First Cup: Wednesday

  • Ryan Lillis, Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak of The Sacramento Bee: Billionaire Ron Burkle and Bay Area investor Mark Mastrov are in serious discussions to team up on a bid to buy the Sacramento Kings and partner with the city of Sacramento on a plan to help finance a new downtown sports arena, The Bee has learned. A source familiar with the negotiations told The Bee late Tuesday that Burkle and Mastrov are both committed to keeping the team in Sacramento and building the Kings into a contender. The teaming of Burkle and Mastrov is seen by city officials as a "dream team" counteroffer to the group that this week reached a deal with the Maloof family to buy the Kings and move the franchise to Seattle, the source said. Burkle, who co-owns the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, recently has been mentioned by both Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern as a potential suitor for the Kings. Mastrov, the founder of the 24 Hour Fitness chain, made an unsuccessful bid to buy the Golden State Warriors in 2010 and until now had been the only person to publicly express interest in buying the Kings and keeping them here.

  • Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times: My opposite number in Sacramento, a columnist for the Bee newspaper, doesn’t think much of us Seattleites these days. Recently Marcos Breton was hosting an online chat for the Bee when he announced this: “Please bar all Sonics fans from this chat. You’ve been crying like babies since the Sonics left. You’ve been whining about how your team was stolen but you have no problem stealing another team. “Hypocrites.” Oooh. That’s some NBA-quality smack talk. This Breton dude sounds tougher than the team we’re supposedly getting. On these playground taunts about us “crying” and “whining” — as I recall, what we actually did was a more Seattle-like passive-aggressive mix: “complaining,” followed by “suing.” But what really got my attention here was the H-word. Are we hypocrites? For buying — OK, stealing — another town’s sports franchise, just as ours was bought out from us? Answer: No. Not even close.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Twelve hours after claiming the scoring lead from Kobe Bryant on Monday night, Kevin Durant claimed he still wasn't aware that he had moved past Bryant and into sole possession of the top spot until notified by the media on the morning of Tuesday'smatchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. In this day and age, with social networking so prevalent, believe Durant at your own peril. But the reigning three-time scoring champion then downplayed his latest achievement. “I'm just more focused on trying to get better individually and then helping my team get better as well,” Durant said, “just passing, rebounding, just trying to do everything on the floor to help my team. If I lead the league in scoring, that's pretty cool as well.” … If Durant does hold on, he'll become only the third player in NBA history to win four consecutive scoring crowns. Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan are the other two. Let that sink in. At 24, Durant would earn his fourth crown two years earlier than Chamberlain did and three years faster than Jordan. George Gervin and Allen Iverson are the other two players who have won at least four scoring titles in their careers.

  • Vincent Bonsignor of the Los Angeles Daily News: If you had tickets to see "The Phantom of the Opera" back in the day only to show up at the theatre and discover Michael Crawford was on the shelf with laryngitis, you can relate to the disappointment NBA fans felt Tuesday night. Everything was lining up perfectly with the Clippers hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder in a matchup of the two best teams in the Western Conference - maybe the entire league - and the two most explosive teams in basketball. But then bad luck stepped in and squashed some of the allure. The bruised knee Clippers point guard Chris Paul suffered two weeks ago and sidelined him for three games flared up again after L.A.'s loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday in Oakland. By the time he arrived Tuesday at Staples Center, he was limping noticeably. And after a short visit with Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, the All-Star guard was ruled out of the game. Paul wasn't happy. But he understood. He wanted desperately to play but knows better. The marathon NBA season grants nothing in the dead of winter. And while street cred is earned on midseason nights in January, we all know legends are made in the spring and summer. Pushing Paul to play Tuesday would have been a terrible mistake, despite the appeal of a potential Western Conference finals preview against the Thunder. "We have to be smart," Del Negro said. Still, what a letdown.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving might have punched his ticket to the NBA All-Star Game on Tuesday. He exploited the Celtics for a game-high 40 points in the Cavs' 95-90 victory before an announced crowd of 14,192 at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs (11-32) were clinging to a one-point lead with less than a minute to play. Power forward Tristan Thompson grabbed a rebound and his outlet pass found Irving on the wing. There appeared to be a few Boston defenders ahead of him on the fast break. However, Irving looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he beat everyone to the basket. The incredible play extended the Cavs' lead to 90-87 with 52 seconds remaining. "I thought it was a pretty loud statement tonight," said Cavs coach Byron Scott of Irving's All-Star chances. "Some Eastern Conference coaches will look at his stats and his accomplishments, but they'll also look at our record. Some will say, ‘He's playing great, but he's not winning.' Name me one point guard in the Eastern Conference having a better season."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Boston coach Doc Rivers thinks team executives should trust what they see before the draft, not what they hear. He thinks the Celtics did that with former Ohio State star Jared Sullinger and the Cavs did it with Dion Waiters. "I loved the talk before the draft," Rivers said. "I thought it was sensational, I actually think Danny [Ainge, the Celtics GM] may have been part of it. It's amazing, I've watched him for so long, and all of a sudden out of nowhere, 'he can't play, he's too this, he's too that.' It's just amazing how quickly you become a bad player without playing. That's the thing that I've always laughed about with the draft. You were a great player right up until that last game. Then right after that game, there's a six-week period where you forget how to play, and then you fall in the draft. It happens to all kinds of guys, and even all kinds of stuff. I personally went through it with my son [Austin, the No. 10 pick by New Orleans]. All of a sudden he was a bad kid, and you laugh and say, 'Oh my gosh, this is why teams suck at drafting.' They do. Some do and some don't. They need to listen to their eyes."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: He's a new man. Ersan Ilyasova, suddenly brimming with confidence, is sinking shots, tipping balls and grabbing rebounds again. And it's hardly a coincidence the Milwaukee Bucks also are singing a new tune. The Bucks won their third straight game Tuesday night as they held off the Philadelphia 76ers, 110-102, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Ilyasova finished with 27 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, following up his 27-point, 14-rebound performance in a Bucks victory at Portland on Saturday. Even when 76ers coach Doug Collins went to a smaller lineup, Bucks coach Jim Boylan stuck with Ilyasova, and the decision paid off. "In the last game in Portland I probably should have got him back in," Boylan said. "I wasn't going to let that happen again. Lesson learned for me.”

  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The NBA all-star reserves will be announced Thursday, and there's a good chance that the Eastern Conference coaches, who select the players, will take a good look at what happened on the court in Milwaukee on Tuesday. With the 76ers' Jrue Holiday and the Bucks' Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis all staking a claim to make the team - and the ballots due by noon Wednesday - this was their last chance to make an impression. Halfway through his fourth season, Holiday is averaging career highs in points (19.2), assists (8.9), and turnovers (league-high 3.9). Ellis averages 18.8 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.0 turnovers; and Jennings, who roasted the Sixers for 33 points in a Bucks win in Philly last year, averages 18.6 points, 5.8 assists and 2.6 turnovers. "The one thing about Brandon Jennings is that he's playing on a winning team now," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "I definitely think he's got a great chance to make it."

  • Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press: Jonas Jerebko has tried to be a good solider as he sits and waits for a chance to play again. A story written by Swedish writers while Jerebko was in London quoted the forward's father, Chris, and the Swedish national team manager, Jonte Karlsson, concerning his current nonrole on the team. Jerebko has been out of the rotation since November. The story offered the theory that the Pistons were showcasing Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva for a possible trade, which seems unlikely. "You do not sell a player and get rid of his contract if he is sitting on the bench," Karlsson was quoted in the story. Before Tuesday's game against Orlando, Jerebko said: "I didn't read the story, so I don't know what it said. Everybody has a right to their own opinion. It's media. They probably twisted it." Jerebko has played in 14 games, averaging 16.2 minutes and contributing 5.6 points and three rebounds per game.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Al Harrington, who hasn't played this season because a staph infection ravaged his right knee following offseason arthroscopic surgery, joined the Magic on the road for the second time this season. The 6-foot-9 power forward worked out before tipoff under the supervision of Magic physical therapist Ed Manalo. Magic fans seem fascinated with Harrington's status, and he's often asked over Twitter when he'll return. "I'm sure they're like that just because I haven't played yet," Harrington said. "It's like that toy that's on the shelf that everybody's just waiting to use."

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Yet, while it appears Ray Allen still has more than fumes in his tank, the Miami Heat reserve guard acknowledges he may be closer to his career finish line than people think. “I don’t know when I’ll retire,” said Allen, who began his pro career in Milwaukee in 1996 and spent six-plus productive seasons with the Bucks before being dealt to Seattle. “I’d like to get through the year first. I feel great; my body feels good. I just got to get through. I’m at a point where I’ve been pretty successful and I’ve gotten to the point where I really understand the game and how to play it. But I’m not going to be that guy who just hangs on. At some point, I can let it go.” Allen, a 10-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer, is being paid $3.09 million this season. He has a player option for next season at $3.2 million. But Allen said that’s hardly a slam dunk he’ll play beyond this season, that this could indeed be his farewell season.