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First Cup: Thursday

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Too bad the Knicks and Lakers are done playing for this season . . . unless they meet in the Finals. Amar’e Stoudemire added some fuel to the New York-L.A. rivalry when he heaped praise on Mike Woodson on Wednesday while also indirectly criticizing Mike D’Antoni for his failure to teach defense in New York. Stoudemire had made allusions in the past to D’Antoni’s failure to make the Knicks a good defensive team. But a day after making his season debut in the Knicks’ loss to the Blazers, he unleashed his most damning comments toward the ex-Knicks coach who now is with the Lakers, when asked why he thought he could become a factor at that end of the floor. “I think having a defensive coach for the first time in my career is going to help,” Stoudemire said after practice in Greenburgh. “I’ve never been taught defense in my whole career. So to now have a coach who actually teaches defense and teaches strategies and knows positioning and posture and how to guard different plays, it’s going to be helpful.”

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: In a sea of green paraphernalia worn by rabid Boston Celtics fans, a teenage boy donned a white Grizzlies jersey bearing Mike Conley's name and repeatedly sprung to his feet. Conley gave the isolated Griz fan reason to because he, too, was a jumping jack all night. The Grizzlies looked to regain their offensive identity Wednesday night by sharing the basketball and playing with more pep. They wanted a win predicated on energy and got one, leaving TD Garden with a 93-83 victory over the Celtics. Conley served as the catalyst with a season-high 23-point outburst to go with nine assists. There were 18,624 in the building to watch the Celtics lose their fourth straight game while everyone wearing a Griz jersey pounced from the opening tip. "This was not only a game to jump-start us but me," Conley said, who broke out of a month-long offensive slump by making eight of 15 shots, including three 3-pointers. "I needed a game where I was aggressive from the start and didn't stop."

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Last Saturday at a morning shootaround in San Francisco, Glenn Rivers went from “Doc” to “prophet.” He was talking about how much Avery Bradley would drag the rest ofthe Celtics into line with his defensive intensity when he offered a caution of sorts. “I think each guy that does it helps,” Rivers said. “I mean, Kevin (Garnett) does it, and right now everyone’s not doing it, so I don’t know why we would think Avery does it and everybody would do it. But it will help.” To illustrate the coach’s point, we give you last night’s 93-83 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Avery Bradley, having not played since last season following surgeries on both shoulders, stepped from the gate as advertised, providing the kind of on-the-ball defense you used to be able to expect from this team. But when the Grizzlies came out and shot 61.1 percent in the first half at the Garden, it was clear the Celts needed to take a remedial course in lead-following. If the Israelites were similarly inclined, the Book of Exodus would have cast Moses in a far different light.

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: There is no overt giddiness or crazed rhetoric around the Warriors these days, though there could be. They're winning, but they're mostly trying to stay as quiet as possible -- quiet smiles, hard work and, including Wednesday's 115-94 win over the Clippers, a growing list of victories. Quiet excitement and quiet determination to keep this going and going. Relatively quietly. … So yes, suddenly this season the Warriors are winners, acting like winners, pointed toward the playoffs, and saying that they know exactly how this happened. That's the big point: It's pretty clear that the Warriors planned this out months ago, and that things have lined up almost exactly the way they expected and hoped. There are sure to be bumpy moments ahead on this long NBA journey, but right now, the Warriors are off to their best two-month start in decades.

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: Double yikes. A Times columnist suggests the Lakers might have been looking past Philadelphia to a date with the Clippers in explaining the loss to the 76ers the other night. And now here we are in Oracle Arena for a "Warriors WhiteOut," everyone in the place given a white T-shirt and placard like this is going to be some kind of playoff game with the Clippers. The Clippers! It makes sense. Why waste such emotion on the Lakers? "It's big. Big," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro says with more than a hint of sarcasm. "It's Jan. 2, I believe. But that's good." So was Del Negro going to advise his players they were in for a big game? "No, I probably won't bring it up," Del Negro says. "They would laugh at that." Who is laughing now? The Warriors ran out to a 26-8 lead, 82-64 after three quarters and a TV blackout back home might be the only thing to save the Clippers' dignity. … On a very upbeat note, though, I'm happy to report that someone has to win Friday night when the Lakers and Clippers play. The bad news for the Clippers, should they lose and it will undoubtedly be an emotional game, they will play again the next night against the Warriors. Billed as a big week for the Clippers, they might end up wishing they could white it out and start all over again.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: A smile crossed Deron Williams’s face late Wednesday, a new, joyful look to usher in a new calendar year, along with what appeared to be an entirely new Nets team. The Nets hustled, passed with a purpose, defended with pride, skipped happily around the court and hit shots from various places and angles. Their offense flowed, their defense held and everyone looked a little livelier in a 110-93 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Arena. This was not the Nets team that lost 11 of 16 games in December or the one that was humiliated on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. This was a fluid, confident group, powering past the defending Western Conference champions, in a building where the Nets had never won, and just two days after a calamitous defeat in San Antonio. No pure basketball explanations would suffice, so Williams just grinned and pointed to the calendar. “It’s a new year,” he said, beaming. “It’s 2013.” This was, to be certain, the Nets’ biggest victory of the season. They beat the Thunder for the first time in eight tries, won in Oklahoma City for the first time, period, and ended the Thunder’s 12-game home winning streak, dealing them just their third loss here this season. Joe Johnson powered the offense with 33 points and an efficient 11-for-19 shooting performance. Brook Lopez added 25 points while fighting through the N.B.A.’s best defensive front line.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Russell Westbrook says you shouldn’t flip out. “(We’re in a) good spot,” he said. “There’s no need to panic. I think every time we lose around here everybody wants to go bananas. We lost a game. It’s all right.” I’m not saying go bananas. I’d never say do that. But the Thunder hasn’t exactly played well lately. You can say OKC is 24-7 and yada yada ya. But the fact of the matter is this team has had some extremely disturbing stretches, periods or halves. This team is good enough to win on most nights, and that’s precisely what it’s done for the most part. But believe me, what we’re watching right in no way is the identity this team wants to have. There’s too much inconsistency. Too many breakdowns. This team’s goal this season and beyond is to sustain a level of performance, against good teams and bad, and right now that just isn’t happening.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich arrived for his postgame media briefing following Tuesday’s 117-110 victory over the Bucks with bags already in hand. He was in a hurry to get to New York, where the Spurs complete another four-games-in-five-nights set tonight against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, a short cab ride from NBA commissioner David Stern’s Manhattan office no less. The last time Popovich faced a similar situation, he sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home before a nationally televised game at Miami. The league office responded by levying a $250,000 fine against the Spurs. Popovich wouldn’t have the chutzpah to do it again, would he? Well, probably not tonight. “Knowing Pop, he can do anything,” Parker said. “Me personally, I feel great. I didn’t play in the fourth quarter against Brooklyn, or Dallas either. I’m sure Timmy feels great. I think we’re going to play.” Popovich has said it takes a “confluence of circumstances” for him to rest so many players at once. And, he doesn’t even really call it “rest.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The fans chanted for Michael Beasley to enter the game. They roared when he checked in and scored. It took a horde of Fiesta Bowl-visiting Kansas State fans (1,200 in group sales and more in walk-ups) to support Beasley in a season that has been extremely disappointing to the rest of the US Airways Center crowd. It did not inspire him to any better of any outing, but it was funny when the K-State fans booed Markieff Morris, a former Jayhawk. The fans chanted for Beasley again in the fourth quarter but Gentry did not bite with a win to seal.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: It's one thing for DeMarcus Cousins to say the Kings play better when they share the basketball. It's another for Cousins to put that into action. Cousins has tried to do that more lately, and it's working. Cousins scored 18 points and grabbed 16 rebounds Wednesday, but it was a pass to John Salmons for his sixth assist of the night that was his biggest play in helping the Kings beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-94 at Quicken Loans Arena. It was the Kings' second road win in 15 games. … The Kings are 5-3 in their past eight games and have won three of four since Cousins returned from a two-game banishment following an argument with coach Keith Smart on Dec. 21 in Los Angeles. Cousins is averaging 16.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists in those four games.

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: It was a bizarre evening for the Raptors. Only five players scored for the team through three quarters, with neither Jose Calderon nor Lowry appearing particularly interested in ever shooting. The two wound up combining for no points and 22 assists. John Lucas was the only point guard to score, and that was in garbage time. And that was OK. Lowry buying into the style, while not sacrificing his inherent relentlessness, will be key in any future success the Raptors have. Three Raptors starters — Calderon, Mickael Pietrus and Aaron Gray — did not score. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that is just the second time that has happened since 1970-71.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Austin Daye's situation has completely flipped in a matter of two weeks. On Dec. 21, Daye was a surprise addition to the playing rotation at Toronto after getting mostly garbage time the first 25 games. In the seven games since, the Pistons have gone 5-2 with Daye becoming an integral part of the high-scoring bench. Daye has shot 11-for-17 (65%) from three-point land in the last seven games, and his shot-clock beating triple allowed the Pistons to rest easy in Tuesday night's 103-97 victory over the Kings. With every triple, Daye is putting to rest memories of last season's woeful performance, in which he struggled with his shot and his confidence. He has hit the glass and is using his height (6-feet-11) to bother shooters and block a few shots. But Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said it's not a matter of confidence, it's Daye's approach.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The time is drawing closer for Dirk Nowitzki to be in the Mavericks’ starting lineup. It probably won’t happen Saturday when New Orleans visits American Airlines Center, but you never know. Most certainly, it’s getting closer on the horizon after Nowitzki knocked in 19 points in under 30 minutes against Miami Wednesday night. “I’ve worked extremely hard the last couple weeks,” Nowitzki said afterward. “I’m going to keep working and hopefully, I’ll start again maybe here in a week or so and get my minutes up again.” Nowitzki said the timing on when to start will be a decision that he and coach Rick Carlisle make together, with input from the medical staff, obviously.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: If you are confused with just what new treatment Wolves guard Brandon Roy is seeking, you're not alone. Count Wolves coach Rick Adelman among them after Roy practiced a bit with the team on Monday and Tuesday. "I don't know exactly what that treatment [is], and that's something we have to find out," Adelman said. "Where are we going with this? What is the procedure here? What is the rehab here? And a lot of what is going to happen with him is what kind of pain does he have in that knee? I think we have to figure out where we're going with this. Is it a day-to-day thing, waiting to see if he can go, if he feels good enough? I don't know exactly what he's doing. I don't know how much pain he has in his knee. That's not something I know about; he'll have to tell us."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The NBA definitely didn’t do the Pacers any favors when they rescheduled the postposted Dec. 26 game between them and the Chicago Bulls. The league announced Wednesday that the game will be made up Feb. 4. Just another Monday game in the NBA, right? Wrong. Playing the Bulls on Feb. 4 won’t impact the Pacers that night, but it could impact them the next night or the night after that. The Pacers also play Feb. 5 and 6, which means they’ll be playing back-to-back-to-back games. The Bulls, in meantime, don’t play Feb. 3 or the Feb. 5. Pacers coach Frank Vogel wasn’t trying to cause any problems when asked about it before Wednesday’s game against Washington. … Vogel is taking the high road with the situation, but this is a case where the Pacers have the right to voice their displeasure.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Nik Vucevic's 20-point, 29-rebound performance against the Miami Heat continued to generate buzz Wednesday. The others to do it were: Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Roy Tarpley, Dennis Rodman, Chris Webber and Dwight Howard. Webber, Howard and Vucevic are the only players since 2000 who have accomplished the feat. Text messages inundated Vucevic's cell phone after the game, especially from his former coaches and teammates at Southern Cal. Vucevic's father, Borislav Vucevic, played 24 years of professional basketball in Europe and played on Yugoslavia's national team. He watches all of the Magic's games via the Internet.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: As part of the Heat honoring 25 years of existence, fans voted Wade's dunk over Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varajeo in 2009 as the best in franchise history. Wade dribbled the length of the court before throwing down a one-handed jam over Varajeo after being fouled. The play occurred during a nationally-televised game. "It's one of those Cleveland-Miami matchups, which everyone enjoyed any time myself and LeBron got a chance to play against each other. I just remember (James) trying to dunk on Jermaine O'Neal and I kind of took that as an `Oh really.' And I got my opportunity right after that. I just made the best of it." Although James was then on the opposing team, he called the moment "big-time."

  • Adrian Dater of The Denver Post: "How many?" Andre Miller asked. "Two" was the reiterated answer. Two more points, and the Nuggets point guard will have 15,000 in his NBA career. Presumably that will come Thursday night at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves, especially with starting point guard Ty Lawson doubtful to play because of a strained Achilles tendon. That Miller was unaware of the points needed to reach the milestone should come as no surprise to those familiar with his career and persona. Another basket, another game, another day — it all just comes in stride to the quiet veteran. But 15,000 points, the 36-year-old acknowledged, is something that will make him proud. "I guess it's an accomplishment. I've been out there enough to get a chance at it," Miller said. When he gets to the 15,000 mark, Miller will become just the eighth player in NBA history to score that many points and also have at least 7,500 assists. He has 7,657, 10th on the all-time list. Miller was unaware of being in such select company there too.

  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News: Utah Jazz box scores just aren't what they used to be since Andrei Kirilenko left. Some nights the totals were as lengthy as his Russian phone number. The man was always a threat for a 5X5 — five in each of each of five stat categories. That was the intrigue of watching Kirilenko. On his best nights, he was in everyone's business: The defensive business, the assist business, the rebound business, the steals business, the scoring business, the shot-blocking business. The all-over-the-amusement-park business. It was like watching Bert, the street musician in "Mary Poppins," playing trumpet, squeeze horn, accordion, harmonica, drums, cymbals and tambourine all at once. "I'm (still) trying to be everywhere on the court — steals, blocks, rebounds, whatever I can do for the team," he said prior to the Jazz's 106-84 win over Minnesota on Wednesday. Not to mention what he can do for curious fans. Let's see, there's the 1950s greaser, the Mohawk, the mullet, the mop-top. The dragon tattoo angrily spread across his angular back. No doubt about it, when Kirilenko left, so did one of the most interesting Jazz personalities since Darryl Dawkins.