First Cup: Wednesday

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register:The Dwight Howard of 2013 is looking and moving a lot like the Dwight Howard of the past eight seasons. He’s back to being aggressive on defense and strong on offense. He has posted four consecutive double-doubles and five in the past six games. Howard seems to have been able to put any fears about his surgically-repaired back and sore right shoulder behind him and lead the Lakers to back-to-back victories, the most recent a 104-88 defeat of the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday. “I did feel a lot better tonight,” said Howard, who torched the Bucks for 31 points and 16 boards. “I just have to continue to play hard. “My fitness is coming back a little bit. I’m in much better shape and they are finding me in the right spots. We just have to continue to play with energy and effort and believe we can turn this thing around.” Mike D’Antoni said he’s noticed a change in Howard’s play. “I think he keeps getting stronger,” the coach said. “Obviously, he’s what we were missing when he was out. You know, he’s a heck of a presence inside. He alters a lot of shots. “I don’t know how many blocks he had, but besides that, he just alters so many when he’s in there.” For the record, Howard had four blocked shots.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Can you be more specific about what Skiles said that upset you? Samuel Dalembert: No, I really don’t want to go into detail. I don’t want to go into it because it really hurt me. I had to express myself. I had to let him know where I’m coming from, the root of who I am today, what is defining me. It’s my country defining me. Anybody who knows me, you can ask any of my teammates, I am the most enthusiastic, happy person coming in the morning. I’m the player where I am always very respectful. I don’t know what happened between us. I’m not going to say that conversation was 100 percent the reason for what happened (not him being demoted) but for some reason there was nothing said to me again and everything went downhill. There was no explanation. There was no conversation. Nothing was said to me. He didn’t say, ‘Hey, this is what I want you to focus on or anything like that.’ It wasn’t just me. Other guys were going through the same thing with him, guys who have been here way before me. So you can only imagine what they were going through. For me, it was new. I never got a chance to know him or what he didn’t like about me.

  • Seth Walder of the New York Daily News: As Deron Williams reached into his suitcase for a sweatshirt to cover his “Running sucks” T-shirt, a pair of women’s underwear fell out. Apparently the laundry had spilled into his travel gear, putting a smile on Williams’ face and drawing chuckles from the media waiting for him after Tuesday night’s game. Yes, even the awkward moments are funny when you’re in the middle of a seven-game winning streak. With 21 points and seven assists, Williams helped lead the Nets to a 113-106 win over the Raptors in Brooklyn that made them 9-1 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, the second-best start for a coach in franchise history. The Nets also are 7-0 in 2013, moving to within 1-1/2 games of the first-place Knicks in the Atlantic Division and within two games of the Eastern Conference-leading Heat. “When we’re in a rhythm, man, he lets us play,” shooting guard Joe Johnson (21 points) said of Carlesimo, who took over for Avery Johnson on Dec. 27. “He doesn’t call a lot of plays, man. He leaves it up to Deron to kind of run the team out there on the floor. You don’t have to kind of look over at the sideline all the time.”

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: It’s all well and good to talk about defence and effort and intensity, but if a basketball team can’t score, it can’t win. And when a huge portion of your offence is either struggling or injured, no amount of defensive greatness is going to make up for it, as the Raptors learned here last night. With two key bench scorers in Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson not contributing for two very different reasons, and with Kyle Lowry operating on a bad ankle, the Raptors simply couldn’t find enough offence in a 113-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Centre. Ross, having a second bad game in a row, was just 1-for-7 from the floor; Anderson had a tooth knocked out and only scored two points in his nine minutes as the key components of the bench went missing again. And given that two-fifths of the night’s starting lineup -- Landry Fields and Aaron Gray -- are hardly major offensive threats, it was a tough night for scoring.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: At some point in his career, Eric Bledsoe wants to be a starting point guard in the NBA. But he said he's not in a rush. Bledsoe said he still is learning how to be a leader from Clippers teammates Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, two of the game's best point guards. "I'm just preparing for that moment," Bledsoe said in his typically quiet voice. "I'm still learning behind Chris and Chauncey. Hopefully, we win a championship and if I do get that chance, I can lead a team." Bledsoe started for the second consecutive game because Paul was out because of a bruised right kneecap. Bledsoe finished with a season-high 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the Clippers' 117-109 victory over Houston. But Bledsoe knows that Paul is an All-Star point guard who is just 27 years old. If Paul re-signs with the Clippers over the summer as most people expect, it will mean Bledsoe may have to leave the Clippers to become a starter.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With the Rockets bringing a three-game losing streak into Tuesday’s game, forward Patrick Patterson returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 14, his last game before missing seven with a bruised right foot. He moved back in as a starter in time for a stretch of games against Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki and David West, and he was happy with the assignment. “I’m happy and excited to finally get my starting spot back,” Patterson said. “I’ve been wanting it since I first came back, but we were in a groove with Marcus (Morris) in the starting lineup. Coach said he would put me back in the starting lineup, so I’m definitely happy. Of course I feel better than coming off the bench, but as long as I’m playing I’m happy overall.” Morris had made just two of six shots in each of the previous three games, averaging 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds. Patterson also struggled, averaging 4.9 points and 4.7 rebounds in those games.

  • Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough acknowledged the oddity of living in two motor sports hotbeds -- one past, another present -- and not knowing much about the sport. But the former University of North Carolina star who lives and works in Indianapolis got an eyeful of it before Tuesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Hansbrough was part of a Pacers contingent that visited the race shop of NASCAR’s dominant team, Hendrick Motorsports. Hansbrough was taught to change tires on a Sprint Cup Series car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It was great to go out there and learn about (stock car racing),” he said. The group that included Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke even got a look at Rick Hendrick’s seldom-seen personal car collection, which is impressive even by car collecting standards. Hansbrough said he couldn’t compete.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: I started covering the NBA in 1988 and I can’t remember a team being outrebounded by 29. So much about rebounding is what happens before the ball comes off the rim or the glass – positioning, blocking out, following the ball’s flight. Didn’t see any of that from the home team. When coach Mike Dunlap said his team does OK when it “rebounds by committee,’’ he’s right. But that means the five guards who play a lot grabbing more than their share of long boards. Those five – Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Ben Gordon, Jeff Taylor and Ramon Sessions – combined for six total rebounds in a collective 112 minutes. The home losing streak is now at 13, which is no way to build an audience. Average margin of defeat in those 13 games is 9.9 points. The last home victory was Nov. 21` against the Toronto Raptors.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: After sputtering against the New York Knicks on Sunday, the New Orleans Hornets came out re-energized Tuesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. They popped the 76ers for a season-high 35 points in the first quarter and almost matched it in the third when they scored 33 before cruising to a 111-99 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. The Hornets (12-26) were so efficient for long stretches they made the crowd boo the home team, but they also couldn't avoid a scare. It came in the fourth quarter when the 76ers outscored the Hornets 18-9 to cut the lead to 93-84, but the Hornets were able to close the game out effectively. … Against the 76ers, the Hornets played with a heightened sense of urgency. When the 76ers struck with a barrage of 3-pointers, the Hornets struck back by pushing the tempo, taking advantage of high-percentage shooting and aggressive interior play that led to their glaring 48-32 rebounding edge. "Good defense is what we hang our hat on, but sometimes good offense looks better, but we’ll take the win,’’ Hornets Coach Monty Williams said.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Tuesday against the Hornets, neither Damien Wilkins nor Royal Ivey could stop the bleeding as New Orleans darted to a 111-99 win, dropping the Sixers to 16-23. That, despite a late burst by Young, who finished with 14 points. Wilkins, one of the NBA's more cerebral players, thinks he knows what needs to be done for the Sixers to turn their defensive deficiencies around. "Learning how to put stops together consistently is something we haven't done over the course of the season," he said. "I think things have been somewhat easy for opposing teams when they play against us. They don't feel our pressure or our defensive intensity. It's something that I think could help us get easy baskets if we focus more on getting stops defensively - that way we can get out and take advantage of our speed and quickness on the offensive end.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Portland came to town with a basketball debate. Is its point guard, rookie Damian Lillard, worthy of being an all-star? He would be the first rookie guard to make an all-star team since Michael Jordan. And while Karl entertained that query, he had one of his own. How come no Nuggets are in the conversation? "I think it's sad. I don't see anyone mentioning any of our guys," he said. "We get a couple more wins this week, and we could have one of the better records in the West. We don't get much mention." Asked which of his players he deems worthy for consideration, Karl paused for a second. "That would be really difficult to say," Karl said. "I'd probably say Andre Miller. From the standpoint of efficient minutes, Andre's given us as efficient minutes as anybody. But I think Ty (Lawson) and (Andre Iguodala) and (Danilo Gallinari) all have had moments.

  • Staff of The Oregonian: The discussion about renaming the Rose Garden is back, courtesy of Portland Trail Blazers team president Chris McGowan. McGowan and company have hired Premier Partnerships to assist in the search and promised the following: "We will be mindful of Portland and mindful of the Rose Garden." As expected, Trail Blazers fans are mixed and very opinionated when it comes to the naming rights of the Rose Garden. While some see it as a big positive as far as an increase in the team's bottom line, others appreciate the uniqueness of being one of only four teams in the NBA that do not have corporate sponsors.