First Cup: Wednesday

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Hours before tipoff, Deron Williams defended his pro-Utah comments that some took as being a slight to the Nets and coach Avery Johnson. “There’s nothing to it. You asked me about Utah, my time in Utah. I’m not going to bad-mouth Utah. I had a great time in Utah. I loved the offense," Williams, who had his struggles with Sloan before the Hall of Famer resigned during the 2010-11 campaign, told media at Tuesday's shootaround. "I said that we’ve had struggles on offense here (and) I haven’t felt as comfortable here, which I’ve said all year. It hasn’t changed. My stance hasn’t changed. I said that I can adapt to any offense and I’m working towards that.” Williams will get his next chance to work toward a first victory against the Jazz when the Nets, who are 13-11 after an 11-4 start, visit Utah on March 30.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: A day after praising the Utah Jazz’s offense, Deron Williams lost to it, his Nets falling, 92-90, at Barclays Center, continuing a maddening string of early-season trends. For the fifth time this season, the Nets lost a game in which they held a double-digit lead. They lost the third quarter for the 13th time in 24 games, 26-17. They blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight game. Their transition defense was sluggish, allowing Utah to score 19 fast-break points. Their turnovers were modest (13) but ill-timed and ultimately costly. The Nets (13-11) have lost seven of their last nine games and five of their last six at home, leaving them dumbfounded and deflated as they head into a difficult rematch with the Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Joe Lacob especially pointed to the leadership qualities of Stephen Curry and David Lee, two of his favorite players showing why they're his favorites this season. One giant measure of Lacob's satisfaction: In every other conversation we've had, Lacob always stressed theneed to make big moves to upgrade the talent; on Tuesday, he backed away from the hyper-aggression. "We're pretty good right now," Lacob said. "Even though I would agree that we're not a team that has a superstar, we have a team with some really good players. "We have a deep team, which is what we built this year, that was what we had the ability to do. A lot of youth mixed with veterans. The right coaching staff. I think we're doing pretty well." And does Lacob find himself walking around with a big grin these days? Is he enjoying every moment of this? "We have a long way to go," Lacob said. "And we all know how these things can go one way or the other. I enjoy it, but not that much. Not until the end of the season, when we can look back and say this is what we achieved and didn't achieve. Then I can reflect. Right now, no time to reflect." He keeps going, through boos and cheers. He keeps moving. He keeps pushing. After a few years of his ownership, the Warriors team itself finally is doing the same.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: Timberwolves players were talking about the need to be more physical after a 103-92 loss Tuesday night, Dec. 18, to the Miami Heat, even though they walked out of American Airlines Arena with an impressive advantage in three key categories. The Wolves outrebounded the defending NBA champions 52-24, had 22 more points in the lane and 2got 9 more second-chance points. Those numbers suggest the Wolves were pretty physical with the talented Heat, but they didn't show how LeBron James, Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier were able to get free most of the game to launch three-pointers or score in transition. Perhaps the Wolves' 19 turnovers, including six by center Nikola Pekovic, had something to do with the Heat's open-court scoring opportunities. "We didn't take care of the ball all night long," coach Rick Adelman said.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Leave it up to the pesky defense of Andrei Kirilenko to end one of LeBron James’ offensive streaks. James has never shot the ball as well as he has to begin this season, but Monday was held to less than 50 percent shooting for the first time 11 games. James was 8 of 18 from the field and 2 of 5 from three-point range. James’ streak of 10 games with a shooting percentage of .500 or better was a career high. Despite the off night, James still finished with 22 points. He has scored at least 20 points in every game this season. With career-high averages in rebounding, three-point shooting and field-goal percentage, James appears to be the league’s early leader for the MVP award. James is the reigning MVP and has won three MVP awards in four years. James won last season with a shooting percentage of .531, which is his career high for a season. James is shooting .541 this season. James is shooting .424 from three-point range. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra partly credits James’ crisp shooting to familiarity with the offense and his teammates.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: The NBA's biggest rebel is a sextegenarian who doesn't wear a necktie on the bench, gives curt answers for fun and coaches the way he wants to coach, "substantial sanctions" be darned. Gregg Popovich is a bad mother. He's also a good coach, maybe the best in the NBA. Maybe the best ever? OK, OK, Phil Jackson was brilliant and Red Auerbach had a monopoly on a generation of winning and there are others, yes, but Pop has sustained a winning culture in a small market since Evan Fournier was 4 years old. George Karl is a "Spur guy." That's what he said recently, when asked if he would prefer some fancy, flamboyant scorers or focused, fundamental teammates. "I think I'm a Spur guy — I think solid and fundamental win more than spectacular," Karl said, in reference to the perennial conference-title contenders. Karl, however, takes his admiration only so far. "I'm not a Spur lover," he explained before Tuesday's Nuggets-Spurs, knowing that the Spurs are the enemy, the jock with the homecoming queen. "But I do have a lot of respect for what they've done, how they've done it and being the class of pro basketball for many years."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: An hour before a game in which the Spurs’ Tim Duncan would become the 25th player to log 23,000 career points, Denver coach George Karl offered high praise for his work at the other end of the floor. “Other than the great shot blockers, he’s the best defensive big guy I’ve ever seen play basketball,” Karl said. In his 16th season, Duncan is averaging 2.5 blocks per game, his most since 2004-05. Popovich said numbers don’t do justice for what Duncan has meant as the foundation of an improving Spurs defense. “He doesn’t do it like he did when he was 24,” Popovich said, “but he’s still the base of what we do in that regard.”

  • Deron Snyder of the Washington Times: In a season headed nowhere fast, the Washington Wizards‘ star is unlikely to play any time soon. With one-quarter of the campaign in the books, John Wall says his chances of returning are “50-50.” We’re not there yet, but we’re approaching the juncture where it must be asked: What’s the point of Wall suiting up this season? The future looked much brighter Friday when Washington released an encouraging statement about Wall’s troublesome left knee. But three days after an orthopedic specialist talked about Wall “ramping up his activity level,” the point guard took the raised expectations and tamped them back down. … Keeping Wall on the shelf would allow ample time for a full recovery, without risking further problems and potentially long-term consequences. In September, team president Ernie Grunfeld called the injury “a bump in the road,” and Wall called it “a minor setback.” But it’s been more like a gigantic crater, swallowing the season whole.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: The Bucks have struggled to find their shooting touch and rookie guard Doron Lamb is a prime example. In the three games before Tuesday, Lamb had hit 3 of 24 shots, including an 0-of-18 streak that he finally snapped against the Los Angeles Clippers. Lamb was 0 for 8 against Sacramento and 0 for 5 against Cleveland before going 3 for 11 against the Clippers. Lamb went 0 for 2 against the Pacers in 12 minutes on Tuesday. "This is an opportunity," coach Scott Skiles said. "When you get opportunities you'd like to seize upon them and leave an impression. It's a hard league for veterans, and it's a hard league for rookies. It can be unforgiving.”

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Shawn Marion is at the point in his career when milestones start to happen regularly, but they pale in comparison to winning games. On Tuesday night, the 14-year veteran went over the 16,000-point mark for his career with his third point against Philadelphia. He surpassed 9,000 rebounds last week. Before Tuesday’s game, he joked about being three points away from 16K. “Three?” he said. “Maybe I’ll just fire up a 3-pointer to start the game and be done with it.” He didn’t. He made a couple of short floaters to get past 16,000. Marion, in his fourth season with the Mavericks, is one of only five players in NBA history with at least 1,500 steals and 1,000 blocks, joining Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Julius Erving and Kevin Garnett. Like other players as they get older, Marion occasionally thinks about his legacy. He wants to be known as a “basketball player,” not a Maverick or Phoenix Sun, although after winning the title in Dallas, he’ll forever be linked with the Mavericks.

  • Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News: He's baaaaaack for the Lakers. Not Steve Nash. This was the return of Pau Gasol. Having Gasol back and in a good place, mentally and physically, is ultra important to the Lakers. The Lakers are getting all the pieces of their puzzle back together, with Nash expected back by Christmas. But don't think that means the Lakers are getting their act together. On the contrary. We cant expect Nash to be a one-man problem solver. He's not a savior, but were making him out to be the way. The Lakers are broken. Their problems are too tall and too many and too daunting. There is too much ground to make up. You know it's bad when the Lakers struggle at home against the Charlotte Bobcats, and squeak out a 101-100 victory, as they did Tuesday night.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: There's a fine print element to the point guard rotation that is currently under scrutiny because of rookie Marquis Teague's solid play when given extended minutes. It's called Nate Robinson's non-guaranteed contract. The Bulls signed the veteran guard to a deal that doesn't become fully guaranteed until Jan. 10. That means they can waive Robinson with no penalty any time before that date, an option that always has been under consideration internally. Teague's development, not to mention Derrick Rose's expected return, could make Robinson expendable. … League sources indicate that veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton has been offered in trade scenarios, efforts that could intensity as the Feb. 21 trade deadline nears. With a minimal guarantee on a team option for next season, Hamilton's salary is in essence an expiring contract, which could make him attractive to teams looking to add scoring punch near the deadline.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: What might be most inexcusable about Tuesday night’s disheartening loss to the Bulls was the Celtics had been in Chicago more than 48 hours before tipoff, well-rested and allegedly refocused on improving defensively. The Bulls, meanwhile, arrived back in town early Tuesday morning after a rugged game against the Memphis Grizzlies, with every excuse to succumb to a fresher opponent. But it was the opposite at United Center. The Celtics never figured out how to play defense for longer than 10 seconds, allowing the slower-tempo Bulls to feast on their slippage. The Celtics became frustrated and began free-lancing offensively, making for a rather easy opponent for the Bulls, who led by as many as 21 points in a 100-89 victory. The Celtics lost all three games on a road trip they tabbed important, all by double figures. Chicago showed no signed of exhaustion as coach Tom Thibodeau used his bench extensively to help the Bulls pull away.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The defense wasn’t the stifling brand that has carried the Raptors of late, but it was enough to propel the club to its third straight win, a 113-99 victory over the Cavaliers on Tuesday. The common thread in the three victories by the now 7-19 club has been team basketball and it was the case again, moreso on the offensive end this time around. Jose Calderon starred again in the absence of Kyle Lowry, turning in a season-high 23 points — including the 5,000th point of his NBA career — Amir Johnson was stellar in a 17-point effort, DeMar DeRozan had 16 and played well defensively and Alan Anderson was huge again in a 23-point effort. Coming off of a standout performance against Houston, Calderon was cooking again. After a dodgy first half that saw the Cavs take a 53-49 lead into the break and saw NBA rebounding-leader Anderson Varejao go to the line 12 times to Toronto’s eight trips as a team, the Raptors improved significantly in the second half.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Several teams were scared off by Jonas Valanciunas' buyout situation with his team in Lithuania heading into the 2011 NBA draft. The Cavaliers could have been one of those teams. There was no hesitation from the Toronto Raptors, who drafted the 7-foot, 257-pounder with the fifth overall selection. Valanciunas played last season in Lithuania before a buyout allowed him to join the Raptors this year. "With last year being a lockout situation, we knew it would be just as beneficial for him to play over there," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "It was a short-term setback for a long-term investment." The Raptors have their center for years to come. Valanciunas ranks 10th in scoring (8.0) and fourth in rebounding (5.4) among rookies. … The Cavs went down to the wire with the decision between Valanciunas and Texas power forward Tristan Thompson, whom they picked with the No. 4 selection in 2011. Thompson isn't terrorizing the league, either, but he's a little further along than the Lithuanian big man. He came into Tuesday's game averaging 8.2 points and 7.6 rebounds. "A lot of people have a misconception of what he should be," Cavs coach Byron Scott said of Thompson. "A lot of people think he should average a double-double. I am happy where he is and with his progress.”

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Big Baby" appears to be growing up. Glen Davis did something Monday night that his basketball coaches and teammates have wanted him to do for years. Instead of allowing his own frustration to spin him out of control, he channeled his negative emotions in a positive direction. After a first half in which he was outplayed by All-Star Kevin Love and he committed a technical foul, Davis played almost flawlessly and helped lead the Orlando Magic to a comeback win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. "I can't be up-and-down," Davis said Tuesday. … Everyone is paying attention to Davis these days because coach Jacque Vaughn named him a co-captain before the regular season. It seemed like a risky move given Davis' emotional nature, but Vaughn's decision has compelled Davis to be accountable for his actions. "He's been more steady, and that's a great sign for him," Vaughn said. "For the most part, his demeanor, his approach has been consistent. That's the way a captain should be."