First Cup: Friday

  • Nate Taylor of The New York Times: No matter the situation, or the score, the Knicks kept shooting 3-pointers at a dizzying pace. The strategy was unconventional, and it produced an unlikely result. Without Carmelo Anthony, their superstar, the Knicks hit 18 3’s en route to defeating the defending champion Miami Heat in convincing fashion, 112-92, at American Airlines Arena on Thursday night. Raymond Felton led the barrage with a game-high 27 points, including six 3’s (a career high). Six Knicks recorded a 3-pointer. Steve Novak (18 points) made four, and J. R. Smith, who had three, finished with 13 points. … If the Knicks’ first victory over the Heat — a 104-84 win to start the season — was impressive, this win was startling. Especially since Anthony missed his first game of the season because of a deep cut on the top of his left middle finger sustained during Wednesday’s win over the Charlotte Bobcats. The injury required five stitches. The Knicks were also playing the second of back-to-back games on the road. The Heat were a healthy team and had a day to rest before the game.

  • David Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: If the Heat don't care about this regular season, do we have to keep pretending we do? All day Thursday, they made the proper comments about working more, playing harder and how having the New York Knicks in town for a nationally televised game was just the tonic to make them care. ... Then the ball went up and it might as well have been Tuesday in Washington for the effort the Heat gave. Can they tell us when they care again? Or, more to the point, show everyone? The Knicks blew out the Heat in Madison Square Garden last month by 20 points. That was embarrassing. This was worse: The Knicks came into AmericanAirlines Arena and won without Carmelo Anthony, 112-92. "Let's go New York!" Knicks fans chanted in the final minute. So in the span of five days, New England fans took over Sun Life Stadium and Knicks fans took over AmericanAirlines Arena. You can't make this stuff up. There are issues, real but exaggerated, with the Heat. Their diluted defense. Whether they need a big man. If Wade's lost a step (a Charles Barkley special). But the primary issue on the first week of December, in the 17th game of the season, is whether they care. Everyone seems to realize that is the issue in Year Three of the Big Three. No one's made too much noise of the issues, either.

  • Sarah McLellan of The Arizona Republic: Muddled underneath the disappointment of their recent 1-5 road trip was the narrow margin of defeat that stung the Suns in most games. A three-point loss. Another by four. An unfortunate overtime ending. Each result could easily have been flippedon a late, game-defining play. But the Suns couldn’t execute, and that deficiency apparently wasn’t a symptom of the road as it plagued the Suns when they returned home – this time in the form of a 97-94 to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday at US Airways on “Satisfaction Guaranteed Night.” It was a season-high fifth straight loss for the Suns, who had a chance at a tie in the final minute but were kept at bay after a missed layup by Goran Dragic. … Forward Michael Beasley was the epitome of the team’s struggles. He shot 3-for-12 and during one stretch missed seven straight shots. Afterward, Gentry said it’s “more than likely” time to move Beasley out of the starting rotation and the switch “could possibly” be as soon as Saturday’s tilt in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: A week later, that $250,000 fine is still paying dividends for the Spurs. In Wednesday’s 110-99 comeback victory over Milwaukee, the Spurs got key contributions from a handful of developing players who earned their first extended action of the season in last week’s “M.I.A. in Miami” game. Coach Gregg Popovich’s decision to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home before a nationally televised game against the Heat not only drew the fifth-highest fine in NBA history from commissioner David Stern. It also provided a key learning experience for players such as Nando De Colo, Cory Joseph and James Anderson that has benefited the Spurs upon their return to the AT&T Center, where they complete a three-game homestand tonight against Houston. “It gave them some great time on the floor where they weren’t looking around wondering if they should do things or take shots,” Duncan said. “They were able to put it on themselves and get some confidence and get a good feel for the court.”

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The Bargnani-Gasol chatter — borne in part because the Lakers are struggling, relatively, as much as the Raptors are — became the story of the day in Toronto for a few hours as fans grow even more impatient with the enigmatic Roman and a losing team. They want a trade, they want a better team that wins more consistently and, believe it or not, so does management and they will explore whatever avenues are available to do that. But that any interest the Raptors may have in Gasol got out in the public means little, actually. It’s the one that people have heard of but the fact is president and general manager Bryan Colangelo has spoken to nearly every team in the NBA about possible moves, it’s what general managers do as a matter of course. For every Gasol rumour that circulates, there are probably 10 discussions with other teams that are taking place entirely in private. Does Colangelo “need” to make a trade? Not necessarily but his team is 4-15 and something has to be done to improve the situation.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Make no mistake: Adelman has been driving the bus on personnel moves since last summer and the Wolves' continued interest in a 32-year-old with knee tendinitis and an $18 million salary means Adelman approves of the idea, if he's not outright pushing for it. Any such deal would have to include Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic as well as J.J. Barea and/or Luke Ridnour just so the Wolves could give back enough salary to absorb Gasol's big contract. … Gasol's window -- three, four years max -- fits perfectly with both Adelman, who won't coach more than that, and Wolves owner Glen Taylor, who intends to sell the team by then. I'd still say it's no better than a 1-in-3 chance that the Wolves make a deal because the Lakers have other, better targets in their estimation, but get used to hearing their name in the discussion because it won't ever be over until Gasol is gone from L.A., if he ever is.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: NBA history forever intrigues, inspires and pushes Kobe Bryant. It gave him a sense as a child of how to study the greats before him. As Bryant continuously cements a 17-year legacy that spans five NBA championships, two Finals MVPS and a fifth-place standing on the league's all-time scoring list, the history provides a gauge as to where he stands among the elite. Such perspective also enhances Bryant's foreshadowing on the league's future. When the Lakers (9-10) play the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-4) tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Bryant will go against speedy UCLA product Russell Westbrook and scoring machine Kevin Durant and see mirror images of himself. "They just don't give a (hoot)," Bryant said. "That's really it. Not too many players have had that. Michael (Jordan) had it. I had it. Durant has it. Westbrook has it. They just don't care about pressure situations or criticism." Does Bryant sense those players learned that mentality after seeing him play? "For sure," he said. "They watched me growing up and saw how I dealt with criticism and all this other stuff. I just put my head down and kept playing ... They're cut from the same cloth."

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: Hack-a-Howard is a plus for the Thunder. Three teams in the past week have intentionally sent the Laker big man and woeful free-throw shooter Dwight Howard to the charity stripe late in games. Two of those teams won because of it. “We've done it in the past,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of intentionally fouling an awful foul shooter. “It's not something that we will think about much going into it. But ... if the game dictates that, we will consider it.” As well they should. It could win the game. Tuesday night, Houston became the second team in as many games to use Hack-a-Howard successfully. Orlando did it a few nights early in a resounding 10-point victory, so when Houston found itself clawing back from a 17-point deficit, it decided to give it a try. Howard, who is shooting only 46.9 percent from the line this season, made just 5 of 10 free-throws in the final eight minutes of the game, which might not seem so bad. Except that the Lakers lost by two.

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: Doug Collins said he’s willing to discuss trading for a bench scorer to boost the team’s struggling second unit. “Would I?” Collins said. “Yeah. I would. Can I? I don’t know.” Collins said he and Sixers management talk regularly about personnel. Of course, if Andrew Bynum doesn’t play at all this season, a bigger priority before the Feb. 21 trade deadline might be trying to acquire a big man.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: When the job is rebounding, the Celtics practically have one foot in the unemployment line. They are last in the league in overall boarding (37.8 per game), the same in offensive rebounds (7.3), and 15th in defensive rebounding (30.6). … Consider Paul Pierce’s damning characterization of his team’s ability to go get the ball. “We’re challenged rebound-wise, and in a majority of these games, we haven’t rebounded well,” he said. They only hope something changed against the Timberwolves. … One good game, of course, is junk stock in the NBA market. “We have to play that way every night,” said Pierce. “That’s mainly what the last couple of practices have been about — put bodies on people, go after rebounds, box out, and those little things are going to win us ballgames.”

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: There are whispers about Paul Millsap. That he’s confused. That he’s unhappy with his role. That he’s not getting enough playing time. That he’s not as effective as he once was. And the whispers, some of them, are true. “I’m human,” he said after Wednesday night’s win over Orlando, a game during which he scored more than 20 points for the first time in forever. “Of course frustration is there. You’re going to get frustrated at times. But it’s what you do after that. My teammates give me confidence. I’ve just got to continue to stay positive and stay with it and hope it turns around.” A few things about Millsap that wouldn’t surprise anyone who has paid attention over his seven seasons here: The man is going to sweat through his work. The man is not going to cry and pout. The man is a grown man. “Paul’s fine,” said Marvin Williams. “He’s the ultimate pro. He shows up when his team needs him. After three losses, our team needed him tonight.”

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: In 10 years I've covered six Blazers general managers, four team presidents and three head coaches. Too many players to count have cycled through. That doesn't include interim presidents or coaches. I warned Mensah at the beginning of the 2011-12 season that the only certainty in her future was that owner Paul Allen would eventually grind her up and I would be left to write about her exit. It's what happens around here. And I thought about that as three more people were left to pack boxes, and follow the parade out of the building at One Center Court. Some will find this insensitive, but I'll bet those who lost their jobs on Thursday understood the risks of working for the Blazers. I'll bet none of them were shocked, especially given that they were around a few years ago when Allen hired Steve Patterson, who laid off 88 employees as his opening act. Still, losing your wages stinks, and as much as I'd like this column to be about basketball, I realize the Blazers won't ever allow it.

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: With Tyreke Evans shifted to shooting guard and established as a committed defender and primary scorer, and Marcus Thornton perceived as a streaky Vinnie Johnson-type sixth man, the major scramble for minutes involves Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Thomas and Fredette. Of the three, Fredette – who has made what Smart termed "a gigantic leap" following an uneven rookie season – is making the hardest push for a larger role. After struggling last season against long, athletic defenders, Fredette dropped about five pounds to enhance his quickness, worked on midrange jumpers and one-handed floaters and added to his repertoire of ball and head fakes – progress reflected in his improved field-goal percentage (38.6 to 45.8). … Then there's Fredette's charisma factor, the importance of the Kings giving long-suffering fans more of what they want. And based on tweets, emails, phone calls and the discernible uptick in energy whenever he steps onto the court, more of Fredette is what fans want.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: In the past two games, New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Austin Rivers hasn’t made a shot from the field despite playing extended minutes off the bench. Rivers has combined to shoot 0-of-10 from the field after consecutive games against the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers. He missed all five shot attempts from the field and scored one point in Wednesday night’s 103-87 loss to the Lakers after going scoreless against the Bucks Monday night. Though Rivers is shooting 28.3 percent from the field and averaging 6.1 points after 16 games, Hornets Coach Monty Williams said he has no plans of limiting his minutes. "What I’m not going to do is bury him on the bench because he’s out there trying to do the right thing for the team,’’ Williams said. "I think that would hurt him more than anything. I’m going play him through his mistakes and it’s going to help our program two or three years from now.’’