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First Cup: Monday

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: He scored 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting Sunday to become the first Heat player to score 30 points five straight games. That erased Dwyane Wade's mark of four games from the team record book in what's becoming so common a change that Wade recently noted, "I better enjoy what I got while it lasts." LeBron was told he's 49-of-65 shooting over the last five games. "Forty-nine, what, made?" he said. Told that was right, he smiled and uttered a mild expletive. So he's intrigued as much as basketball fans about this run. Some people have been fed a lot of propaganda about how the regular season doesn't matter. But as Sunday's show again asked: Does everything have to be the big picture? Can't the immediate context of a game be a reminder of why we enjoy day-to-day sports in the first place? No one's going to say LeBron's run of late has the consequence of the playoffs. But don't deny yourself the pleasure of watching greatness just because it's not June. What if the best entertainment of the season is LeBron in this torrid stretch?

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Bottom line is it's LeBron James' league right now and we're all just along for the ride. "What we are witnessing is greatness," Clippers forward Lamar Odom said. "But that was the case from the first day he stepped into the league." Perhaps, but over the course of his career he's continued to make himself uncomfortable enough to believe he has to improve, that areas of his game need refining and bolstering. "He's a constant worker. He continues to evolve his game," Bryant said. "That's something I certainly respect." Every offseason James retreats back to the laboratory to tweak and improve his game, his outside shooting getting particular attention over the last few off seasons. He wanted to make himself a more versatile scorer, and as his career-high 42 percent 3-point shooting pace proves, he did just that.

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: When asked about the unfolding soap opera in Los Angeles, Dwight Howard Sr. defended his son and criticized both Bryant and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “I told him before he said it publicly, ‘It’s your career. Noperson can say what you need to do or not do. You can’t worry about what Kobe or anybody else says,’” the elder Howard said. “Nobody can say what Kobe said -- that’s stepping into another man’s shoes. I understand what Kobe was trying to do, but he went about it the wrong way. He’s trying to win a championship. But Dwight has to tell Kobe, ‘I appreciate your opinion, but that doesn’t matter. We’re two men on this team. We need to be reasonable about this.’” Dwight Sr. said he believed Bryant was trying to motivate his son, but that the advice was misplaced. … What happens after the season? Howard’s father still thinks the center will re-sign with the Lakers. When asked about Brooklyn, he said, “Oh, I doubt it. That would surprise me.” What about the Hawks? “Dwight hasn’t said anything about Atlanta, either. But he likes home. I think he would love to end his career here, even though he hasn’t said that publicly.” The question: Do the Hawks still want him?

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Sometimes coaches make good decisions, and sometimes, coaches make bad ones. But occasionally, like they did Sunday afternoon, circumstances intervene and force a coach's hand. With Caron Butler out for the game because of a sore lower back, Vinny Del Negro was forced to play Grant Hill, and the 40-year-old forward delivered in a major way in the Clippers' 102-88 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 42 points — most of them coming against Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin and Butler. But with Hill guarding Anthony for the entire fourth quarter, he scored only four points. “I thought Grant was the difference in the game, really,” Del Negro said. Hill didn't play against the Miami Heat on Friday because of a combination of a sore right knee and a coach's decision. Hill didn't play in the first half Sunday, either, coming in to replace Barnes late in the third quarter. Once in, Hill made it impossible for Del Negro to sub him out.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Mike Woodson made it sound doubtful that the Knicks would trade Iman Shumpert, but he wouldn't rule it out entirely. For what it's worth, Carmelo Anthony said the Knicks won't move Shumpert -- whose name surfaced in a trade rumor Saturday night -- and shouldn't make any moves as the Feb. 21 trade deadline nears. "He ain't going nowhere," Anthony said. "He ain't got to worry about that. The Knicks shouldn't even be in trade talks." The Knicks are looking for backcourt help, though. They showed they needed it after another poor perimeter performance on defense in Sunday's 102-88 loss to the Clippers. Phoenix is interested in Shumpert and reportedly would offer Jared Dudley and possibly a first-round pick. The Knicks aren't biting, given that Shumpert is only 22 and a strong defender who will be important in the postseason against some of the league's better perimeter players. Woodson said he spoke to Shumpert after the report came out and assured him of his importance, but that was the extent of what he could tell him.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Nets have had an extended honeymoon in this maiden season in Brooklyn, but the fans finally lost their patience Sunday night, screaming their displeasure as the San Antonio Spurs, playing without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, drilled the home team, 111-86. As the Spurs completed a dominating second half, outscoring the Nets, 60-29, the angry voices began to boom. “Deserved,” the Nets’ Deron Williams said. “These people pay money to come see us play, and play better than that.” They were the first sustained boos the Nets had heard since arriving in Brooklyn. But then, this was as listless and demoralizing as any loss the Nets have had. They failed to take advantage of the Spurs’ depleted lineup, failed to hold an 8-point lead in the third quarter and utterly failed to contain Parker, who carved up their defense for 29 points and 11 assists.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Before the Celtics kicked off their seven-game winning streak with a double-overtime win over the Miami Heat on Jan. 27, Paul Pierce hadn’t had a triple-double since the winter of 2010. He’s now put together two during the successful stretch, including a 27-point, 14-assist, 14-rebound performance during a 118-114, triple-overtime win over Denver last night. The loss of Rajon Rondo has triggered a renaissance by the Celtics captain. “Roles expand. I know what I’m capable of, but when you have a guy like Rondo, not as much is needed from you because you have another guy who can do so many things also,” said Pierce. “So I think with him out the roles (have to) change. I’m gonna be more of a facilitator for this ballclub, and you know it has to come from not only me. It’s got to come from a number of guys. You see other guys being able to step up, we were scoring more. So it’s not only me, its everybody whose roles change.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Last May, Nuggets guard Andre Miller said this in an interview with The Denver Post on the subject of whether any team could win big in the NBA without a superstar. "The question is, can you win without a superstar? This is a superstar's league, and you can't win without a superstar." Miller recently repeated those words in another report. It's what he's always believed, and why not? The NBA hasn't shown him, or anyone else, anything different. But coach George Karl believes it can be done, and he's out to prove it this season with the Nuggets, who don't have a superstar or even an all-star. Miller's comments got back to Karl, who was asked what he thought about them. Karl shook his head. "Andre and I got to have a talk in Toronto," said Karl, a mini-chuckle present at the end of the sentence. "The only thing it comes down to is 10 or 15 superstars. I think (Andre) Iguodala and Ty (Lawson) and Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) and Andre Miller and Kenneth Faried are in the next 40 players on that list. "As I said, the best team is who wins the NBA championship 90 percent of the time, it's not who has the most talented team."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Monta Ellis says he's not thinking about his contract or where he will be next season. And the Milwaukee Bucks clearly hope that's the case. The Bucks need Ellis playing at a high level if they want to hold their current eighth playoff position or move up a notch or two in the final 33 games of the NBA season. That's why there was so much talk about Ellis' on-court demeanor Saturday night, when he took nine shots and scored just eight points in the Bucks' 105-100 home loss to the Detroit Pistons. Ellis' body language seemed to signal a certain unhappiness or discontent. But the Bucks shooting guard insisted after practice Sunday that he is fully committed to the team's success. … Ellis, 27, has an interesting contract situation with an $11 million player option for the 2013-'14 season. That means he could decline the option this summer and become an unrestricted free agent. "I'm not thinking about that," Ellis said. "Right now I'm under contract with the Milwaukee Bucks until otherwise. I'm just trying to play basketball, that's it." Following practice, Ellis spoke briefly on the court with Bucks owner Herb Kohl. Ellis said he knows how much Kohl wants to see the Bucks return to the playoffs.

  • John Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Would the 76ers trade guard/forward Evan Turner? Of course they would, especially if the right deal comes down the pike. And the Sixers will continue to engage in the trade talks that all teams engage in as this time of the year as the trade deadline approaches (Feb. 21, 3 P.M.). The Sixers, however, might not do anything at the deadline – in fact, I don’t think they will - and this includes dealing Turner. I don’t know how many times people need to hear this, but here it comes again: The Sixers want to see what this team looks like when Andrew Bynum is on the floor. That time is coming shortly, I’m assured, most likely very soon after this weekend’s All-Star Game and almost certainly this month.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Josh Smith answered before the question was asked in its entirety. Has it been difficult for you dealing with this time of year ...? “No,” Smith curtly said Sunday anticipating the remainder of the question about the approaching NBA trade deadline. Even if it always seems to be your name that comes up ...? “This is like the third year,” Smith again bluntly answered. “I just have to keep playing and not worry about the business side of basketball.” … The Hawks organization must determine if it is worth the risk of losing Smith to free agency without getting anything in return at the deadline. … How much longer Smith suits up for the hometown team is a question that will be answered in the coming days, with the trade deadline, or coming months, with free agency.

  • Ron Higgins of The Commercial-Appeal: Cory Brandt was the fan caught on camera Jan. 30 in Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse just before the Pistons-at-Pacers tipoff, stripping off his Prince No. 22 Pistons jersey when he learned Prince was a no-show because he had just been traded to the Grizzlies. The Commercial Appeal, in conjunction with the Grizzlies, organized a trip to Memphis and surprise meeting with Prince for Brandt, wife Carri and infant son Landon. Brandt, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Greenwood, Ind., was doing a video interview with The Commercial Appeal when Prince appeared, sliding an arm around Brandt's shoulders. "I know what you felt at the time, and I was going through it," Prince told Brandt, presenting him with an autographed No. 21 Prince Griz jersey. "Things happen for a reason, that's why you're here today and why I'm here today. You touched a lot of people in my family and I just want to say thanks for what you did."

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Struggling and supplanted as the Rockets backup center, Greg Smith was sent back to the NBA Development League on Sunday in the hopes that three games with the Rio Grande Vipers will get him going again. In his last five games, Smith has averaged 4.4 points and 1.6 rebounds. He played only late minutes against Portland and not at all in Miami while Cole Aldrich played behind starter Omer Asik. “Cole’s played with energy,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “Greg needs to go get some games under his belt. He has a chance to play three games. Get a lot of running up and down. I just felt Greg wasn’t bringing the juice he needed to bring. Maybe he goes down there, plays 25, 30, 35 minutes, gets the motor back up. “He was doing stuff that was odd for Greg. He was one-handing rebounds, wasn’t sprinting the court. I said, ‘Greg, those are things that are not you. You have to go up with two hands. You’re activity level has to pick up.’ That’s one reason I sent him down. I talked to him about it every day for a week as far as energy level. It seems right now it may be a good chance to go down there. We always use our D-League with our young guys. He seemed like a perfect candidate to go there and hopefully get the battery re-charged.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The trade deadline is 11 days away, but the Suns already are linked to talks with New York and Utah. Multiple media outlets reported the Suns have ongoing interest in Iman Shumpert, a guard they considered drafting in 2011 when they took Markieff Morris and Shumpert went 17th to New York. Swingman Jared Dudley is mentioned as a possible swap target, but the Suns would have to get more salary in return to satisfy trade rules because Dudley makes $4.25 million annually through 2014-15. The possibility of a pick going to New York also was reported, but the Suns covet their first-round picks, especially if the Lakers miss the playoffs and the Suns wind up with two lottery picks. “Anytime you’re on a team that’s a losing team and they’ve got a lot of draft picks, it’s going to be up in discussions,” said Dudley, who had not heard from his agent. “In the NBA, 90 percent of the rumors don’t come true. It comes with territory and doesn’t faze me at all.” … The Suns also have shown interest in a bigger splash for Utah’s Al Jefferson or Gordon Hayward. Dudley could be a part of either of those deals with center Marcin Gortat likely needed to make one work for Jefferson, a 28-year-old power forward who makes $14 million and is averaging 17.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. Hayward, a 22-year-old swingman, is averaging 13.5 points in a reserve role.

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Bad loss. Embarrassing loss. No way around it. The most concerning issue from Sunday’s game is an issue that has always hovered around this team: Defense. The beginning of the season, the Blazers’ defense was horrible. Then it got better. And now, it has become the elixir to all that ails in the NBA. In the last 13 quarters, dating back to the 40-point fourth quarter allowed in Minnesota last week, the Blazers have allowed 28.7 points a quarter while allowing their opponents to shoot 54 percent. So what in the name of Maurice Lucas is going on with the Blazers’ defense? I went into the Blazers locker room Sunday night asking that question. The answers couldn’t have been more varied. J.J. Hickson took a not-so-veiled shot at the coaching staff. I asked Hickson why Orlando had such an easy time executing it’s mid-pick-and-roll plays, which exposed the Blazers’ big men. Hickson was blunt with his assessment. “The way we guarded it,’’ Hickson said. “I don’t feel like we adjusted to it very well. It was something that just killed us all night, all game.’’ … This is no time to worry about feelings. No time to hold back. A great start, a nice story, is losing steam. The time is now to see what these Blazers are really made of.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Against the Blazers, Nicholson had 14 points and Vucevic 17 points and 19 rebounds. Even second-year center Goose Ayon scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. It was as if Hennigan was just showing off. The youngsters aren't saving the Magic from their free-fall, but then either are the veterans. Few late first-rounders ever do heavy lifting. The Magic are getting a nice-to-decent return from Nos. 15, 16 and 19. It's a start, the first shovel turned in the reclamation project. Forlorn faithful might want to circle June 27 and dig out their Super Bowl party favors. It's the NBA Draft! Host a watch party. The Magic haven't had a top-10 lottery pick since they chose Dwight in 2004. Fans finally should be excited. Hennigan gives them hope. If he can mine nuggets with late picks, imagine what he might bring back with a hole card in a so-called weak draft. I'm curious to see what Rob will pull off. He's looked pretty good in warmups.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Tristan Thompson has been a left-handed player all his life, but he worked on his right hand over the summer. Now his teammates are convinced he’s been playing with the wrong hand all along. “He’s right-handed, he just doesn’t know it,” C.J. Miles said. Despite his impressive work with his right hand, Thompson continues to insist he is indeed left-handed. He writes and brushes his teeth with his left hand, but he brushes his hair with his right hand. “I’m left-handed,” Thompson said. “I’m positive.” Wayne Ellington, who arrived only a couple of weeks ago, has the locker next to Thompson at Quicken Loans Arena. He chuckled overhearing Thompson insist he is left-handed. “You’re right-handed, man,” Ellington said. Regardless of what hand he is shooting with, Thompson is perhaps the feel good story of the Cavs’ season. He has certainly made the most progress from the end of last season until now and he’s still getting better. Since Anderson Varejao was lost for the season, Thompson is averaging 14.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in his last 26 games. He is shooting 53 percent and even knocking down 71 percent of his free throws.

  • Victor Contreras of The Sacramento Bee: In the 12 seasons Kevin Johnson played in the NBA – all but 52 games with the Phoenix Suns – the former Sacramento High star said he always enjoyed returning to his hometown to play against the Kings. But play for the Kings? Johnson would say something polite about the team and city, and then change the subject. Thanks, but no thanks was his message. So how ironic is it that Johnson, 13 years after he last suited up for an NBA game, has the ball with time running out on Sacramento's future in the NBA? Make the shot and Sacramento's future in the league will be secure with new owners, more money to build a playoff contender and a downtown arena on tap. Miss the shot and Sacramento is wiped off the NBA map and the Kings franchise that started in 1948 as the Royals in Rochester, N.Y., will cease to exist, its history packed in boxes. You don't think the SuperSonics will raise Chris Webber's retired jersey to the rafters in Seattle, do you?