First Cup: Thursday

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Scott Skiles said "it's a make-or-miss league." On Wednesday night his Milwaukee Bucks made their shots on the way to a 108-93 victory over the Brooklyn Nets before 13,102 fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Point guard Brandon Jennings scored 25 points and Monta Ellis filled up the box score with 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds and six steals. The Bucks (15-12) beat Brooklyn (14-14) for the second time in as many games this season and extended their winning streak over the Nets franchise to 13 games. "Some nights it's as simple as that," Skiles said. "We made our shots; we made our threes and made our free throws. We had basically the same ball movement, the same kind of looks. We just knocked them down tonight." Milwaukee sank 40 of 84 field-goal attempts (47.6%), including 10 of 17 from three-point range (58.8%), and 18 of 19 free throws.

  • Kristie Ackert of New York Daily News: He was signed over the summer to be the face of a franchise looking to escape its hapless past and rebuild in Brooklyn. Right now, he is just the poster child for the Nets’ frustrations. Deron Williams sat on the bench in a suit Wednesday night, missing the game with a bruised right wrist as the Nets fell to the Bucks, 108-93, at the Bradley Center, dropping to .500 on the season. The Brooklyn Nets, who kicked off their new era by showcasing the re-signed Williams, have suffered through injuries and inexplicable lapses in the last month. After beginning the season 11-4, the Nets (14-14) have lost 10 of their last 13. “It’s tough, because of where we came from and how we started,” said Joe Johnson who had 13 points. “Nobody saw this coming.”

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Thirty-nine times a season, Pepsi Center hosts "the Nugget game." And twice a season, it hosts "the Laker game." There is a difference. At "the Nugget game," the opponent is essentially anonymous — fans just go to watch some slams and slam some beers. But go to "the Laker game." It's different. It's personal. There's anger. There's Mile High vile. The Nuggets and their fans don't just want to win - they want the Lakers to lose. And so, Wednesday night was extra fulfilling for the fans with Denver winning 126-114 against the Lakers. Denver defeated the team that coach George Karl said on media day that "I despise," because of the fact LA, and all their Hollywood Hall of Famers, have knocked Denver out of the playoffs three of the past five seasons, including this past spring. "It was just good to see us shoot the ball and beat a good team with some confidence," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We've been playing with a little more awareness of how to win close games."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: It would've been a fine idea for Dwight Howard's Lakers teammates to send a message to Howard about how they need players — especially future franchise centerpieces -- to bring consistent effort. But the Lakers didn't come back to win in Denver without Howard on Wednesday night, either. A big reason for the loss was Howard's lethargy even before his ejection for a type-2 flagrant foul to Kenneth Faried's face in the third quarter. The Nuggets won, 126-114, as the Lakers' defense and rebounding -- the centerpieces of Howard's game -- were missing and their five-game winning streak ended. Asked what the Lakers lost by Howard being ejected with 5:02 left in the third quarter, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said: "Not a whole lot." D'Antoni also said about Howard: "I don't think he had a good game. A lot of people didn't have a good game."

  • Nate Taylor of The New York Times: J. R Smith walked on the court and looked up at the scoreboard. It said the game was tied at 97-97, and Smith knew the ball — and the game’s biggest moment — was coming to him. Smith then closed his eyes and bowed his head. He meditated. “When I was walking on the court, I was like, “Man, you’re going to make it, you’re going to make it,’ ” Smith said. “I was mentally really trying to get my form ready before I even thought about taking it.” Catch the ball cleanly, he thought. Square your shoulders to the basket, he reminded himself. Believe in yourself. Smith ran to the left corner of the court, received Jason Kidd’s pass, turned his body, jumped high in the air and faded away from the Phoenix Suns’ P. J. Tucker. Buzzer sounds. Swish. Game over. Smith’s difficult jumper as time expired gave the Knicks a 99-97 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, a much-needed lift for a weakened team. It was the second game-winner by Smith this month. His previous one, the first game-winner of his career, came on Dec. 5 against the Charlotte Bobcats.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman has spent a good portion of the first 26 games of the season trying to compensate for the team's overwhelming injuries. After the Wolves' 87-84 loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, Dec. 26, at Target Center, Adelman appears to have more alarming concerns. At the top of the list: How to get Kevin Love untracked with his shooting? Right below that: Who do the Wolves rely on for a clutch shot while Love and the team are slumping? Those questions were at the forefront of a Wolves loss that spoiled the evening for the third-largest turnout for an NBA regular-season game in Target Center history. Nearly 1,000 standing-room tickets were sold leading up to tip-off, pushing the attendance to 20,340. … Love finished the night shooting 3 for 14 for seven points, one higher than his season low. In his past three games, Love, a career 45.7 percent shooter, has made 14 of 44 shots for 31.8 percent.

  • Jonthan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Rockets guard James Harden leads the NBA with an average of 8.6 made free throws per game (233 overall), by far the most in the NBA. This is not an accident, but he said he looks to draw fouls as much to get his offensive game going in general as to get to the line. “It gives me confidence to get some easy shots, easy free throws, and open up my entire game,” Harden said. “That comes from me being aggressive and me being in attack mode. When an opportunity is there to attack, I’m going to take advantage of it, or an opportunity to pass as well. Just going off instinct.” Harden went 6-for-6 from the line against the Timberwolves on Wednesday, ending his streak of three consecutive games with at least 10 free throws, a stretch that tied him with Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon for the longest in franchise history. Harden also leads the NBA in made field goals while drawing a foul and adding the free throw with 22 three-point plays and two four-point plays.

  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: Dwyane Wade really took a cheap shot at Ramon Sessions (see the video here) during the game, lashing out with his left leg after Sessions fouled him and catching Sessions right in the groin. Sessions said after the game (a 105-92 Miami win) that he thought Wade did it on purpose, and I can't imagine that some sort of NBA punishment won't be forthcoming for Wade for that one. It was just too obvious.

  • John Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Before his team faced the powerful Memphis Grizzlies to begin its daunting seven-game Western road swing, 76ers coach Doug Collins had a hunch that Dorell Wright was the right man to inject into the starting lineup in place of the injured Jason Richardson. After Wright went for a season-high 28 points against one of the better defensive teams in the league to lead the Sixers (14-15) to a 99-89 victory at the FedEx Forum on Wednesday, it was clear he made the right choice. Wright looked like the player he was advertised to be when the Sixers traded for him during the offseason, connecting on 8 of 11 field goals (5 of 8 from behind the three-point arc). "He makes us a tough team," said Sixers forward Thaddeus Young, who finished with 13 points and a season-high four blocks. "He has been pretty much the key to our success. When he plays well we tend to win basketball games."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: The New Orleans Hornets hadn't lost 12 consecutive games in more than two decades and center Robin Lopez and his teammates didn't want to experience that kind of dismal setback Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic. Taking advantage of Lopez's 29 points and point guard Greivis Vasquez's 27, the Hornets ended their 11-game losing streak with a 97-94 victory against the Magic. It was the Hornets' first victory since Dec. 3 when they defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 102-81. The Hornets were in danger of matching a franchise-worst 12 consecutive losses, which happened during the 1989-90 season when they finished 19-63.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Andre Drummond claims he isn't aware of the contention he is causing between Pistons coach Lawrence Frank and the fans and media. As he walked through Philips Arena on Wednesday morning, Drummond said he didn't know anything about fans clamoring for more playing time from the rookie center from UConn. But even if was aware, Drummond said he is in full agreement with being brought along slowly. "Who wouldn't want to play more?" he said. "If you love the sport, you love to play, but it just isn't my time. I'm a rookie, they're trying to ease my way in and I like what they're doing with me so far in terms of me being prepared for what I need to do. I'm just really excited about that."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: One would think Cavs coach Byron Scott would be smiling a little more after the Cavaliers beat the Washington Wizards, 87-84, on Wednesday at Verizon Center to win consecutive games for the first time this season. "I should be a lot happier than I am, I guess," he said as the Cavs improved to 7-23 after the battle between the two teams with the worst records in the Eastern Conference. "But some of the boneheaded mistakes that we made, some of the fouls, some of the things we did on the defensive end to allow them to have some of the shots that they had, especially toward the end, we've just got to be a little bit smarter when the game's on the line like that. We had an opportunity to really close it out, and we just couldn't make free throws. Seeing Kyrie [Irving] miss four out of six free throws is unusual. But we won the game, so we'll see what happens, go home, get some work in and get ready for [Atlanta on] Friday."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Is Donnie Nelson’s job in jeopardy? After all, the team went from a championship to a sub-500 team over a 17 month period. Eddie Sefko: He's got job security because he works well with Cuban and Rick. These decisions were made at the top. The top-top. Donnie is not at the top-top. Mr. Cuban needs somebody to do the legwork and unearth opportunities. Cuban won't approve all of them. But he gets the final say because he's the owner. And he trusts Nelson to know what's out there in the way of opportunities.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: One of the more pressing questions of the 2012-13 season is whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had been made aware of the hip-hop track produced in his honor by an Israeli rap group, appropriately and simply named “Popovich.“ Stephen Jackson gave us the answer after Wednesday’s victory over the Raptors: Not only has Popovich seen it, he used it to prank the Spurs before their last preseason game. We’ll let Captain Jack explain: “He was showing some film of me messing up, getting on me real hard. I was like, ‘You know what Pop, I don’t even want to play basketball. I’d rather do this. Kick it!’ And they played two of my videos. And Pop was like, ‘You know what? Don’t worry about it Jack. I got my own video.’ It was pretty cool.” Boris Diaw deemed the stunt “hilarious” while noted music aficionado Matt Bonner also gave his seal of approval.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: During the Blazers’ recent homestand, a respected and veteran beat reporter approached me and told me that an assistant coach for the team he covered said the Blazers are shopping LaMarcus Aldridge. I chuckled, because earlier that night, I spoke with Olshey about the trading deadline, which is now eight weeks away. In a nutshell, Olshey said the Blazers will likely be built through the draft and free agency, not trades - and certainly not mid-season trades. Still, on Wednesday before the Kings game, I felt obliged to corner the whirlwind that is Olshey. I asked him directly if he is shopping Aldridge. It was as if I had told Olshey the best joke he had ever heard. In fact, I think he is still laughing as I write this. Olshey said he has made zero calls to other teams about Aldridge. He did say he has fielded one inquiry from another team, but it was more exploratory in nature, that team feeling the Blazers out. And he said he has no plans to make any future calls about Aldridge as February approaches.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: David Lee has been on an impressive statistical tear, putting him in some elite company. Over his past 12 games before Wednesday, Lee had scored at least 20 points, shot 50 percent or better, and grabbed at least eight rebounds. Only three other players in NBA history had maintained such a streak for a minimum of 12 games: Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Shaquille O'Neal. Stats like that are the reason Lee is being mentioned as the Warriors' first All-Star since 1997. Lee's streak ended with Wednesday's 18-point, 7-for-16 effort.

  • Victor Contreras of The Sacramento Bee: Just wondering if Keith Smart took a page from Dean Wormer's book at Faber College and placed DeMarcus Cousins on double- secret probation. Whatever that is. Because the time has come for someone to put his foot down on this misbehaving center, and that foot appears to belong to the Kings' coach. By keeping Cousins home for Wednesday night's game in Portland, Smart sent a message to the center and the rest of the team that he will not be disrespected by anyone within the organization. And that includes management, which shamefully decided a one-game suspension for Cousins was punishment enough for cussing out the coach in front of the team. Really? What does he have to do to warrant a two-game suspension? Slap Smart? … He calls out TV commentators, yells at teammates and blames referees. Now he disrespects his coach – his biggest supporter – in front of the team. If Cousins hasn't learned how to conduct himself as a professional by now, he never will. Trade him.