First Cup: Friday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called it the most important play of the road trip. Six cities, 10 days, a few icy locker rooms, records, milestones and it came down this: LeBron James diving headlong on the court for a loose ball. James got to the long rebound before Kobe Bryant, found his feet, raced down the court and found Ray Allen, who hit arguably the biggest basket of the game. In what felt like the most overhyped game ever between a legitimate title contender and a team that is ranked 11th in its conference and struggling just to the make the playoffs, the Heat defeated the Lakers 99-90 on Thursday at Staples Center. … After beginning its road trip 1-3, Miami won the final two games of the road trip. The Heat is 10-9 on the road this season and now will enjoy an unusual five-day break in the season before playing the Raptors on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “D-Wade, what you doing for your birthday,” James yelled across the locker room. “Flying all night,” Wade said. The trip surely went a little faster thanks to Thursday’s victory.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: The most staggering stat? Points in the paint. The Heat, the small squad, had 68. The Lakers, the large team, had 28. And so all was well that ended well, even if there were some rough stretches. Chris Bosh (7 points, six rebounds) didn’t appear pleased in the final minute when James jumped in front of him for a rebound. Bosh then changed quickly, and was halfway out of the locker room when reporters stopped him, and he politely entertained a number of questions. “I just wanted to win,” Bosh said, when asked whether he was frustrated late. “I’m fine now.” The Heat as a whole feel better than that, headed home for the first time in a dozen days, and with a new friend coming along for the ride — the birthday teddy bear that Wade’s mother and sister gave him when they showed up unexpectedly in Los Angeles. That, for him, was a surprise. James and Wade closing? That no longer should be.

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: For a third game in a row, Kobe Bryant took on the challenge of guarding the opponent's primary ball-handler. On Thursday, Bryant's assignment was chasing Dwyane Wade. "He's only 34 (years old)," Mike D'Antonisaid, playfully reminding everyone that Bryant is guarding younger players. "But we have to do that, and it works really well." The strategy worked well vs. Cleveland and Milwaukee; Bryant's on-ball defense of the Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving and Bucks' Brandon Jennings helped the Lakers get off to a strong start to their "new" season. It didn't work accordingly against Wade, though. The Miami guard scored 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting despite Bryant's best efforts to help the Heat pull out a 99-90 victory at Staples Center. Bryant's shortcomings against Wade came a day after former Laker Robert Horry criticized the All-Star guard's defense, saying that when Bryant is on the weak side he "needs to start paying attention to where the ball is and not be flying around, thinking he's some stealth bomber where he can get steals nonstop."

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: On the other hand, when the Lakers played at a deliberate pace and forced the smaller Heat to defend them in the half court, it was decided advantage Lakers. They took care of the ball better, took more efficient shots and didn't get left in the dust by the Heat on the fast break. By understanding who they are, the Lakers found they could compete with the best team in the NBA. By playing on their terms, which is letting Steve Nash play quarterback and utilizing the length and power of Howard and Gasol and the perimeter skills of Bryant and Metta World Peace, the Lakers are a formidable bunch. That isn't to say the Lakers can't run, something D'Antoni desperately wants to bring to Los Angeles. It doesn't mean they can't jack up the pace, even in the half-court offense. It just means picking and choosing their moments better, not forcing it. If they can figure out that fine line and patiently adhere to it, there is still hope. But if they act like someone they aren't, it's going to be a long season.

  • Steve Cotton of The New York Times: With Carmelo Anthony’s two-week fast behind him, with Iman Shumpert back on the court for the first time this season, the Knicks jumped to a 16-2 lead in the first quarter, fought off a Pistons counterattack in the second half, then coasted to the finish line, their four-day jaunt to England having worked out just fine. Technically, this was a road game for the Knicks. But only technically. There was plenty of Knicks blue and orange in the stands, and there were numerous jerseys with Anthony’s name on the back. Either a lot of former New Yorkers are living in and around London, or a lot of English N.B.A. fans are picking up on the Knicks, whose victory pushed their record to 25-13, behind only Miami in the Eastern Conference. Now the Knicks come back home, with two days of rest and practice before they square off with the Nets in the annual Martin Luther King Day game at the Garden. With the Nets bearing down on the Knicks in the standings, it is a game to point to — but not until the Knicks finish savoring their trip, and their victory.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: After Carmelo Anthony continued his unbeaten streak in the United Kingdom, he and Amar'e Stoudemire were put on the spot. They were sitting together in the news conference room inside The O2 Arena after the Anthony-led Knicks' 102-87 victory over the Pistons, and a European reporter asked whose team it is. "It's Melo 's team," Stoudemire said quickly and with a big smile. He also pointed at his teammate. Anthony countered with, "It's Jim Dolan 's team." Both are right, but it's significant that Stoudemire recognizes and acknowledges that he's no longer The Man. It's as obvious as the fact that Anthony's play is the reason the Knicks (25-13) lead the Atlantic Division. But to make a deep playoff run, they are going to need both to play well together. And they did Thursday.

  • David Mayo of MLive.com: David Stern said today that he remains comfortable with the Detroit Pistons staying in their current arena "because I just think we like The Palace at Auburn Hills," and that he looks forward to how his successor implements his vision of European expansion. … The Pistons have been rumored as a possible future tenant at a proposed downtown Detroit arena, which would require moving from a building they own outright. Stern said that "given the recent reinvestments" in the facility, the Pistons already have a good NBA home. "It's the best preserved (arena) of its age that we have and it's just about as modern as can be," he said. "So I have had not part of any discussion for a replacement arena for that."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Maybe it wasn't a thing of beauty for the Clippers, not with the way they mishandled the basketball and played unevenly against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But in the Clippers' eyes, they were able to accept the beauty that a win brings, especially with Chris Paul sitting out for the third consecutive game because of a bruised right kneecap. The Clippers' 90-77 victory over the Timberwolves on Thursday night at the Target Center gave L.A. a sweep of this three-game trip. … The Clippers won their last three games by an average of 14.6 points, and they won two of them by double digits. They won in Memphis on Monday night by a surprising 26 points and in Houston in a back-to-back game by clamping down in the third quarter. The Clippers now are 13-5 on the road and half a game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Fresh off a winless four-game southern road trip, the Wolves felt the need to shake things up Thursday night for a TNT game against the Clippers, so they moved Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams into the starting lineup and prepared to sign European swingman Mickael Gelabale on Friday. It was Rubio's first start of the season in his 11th game back from March knee surgery. He started in the backcourt alongside veteran guard Luke Ridnour, who was moved to shooting guard while shooting guard Alexey Shved and power forward Dante Cunningham moved back to reserve roles. "We're in search of, trying to find different things," said Wolves acting head coach Terry Porter, who worked his sixth consecutive game while head coach Rick Adelman remains away from the team. "A lot of things have been tossed out. That [starting Rubio] is one of them."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns are not to be counted on for victories against any team in the league, but a Milwaukee visit has never been a question since Alvan Adams played in Veterans Memorial Coliseum 26 years ago. Back then, stamps were 22 cents and a gallon of gas was 95 cents, and the Suns have been easy money in Phoenix against Milwaukee ever since. The NBA’s oldest home winning streak against an opponent went down Thursday night along with a flushed half-season. For the first time since Feb. 21, 1987, the Suns lost at home against Milwaukee in a 98-94 defeat that dropped the Suns to 13-28, their worst midpoint record in a quarter-century. The Suns led the Bucks (20-18) by eight with less than 10 minutes to go, but the continuing inability to close out winning opportunities and find clutch scoring ended a 24-game home win streak against the Bucks. Milwaukee won at US Airways Center for the first time in 20 visits to end the league’s second longest streak in games behind San Antonio’s 27-game run against Golden State.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns already were known for being at the forefront of athletic training methods but have gone further, using heart-rate monitors on each player during practices and installing six cameras in the US Airways Center rafters that detect an array of statistics and numbers far beyond the box score. The in-game system, a STATSInc. product called SportVU, has origins in European soccer, but more than half of NBA teams are translating similar software and data to basketball this season. After a handful of teams delved into it last year, this season will be a base year of gathering data, but the Suns have gleaned some immediate results. “We’ve got some very interesting information and we’re working with the business analytics team to see trends and correlations that could be valuable as a basketball club,” said Tyler Wallace, the team’s first-year performance recovery consultant. “We’re going to need a whole season plus. We’re on the cutting edge of determining what’s the best way to utilize this information and the trends we see. There’s no map out there that says, ‘Here’s how it works.’”

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: So, should Irving and Holiday be chosen for the All-Star Game over, say, either one of the Milwaukee Bucks’ guards: Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis? Both have All-Star worthy numbers as well: Ellis is averaging 18.8 points and 5.4 assists and Jennings is averaging 18.5 points and 5.9 assists. Furthermore, Jennings has twice been chosen Eastern Conference Player of the Week and Ellis has been selected once. And they, unlike Holiday and Irving, play for a winner; the Bucks are 20-18. Yet, in an informal poll of seven NBA officials — two general managers, an assistant general manager, two advance scouts and two players — Irving and Holiday received more votes than either Jennings or Ellis.