First Cup: Wednesday

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: How about that Denver defense? The Nuggets Von Millered the hottest team in basketball, swarming the Los Angeles Clippers all night en route to a 92-78 win Tuesday. Seventy-eight. That's it. It was a scintillating performance by the Nuggets (18-15), perhaps their most impressive of the season. The Clippers entered Tuesday winners of 17 consecutive games. And while only four of those opponents, including Denver on Dec. 25, had winning records, L.A. wasn't just sneaking by teams. The Clippers were punching them in the mouth, winning by an average margin of 15.2 points. "I was talking to somebody in the game about our confidence, our swagger," the Nuggets' Andre Iguodala said. "The Clippers have been playing with that, and they have the mentality that they're going to win every night. We need to build the same thing."

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Kanye West and The Notorious B.I.G. still blared through the speakers. The Clippers still joked, occasionally dialing up their well-practiced sarcasm. They didn’t hide in silence or show any signs of mourning. The Clippers lost 92-78 to the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night at Pepsi Center, ending a franchise-record 17-game winning streak, but nothing seemed to change in the locker room. The message after the game was clear. The streak is over; the season is not. “I knew we weren’t going to win the rest of ‘em,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “…We’re just upset that we lost. We could care less about the streak.” The 17-game winning streak that propelled the Clippers to the best record in the NBA prior to Tuesday’s loss, ended with the sound of shots clanging off the rim. The Clippers shot 38.5 percent from the field. They made 13-of-29 from the free-throw line. And, most puzzling, the Clippers made only 5-of-29 from three-point range despite open look after open look.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: The Trail Blazers are too young, too soft on defense, too shaky on the road, too thin on the bench and too fragile in general to fuel this early-season hope and contend for a playoff spot. At least that’s what conventionalwisdom will tell you. But on the NBA’s grandest stage, against a team buoyed by the return of a pair of All-Stars, the Blazers offered the most emphatic example yet that they have no intention of adhering to conventional wisdom, defeating the New York Knicks 105-100 before 19,033 at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Day. … Before tipoff, an energized crowd was buzzing about the return of forwards Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire from separate injuries. By the end of the night, Madison Square Garden was talking instead about another signature moment from Damian Lillard, a stellar rebounding night from LaMarcus Aldridge and another do-it-all outing from Nicolas Batum.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Now that the Knicks ' $100- million man is back, Mike Woodson was asked the $100- million question that he said he would address at the appropriate time. But Woodson sidestepped whether Amar'e Stoudemire would be a reserve for the rest of the season or if he would return to the starting lineup at some point. "I'm not going to discuss that," Woodson said Tuesday night. "First things first, we've got to get him back on the floor and get him acclimated to what we're doing and then we'll go from there." Stoudemire came off the bench in his season debut and scored six points in the Knicks' 105-100 loss to Portland. He had started the previous 417 games he played. The last time he came off the bench was Nov. 4, 2006 with the Suns.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Hawks coach Larry Drew expressed concern with his team’s tendency to settle for 3-point attempts in transition Tuesday. The good news: The Hawks set a franchise record in Monday’s loss to the Rockets with their fourth straight game of at least 10 3-pointers. The bad news: Some of the 3-point attempts are coming on the run when Drew would like to see the action move to the front of the rim. “In transition, we have to run for layups,” Drew said before the Hawks played at the Hornets. “We can’t just run to the 3-point line. We’ve gotten in trouble a little bit with that in the past where we do have an advantage in transition and we run straight to the 3-point line and not really attacking the basket.” Drew said that was an issue Monday against the Rockets. The Hawks had 23 3-point attempts, making 12.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: In his second game back from a nearly two-month, 28-game layoff, New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon was once again playing under a minute restriction Tuesday night against the Atlanta Hawks. Gordon played 25 minutes in his season debut Saturday night in a win at the Charlotte Bobcats, scoring 24 points and going to the free-throw line 14 times. Against the Hawks, Gordon logged just under 24 minutes, at 23:46, scoring 11 points on 5 of 17 shooting, 0 of 3 from beyond the 3-point line and just 1 of 4 free throws in the Hornets' 95-86 loss. Hornets Coach Monty Williams said he'll continue to be cautious with his deployment of Gordon's time on the court, mindful of what happened a year ago when Gordon played in only his second game of the year on Jan. 4, 2012 against the Philadelphia 76ers.nine days after the season opener on Dec. 26 at Phoenix.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: With four seconds left in the second quarter Tuesday night, Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas landed hard on the floor thanks to a forearm from Detroit forward Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva was assessed a flagrant foul 2 and automatically ejected. Thomas jumped up angrily to confront Villanueva, who at 6-foot-11 and 232 pounds has a distinct physical advantage over Thomas (5-9, 185). The Kings said it wasn't the first hard foul by Villanueva. Thomas said the fact he was airborne on the play wasn't the worst part for him. "No, it was just the fact that it was a dirty play and he's a dirty player," Thomas said. "It is what it is. He got kicked out of the game, so it wasn't nothing big. A lot of guys do stuff like that knowing you can't really fight in this league, so it's all right." … Thomas appeared to take a swing at Villanueva but denied doing that. "I didn't swing on him," he said. "That's one thing I didn't do. In the heat of the battle, in the heat of the moment, it is what it is."

  • David Mayo of MLIve.com Detroit Pistons kicked off 2013 by celebrating some of the season's biggest oddities, not least among them the team's longest winning streak of the season after a 103-97 victory Tuesday over the Sacramento Kings. The Pistons have won three consecutive games for the first time this season and five of their last six overall. It didn't come easily. Already playing without Rodney Stuckey because of a sprained ankle, the Pistons also lost the services of Charlie Villanueva, who was ejected with four seconds remaining in the first half for a high forearm on a drive by the Kings' Isaiah Thomas. Villanueva was hit with a flagrant-two foul on review. Pistons trainer Mike Abdenour, who in 2010 was ejected from a Summer League game, picked up a technical foul with 6:07 left in the third quarter, apparently for racing out to tend too quickly to Brandon Knight during a brief injury break.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: With the Pistons likely bound for the lottery, it's not too early to take a look at the upcoming draft class. There's a growing sense that the 2013 draft lacks promising prospects -- although it's still early in the process. Longtime college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy summed things up with this tweet last week: "NBA scout I know says league should postpone 2013 draft. Be better for the league, better for college hoops. Everybody needs work." The Pistons won't go that far but if they do wind up in the lottery, is there anyone who could help them immediately? One troubling sign is the lack of a consensus No. 1 pick. At this time last year, everyone basically knew Anthony Davis would be the top pick.

  • Craig Stouffer of the Washington Examiner: The collapse wasn't complete. Down seven points with a minute and a half to play, the Wizards had drawn up a play during a timeout after forcing a shot clock violation. But then Garrett Temple fired a pass off Shawn Marion's back. And Vince Carter flew down the lane for an uncontested monster slam. And the Wizards began 2013 looking like they did in 2012, dropping a seemingly winnable game to struggling Dallas 103-94 before 14,456 at Verizon Center. The 35-year-old Carter finished with a game-high 23 points, two short of his season high. He opened the game with a one-handed jam and made it look like it was 2003, not 10 years later, as he helped the Mavericks (13-19) snap a six-game losing streak in which they had fallen by an average of 19.2 points. "I was telling him the whole time, 'You still can jump as high as you used to,'?" Wizards rookie Bradley Beal said. "He was like, 'I'm getting old.' I remember him a little bit, all his spectacular dunks he did, and he still has some athleticism in him."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: This might have been the turnaround game for Dirk Nowitzki. In just his fifth game of the season Tuesday, Nowitzki looked like his old self as he helped the Dallas Mavericks snap a six-game losing streak with a 103-94 triumph over the Washington Wizards before 14,456 at the Verizon Center. Nowitzki was 5 of 7 from the field, including 1 of 2 from 3-point range, and scored a season-high 11 points. He also had two rebounds and one assist in 17 minutes while giving Mavs fans a glimpse of what they hope is still yet to come. "Today definitely was better," Nowitzki said. "I was shooting the ball well in warmups, I felt I had a little more spring than I had last week. "At least I'm working in the right direction, so that's a good thing." Nowitzki's lone 3-pointer put the Mavs ahead 99-84 with 3:27 left and created a positive reaction from the Mavs' bench.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: The Los Angeles Lakers are in unfamiliar territory in these parts. Despite a lineup that features more than a sprinkling of potential Hall of Famers, the Lakers are no longer the team in Tinseltown. That distinction for the moment belongs to their arena mates, the Clippers, who lost in Denver Tuesday for the first time in 18 games. The Staples Center usually has a very good buzz whenever the Lakers play. Maybe it was because it was the first day of the New Year or due to the absence of Jack Nicholson, but the arena was eerily quiet just about the whole game. The 76ers made sure it stayed that way as they grounded out a methodical, 103-99 win in front of the listless sellout crowd. The Sixers have had bad spells early in games recently, a big part of the reason they had lost eight of their previous 10 games. Tuesday's first half was different, though, as the Sixers hung with the much bigger Lakers on the boards, moved the ball very well and forged a 54-50 lead.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: As someone who coached Michael Jordan in his prime with the Chicago Bulls and as an aging veteran with the Washington Wizards, Doug Collins saw his greatness go beyond his talent. It also included how he maximized it. Collins has noticed parallels with how Kobe Bryant has done the same thing in leading the league at 30.1 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting in his 17 th NBA season. "He's a basketball genius," Collins said. "He doesn't waste energy. When you're younger, sometimes you chase your tail. You get older and the game slows down. He knows where he wants the ball, how he wants to get it and what he's going to do to you once he gets it."

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant attributes his continued high level of play to his work ethic and commitment to his well being. He said he works smarter and has cut out junk food. "What I've done is train really hard and watch my diet," Bryant said. "I think that's what catches guys most of the time, they don't do self-assessment. They'll still do the things that they were doing when they were younger, and eat some of the things they were doing and not accept the fact that what you put in has an impact." Bryant traveled to Germany in 2011 for a procedure on his chronically bad right knee called platelet-rich plasma therapy in which the patient's blood is centrifuged to isolate platelets and growth factors. It is then injected into the injured area to accelerate healing. Bryant said the procedure allowed him to train at full strength.