First Cup: Thursday

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: That is where Chauncey Billups was sitting next to Chris Paul ... who was sitting next to Blake Griffin ... who was sitting next to Jamal Crawford. All injured. All unavailable. And all so frustrated. As far as the game, it was watch at your own risk. It had all the aura of a summer league game, the Clippers down to nine players and the equally short-handed Magic rolling out obscure players you wouldn't recognize even with a scorecard. But they charge real NBA ticket prices for the dog games just as they do the marquee matchups, and every one of them counts in the standings just as much as the next, so play on they did. Relatively speaking, of course. After all, when was the last time you saw two NBA players miss easy dunks in the same game? But if Griffin, Paul, Billups and Crawford can suffer through 48 minutes of bad basketball, we all can. Besides, at least they could smile afterward. And it's been a while since that happened. The nine healthy Clippers managed to string together enough points to escape Orlando with an 85-76 win. That's nothing to celebrate, but it did provide some much-needed relief to a frustrated bunch of Clippers nearing the boiling point after losing three in a row and seven of their past nine.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Take that, NBA. You put the Indiana Pacers in the position of having to play back-to-back-to-back games when there were other dates available to make up for an earlier postponed game. Were the Pacers upset? Of course. Did they pout about it and use the poor scheduling as a reason not to play hard? No. The Pacers rallied behind the fact that they felt disrespected by the league to overcome the mental and physical fatigue of playing three days in three nights and win all three, this time beating the Philadelphia 76ers 88-69 Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center. “By them scheduling the games like that, it just shows the respect we get,” Pacers point guard George Hill bluntly said. “I guess we have to earn respect. We’re fine with that. We’re used to being the underdog. Playing that way gives us motivation and a chip on our shoulder. It also forces people to rethink what they do to us.”

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Kevin Martin wasn't naming names or sharing exactly what was said or done in front of sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The sequence that likely set it off came with 1:19 left in the third quarter when 230-pound(ish) Golden State rookie Draymond Green shoved the 185-pound Martin hard out of bounds during a 2-on-1 fast break for the Thunder after Martin had passed the ball back to teammate Kevin Durant for an easy dunk. Green's shove perhaps was worthy of a flagrant foul, but no foul of any kind was called. At the outset of the final period, the Warriors still were within striking distance at 90-79 after trailing by as many as 26. An obviously perturbed Martin promptly scored seven straight points for OKC and had 10 fourth-quarter points by the 8:09 mark to give the Thunder a 104-83 advantage and essentially seal the deal. He finished with 21 points (8 for 16 from the field; 3 for 6 from 3-point range), four assists and two steals in 26 minutes. The soft-spoken Martin was still soft-spoken afterward, but he also was incredibly blunt. “Coach (Mark) Jackson should talk to a couple of his bench players, make sure they get wet behind the ears before they come barking up a couple of our player's tree,” Martin said. So they inspired you? “Yeah, yeah. I take it personally. They did,” Martin said. “It wasn't only talking trash. They did a couple of dirty plays to inspire us as a team.”

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Erik Spoelstra tries to remain formal with his players. That rule has been really hard with Andersen. When Spoelstra first met Andersen, he asked the Heat’s coach to call him “Bird.” Spoelstra declined at first. “I told him when I first met with him I said, ‘I’m going to have a hard time calling you that,’” Spoelstra said. But it didn’t take Spoelstra long to embrace the name. In a strange way, it just feels weird calling “Birdman” something normal like, you know, his given name. “For some reason, he’s different,” Spoelstra said. “I would never call anyone by their nickname, and I certainly wouldn’t accept anybody calling themselves in the third person, but he is different.” Anderson often refers to himself in the third person as “the Birdman” or “a birdman.”

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Dallas Mavericks center Brandan Wright knows exactly what Chris Kaman is experiencing. Last year Wright had to sit out six games with a concussion after a head-to-head collision on March 2 with New Orleans forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Kaman suffered a concussion when he fell on his head after practice Jan. 28. Kaman has yet to return because he's still experiencing headaches and hasn't passed the NBA's mandated concussion-related test. Wright's advice is to not rush anything. "He knows how serious it is," Wright said. "He doesn't want to have lingering effects where you're out for the rest of the season, or you can't do any basketball activities until mid-summer. So you've got to really take your time." That's precisely what Wright did after he suffered his concussion. … Wright said he told Kaman that he feels his pain, but a concussion is nothing to play with. "It's one of those things where you've got to take your time, respect the process and let your brain heal," he said.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: For Deron Williams, it was another game with more pain. He came up limping and grimacing in the first quarter, with a knock that appeared to involve his knee or thigh. In the second quarter, he required attention from the trainer after grabbing his shoulder. Williams walked it off, like he does with most of his aches and pains. And per usual, he never really recovered. The point guard, who has been a shell of his former explosive self because of the injuries, had his moments in the fourth quarter, including a smooth crossover that led to an 18-foot jumper. But Williams was mostly ineffective, slow and hesitant, finishing with 12 points and nine assists — leaving him with averages of 11.8 and 6.5, respectively, in his last four games. He also is missing his first All-Star game in three years.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: Tristan Thompson doesn't want to have to come off the floor at the end of games, so the Cavaliers power forward has worked hard on his free-throw shooting. Though he's at 63.6 percent for the season (91-of-143), over the last 10 games, he's at 70 percent (21-of-30). In the past six, he's at 84.6 percent (11-of-13). "You put the time and effort in, it'll start showing in the games," Thompson said before Wednesday's game against Charlotte. "I want to keep getting better from the free-throw line, especially in crunch time [when] the better free-throw shooters are in the game. "That's why I practice free throws a lot, especially in crunch time situations. It's a process." Thompson shot 55 percent at the line in his one season at Texas. "Do not play me [at the end of the game]," he joked. But he feels his recent success is building his confidence.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: This is what the Hawks look like when they move the basketball. Playing up-tempo from the start the Hawks ran past the Grizzlies for a 103-92 victory Wednesday night at Philips Arena. The Hawks (27-21) had 28 assists and 16 fast-break points as they led nearly the entire game and by as many as 23 points. The NBA’s third-leading assist team improved to 20-4 this season when they have 24 or more assists. “We made a conscious effort of getting out on the break, running for lanes and get some easy buckets in transition,” Josh Smith said. “Whenever we are able to do that on a consistent basis, on a night-in and night-out basis, we are a pretty successful team.”

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs forward Matt Bonner might have added an unlikely ally in his bid to score an invitation to his first All-Star weekend 3-point shootout Feb. 16 in Houston. As part of a new format for this year’s festivities, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been appointed the Western Conference captain for All-Star Saturday night. After tonight’s announcement of the league-approved field for the contest, Paul is allowed to choose one more name to add to the list. And Paul just so happens to be close with Spurs point guard Tony Parker, one of the more vocal proponents of Bonner’s candidacy. If Bonner is not selected as part of the original contingent, Parker vows to put the screws to his Clippers counterpart. “I’ll definitely call Chris and tell him, ‘You have to put Matt Bonner in,’” Parker said. The pitch Parker will make Paul is the same one he has been making for years. “I think Matt Bonner would have a great chance to win it,” Parker said.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The NBA’s last remaining Washington Bullet returned to town on Wednesday, to a building that he was never fortunate enough to call home, against a team now called the Wizards, for a game in which he won’t even play. New York Knicks forward Rasheed Wallace has been gone for nearly 17 years but said he still can’t walk around Washington without hearing the same thing. “Every time I’m back here, people say, ‘Man, why’d you leave?’ ” Wallace said, shaking his head, at Wednesday’s morning shootaround at Verizon Center. “It wasn’t up to me.” Wallace still blames former Bullets General Manager John Nash for his exit after one season with the team, but Nash had resigned before Wes Unseld eventually shipped him to Portland for point guard Rod Strickland and forward Harvey Grant in one of those promising-big-for-fading-small deals that the franchise was so accustomed to making in the 1990s (ahem, Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond). With a few more gray hairs peeking out of his scraggly beard and unkempt Afro, Wallace still looks back on his time as a Bullet as a classic could’ve-been. … The Bullets were stocked with front-court talent back then, with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Gheorghe Muresan, Jim McIlvaine and Bob McCann and Wallace was often viewed as a luxury.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Kevin Garnett isn’t letting the uncertainty of the Celtics’ current situation get to him. He knows Danny Ainge has promised to fill two open roster spots by the Feb.‚ÄČ21 trading deadline, and he’s heard his own name in trade rumors. But when he asked a reporter how he was doing and got a response of, “Living the dream,” Garnett said, “That makes two of us.” Most dreams don’t contain as much uncertainty as exists now in the Celtics dressing room, uncertainty that grew exponentially when Rajon Rondo tore his ACL. But Garnett is in a different situation, at least personally. He has a no-trade clause, so he essentially can call his own shot. So what, he was asked yesterday, does he want? “You’re looking at it,” he said after a laugh. “You’re looking at it. I didn’t make this. I didn’t start all this.” When it was noted again that he is in control, Garnett said, “I’m leaving the liaison to what people think this is. I know my cards. I know my cards. I know the hand I’m holding.”

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Two tough days in the gym under the heavy hand of a less-than-tranquil Coach Monty Williams provided the Hornets with the kind of turnaround required to dispatch the Suns, who won at Memphis on Tuesday night, but fell for the 11th game in the second game of 13 back-to-backs this season. The game featured 21 lead changes and 11 ties. "I think the important thing was we were playing well on both the offensive and defensive end," said Hornets center Robin Lopez, who joined New Orleans in a summertime trade with Phoenix. "The key difference between the second and third quarter is that we played well offensively and in the third we picked it up on the defensive end. We needed to get a win. And it was a good win."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Karl Malone is already The Mailman and a Hall of Famer. If he gets his way, the former Utah Jazz star will be go by another description: assistant coach. Malone doesn't want to replace any of Tyrone Corbin's current full-time helpers, but he wouldn't mind finding a spot next to Sidney Lowe, Jeff Hornacek, Michael Sanders and Brad Jones. "All they've got to do is call me," Malone said during an interview with ESPN 700's Hans Olsen and James Rust on Wednesday afternoon. "I'll work with the big men for free for a while until it work." This isn't the first time Malone has offered his coaching services to the organization he helped turn into a powerhouse and a two-time NBA Finals squad during his 18 years in Utah. "I'm saying it again. Ain't nobody took me up on it," Malone said. "Maybe they don't want to hear me." So, Coach? Any room on the staff or a role for a legendary big man who dearly wants to do some pro bono work? "Who knows? Who knows?" Corbin said. "We are where we are right now, but who knows what will happen."

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: As much as Amar’e Stoudemire credits Hakeem Olajuwon for teaching him post moves this summer, the Knicks forward is gaga over his vegan diet and believes it is the key to his bang-up return from knee surgery. Stoudemire recently went off the vegan diet for over a week, but his play didn’t suffer. He didn’t take any chances, though, and he returned to veganism yesterday before scoring 19 points in the Knicks’ 106-96 loss to the Wizards in Washington. “I just needed a break,’’ Stoudemire admitted. Stoudemire said a mixture of asparagus, brussels sprouts and salads have worked wonders. Last night after the loss, he sat with a plate of spinach and broccoli as his teammates downed postgame pasta and sausage. “It purifies the red blood cells and eliminates toxins,’’ Stoudemire said. “It fortifies the blood. It helped me recover and persevere through injuries. I did that for three months. I wanted to really give myself the best opportunity to remain healthy.’’

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The players are expected to decide Hunter’s fate Feb. 16, at the union’s annual meeting during All-Star weekend. Hunter wants to address the membership, but it is not clear if the union leadership, led by Derek Fisher, the president, will permit him to attend the meeting. The relationship between Hunter and Fisher turned adversarial long ago. It was Fisher who pressed for the audit of business practices last spring, initially over the objections of other executive committee members. In Hunter’s view, the forced leave is the first step toward a termination that he views as almost predetermined. “I assume that between now and then that Derek will be doing everything he can to stack the deck,” Hunter said, referring to the coming union meeting, “so that they have the appropriate players in place to vote according to their request or plan.” Hunter said the union’s constitution and bylaws do not provide for an administrative leave. He also questioned the legitimacy of the interim executive committee, which was formed by Fisher and four other recent officers — Chris Paul, James Jones, Matt Bonner and Roger Mason Jr. — because the previous executive committee had lapsed in lieu of an election. The decision to retain or dismiss Hunter will be made by the 30 player representatives. At least 11 teams are believed to be in favor of firing him. Some N.B.A. stars, including the Celtics’ Paul Pierce and the Nets’ Deron Williams, have publicly called for his dismissal. Under the terms of his forced leave, Hunter is not allowed to reach out to players to state his case. But he said he had heard from many who support him, and he expects there are many more who are eager to hear him out.