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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: While the Rockets work to mesh James Harden and Jeremy Lin, both scoring guards, Knicks legend Walt Frazier compared the pairing to the Knicks’ backcourt of himself and Earl Monroe and said making it work is “just a matter of time.” “Jeremy is like me, and Harden is like Earl,” Frazier said. “He likes the ball. I was the guy who created. They have to find the harmony to make that happen. I’m sure as the season goes on, Harden is not going to want to be out here, 30 feet away, trying to maneuver to get in. It’s tiring, man. If he’s got a good guy like Lin who can set him up to get easy shots, that’s going to prolong his energy level. “The thing with us, both of us could be a point guard or a shooting guard, which is rare today in the league. If Earl was having a good game, he would be the shooter and I would be the orchestrator, and vice versa. I liked when he was having a good game, because they would double him and I would get more shots.” Frazier said the questions about the Rockets’ backcourt are similar to when the Knicks traded for Monroe, except he was a top rival. Frazier and Monroe won the Knicks’ second title together. Both are in the Hall of Fame, with their numbers retired in New York.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: Already with a bone bruise on his left hand, Raymond Felton revealed he now has a bone bruise on his right hand. And last night he had something of a bruised ego as his predecessor, Jeremy Lin, ran roughshod over the Knicks in the Rockets’ embarrassing 109-96 conquest at the Garden — the second time Houston has beaten the Knicks this season. “He had a good game,’’ Felton said. “I never talked junk about Jeremy. Everything I’ve said about Jeremy, he deserved everything he got.’’ Felton refused to sit out after bruising his right hand against the Lakers. He said that’s giving him more discomfort now than the left hand he injured 2 1/2 weeks ago. As Lin went for 22 points and eight assists, Felton sputtered to a 7-of-18 shooting night — 0-for-4 from 3-point range — with three turnovers and four assists. Felton had trouble keeping Lin in front of him. “When he gets it to his right hand, he’s good at exploding,’’ Felton said.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:It still feels strange to Chauncey Billups. As Billups looked around the empty Palace while the Clippers were concluding their preparations to play the Pistons Monday night, it still felt weird to him to be an opponent on the floor where the Pistons clinched the 2004 NBA title. Despite the awkward feelings, Billups said he has nothing but fond memories of his six-plus seasons with the Pistons. But could the Pistons be part of his future? Billups, 36, will be a free agent after this season, and the Pistons will have sizable cap space. With the need for a veteran point guard to mentor Brandon Knight, there could be a match. Billups, who said he feels good and could play several more years, didn't rule out such a reunion, but you get the sense his time in Motown will remain in the past. "I will just say this first and foremost: No matter what happens, I'm a lifetime Piston. I always feel like I'm a lifetime Piston," Billups told the Free Press. "As you know, I would have loved to retire a Piston when I was here, but that really wasn't in the cards. You never say never to any situation. I got nothing but great memories about here and winning, and this building was on fire. I would like for my memories to stay like that."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: To paraphrase former Piston Allen Iverson: "Progress? We're talking about progress!" Pistons coach Lawrence Frank pointedly stated despite his team's 7-20 record — identical to last season's 7-20 mark after 27 games — yes, he believes progress has been made. "I think we've definitely made progress, it's one of those things where we haven't seen the result," Frank said. "We're disappointed in the result, we expect better, but we are a better team than last year." On paper, it would appear so but the record says otherwise. Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight are a year older and more mature. Tayshaun Prince is healthy. Jason Maxiell has solidified his place as a contributor, not to mention the additions of rookies Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler. Prince's face when queried about it — one of surprise — told his thoughts. "This time around, playing more consistent in the fourth quarter, that's the thing," he said. "We have to do a better job of executing. If we can do that, it'll be a tremendous step from last season."

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: It looked hideous. It looked messy. It looked like a fistfight with the occasional guest appearance by a ball. But you know what else Monday's game against the Chicago Bulls looked like? It looked like a win. The Grizzlies made a triumphant — or at least victorious -- return to FedExForum Monday night, defeating the Chicago Bulls, 80-71. "We'll take it," said Zach Randolph, because what else were they going to do, throw it back? Certainly not after the last week. … So that is where your Grizzlies stand. They're either totally back, or maybe not quite. "Hey, at least we got the W," said Randolph. The big man got that right.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: The game within the game disappointed some Bulls fans as much as Monday's 80-71 loss to the Grizzlies, which marked their lowest offensive output since Jan. 30, 2008. Marquis Teague, anointed by some followers to be the Next Big Thing after two strong performances with Kirk Hinrich injured, returned to the bench when Hinrich returned from missing two games with a bruised left knee. Obviously, there's no knowing whether a rookie who remains prone to mistakes borne from inexperience could have altered the Bulls' fortunes. But on a night Hinrich fouled out and the Bulls lacked for offense, at least one segment of fandom screamed for Teague to trend. "He just has to stay ready," coach Tom Thibodeau said. Teague vowed to do exactly that. "That's why you can't get too high or too low," Teague said. "You just have to be prepared whenever your name is called."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Few NBA experts gave the Orlando Magic a chance to do anything noteworthy this season except lose -- and lose often. Truth be told, there was a stretch Monday night when few people inside Amway Center thought the Magic could recover against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But the Magic keep defying expectations. They overcame a 15-point deficit midway through the third quarter and beat the Timberwolves 102-93. The victory gave Orlando its first three-game winning streak under coach Jacque Vaughn. "We're playing harder as a team, and that's fun to see," Vaughn said. "We're believing in each other, but we still know we have a lot of work to do, and that's exciting also. But I think the growth has come. In each game that we go into, we have a good spirit about ourselves, a good feeling about each other." ... The Magic (11-13) now find themselves within striking distance of the .500 mark. They will play a homegame Wednesday night against the lowly Washington Wizards and a road game Friday night against the Toronto Raptors.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: It might be a good time for Timberwolves fans to show some patience. The Wolves' franchise players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, are far from their expected performance levels and getting there could take a while. Orlando's 102-93 victory over the Wolves on Monday night, Dec. 17, at Amway Center left Rubio in a somber mood and Love wondering when he'll rediscover the rhythm in his game that has made him one of the NBA's top power forwards. "I empathize with Ricky," Love said. "It's tough coming back from an injury. I'm just like him. It's taking me a long time and I'm still not where I should be. It will take Ricky a little bit of time, too." After the Wolves (12-10) failed to extend their winning streak to five, a dejected Rubio admitted he didn't "feel as good" as he did in his euphoric debut Saturday night against Dallas at Target Center. Rubio also confided that he felt "slow" in his second game back from major knee surgery.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: With a Suns defense that ranks last in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage, a tandem such as Sebastian Telfair and P.J. Tucker stands out like a pair of bright stars between clouds in a night sky. The Suns have found their most intensive defensive effort from a duo that could not have been pegged for that when Telfair entered the league with the reputation as a scoring playmaker and Tucker barely had a reputation in a 17-game stint six seasons ago. The Suns are not among the NBA’s worst defenses because of Telfair and Tucker, the Suns’ TNT bench dynamite. “With how I play and how he plays, you can’t do anything but take your game up another level as far as intensity and energy and making it tough for people,” Tucker said. “Bassy (Telfair) works so hard on guards to turn them over. When you see a guy working like that, you can’t do anything but work as hard to match his energy. It’s a monkey-see, monkey-do thing.” What Telfair lacks in size, he makes up for in tenacity. Telfair is an irritant to opposing point guards and has earned such a reputation for defense that coach Alvin Gentry turned to him to cover Dallas’ top scorer, O.J. Mayo, when Tucker was out injured.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Tyreke Evans' sore left knee kept him out of Monday's game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Since suffering a bruised left knee Nov. 27 against Minnesota, the veteran guard has missed seven of 10 games. Evans left Sunday's loss to Denver after 10 minutes on the floor. An MRI showed no structural damage to the knee. Kings coach Keith Smart said it's not up to him whether Evans needs an extended break. "That's something that's going to come down to him and the medical staff," Smart said. "My thing is, when I see that you can't move, I've got to pull the plug on you. It's up to you, the medical staff and your representatives to make that final call." Smart said there are no further tests to run on Evans' knee.

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: One hundred and twenty-four days. That's how long you have to wait until the NBA Playoffs, Thunder fans. And in case you were wondering, it's going to feel like a long wait. That much was clear Monday night at The Peake. The Spurs came to town to face the Thunder, and it was close to a playoff atmosphere as we've seen so far this season. It made you long for postseason basketball. Thunder 107, Spurs 93. It was grand. Can the playoffs start now? The boys in blue played about as well as you'd imagine they could for the first three quarters of this game. They shot it well. They rebounded it well. They shared it well. They defended it well. The Thunder built an 18-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Eighteen points. Against the Spurs. That sort of thing just doesn't happen.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: So it turns out that Serge Ibaka is indeed about this life. Having been ridiculed recently on Twitter by Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson for his alleged lack of toughness, the Congolese-Spaniard enjoyed one of the best games of his life, tying his career-high with 25 points to go with a season-best 17 rebounds and three blocks. He made his first seven field goals attempts and finished 10 for 16. … It’s getting to the point where we can just cut-and-past the same sentence into every recap: Poor defensive rebounding hurt the Spurs. Oklahoma City, despite ranking 17th in offensive rebounding, exploited the Spurs for 15 second-chance points, including nine during their game-turning run in the third quarter. … Despite their third straight road loss, the Spurs (19-7) still have more victories away from home than any other team in the NBA with 11. They’ll play their 17th road game tomorrow night at Denver -- a stark contrast to the Thunder (20-4), who have played 16 homes games, winning 14.