First Cup: Monday

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: This was a good win. Good because it keeps the Thunder on the Spurs heels. Good because it was anything but the Thunder’s preferred style and yet OKC found a way to prevail. Good because it was a day filled with adversity, which the Thunder overcame and ultimately overpowered Boston. Serge Ibaka was plagued by foul trouble. Russell Westbrook, still nursing a sore right ankle, labored through an off night. The Thunder got bullied on the boards. And OKC struggled to shoot straight. All of that was negated by a dominant defensive effort that spurred the Thunder to its 28th home win, tying OKC for the most in the league. The Thunder held the Celtics to 10 of 40 shooting in the second half, a 25 percent connection rate. For a small measure of how impressive that is consider that the Celtics nearly had as many turnovers (six) as made field goals. … The player of the game just might have been Kendrick Perkins. His defense was suffocating. On old pal Kevin Garnett mostly but also on Paul Pierce at times and even Jason Terry and Avery Bradley at others. Said Brooks: “His defense on Garnett and their pick-and-roll was outstanding.”

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Dwyane Wade’s wardrobe change at halftime wasn’t about fashion — believe it or not. Wade is one of the most fashion-centric players in the NBA and, yes, he’s trying to sell his new shoes at all times, but Wade said he changed his footwear for the second half of the Heat’s 105-91 victory over the Pacers because he burned through the first pair playing defense. “I went through them in the first half,” Wade said. “I was moving. I wanted some stiff shoes.” Wade finished the game with six steals; Miami had 10 steals as a team. As healthy as he has been all season, Wade said after the game that defensively he’s playing “as good as I have played in a while.” … In somewhat of a surprise strategic move, Wade started the game on defense covering Paul George, the Pacers’ young All-Star. George finished the game with 10 points in 42 minutes. Wade was originally supposed to guard George Hill and said after the game that it was teammateLeBron James’ idea for a defensive switch. James, who would normally guard George, defended Lance Stephenson.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: For first time in a week, the Lakers hardly offered any late-game theatrics. Kobe Bryant didn't offer any age-defying dunks. The Lakers didn't storm back from a double-digit deficit, either. Instead the Lakers grinded out a 90-81 victory Sunday over the Chicago Bulls Staples Center by simply playing together. The Lakers (33-31) stayed above the .500 mark for two consecutive games for the first time all season. More importantly, they have a half-game lead over the Utah Jazz (32-31) for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers also are only one game behind the Houston Rockets (34-30) for the seventh seed. "Yippee," Bryant said with obvious sarcasm. Still, there were plenty of signs that could make the Lakers feel good about themselves, even if it lacked the late-game euphoria shown in recent games. Dwight Howard's impact went beyond his 16 points and 21 rebounds. He set screens that set up plenty of open looks for him and his teammates. He also sank a series of hook shots in the lane and threw down a few lobs from Bryant.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Beginning today, when the Lakers' charter flight lands in Orlando, the city Dwight Howard called home for years after arriving as an 18-year-old from Atlanta, Howard will be confronted by demons, memories and the wrath of a city that once loved him but now despises him. "He's going to get an earful," Lakers point guard Steve Nash said. Three weeks ago, maybe Howard doesn't handle the reunion well. Two months ago, with the Lakers struggling and Howard not quite sure who he could trust and lean on in the Lakers' locker room, the psychological toll of returning to Orlando would have been too much. But with the Lakers winning and his health improving, Howard is as prepared as ever to go back. "It's going to be difficult to see things, but I'm happy that I'm in a better place then I was at the beginning of the season," Howard said. And maybe for the first time all year, his teammates will have his back. That includes Bryant, whom Howard's been reported to be at odds with this year.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Blake Griffin has Timofey Mozgov, Kendrick Perkins and Pau Gasol. And after Sunday night, DeAndre Jordan has Brandon Knight. "That was the best dunk of the year," Griffin said. "It's the best dunk I've seen in person." Jordan caught a lob from Chris Paul, cocked back and turned Knight into a trending topic on Twitter with a vicious slam during the Clippers' 129-97 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday at Staples Center. "It was a great pass by Chris, and honestly, I didn't see Brandon until I caught the ball," Jordan said. "After that, was just, yeah...." Paul described what followed the dunk as "the aftermath." The crowd went nuts as the scoreboard replayed the highlight over and over. The bench nearly rushed the floor, and Paul, usually pretty calm, howled as he slapped Jordan on the chest. "It was pretty impressive," Paul said. "I usually try not to react after all those different types of dunks, but that one was pretty good." Jordan and all four other starters finished in double figures, and Matt Barnes scored 16, hitting all five of his 3-point shots.

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: It is hard to hear his recent words, though, and think he is not speaking for that same reason. He is just speaking honestly, but Casey is obviously intensely aware of the criticism that has been hurled at him as this season has descended into irrelevance. … The criticism, now as ever, centres on the Raptors’ rookies. During a typically heartbreaking overtime defeat to the Lakers on Friday, Terrence Ross did not get off the bench at all, with Casey saying he did not want him matching up against Kobe Bryant. More bewilderingly, Jonas Valanciunas sat in the fourth quarter and overtime in deference to Aaron Gray. Casey said the coaching staff unanimously agreed that Gray should match up against Dwight Howard. The easy counter-argument: If the rest of this season is about learning, then why are the players who have to do the most learning not playing against the players who could provide the harshest but most integral lessons? … Casey is the coach, and it is his right to set the ground rules. Casey’s defence of those rules, as this season fades away, is getting tougher and tougher to justify.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: The Bucks have been relatively healthy most of the season, but they were hit with a trio of injuries Sunday. Starters Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders and key reserve Redick had to miss the game. Ilyasova missed his second straight game with a left knee bone bruise, while Sanders suffered a hyperextended left knee in Saturday's game against Golden State. Redick also was hurt against the Warriors when he landed on Jarrett Jack's foot while drilling a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter of a 103-93 victory. Samuel Dalembert and Ekpe Udoh started on the front line, and Boylan said Dalembert was going to start, anyway, to combat the imposing size of Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (6 feet 11 inches, 270 pounds). Dalembert finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes and Udoh had 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Sanders said he landed on his knee awkwardly while trying to block a shot by Warriors forward Harrison Barnes.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard still appears to be the frontrunner to the win this season's NBA's Rookie of the Year award. But New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis got another opportunity to close the gap in Sunday's matchup against Lillard and the Trail Blazers. Coming off a sensational 20-point, 18-rebound performance against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, Davis put forth another solid effort in the Hornets' 98-96 victory against the Trail Blazers. Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. Lillard, who leads all rookies with a 18.8 scoring average, scored 20 points and had eight assists. ``We're just getting better as a unit,'' Davis said. ``We haven't done a great job of closing out games in the fourth quarter, but we're doing a better job and we have to continue doing so.''

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki hopes point guard Dominique Jones won’t be in the unemployment line long. Tired of his inconsistent play and other off-the-court indiscretions, the Mavs waived Jones on Saturday. “I like Dominique, he was my man,” Nowitzki said. “I think he’s got an NBA body, he’s got the NBA strength. “Hopefully he’ll be able to find a job next year and he’ll be able to play.” The Mavs will replace Jones with point guard Chris Wright, who averaged 15.5 points and seven assists in 38 games this season for the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League. Wright, who played in last month’s D-League All-Star game, may be on the roster in time to suit up for Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee. … Besides Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Rodrigue Beaubois are the only other players with the Mavs who were members of the 2011 NBA championship team.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The annual Orlando Pro Summer League will undergo at least one significant change this year, expanding to 10 teams to add the Miami Heat and the Houston Rockets. The annual event will remain closed to the public and will continue to take place on Amway Center's practice court, Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. But for the first time, there is a possibility the league's structure will resemble a tournament's structure, with pool play and a championship game. In previous years, teams would play one game a day for five consecutive days. But this year, teams might be given one off day. The Magic run the summer league, which, in a sense, competes with the NBA Summer League. The NBA Summer League is held on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas and is open to the public who buy tickets. Last year the NBA Summer League featured 23 teams and a team composed of NBA Development League players. The Magic's league is popular with some teams' executives because it offers fewer distractions than the league in Las Vegas. The Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz participated in last year's league in Orlando and are expected to participate again.