First Cup: Wednesday

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards turned down a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for James Harden this summer because team owner Ted Leonsis was unwilling to commit to what would have been a roughly $80 million, five-year contract for the high-scoring player, according to multiple people with knowledge of the proposed deal. The Wizards would have sent rookie guard Bradley Beal and second-year forward Chris Singleton to the Thunder in return for Harden, winner of the NBA’s sixth-man award with Oklahoma City last season, according to these individuals, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the proposal. … Leonsis, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Thunder General Manager Sam Presti all declined comment when asked about the proposed trade. One Wizards official denied that Oklahoma City had offered Harden in exchange for Beal and Singleton, stating that the Thunder was also seeking an established player — which the Wizards didn’t have — in return. “That’s not true,” the official said about the proposed deal.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: After getting demoted to the bench for two games, New Orleans Hornets small forward Al-Farouq Aminu returned to the starting lineup Tuesday night against the Washington Wizards. But instead of having a standout performance, Aminu could not avoid many of the same problems that caused him to lose his starting spot to Xavier Henry last week against the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat. Like the majority of his teammates, Aminu lacked assertiveness and was unable to make shots. He finished with six points on two-of-eight shooting in 26 minutes during the Hornets' stunning 77-70 loss to the Wizards in front of 10,076 at the New Orleans Arena. Hornets Coach Monty Williams announced before Tuesday's game that Aminu and rookie guard Austin Rivers were returning to the starting lineup. Rivers had started the first nine games of the season before he was moved to the bench with veteran guard Roger Mason Jr. starting ahead of him. Williams said Henry took a step back last Saturday against the Heat when he was held to five points after taking only two shots. Against the Wizards, he never left the bench.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: For one frozen moment, all the air was sucked out of The Q on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers' young phenom, Kyrie Irving, had the ball at the top of the key facing the Lakers mega-star, Kobe Bryant, and all 19,172 fans in attendance held their breaths in anticipation. For 20 seconds, Irving feinted left, then right, then back and forth, before putting up a 10-foot shot ... thatBryant promptly blocked. Fans finally exhaled but it was less of a groan and more of a sigh of appreciation. In the scheme of things, the play in the middle of the third quarter meant nothing in the Cavaliers' 100-94 victory. But it's the thing everyone who was there will remember -- including Irving and Bryant. "Me and my teammates were talking about it," said Irving, who returned after missing 11 games with a fractured left index finger and led the Cavs with 28 points and a season-high 11 assists. "It just really reminded me of when Allen Iverson was playing against Michael Jordan. The whole crowd sat up. I got my shot blocked, but it was still a memorable moment for me, just seeing the crowd reaction. I was surprised myself." Said Bryant, who led the Lakers with a season-high 42 points, "When we were matched up at the top of the floor, yeah, I could feel the whole building kind of get behind that. Defensively I tried to take a stand. He's a fantastic, fantastic, fantastic player."

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: A rattled and clueless Mike D'Antoni, asked whether this latest Lakers' debacle against a Cleveland team with only four wins was embarrassing, said: "No. "It's basketball. I hate it. I'm down. But I'm not embarrassed … that's a harsh word. I'm not embarrassed." A few minutes later the same question was put to Kobe Bryant, and "yes," he said, he was embarrassed. "This is the toughest stretch, the most challenging stretch in my 17 years for sure," said Bryant while sitting calmly in front of his locker taking on all questions. "It kind of gets like that Mr. Magoo syndrome (or Joe Btfsplk from Li'l Abner); the clouds just following you around all the time. To break that you have to be extremely determined to change momentum." Is Kobe upset? "I'm very upset, and in the past I would blow my top and go crazy," he said. "Then I had a head coach [Phil Jackson] who always kept calm and I learned from that. "I'm trying to do the same thing here, but I won't lie; they're messing with my Zen stuff." … When I suggested the Lakers have defensive woes and yet they only watched video and horsed around on the court in a 35-minute morning shoot-around, D'Antoni disagreed. And strongly. "That's not true," said D'Antoni. "Hell yeah, we worked on [defense] for a half hour. You're starting to piss me off because you say something that isn't factually correct. We work on defense all the time." Kobe said later, "I'll give the calmer response. Our defense wasn't bad. We talked about it [at the shoot-around] and we knew the rotations we wanted to make."

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: In what Kobe Bryant considers a "funny stat," the Lakers are 1-10 when he's scored at least 30 points in a game. The Lakers scorer squashed any argument that the numbers imply Bryant shoots too much or if his teammates' inconsistency prompts him to bear a larger load. "I shoot high percentages in all of them," said Bryant, who's shot a career-high 48.2 percent from the field. "I don't think that's any indicator of it." Bryant posted 42 points against Cleveland on 16-of-28 shooting. "When he sees that when the game is going down the sewer, he tries to take over," D'Antoni said. "He watches how the game goes and then he asserts himself when things aren't going well. When things aren't going well, a lot of times he can't save them. But I don't believe he's too aggressive."

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: The Chicago Bulls have made a name for themselves by playing harder, tougher and better on the defensive end than just about anyone they face. And Tuesday at the United Center, the Bulls were fairly successful doing that. The Clippers just did it better. In picking up a 94-89 victory, the Clippers out-defended, out-grinded and out-toughed a strong team on its home court, stretching their winning streak to seven games. "It showed that we are a defensive team," Chris Paul said. "We want our identity to be a defensive identity." It's the Clippers' longest winning streak since the 1991-92 season, and a victory in Charlotte Wednesday would give them their longest streak since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. Blake Griffin played higher above the rim than anyone else, scoring 22 points on an array of dunks, and Paul starred in the final moments, scoring on a big drive and making three free throws in the final minute. Paul finished with 18 points, Matt Barnes scored 14 and Jamal Crawford added 10.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: When Vinny Del Negro coached the Bulls to an 82-82 record and consecutive first-round playoff exits before getting fired in 2010, one of the many criticisms directed his way was about his simplicity. What's that saying, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? "Unbelievable," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said of playing for Del Negro. "This is the most fun I've had since high school. He gives me a lot of freedom. He trusts me on the court. We have a great rapport, talk about everything. He knows how to communicate with his players. I love playing for him." Del Negro entered Tuesday night with career records of 168-164 in the regular season and 8-15 in the playoffs. The Clippers won Game 7 on the road last season to upset the Grizzlies in the first round before falling to the Spurs. … Talent helps. The Clippers are loaded with All-Stars and depth. Experience does too.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Here's a little secret. The Nuggets' No. 1 motive on offense is to get layups. Sounds obvious, but that's the mind-set — the goal is getting to the goal — and that's why some fans might scream at their television, "Why didn't he shoot that jumper?" Sure enough, the Nuggets entered Tuesday's game at Detroit averaging the most points in the paint in the NBA, 53.9. The Los Angeles Clippers were second at 46.9. So why aren't the Nuggets juggernauts on offense? Well, the No. 2 motive of George Karl's offense is the 3-pointer. And Denver entered Monday 26th in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 32.7 percent. Call them the Denver Masons. "We want rim, we want the 3-ball and we want free throws," Karl said. "All the other shots after that are residual of how we play. If a team lets you get to the rim, we're going to get to the rim. If a team takes the rim out, we've got to find the 3-ball.”

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Bizarre. It's the only word that fits, the only applicable term to describe what transpired at the Palace on Tuesday night, a 104-97 Pistons loss to the Nuggets, one that on the surface looks like one of many. It wasn't that the Pistons blew yet another double-digit lead at home, this time a 17-point spread in the first quarter; we've seen that episode so many times it should go into syndication. But literally everything about this game could only be described as bizarre. By the time Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari was inexplicably left open at the top of the key on a mix-up between Jason Maxiell and Brandon Knight, resulting in a three-pointer with 1:47 left and giving the Nuggets a seven-point lead, essentially the coup de grace to a game that had no flow, virtually all involved had to shake their heads. Pistons coach Lawrence Frank is adamant that this team's inability to hold double-digit leads (eight and counting) isn't becoming a daunting mental hurdle — one that some of the veterans seem to believe is fully developing. "If you allow it to become mental, yeah if you allow it," Frank said. "But if you continue to press on, grind and not have a self-fulfilling prophecy, it shouldn't be a big issue. Either that or we try to ask the NBA to shorten the games. We're not gonna bring in Tony Robbins and wave some incense. These are grown men, we have to play better."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Jason Kidd planted himself 26 feet from the basket and Jerry Stackhouse charged — two gray-bearded basketball veterans on a collision course, with a game hanging in the balance and 17,732 New Yorkers of various stripes screeching in various octaves. If every edition of the battle of the boroughs goes down like this, the burgeoning Nets-Knicks rivalry will be very healthy indeed. They created another instant classic Tuesday night at Barclays Center, battling through a taut fourth quarter until Kidd — at 39, the N.B.A.’s third oldest player — hit the decisive shot, a 3-pointer with 24.1 seconds left that sent half the arena into delirium and the other half into despair. Kidd missed his free throw after Stackhouse’s foul, but the Knicks had done enough, holding on for a thrilling 100-97 victory while reasserting their municipal primacy. “That’s why we got him,” said Carmelo Anthony, who dominated the night with 45 points.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Amar'e Stoudemire walked off the court after shootaround and gave another indication that he's getting closer to returning from left knee surgery. "Soon, guys," Stoudemire said. "Soon." The prognosis after Stoudemire had a debridement Oct. 31 was that he would miss six to eight weeks. That window is now here, although Mike Woodson said Stoudemire hasn't been cleared to practice yet. Stoudemire has been running, shooting and working on strengthening the knee. He had a lengthy pregame workout Tuesday that featured several spin moves in the post and dunks. But Stoudemire has said he's going to need some practices to test the knee. The Knicks are home until Dec. 23 and play every other day in that time, so there should be chances for Stoudemire to practice.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Sharon Robinson always expected Brooklyn to re-emerge in professional sports. She didn’t know it was going to be via basketball, or the Nets. But the daughter of former Dodger great and civil rights hero Jackie Robinson believed Brooklyn, a home of her youth, wouldn’t be held down forever. “It’s gorgeous,” Sharon Robinson , 62, said while standing outside Barclays Center on Tuesday. “I think my father would be very proud. My father loved sports. He was a four-letter man at UCLA. So it’s right here in the city, and that would’ve been important to him, as it is to us.” The Barclays Center’s marketing team has long tried to draw a connection with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It seized an opportunity Tuesday, dedicating a flagpole from Ebbets Field in the Daily News Plaza just outside the $1 billion arena.