First Cup: Thursday

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: In the beginning, there was intrigue — catchy slogans, competing chants and visions of a basketball rivalry that would split New York. It was interesting, for a moment or two. By the time the Knicks and the Nets met Wednesday night — for the third installment of the battle of the boroughs, or the East River rivalry, or whatever name sticks — the hype balloon had deflated considerably. By the final buzzer, the buzz had died entirely, along with the not-ready-for-Broadway Nets. Carmelo Anthony returned to the Knicks’ lineup and powered them to a 100-86 rout at Madison Square Garden, sending the Nets to their third straight loss and placing ever more distance between New York’s presumed rivals. The Knicks (19-6) have a six-game lead in the standings and a 2-1 lead in the series. The Nets are plummeting, having lost 8 of 10 games. A rivalry? It hardly felt that way.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: There isn’t a doubt any longer which borough is home to the best basketball team or the city’s best player. The Brooklyn commute to Manhattan can be a bear, and Wednesday night it became a disastrous trip for the struggling Nets in their first-ever foray to the Garden with “Brooklyn’’ written across their chests. The Knicks got back their main man Carmelo Anthony and they got back their dominant ways at the Garden as he dropped 31 points on the Nets in a 100-86 rout. “We wanted to make a statement,” said center Tyson Chandler, who nearly tore down the Garden rims in a flurry of violent dunks that resulted in his 16 points and 12 rebounds. And that statement was? “That we’re New York’s team,’’ Raymond Felton said. Touche.

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling led his team with old-fashioned cheers of "Hip-Hip-Hooray," but there were no bottles of champagne in the locker room after a 93-77 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets extended their winning streak to a franchise record-tying 11 games.In fact, Sterling's unusual postgame visit to congratulate his team was the only semblance of a celebration of the streak. After all, the Clippers (19-6) have greater goals in mind than matching the modest success of their ancient cousins, the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves. "We can't be satisfied," point guard Chris Paul later said of the streak. "It's great for the fans, but we can't be satisfied. Food tastes better, music sounds better, you sleep a little better, everything is better when you're winning. "We've just got to keep it going." The Clippers will try for a franchise-record 12 th consecutive victory when they host the Sacramento Kings on Friday. It's not a streak to challenge the Lakers' league-record mark of 33 consecutive wins, but given the team's inglorious history it's something to build on. Then again, maybe it's not.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Griz point guard Mike Conley could have been a visitor Wednesday night when the Bucks invaded FedExForum. That is, if a January 2009 trade had been consummated. The Griz considered trading Conley to Milwaukee for journeyman Ramon Sessions and former NBA player Joe Alexander but were rebuffed by the Bucks. Fast forward to this season: Conley entered Wednesday night needing just eight assists to pass Jason Williams (2,069 from 2001-05, 2010-11) as the franchise's career leader in assists. Conley is enjoying his best NBA season, averaging career highs in scoring (14 points), steals (2.4, 2nd) and three-point field goal percentage (.427). Conley leads the team in assists (6.1, which tied 17th in the NBA) for the sixth consecutive season.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: On Wednesday, the day a grassroots campaign began asking for fans to vote Glen Davis into the all-star game as a write-in candidate, he gets hurt. The Magic's 290-pound power forward sustained a shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter, and it looked serious. Tests have to be run, but if Davis is out for any length of time, the Magic will lose their most potent and consistent inside presence. Davis is having a career season. He has been putting up numbers since late last season, when he replaced Dwight Howard, who was sidelined with a back injury. He left holding his shoulder, and to me it was reminiscent to how Jameer Nelson wrecked his shoulder in 2009, tearng his rotator cuff and bicep. We'll see how severe the damage might be. What does Jacque Vaughn do as long as Davis is out? He has few options. … Coach Jacque Vaughn's best option is Andrew Nicholson, 6-9, 250 pounds.

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: The numbers back it up. After that second-half collapse against Milwaukee on Nov. 26, the Bulls owned a 6-7 record and were allowing 93.4 points per game. Since that night they've given up 86.7 points in the last 11 games and gone 8-3. After beating Boston on Tuesday, the Bulls ranked second in the league in points allowed and second in defensive field-goal percentage. … What's interesting about Thibodeau's system is once again he has taken poor individual defenders and created a strong team defense. Back in 2010, Boozer and Kyle Korver were the weak links. This year's squad might be even worse when it comes to individual defense. Boozer is about the same, while Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli can struggle badly in certain matchups. And backup center Nazr Mohammed brings none of Omer Asik's intimidation. There is a mix of strong defenders with Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. Still, this group is starting to get it done. Tough games are on tap this weekend at New York and Atlanta. For now, though, at 14-10 the Bulls are ahead of Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana in the Eastern Conference standings.

  • Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle: Media and fans continually discuss the Jeremy Lin-James Harden combination. Will they be able to play as one? Do their similar traits hinder Houston’s overall offense? Coach Kevin McHale, Lin and Harden again said Wednesday time will take care of everything. And Houston’s coach was more concerned about the Rockets’ defense than the on-the-court relationship between the team’s star point guard and shooting guard. “A lot of our offensive flow is predicated on our defense,” McHale said. “If we can get stops, we can get out and go – we’re just much, much better.” Kevin McHale was less willing to discuss rookie forward Royce White, who’s yet to play for and doesn’t have a timetable for activation. “I hope that Royce just gets himself ready to come in and be part of an NBA team,” McHale said.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: After missing all 25 games this season because of recurring problems with his right knee, New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon will rejoin the team in New Orleans on Saturday after spending a month going through extensive rehabilitation work in Los Angeles. Hornets General Manager Dell Demps said the team won't make a determination when Gordon will play his first game until after he goes through a couple of practices with his teammates. Gordon predicted Wednesday he will make his debut before the end of this month. Gordon said his right knee problems stemmed from having both a patella tendon disorder and bone bruise. It’s the same knee that Gordon had arthroscopic surgery on last February, which forced him to miss all but nine games after he was acquired in the blockbuster Chris Paul trade from the Los Angeles Clippers.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics were pleased with how Avery Bradley fared in practice on Monday. He’ll practice again this weekend as the club prepares for a four-game trip that starts in Brooklyn on Christmas Day. Bradley, who had surgery on both shoulders in the offseason, said trainers have targeted Jan. 2 for his return. “That’s what I’m hoping for,” said Bradley, “the next home game after the West Coast trip. I doubt [I would play during that trip] knowing [trainer] Ed [Lacerte]. He sticks to the schedule and that’s what he’s been saying, around January, so we’ll see how I feel.”

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Pacers center Roy Hibbert’s offensive problems this season have been well documented. And despite those struggles, Vogel said he will stick with Hibbert over Ian Mahinmi late in games. Mahinmi had 14 points off the bench against Milwaukee compared to Hibbert’s eight points on 4-of-10 shooting. Still, Vogel went with Hibbert at the end of the game because he’s the anchor of their defense. “We always consider going with the hot hand,” Vogel said. “There are things that Roy brings to the table that Ian doesn’t that have won for us at a high level the last couple of years. Typically we’re going to go with him unless there’s an extreme example.”

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: At some point this season, there is likely a major change coming for the Toronto Raptors. Whether it is a resignation or a firing or a trade of a core player, this season started too poorly for all of the figures to remain entrenched within the organization. Probably. However, everybody involved with the Raptors for the last, let us say, 18 years has spent far too much time focusing on the future and potential change down the road. So, why not celebrate the good times? The Toronto Raptors have won four games in a row. Now, the Mavericks, Rockets, Cavaliers and Pistons do not represent a murderer’s row of elite NBA teams. However, when the Raptors beat Detroit 97-91 on Wednesday night, it was the first time they strung together four wins since November 2010.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: It’s better for Miami to get what it got Tuesday in its 103-92 win against Minnesota. That’s when Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole shared the full 48, not only pushing the Timberwolves but pushing each other. This prescription might come as a surprise to read in this space. About a month ago, as Cole was struggling on the Heat’s first long trip, I suggested shelving him for a spell. And throughout the season, it’s been hard not to notice Chalmers’ slippage, whether in on-ball defense or long-range accuracy. Lately, though, both have shown positive signs. Start with Chalmers, whose left ring finger, injured in Washington on Dec. 4, has been more of an impediment than the Heat have intimated. According to sources, he could have opted for surgery for a torn tendon, but instead played in the next game, in part out of concern that he would lose more minutes, and perhaps even a starting spot, to Cole.

  • David Mayo of MLive.com: Detroit Pistons coach Lawrence Frank gets asked about Andre Drummond at every stop along the NBA trail, and when hit again tonight with a similar query, he intimated that there are things that occur beyond public view which have contributed to capping the rookie center's playing time. … "When we don't play Andre 18 minutes, the reporters (who cover the Pistons regularly) have pictures of me up all around town -- and the fans, too," said Frank, who used that benchmark because Valanciunas played 18 minutes in the Raptors win Tuesday at Cleveland. "But the thing is, there are certain things that we're privy to things that maybe the general public isn't. There's a lot of things we see and understand the big picture. Not that there's a right way or wrong way, but it's the way we choose it. Plus, there are other guys who may also be doing their jobs as well."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was on the NBA's Competition Committee that helped get the "flopping" rule implemented. Carlisle admits that coaches, players and front-office personnel just want a level playing field, and "flopping" unfairly tilts the field. … So far, only nine players have suffered the consequences from flopping. And a pair of Brooklyn Nets forwards -- Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace -- are the only players with more than one flop. Evans and Wallace have each been charged with two flops, and have been fined $5,000 apiece. Also, Minnesota's J.J. Barea, Cleveland's Donald Sloan, Oklahoma City's Kevin Martin, Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia, Houston's Patrick Patterson and Omer Asik, and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers have each received one flopping warning infraction. … "Generally speaking, the guys that are the floppers are smart guys," Carlisle said. "They're smart because they try to positively affect the game by fooling the referees. Well, they're also smart when it comes to the fact that they're going to get hit with fines that are going to increase with each additional incident. To this point, [the flopping rule has] been a very successful endeavor."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Wolves coach Rick Adelman had five point guards -- Porter, Stockton, Magic Johnson, Kevin Johnson and Tim Hardaway -- on the West team he led in the 1991 NBA All-Star game, but even a group like that didn't have the collective clout as today's point guards. He attributes that to rules that don't allow defenders to place a hand on driving guards and on officiating that doesn't call illegal screens like it once did. "The league is a pick-and-roll league now, and it didn't used to be," Adelman said. "It gives the point guard more of an opportunity to really become an impact player. They used to be secondary and maybe they got assists. Now he scores, he gets assists, he does everything." The game always has had its share of gifted point guards. Golden State coach Mark Jackson ticks off a long list of the famous and the underrated (Gary Payton, Hardaway, Rod Strickland, Derek Harper, Dennis Johnson) from when he played back in the proverbial day, without even mentioning himself. "I don't think it's fair to compare because there's always been a lot of great ones," Jackson said, "but this group is special." It is special in its sheer growing numbers and in the evolution of bigger, stronger, quicker players such as Westbrook, Chicago's Derrick Rose and Boston's Rajon Rondo, players whom Sacramento coach Keith Smart considers more like football running backs and receivers than your traditional 6-foot point guard.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Rookie forward Bernard James, who spent six years in the Air Force and rose in rank to Staff Sergeant during three tours of duty in the Middle East, visited wounded soldiers Wednesday at the Veterans Administration Medical Center. James, who served in Iraq, Qatar and Afghanistan, spread holiday cheer and gifts from Albertsons, the Mavericks, the NBA, On The Border, Whataburger and other sponsors. James said he wanted to bring attention to the important work being done by military personnel and the sacrifices they make for freedom.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: When Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner became the first female officials in any major American sports league in 1997, it was groundbreaking and attention-jarring. Kantner did not last but Palmer has stayed on long enough to see a follower. The best tribute to the modern sports world is that Brenda Pantoja, who worked Wednesday’s Suns game, and Lauren Holtkamp cracked the NBA officiating crews with little fanfare. Pantoja, Holtkamp and four men were top D-League officials who are non-staff additions for the season’s first three months.