First Cup: Monday

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Jaws — from Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke behind the Denver bench, to the fans under the NBA title banners — dropped. Did that just happen? Andre Miller drove to the basket, but Dwight Howard volleyball-blocked the shot to the right corner. And the thing landed right in the happy hands of Denver's Danilo Gallinari, who swished the corner 3. The shot gave Denver a 108-102 lead with 13.8 seconds left. Kobe Bryant, being Kobe Bryant, hit a 3, but Miller calmly hit two free throws and the Nuggets escaped the Staples Center with a 112-105 victory over the Lakers on Sunday. … When the season began, it was so easy to believe. Would the Lakers ever lose? On paper, it was maybe the best starting lineup of all time. Kobe. Dwight. Nash. Pau. Well, the Lakers are falling apart, like an old building slowly cracking and decaying. The Lakers suffered their latest blow Sunday, courtesy of the Nuggets.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The difference Dwight Howard notices between the Clippers and Lakers mostly address how they interact with each other. "Those guys on the Clippers team," Howard said, "they really enjoy each other off the court and it shows." What about the Lakers? "We have to play like we like each other," Howard said. "Even if we don't want to be friends off the court, we have to respect each other." Howard stressed there's no animosity between teammates. He just believes the Lakers' haven't reached their full potential for reasons beyond age and injuries. "It really starts off the court," Howard argued. "You have to have that relationship and that chemistry off the court for it to really blossom off the court. "Those guys on the Clippers team, they really enjoy each other off the court and it shows." With the Lakers? Not so much.

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: For too much of this season, the Lakers have taken a hands-off approach toward each other, and the team's record is a reflection of the obvious discord. You think being old andslow is the reason these guys aren't getting back on defense? It's more a result of them caring more about playing the blame game than being there for each other. That's why Bryant and Howard sniped at each other about defensive rotations in New Orleans. And it's why Howard and Steve Nash traded what-were-you-thinking looks in Denver after JaVale McGee blew past them for a dunk. Calling each other out in the hope of getting better is one thing. These guys have the look of teammates who genuinely don't much like each other. D'Antoni has not exactly played peacemaker beyond a get-to-know-you dinner with Pau Gasol that did little to soothe the heartburn the power forward has experienced from being kept so far from the basket during games.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: The chant seemed to have been pushed into the Lakers' past when Mike D'Antoni guided the team to win six of seven games recently. As the third consecutive loss since then was winding down Sunday night, there it was from Lakers fans at Staples Center: "We want Phil!"

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Heat owner Micky Arison stirred up a little Twitter drama Sunday morning when he implied that some Heat fans have become spoiled with the team’s success. “When did being 1st in the East at the beginning of January become not good enough for some @MiamiHEAT fans?” Arison posted to his Twitter account, @MickyArison. Entering Sunday night’s game against the Wizards, the Heat had the best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference (.710) but was 2-3 in its past five games. Recently, the team’s nonchalant approach to rebounding has alarmed some fans. The Heat is second to last in the NBA in rebounding per game (38.71). Arison declined an interview before Sunday’s game but did say through a team spokesman that he wants fans “just to chill and enjoy the ride. We’re not going to win every game.” Arison is inundated with angry messages on Twitter after every loss. He’s human. The messages sting. … In 2011-2012, the Heat had an identical record to this season through the first 31 games of the season (22-9).

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Wizards thought they were deploying a secret weapon in Nene, who had led Washington to three consecutive wins over Miami with him in uniform (he missed the previous loss with a sore left foot) and had a personal four-game win streak over the Heat. But it didn’t take long for the Wizards to realize that one Nene wasn’t enough to counter James, let alone Bosh, Wade or Allen. Bosh scored nine of his 17 points in the first five minutes, giving the Heat (23-9) an early 13-3 lead. It was the 14th time this season that the Wizards trailed by double digits in the first quarter. James finished with 24 points and Wade had 14 for the Heat. The Wizards have lost five in a row and 13 of 14 overall. And they won’t have any chance to recuperate, because they will host the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday at Verizon Center. That certainly isn’t enough time to solve a problem that has plagued them all season. “You have to be able to score,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We didn’t. So they went ahead and closed the game.”

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: It seemed likely the Pistons wouldn't have trouble extending their winning streak when the Charlotte Bobcats visited the Palace on Sunday night. The Bobcats had lost 19 of 20, and the Pistons have improved steadily since an 0-8 start, but the Bobcats (9-24) snapped the Pistons' four-game winning streak, 108-101, in overtime. Kemba Walker, taken one pick after Brandon Knight in the 2011 draft, outclassed his classmate with 20 points and seven assists -- including a runner with 7.8 seconds left over the outstretched arm of Andre Drummond that forced overtime. Knight's up-and-down sophomore season continued as he had 12 points, one assists and four of the Pistons' 22 turnovers that led to 26 Bobcats points.

  • Brendan Savage of Mlive.com: Ben Gordon insists that it was just another game on the NBA schedule. But Mike Dunlap knows better. The Charlotte Bobcats coach understands how important it was for Gordon to play well Sunday in his return to The Palace after an off-season trade for Corey Maggette sent him packing following three seasons with the Detroit Pistons. "This is a place he wants to play well. We know that," Dunlap said after his team snapped the Pistons' four-game winning streak with a 108-101 overtime victory. "Most guys in this league do when they get traded. We gave him as many minutes as he could take and he took full advantage. If he doesn't, we don't go to overtime. To me, he was spectacular, both offensively and defensively."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The past month looked a little fuzzy for the Grizzlies, even when they won games. So much that Rudy Gay can't remember the last time they matched sound defense with offensive efficiency to produce a fairly smooth day at the office. The Griz were hardly infallible Sunday night, but they earned a 92-81 victory over the Phoenix Suns with relative ease in US Airways Center. … Darrell Arthur put another 3-pointer in the make column. Arthur is 3 of 8 from behind the arc this season after missing the first 13 3-pointer attempts of his career in regular-season play. Mike Conley has made just 5 of 18 shots and zero 3-pointers in three tries since his 23-point outburst at Boston last Wednesday. Conley was 8 of 15, including 3 of 6 from long range, in that game. … Zach Randolph hardly looked rusty after missing his first game of the season. He turned in an efficient performance, shooting 9 of 11 from the field and working over multiple defenders with his jab step and feathery jump shot. "I felt pretty good," Randolph said. "I had a lot of energy."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns’ hopes of success this season were fragile enough, given their defensive shortcomings. They will turn futile if they look like the offensive team they have been in the past seven quarters. The issues that began with 8½ scoreless minutes Friday night against Utah carried over like a breeze from the landfill. The Suns kept up the offensive futility against a better defensive team and trailed Memphis the entire game for a 92-81 loss Sunday night at US Airways Center. The Suns lost for the eighth time in nine games to take awful momentum — and a nine-game away losing streak — into a four-game, five-night Eastern trip. The Suns have averaged 18.6 points per quarter on 37.5-percent shooting over the past seven quarters to fall to 12-23, the fifth-worst record in the NBA.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: When Russell Westbrook needed to turn on his offense he did just that. The Thunder led by just two at halftime. Westbrook then came out for the third quarter and scored 12 of his team-high 23 points. Six came at the charity stripe. … Westbrook had a small amount of blood in the corner of his right eye, just below the eight stitches he received on New Year’s Eve. I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m positive Wolverine didn’t even notice it. … Westbrook’s recent play reminds me of an analogy Scott Brooks once used. Brooks said coaching this team is like those old cartoon characters who stop water from oozing out of one hole only to see it bust through another. With regard to Westbrook, his shooting percentages are rising and his decision-making is improving. But his turnovers are shooting back up. He had another five tonight, giving him a 4.75 average over the past eight games.

  • Doug Smith of Toronto Star: Kevin Durant may not have the brute strength and shocking power of a LeBron James or the outward intensity and drive of a Kobe Bryant but there aren’t a handful of people on the planet who can do what he does on the basketball court and the one memorable play of a Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre was his. Durant, who plays about five inches taller than his listed six-foot-nine frame, made one of the prettier moves of the season in the fourth quarter, blitzing past an overmatched DeMar DeRozan for two of his 22 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder blitzed the Raptors 104-92 before an announced crowd of 17,634. … The simple fact is that the team with by far the best player on the court won the game, as is usually the case in the NBA. Durant may have had somewhat pedestrian stats for him — 22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists — but when his team needed a play, he made it. He was effective defensively in calming a red-hot Alan Anderson of the Raptors (Anderson had a career-high 27 points but just eight in the second half), he pestered DeRozan into a difficult shooting night when he had to and he took over offensively at key junctures.