First Cup: Friday

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The night ended with the Thunder sipping champagne. Kevin Durant's friend, Charlie Bell, proposed to his girlfriend on the Thunder hardwood, some 45 minutes after the Thunder-Heat showdown. Durant and his teammates celebrated with Bell when he got the answer he wanted. The same answer received by two brave romantics who, courtesy of the Thunder's game operations, made public marriage proposals — one during a first-half timeout, another during the third-quarter Kiss Cam. So the night was not a total failure. But otherwise, this was a St. Valentine's Day massacre. The Heat blistered the Thunder 110-100 Thursday night in a game that was supposed to help solve OKC's Miami problem but instead just exasperated it. The Heat had a 15-point lead in the first quarter, a 23-point lead in the third quarter and only a late Thunder rally made the score respectable. The Thunder had lost five straight to the Heat, including the final four games of the 2012 NBA Finals. The Thunder played Miami tough on Christmas Day, losing 103-97 but taking it to the final seconds. But now the Thunder's Miami mystery is not how the Boomers can win a series against the Heat. It's how can they win a game?

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: In its 110-100 loss to Miami at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday, the Thunder never led and Miami dominated after a 7-7 tie in the first quarter. The Heat took a double-digit lead with 3:43 left in the first quarter and stretched the margin to as many as 23. OKC didn't pull within single-digits until Kevin Durant's final bucket of the game narrowed the deficit to 108-100 with 57.8 seconds left. “A little bit of a strange ending,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “For the most part, our guys came out focused and did enough things to put ourselves in a position to win. At both ends, there was some very goof ball movement, trust plays. Just closing out the game, we weren't able to finish in much of a rhythm … I would have liked to close out the game better.”

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: The little brother keeps leaping, keeps groping, keeps trying. But LeBron James keeps holding everything – the victories and the trophies – a bit out of reach. It happened again Thursday, when Kevin Durant overcame an 0-for-7 start and a nasty thud to the floor to score 40 points, including 22 in the second half. It happened again, even as the Thunder converted 33-of-34 shots from the line, and even as their coach, Scott Brooks, finally relented and shelved the superfluous Kendrick Perkins for a smaller lineup that led a comeback from a 23-point deficit. It happened — this time 110-100 — because James happens to play for the Heat. And so, you can make it seven straight victories for Miami entering the All-Star break. And you can make it six straight against Oklahoma City, including the final four of the NBA Finals. And you can pretty much start making plans to watch James accept his fourth MVP award this spring. “He probably had a handful of too many bailouts for us,” Erik Spoelstra said. He certainly did, but that’s what he does. The latest superlative stat line: 39 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: If Michael Jordan were starting a team from scratch, apparently he would begin with Kobe Bryant over LeBron James and go from there. In an interview with NBATV, Jordan said he would take Bryant over James based on the fact that Bryant has won more championships. The majority owner and head of basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats, Jordan has had a spotty career as an evaluator of talent, but he probably couldn’t go wrong with either superstar. Still, given the choice, His Airness would take Bryant. “Five beats one every time I look at it,” Jordan said. “And not that [James] won’t get five. He may get more than that, but five is bigger than one.” Bryant is in his 17th season in the NBA, and James is a 10-year veteran. Winner of the MVP in three of the past four seasons, James is on pace to win it again this season. On Tuesday, James set an NBA record by scoring at least 30 points in six consecutive games while also shooting over 60 percent from the field during the streak. “It doesn’t matter to me,” James said Thursday morning after the Heat’s shootaround. “If you take Kobe one and I go second, it doesn’t matter. I don’t get too involved in what guys say about me or if you take Kobe or if you take LeBron.

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard have made recent progress in their relationship, and they were going to get some more bonding time since they were scheduled to travel together via private jet late Thursday night to the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Houston. Bryant's wife, Vanessa, was also expected to on board, but Bryant last season used the extra time during the All-Star break in Orlando to strengthen his bond with teammate Andrew Bynum. "The All-Star break was really when our bond cemented itself," Bryant said last season. "Even though we were around so many of our other peers, it was just he and I. We were always around each other and we really didn't care what the other guys were doing." The Lakers won't gather to restart the season until a Tuesday afternoon practice. They have two home games next week: Boston on Wednesday and Portland on Friday.

  • Phil Collins of the Los Angeles Daily News: In theory, NBA All-Star weekend will give plenty of Lakers time to clear their minds and rest their dinged-up bodies. But not Dwight Howard, and the reasons go beyond his plan to participate in what will be his eighth All-Star appearance despite having an aggravated right shoulder and a surgically repaired back. "Our team trainers are going to come, and we're going to get a lot of work in while I'm there," Howard said. "I'm trying to get into better shape. That's my main goal. All the stuff I'll be doing, I'll do just to make sure I get into better shape." Howard entered Thursday's game against the Clippers averaging 16.2 points and 11.9 rebounds, his lowest marks since the 2005-06 season.

  • Phil Collins of Los Angeles Daily News: Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, who both scored 19 points Wednesday despite battling sore lower backs, were back in the starting lineup for the Clippers. "Yeah, they came out pretty good, no setbacks, which was great," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "So we'll throw them out there and see how they feel." The return of Billups from his Achilles' tendon injury finally solidifies the team the Clippers hoped to see when they began the season. When they return from the All-Star break and resume practices on Tuesday, Del Negro will have his full squad intact for the final 26 games of the regular season. "We have to stay together now," Del Negro said. "The key for us now is hopefully we can stay healthy and see what type of team we really have.”

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Jamal Crawford sought out reporters and asked why no word was mentioned about the "incredible job" the Clippers' training staff has done this season working with all the injured players. Crawford suffered a broken nose against the Raptors, a sore right shoulder and a left thigh contusion. "Our training staff is the best," Crawford said. Head trainer Jasen Powell, Joe Resendez and Richard Williams have had their hands full this year. The Clippers have had players miss a total of 161 games due to injuries, illnesses or a suspension. Powell ruptured his right Achilles' tendon on the road and will have surgery Friday. "They've done a fantastic job with all the things they've had to deal with," Del Negro said, "with all the injuries and preparation that goes into it."