First Cup: Friday

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: The Los Angeles Clippers fell apart in the second half at the Pepsi Center, losing 107-92 to the scorching Nuggets, winners of seven consecutive games. The Nuggets were airborne all evening. The game's first basket was a Gallo breakaway dunk. Kenneth Faried swatted Chris Paul's layup in the first quarter. Kosta Koufos, normally known for the lay-in, hammered home a dunk early. JaVale McGee stuffed Lamar Odom with the scorn of an angered Kardashian. … The Clippers played Wednesday on the West Coast and Thursday in Denver, which meant things probably wouldn't go well for them. Check out this info courtesy of the stat guys with Clippers TV — since 2007-08, teams that play a game on the West Coast and then come to Denver for a back-to-back are 3-41 in the Denver game. Unreal. And Nuggets PR calculated that the Nuggets are 44-10 since 2009-10 when facing an opponent at home in second game of back-to-back, no matter where that team is coming from.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Thursday’s victory completes four straight games against quality teams, three of which are bound for the playoffs and another that should be. OKC finished with a 3-1 record against these teams, which is more than acceptable. The Thunder’s victories came on two of the biggest stages in the world – Staples Center and Madison Square Garden against the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks, respectively. The other victory came at home against the underachieving, but undeniably talented, Los Angeles Lakers. The lone loss was at Pepsi Center, where the Denver Nuggets own a 27-3 record, tied with the world champion Miami Heat for the best home mark in the NBA. Had Denver’s Ty Lawson not drained a 20-footer with 0.2 seconds left, the Thunder might have been able to win in overtime and made it a clean four-game sweep. Had that transpired, OKC (45-16) would be riding a seven-game winning streak. Instead, winning six of its last seven will have to do.

  • Tim Smith of the New York Daily News: If the Knicks were going to have any shot of beating OKC, they needed to put the clamps on Kevin Durant, who entered the night leading the NBA in scoring at 28.6 points per game, and Russell Westbrook, who had averaged 32 points in his last five games. Durant finished with 34 points and Westbrook had an erratic 21. And Woodson decided to put Kenyon Martin in the game to guard Durant. It seemed like a risky move, considering Durant is about as fluid a scorer as you will find in a 6-foot-9 body. … In the third quarter, when Durant went slashing through the lane, Martin went all Charles Oakley on the OKC forward, hitting him with a cross-bodycheck that sent Durant to the floor hard. At first officials called Martin for a flagrant foul, but they reversed it after a review. “I am not trying to hurt anyone,” Martin said. “It is a contact sport. I want to let them know it is not going to be easy. That’s always how I’ve approached the game.” Woodson called it “old school” and said that’s what Martin, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace bring to the Knicks. “They don’t believe in guys coming to the rim getting layups,” Woodson said. Without their star scorer and with only one player who caught fire, the Knicks needed to grind one out. They fell just short against one of the best teams in the NBA. There’s no shame in that. But they better hope Anthony gets back in a hurry so they don’t lose too much ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Congratulations, Dwight Howard. You have now done the impossible. You have pretty much alienated everybody you ever knew in Orlando. The fans who once poured their hearts, souls and disposable income into you are irate because you lied to them about your "love" and "loyalty" to the city. The kids who once idolized you can't stand you because you stiffed them by blowing off your own youth basketball camp before bailing out and high-tailing it to the West Coast. Your former coach Stan Van Gundy and former general manager Otis Smith -- two decent men who had your back at every turn – are surely disappointed in the way you threw them under the bus and cost them their seven-figure jobs. And, sadly and pathetically, you've even lost the respect of your former Magic teammates – a bunch of good guys who you once called your "family" but now have denigrated and minimized into a "a team full of people nobody wanted." … Do you notice anything missing from Dwight's extensive explanation of his "team full of people who nobody wanted" comments? Never once does he take responsibility for what he said.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: After Wednesday's game at Quicken Loans Arena, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving admitted his right knee is not 100 percent. "I'm trying not to let it bother me," Irving said. "It's still bruised. The only way it'll get better is to the sit out the rest of the season, and I'm not doing that." Irving played 38 minutes in the 104-101 victory over the Utah Jazz. It was a rough-and-tumble game, and the point guard took several hard falls. Cavs coach Byron Scott said he found out Irving's knee was bothering him by reading the daily media clips on Thursday morning. He said after practice, if Irving's knee gets any worse, he would have no hesitations about shutting him down. The news caused a furor on Twitter. A Cavs spokesman clarified the team has no plans to rest Irving. "If he said it was bothering him again to the point that he can't perform like I know he's capable of, yeah (I'd considering shutting him down)," Scott said.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Charlotte Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist says he’s not going to use a concussion as an excuse. Others who care about him say mentioning the concussion Kidd-Gilchrist suffered in early February isn’t an excuse, it’s an explanation. Until the last two games he hadn’t been the player worthy of the No. 2 overall pick; not the guy who occasionally totals 25 points or 10 rebounds or three steals. Simply put, not himself. “He’s always in the action – he’s a physical player who attacks – so for him to get a concussion, you’ve got to make sure it’s all the way out,” said Bobcats co-captain Gerald Henderson. “That’s nothing to play with.” Yet that’s precisely what Kidd-Gilchrist did; play with it. He collided with teammate Jeff Taylor Feb. 2 in Houston. First his head and neck made contact with Taylor’s leg, then his head bounced off the floor at the Toyota Center. The injury was serious enough that his neck was immobilized by medical staff and he spent the night in a Houston hospital. Kidd-Gilchrist missed the next two games before passing the NBA’s post-concussion protocol to play again. But there’s a difference between being well enough to play and effective. He struggled the past month, and appeared to hit a low point against the Los Angeles Clippers at the start of a four-game West Coast trip.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Jeff Green has taken over leadership of the second unit, and is usually on the floor at the end of games. That perpetual pressure Green imposes on himself is paying its highest dividend yet. … Garnett has told him not to be so nice, in language that typically can’t be used here. They’ve all told him to be more selfish. But Green has the critiques covered. That never-ending gravity was apparent the night of Feb. 20 in a tweet by @unclejeffgreen: “Damn altitude killed me today, tough (loss) but got another one tomorrow.” Green came off the bench with 15 points that night during a loss to the Lakers in the Staples Center. He also had seven rebounds, four assists and a block. He may have been minus-11, but rare was the Celtic with something to crow about that night. So Green sent out a modern mea culpa. He tweeted. Some players, especially, need a new kind of release.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: As Ricky Rubio approaches the one-year anniversary Saturday, March 9, of his devastating knee injury, the second-year guard is still rebuilding the skills that made him one of the NBA's most entertaining players as a rookie. The total package in Rubio's game might not be complete until next season, but the Barcelona native has made enough progress to show he's still an impact player. "I know what he did overseas, and he's not back to that level yet," San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovic said in February. "An injury that keeps you out that long, it takes a while to get your rhythm back, regain your confidence and really feel 100 percent. He'll get there because he's a hard worker. He's still going to be a heck of a player here in Minnesota." What Rubio lacks in elevation, he has made up in floor burns and bruises, diving for loose balls and making steals.

  • Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News: A little more than a year after the birth of "Linsanity," point guard Jeremy Lin returns to where it almost didn't begin. He was buried on the Warriors' bench for 29 forgettable games two seasons ago. It was during that stretch when an elderly man with a special place in basketball history sat down and wrote him a fan letter. "I figured he could use a little bit of encouragement," recalled Wat Misaka, now 89 and living in Salt Lake City. "So I sent him a note that said: 'Hang in there. It's sure to get better.' " Things got better all right. Lin, now with the Houston Rockets, returns to Oracle Arena on Friday as an internationally known sensation playing on a three-year, $25 million contract. A documentary that traces his unlikely rise to fame with the New York Knicks opened to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The 88-minute film, "Linsanity," makes its San Francisco debut next Thursday at the Center for Asian American Media Festival. Lin's global fame means the world to Misaka, who in 1947 became the first non-Caucasian to play professional basketball in the U.S. The Japanese-American was a 5-foot-7, 150-pound point guard for the Knicks, even if his career only lasted three games. To Misaka, the rise of another Asian-American wasn't "Linsanity." It was lineage. "It really made me feel good that he was getting all the attention that he deserved," he said.

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Mitch Richmond is buying back into the Kings. Emotionally, for sure. Financially, he hopes. And we knew that. The first legitimate star of the Sacramento era is among the investors who each have committed $1 million and are bidding on the seven percent share being auctioned in bankruptcy proceedings. But that's not the bottom line. Richmond wants back into basketball, too. After a meet-and-greet session with fans and reporters Thursday at a downtown restaurant, the six-time All-Star quietly revealed that, if the Mastrov/Burkle ownership bid for the Kings prevails, he will pursue a position in the basketball front office. "That's where my interest is, what I'd be looking at," said Richmond, a consultant with Golden State until 2009. "I left when (Chris Mullin) was let go." Because uncertainty intrudes into virtually every conversation about the Kings and their future, Richmond declined to elaborate. There is an exhausting list of issues to be addressed and resolved before one city celebrates and the other city slumps.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: Chris McGowan is in the preliminary stages of selling the Rose Garden’s naming rights. He hired a company called “Premier Partnership” to facilitate the process. They have a list of about 100 businesses — some local, some national — that have a likelihood of interest. Three or four presentations have already been scheduled. “We’re getting pretty good feedback,” he says. “It could be a local company, which would be great, or it could be a (national) blue-chip brand.” McGowan would like to have a contract in place before the 2013-14 NBA season. It’s not a done deal, though, that he’ll make a deal at all. “It’s good for our organization to have this revenue stream,” he says. “All of it would get reinvested into what we do on the court. There are only three NBA teams that don’t have (a naming rights deal). But I’m going to be very cautious about it. I’m not going to do a deal with the wrong brand. We’re the Portland Trail Blazers. The Rose Garden has a great name. It’s not something we have to do, which is a good position to be in. There are a lot of companies that have to get deals done. We’re not one of them.” … McGowan speaks almost daily with general manager Neil Olshey, who runs the basketball side of the operation, and often sits with him at games. … It’s way too early to predict how successful McGowan will be with his new mission. He is certainly bright and an ideas guy, and seems every bit a people person, which never hurts when you’re dealing with the public. He doesn’t carry himself as a big shot. He seems genuinely enchanted with Portland, too, where his boys can play soccer and lacrosse and his family can ski and enjoy the outdoors. When I ask if he envisions this job as being a steppingstone to something bigger — if this is just another line on his resume — he smiles.