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First Cup: Monday

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Jose Calderon knew it was time for someone to simply stand up and make an unequivocal declaration that enough was enough, that the situation was dire and it was time, in his word, to become “professional.” And he’s gone out and shown just what he meant. With Calderon’s steady hand on the tiller — 18 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds and nary a turnover in nearly 37 minutes — the Raptors won their second game in a row on Sunday, pulling out a 103-96 victory over the Houston Rockets, as significant a win as they’ve had this year. In a post-game interview, Calderon alluded to wanting to be the most professional player in the game, the definition is clear. “I made up my mind, I want to be the guy, I’m here, this is my team,” said the eight-year vet, the longest-serving player on the roster.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: In the Rockets’ never-ending effort to find themselves – what works, how they must play – they were given a lesson by a team of unlikely teachers. The Rockets want to move the ball. The Toronto Raptors did. The Rockets want to run. The Raptors ran. They want to defend in the halfcourt, taking away the lane. The Raptors picked them apart with sharp passes inside. The Rockets spent the afternoon giving chase – save a 17-2 first-half run – but never could lock up the Raptors and never could move their offense away from taking turns going one-on-one, until the Raptors closed them out in the final three minutes, 103-96, Sunday in Air Canada Centre. The Raptors won a second-consecutive game for the first time this season while the Rockets lost their seventh-consecutive road game.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Pau Gasol's chances of returning from knee tendinitis to play Tuesday night against Charlotte seem more likely after Gasol's successful workout Saturday and with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni planning team practice Monday. D'Antoni prefers players returning from injury to get ateam practice in before playing in a game. Gasol did his first on-court work in two weeks with about 90 minutes of running, shooting and other individual basketball drills. He said Saturday that he had graduated to basically no pain in his knees during three days on the treadmill. … Steve Nash's left leg is not expected to allow the point guard to return to Lakers practice Monday, when Gasol is planning to come back for a short but full workout after his bout with knee tendinitis. Nash had planned to return to practice this week from a leg fracture, but he is still having some pain because of a nerve that has been slow to heal.

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: With Howard, the league's best big man, the Lakers were expected to regain their championship form and be in the thick of the battle for the Western Conference title along with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. In Bynum, the Sixers were supposed to get a gifted low-post scorer who nobody in the Eastern Conference could go one-on-one against. With Bynum and the continued development of young core players Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, the Sixers were a wild card with the potential to challenge the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference title. On Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center, with a little more than a quarter of the 2012-13 NBA season in the book, the Sixers and Lakers met for the first time since the trade. Neither team looked like an NBA Finals contender. The Lakers won, 111-98, to improve to 11-14 and drop the Sixers to 12-12. If the playoffs started today, neither team would be in. Back in August, when the trade went down, who would have thought the Sixers and Lakers would be looking at the NBA lottery heading into Christmas? And who would have thought that the best move the Sixers made in the deal was making sure the first-round pick that went to Orlando was lottery-protected? … Wow, a trade involving the two best big men in the game and this is where we are. Back when Christmas came in August for the Sixers and Lakers, who knew it was going to be "Bah, humbug?"

  • Candace Buckner of The Columbian: Damian Lillard knows the questions won't stop. "It don't matter what I do," he said, "you're going to ask me about Rookie of the Year." “If I have a bad game: 'How does this (effect) your Rookie of the Year?' If I have a good game …" Then, the questions become declarations. Lillard, the first-year player, won the starting point guard position even before training camp started. The love and devotion from Trail Blazers fans soon followed. And for his next prize. … well, the trophy for Rookie of the Year will not be rewarded until the end of the season. However after performances like Sunday, when he hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the Blazers' 95-94 victory over the New Orleans Hornets, Lillard better prepare for more questions because his lead in the rookie race has only widened.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Desperate for improvement, New Orleans Hornets Coach Monty Williams threatened changes could be under way if his players didn’t start playing with better effort and toughness. They took his message to heart in the second half, battling back from a 16-point deficit to make an impressive fourth-quarter run. But rookie guard Damian Lillard’s desperation 3-pointer just before time expired helped the Portland Trail Blazers escape with a 95-94 victory against the Hornets on Sunday night at the Rose Garden. Having only three-tenths of a second remaining after Lillard’s shot, Williams opted for a designed play after a timeout in which forward Lance Thomas broke to the basket for a layup just before time expired but it wasn’t enough. Williams said he didn't think they had enough time to get up a 3-point attempt, although the NBA rule book states that any catch-and-shoot attempt is allowable if three-tenths of a second remains on the clock. "You need 0.4 seconds to really get a shot off, so we're just running execution,'' Williams said.

  • Mark Billingsley Special to The Denver Post: Playing uptempo basketball in the Mile High City will be a huge home-court advantage — if the Nuggets ever do get back home to the Pepsi Center. OK, that's an exaggeration. The Nuggets have been home just enough (seven games) to wash their clothes before heading back to Denver International Airport. After a brief dose of Rocky Mountain air Friday night, the Nuggets continued their road- warrior ways and returned to sea level Sunday in Sacramento looking refreshed, the last vestiges of their five road games in eight days a distant memory. The Nuggets, who now have played an NBA-high 18 games on the road, played with a lot of energy, ran the court from the opening tipoff to the final horn and thumped the Kings 122-97. It was the most points scored and the largest margin of victory this season for the Nuggets, who play the San Antonio Spurs in Denver on Tuesday. "The altitude difference is definitely an advantage for us," said JaVale McGee, who led the Nuggets with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and five free throws. "We felt like we had a lot of energy."

  • Tom Couzens of The Sacramento Bee: Sunday's Leading Off that offered a solution for Kings fans who are sick and tired of the Maloofs drew a handful of responses, including several from folks who said they are employed by Maloof Sports and Entertainment. We suggested buying tickets on the secondary market, splitting the cost of parking and leaving your money home, thus not financially supporting owners who are unwilling or unable to answer questions about the Kings' finances and the future of their team in Sacramento. The emails expressed disappointment that we would encourage fans to not spend money at the arena, saying such a move may eventually cost hundreds of people their jobs. We sympathize with those who would be affected if the Kings left Sacramento, but the email writers are shooting the messenger. They should be aiming their disappointment at the Maloofs, who repeatedly have failed to say anything about the future of the Kings, other than they will play in Sacramento this season. … The Maloofs owe Kings fans – and the entire region – a resolution regarding the future of the Kings. Stay or leave, but let us know. It's almost like a separation – the time has come to make up or finalize the divorce. We invite Joe and Gavin Maloof to participate in a sacbee.com "live chat" – moderated by a Bee editor or writer to keep out personal attacks – so they can directly answer questions from folks who live in this region and have supported their business for many years. Come on, Joe and Gavin, are you going to do your part to save all those jobs?

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Jeremy Lin knows his return to Madison Square Garden will bring memories of happy times there. But he is equally certain he will be as happy to have his return behind him as he was when he played his first game against the Knicks on Nov. 23 at Toyota Center. “If I were to be realistic, there will probably be a little bit of nostalgia or reminiscing and thankful for those times because those were great times,” Lin said. “At the same time, it’s the next chapter. “I’m definitely ready to get it over with. I think in some sense there will be some closure. This will be the first return back to MSG, and there will never be another first return. We’re going to go out and play and have some fun.”

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: On the eve of his return to Madison Square Garden, Jeremy Lin didn’t mince words. The ex-Knick point guard said he has been “terrible’’ this season, not living up to his potential and can’t wait to get the Garden game over with. Lin’s rip job on himself occurred after yesterday’s Rockets loss in Toronto in which Lin scored just seven points with two assists while Raptors point guard Jose Calderon went off for 18 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Asked to assess his season, Lin said: “Terrible. I think I’m not doing close to what I’m capable of doing and it’s a matter of figuring out how to get myself to play more like myself within the system with the change of scenery. I’ll be my harshest critic but I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m doing terrible.’’ The undrafted Harvard point guard is averaging just 10.8 points, 6.0 assists and shooting 39.5 percent.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: People around Deron Williams keep telling him that he's going to snap out of his slump, that he's too good to be this bad and he shouldn't stop hoisting jumpers. Williams, however, has exhausted all explanations for what has become his three-season romance with inefficiency. "I think it's mostly mental with me. It's become mental," Williams said recently. "I've tried getting up extra shots, I've tried not shooting so I don't think about it. I tried shooting before games, not shooting before games, so I hopefully I snap out of it." Williams' offensive stats are down across the board this season - 17 points per game, 8.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 38.8 shooting percentage - representing his worst in all those categories since at least his second season. He's the marketed star for Brooklyn, the one with the giant billboard greeting drivers crossing the Manhattan Bridge. He has the television commercial, the Sports Illustrated cover, the video game, the $100 million contract, the deserved image of a wholesome family man with two Olympic championships. But the 28-year-old has often conceded the offense to either Brook Lopez or Joe Johnson, depending on the quarter. When Williams' number was called in crunch time the last two games, he twice missed shots that could have either tied the game or won it.