First Cup: Monday

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Dwight Howard did not play Sunday in Detroit because of lingering pain in his right shoulder, and he wasn't sure he'd return Tuesday in Brooklyn either. "It feels a little bit better, but still sore," Howard said Sunday. "Certain movements hurt, and I don't want to go there in any pain or go out there thinking about it too much." Howard aggravated the torn labrum Wednesday in Phoenix. It wasn't the first time, and the pain fades after each aggravation, but Howard remains leery of another incident. "It's still not there yet," he said. "I'm not going to try to rush myself back and have the possibility of hurting it again. There's no need for that."

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: We saw another shameful performance at The Palace on Sunday. This time, it didn't come from the Pistons, who actually played with spirit and nearly stole a game from the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers. We witnessed the annual migration of Kobe Bryant lovers who wore his jersey and cheered his every move. Thanks to Pistons guard Will Bynum it was not a total sham. He ignited the Pistons and even turned Lakers fans into Pistons blue. But Bynum left The Palace with his spirits down following a 98-97 loss because he missed a potential winning shot with 3.8 seconds left that he flipped high over center Pau Gasol. ... Let's talk about the real losers. They are Pistons fans who turned The Palace into Staples Center East, the Lakers' home away from home. Many came dressed in Lakers gold and purple and they cheered as loudly for Bryant as anything the Pistons did for much of the game. There were banners and signs for Bryant but few for the Pistons. … This was a repeat of a few weeks ago when LeBron James came to town for loud cheers. People wore James jerseys and cheered a man this town once said it hated. It wasn't always this way but the passion for the Pistons changed over the years.

  • David Mayo of MLive.com: World Peace was assessed a Flagrant-One foul and allowed to remain in the game. Knight insists World Peace threw a punch and should have faced a stiffer penalty after the incident, which occurred with 1:43 remaining in the first half. "He threw a punch," Knight said. "He held me at first. I was trying to push him off of me. ... That's when he threw a punch. That's when I tried to push him in the face, or whatever it was, whatever I did."Replays showed that while Knight was defending World Peace away from the ball, the latter threw something akin to a left uppercut while holding Knight around the neck with his right arm. The punch curled and, if landed, did so lightly with the wrist, not the fist. Even so, a punch usually draws more than a Flagrant-One and Knight said the NBA needs to reconsider the play. "I was surprised the ref didn't see him throw that punch," Knight said. "The play needs to be reviewed because he definitely threw a punch." … Asked his version of the incident, World Peace was non-committal. "I don't really remember," he said. "He was trying his hardest to keep me out of the paint."

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It's been nearly three years since Chris Bosh decided to leave Toronto, yet the sting remains for the fans. They booed him every time he touched the ball despite this being Bosh's fourth return to face his former team. "Yeah, I'm a little surprised," Bosh said. "They (fans) pay their money. They can do what they want. I hope they just remember the good times." Bosh said the jeers served as his motivation, especially in the second half when he scored 22 of his 28 points. "I was hearing a lot from the fans," Bosh said. "I thank them for continuing to stay on me and calling me names. That helped my focus a lot. I was like, `I need to get in this game to shut them up.’ “

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: It went all the way to the wire to be decided, but Erik Spoelstra will be joining LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Houston as the head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars. With Sunday as the deadline, coaches with the best records in each conference were tabbed to coach the All-Star teams on Feb.17. The Heat led the Knicks by a half a game on Sunday, making Spoelstra an All-Star head coach for the first time in his career. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich will coach the Western Conference All-Stars. “First and foremost, we’re happy we have the No. 1 spot in a very competitive Eastern Conference,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve been talking about a championship hangover and things of that nature. ... We’re starting to play better basketball in the last three or four weeks, so it is an honor to the staff and a big-time credit to the players.”

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The Raptors are getting better, but they are unfamiliar with each other and hardly of championship caliber, a fact hammered home at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday. Defending most of the afternoon like a pack of wolves, the Heat held Toronto to just 37 per cent shooting and ran away with a 100-85 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,800. There is no shame in losing to the Heat, as it always serves as a benchmark for how far a team has to go. “We’ve got to play a near-perfect game, 90-95 per cent, to compete against them,” said coach Dwane Casey. And the Raptors were not near that level for nearly long enough on Sunday, despite excellent individual offensive games from Rudy Gay (29 points) and DeMar DeRozan (27).

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: Indeed, the Raptors managed just 35 points on 30% shooting in the second half. Whether it was Lowry or John Lucas running the show, the Raptors had trouble. It would be tempting to say that this is where the Raptors’ missed the steady hand of Calderon, and that was certainly true. But there are enough encouraging signs through two games to have hope that Gay will help the Raptors improve. After scoring 20 points in his Raptors debut, a surprise win over the Clippers, Gay impressed against the Heat in his second game. Gay started in place of Landry Fields, who missed the game with back spasms — although you can likely expect the change to be permanent. Gay was magnificent, getting the Raptors back into the game after a slow start. He scored the Raptors first nine points of the second quarter — three-pointer, hook shot, layup, layup — and that was just the start of it. Gay’s block of James was the Raptors’ highlight of the afternoon.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Everyone deals with injuries through the course of the season, or maybe you missed how the Celtics were down four key players Sunday, including point guard Rajon Rondo. Just as the Clippers did when Paul initially went down, the Celtics have rallied to put together a winning streak. But the Clippers were not sustainable minus Paul for an extended period, and neither will the Celtics without Rondo. For all the hand-wringing and over-analyzing people will do over the Clippers' recent skid, the reality is it would be a mistake to assess them under these circumstances. Granted, if they were playing this badly with Paul it's a different story. But they aren't, and that has to be taken into account. "We're just trying to hold things down until (Paul) and Chauncey get back," Crawford said. With that, the Clippers were off to Washington. Frustrated, yes. But hardly defeated.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics met Saturday with free agent center Greg Oden at their training facility in Waltham. Oden, who has not played since December 2009 because of recurring knee problems, is expected to return to the NBA next season. He met with coach Doc Rivers, who said the two talked about Oden’s AAU days with the Indy Heat, a team that also featured Josh McRoberts, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook. “I said hi to him,” said Rivers. “We reminisced about high school days when I watched him on AAU.” The Celtics have no expiring contracts, so they would likely need to create a salary slot for Oden, who is expected to sign for more than the veteran’s minimum. Rivers said the Celtics have seriously discussed adding players in the wake of season-ending injuries to Rajon Rondo and Sullinger, but an NBA source said they are eyeing point guards. “What Danny [Ainge] is doing is all the [background] work right now,” said Rivers. “I’m sure this week. And he’ll come [back] with a long list of scenarios.”

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: The Los Angeles Clippers’ Chauncey Billups, inactive since Dec. 5 with tendinitis in his left foot, went out to dinner at Strega Waterfront with an interesting group Saturday night — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, the players’ wives, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Could the meeting, originally reported by the Inside Track, have to do with the Celts’ need for a point guard and a show of interest in their 1997 first-round draft pick? A Celtics source familiar with the meeting was unsure at best with the following text: “We are not really looking at anything. Who knows (if something will happen)? I doubt it.” A published report about the Clippers’ willingness to trade Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler for Garnett appears even more of a non-starter. Bledsoe has played so well in the absence of Chris Paul — witness his 23-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound performance during yesterday’s 106-104 Celtics win — that the Clippers are far less inclined to deal him now. Butler is also said to be a non-starter in any trade talk.