Last season, according to the website hoopsstats.com, the Sixers had the fourth-most-productive bench in the NBA. With Lou Williams leading the way, the bench averaged a healthy 38.8 points per game. Including Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, the subs helped the Sixers win many games when the starters struggled. But Williams is no longer a Sixer, and Young and Turner are starting instead of subbing. Additionally, the Sixers have nine new faces on the roster, and the only one who starts is shooting guard Jason Richardson. Hoopsstats.com ranks the Sixers' bench, averaging 27.9 points, 24th overall. "Last year when we went to the bench we could come in with Lou, Evan, and Lavoy [Allen] and score 40 to 50 points off our bench and win games," coach Doug Collins said after practice Wednesday.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Orlando entered its game Wednesday night against Utah ranked 13th in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to 44.3 percent shooting. Not great. But better than most teams, even a smidge better than the defending league champion Miami Heat. "We play extremely hard at times in the game," point guard Jameer Nelson said. "Even when we're not in our spots, when you play hard, it kind of makes up for the mistakes." The Magic enter each game with basic goals defensively. They want to sprint back on defense to prevent easy transition baskets. They want to protect the paint. And they want to force opponents to take contested shots, preferably high-quadrant 3s and long 2s. What's surprising is how effectively the team has carried out its goals given the obstacles it's faced.

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: The Suns are confident that you’re going to like their team, even if you don’t like its record right now. And they’re confident that, no matter what the outcome is Thursday night when the Suns play host to the Dallas Mavericks, you will leave US Airways Center satisfied. It’s guaranteed, or your money back. And evidently, a lot of you are willing to give them the chance. Suns President Jason Rowley said that only about 1,000 tickets remained for Thursday night’s game as of Wednesday morning. The team could even sell out the 18,422-seat arena for the first time this season. The Suns have averaged about 3,000 fans fewer than that this season at home. “We’re trending well. I think we might sell out,” Rowley said. In fact, the response has been so good that Rowley isn’t ruling out doing it in future. “It’s something that hasn’t been done before,” Rowley said. “It’s out of the box.”