First Cup: Monday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Surely, it had to be the shoes. LeBron James switched them at halftime, with his Heat down 10 to the Knicks, with his own performance not up to par. “I had planned that all along,” James said late Sunday afternoon, feet and knees still under ice, smile still on his face, after the postgame media scrum finally scattered. “But if you want to say it’s because I wasn’t playing well? I like that story better. Yeah, that story’s better.” Or maybe it’s superfluous. There’s no need to embellish what James and his team are accomplishing, tying the franchise record for consecutive victories at 14, longer than any streak James experienced while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s no need to make up stories, when the reality is so remarkable, with this 99-93 win over New York just the latest example of Miami’s ability to dominate defensively late, when it most matters. “Probably the most thrilling and challenging,” Dwyane Wade said, comparing the win to Miami’s previous 13.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Mike Woodson created it by sitting Stoudemire for the last 7:56 of the Knicks’ 99-93 loss to the Heat. As James and the Heat put the finishing touches on their first win over New York this season, Stoudemire was bolted to the bench, LeBron was locking up Anthony and the Knicks were doomed. Know this: The Knicks weren’t necessarily going to win if Woodson had called Stoudemire’s number. Not the way James had it going in the final quarter, with 12 points and the best man-to-man defense that Carmelo Anthony has faced this season. But Woodson made a big mistake by putting his fate in Smith’s hands and not at least trying to get some offense with a proven scorer. Which Smith isn’t, as Woodson readily admitted after the Knicks saw their home record in their last 20 games fall to 11-9. “He’s learning how to be a scorer,” Woodson said of his sixth man, “and we’ve got to help him.” What are the Knicks now, a D-League team, where they’re trying to teach guys how to play?

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Admittedly, 100 is a humble number. For a solid NBA coach, it’s two, maybe two and a half years of good work. But Frank Vogel’s 100 wins, which he earned with the Pacers’ 97-92 victory over the Chicago Bulls, is significant as an early milestone in what promises to be a long and terrific coaching career. How lucky did the Indiana Pacers get when they plucked the no-name assistant off Jim O’Brien’s 21/2 years ago and made him an interim head coach? And how fortunate does Vogel feel after starting his career as a Division III point guard at tiny Juniata (Pa.), then heading to Kentucky, where he talked his way into a job as a manager? “I never could have imagined I would be in this position,’’ Vogel said Sunday. “Just getting the opportunity to be a head coach, that’s so rare. And then to have such a good and ready basketball team, that’s an absolute blessing.’’ … In 21/2 years, his winning percentage is .608, behind only Larry Bird in the history of the franchise.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Serge Ibaka took a swipe at Blake Griffin's family jewels Sunday and all kinds of things changed. One, the ballgame. Ibaka went all Gorgeous George, only this time the refs saw the flagrant foul, imperiling a Thunder victory. Two, this rivalry. The Clippers and Thunder weren't sitting around singing campfire songs even before the South Central assault. This was a nasty game, and a potential West semifinal series might require football pads. And finally, gone surely is the last national remnant of America thinking of the Thunder as boy scouts. This magnificent ballteam is as villain-worthy as any in the NBA. Heat. Lakers. Celtics. Clippers. The lovable Thunder has become hateable, too. I know, we all still like to think of the Thunder as baby Boomers. Guys just off the train, ultra-talented but ultra-innocent, walking around the big city with wallets in their front pockets, saying gee whiz and aw shucks. Maybe that's what the Thunder was three years ago. Not today. This Thunder team is more biker bar than church choir. This Thunder snarls and glares. Sharpens its spikes and leads with its head. This Thunder team douses its food with garlic.

  • Dan Woike The Orange County Register: The idea of how to beat the Clippers around the league hasn't been much of a secret. If you can stop them from running, your chance of beating them greatly improves. After losing to the Thunder on Sunday, Chris Paul said the team is working on addressing their deficiencies in slowed-down games. "We're not the best half-court team. We're great when we're getting stops and getting out in transition," Paul said. "...We're good in the half court, but obviously, we're better in transition. Most teams like the Denvers that play fast, they get stops, and they get out and run. We're one of those teams. We need our defense to dictate our offense." Sunday, the Clippers scored seven fast-break points to 14 for the Thunder. "We're working on it," Paul said. "We just have to keep getting better at it."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: Manu Ginobili will be back next season, though he says there are no guarantees. At his age, he says, it’s year to year. “But ask me right now,” he said Sunday, “and I’d like to play two more years for sure.” His fans would prefer 10 years, but at least his timeline fits with others. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, for example, currently have contracts through 2015. Ginobili’s contract ends this summer. And while he’s currently the highest-paid Spur, it’s likely a hometown compromise could be reached with him as it was with Duncan before. He acknowledged Sunday he feels the years. “Little things” that wouldn’t have physically bothered him before now do. Given that, he eats better, and he stretches more, and he says he’s “less crazy” than he was eight years ago. Less crazy?

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies’ point center, was the only one unimpressed with his 11 assists. “It’s just numbers,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a career high, season high, week high. We just recognized what they were doing. We just played basketball.” Gasol, who also had 12 points and five rebounds, didn’t have a field goal attempt in the first period. He had eight assists by halftime. “It’s definitely a luxury,” Prince said of having a center skilled at passing. “He saw the rhythm that guys were in and he kept making plays.”

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: When Rockets coach Kevin McHale told Chandler Parsons to match up with Dirk Nowitzki, Parsons apparently did not get the message quite right. McHale wanted Parsons to defend Nowitzki on the perimeter with Donatas Motiejunas assigned to defend Shawn Marion inside. Parsons did defend Nowitzki and helped shut him down, but did much much more as well. Parsons, however, apparently thought McHale told him to be Dirk Nowitzki. He followed that order masterfully. Parsons hit his first 11 shots, finished 12 of 13 including a 6 of 7 exhibition from beyond the arc to score a career-high 32 and lead the Rockets to a 136-103 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks, ending the Rockets’ nine game losing streak against Dallas in the first of the week’s home-and-home matchups between the teams.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: John Wall has taken his lumps in recent weeks, deflected criticism and battled through a slump that had him pouting and doubting. Wall even invited his mother, Frances Pulley, up from Raleigh, N.C. last week to provide some home-cooked meals — including his favorite shrimp — and encouraging words. All were needed on Sunday night, as the Wizards let an eight-point lead evaporate into a three-point deficit and then lostBradley Beal to an ankle injury before Wall scored the game’s final six points — two huge jumpers and two huge free throws — and recorded a game-saving blocked shot to secure a 90-87 victory at Verizon Center. “I like the ball at the end of the games,” Wall said after scoring a team-high 16 points with six assists and five rebounds. “With those type of plays, you want to be the hero. You want to have the pressure. Sometimes you’re going to succeed. Sometimes you’re going to fail, but as long as you have confidence and believe in yourself, you’ll be all right.”

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The standing ovation grew louder as John Salmons walked toward the bench with 1:41 left in the third quarter. The veteran forward had earned the cheers with yet another display of hot shooting that helped the Kings put away the team with the worst record in the NBA. Salmons scored 19 of his game-high 22 points in the third quarter as the Kings posted their biggest blowout of the season, a 119-83 trouncing of the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday at Sleep Train Arena. "They're showing appreciation for what you did out on the court, so I appreciate that," Salmons said of the cheers. Salmons has given Kings fans a lot to cheer lately. He has been scoring at a proficient rate the Kings hadn't seen from him all season. He has scored 20 or more points six times this season, twice in the past three games. Salmons is shooting 67.9 percent from three-point range in his past five games and has made three or more threes in four of his past five games.

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Like World Peace, Howard has flagrant-foul problems of his own — they are tied for the league lead with five "points" in the NBA's penalty system. One more flagrant will lead to at least a one-game suspension, perhaps two games. But Howard seemed to enjoy talking about the other side of the hard-foul coin Sunday. "I'm not complaining about it. I understand it, for the most part. I get fouled almost every single play and I know that the refs are not going to call it," he said. "For me, I just have to play through it and try not to get injured. Sometimes it's tough because I try a quick shot before I get fouled and I end up missing instead of just going up through the contact. As I get stronger, as my body gets back to being where it was before I got injured, I've just got to keep playing through it." With two players logging so many flagrant fouls, the question has to be asked. Are the Lakers a dirty team? World Peace, suspended 11 times since 2003, wouldn't ever admit such a thing. "You've got guys on this team like Steve Nash. Is he a dirty player?" World Peace said. "You can't say the Lakers are dirty." You sure about that?