First Cup: Thursday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: He is now not just a man of distinction, but one with a distinction, having somehow scaled to heights — on legs that don’t lift — that no one else in NBA history has reached. And, still, that bemused expression remains stuck to Heat forward Shane Battier’s face whenever someone asks him if he is impressed by what he and his team are accomplishing. “I welcome my teammates to the 20-win club,” said Battier, now the first player in NBA history to play for two teams with streaks of that length. “I told them I’ll teach them the secret handshake on the flight tonight.” Battier’s Houston Rockets actually won 22 in a row in 2007-08, and they won many in the just-barely, needed-breaks fashion that the Heat did Wednesday night, this one by a 98-94 count against the Philadelphia 76ers. “Oh yeah, quite a few,” Battier said. “Luck plays a big part in wins and losses. I believe if you play hard and play the right way, luck goes in your favor more often than not. But you can’t be good in this league without a little bit of luck.”

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: With a dented roster, a lineup to make even the most ardent NBA fan look sideways and the presumably lame-duck Josh Smith sitting out with a knee injury and, yes, after another benching (sssssh), this didn’t figure to be a night the Hawks would juice their playoff seeding or season-ticket sales. They were sliding (losing six of seven and 14 of 19 since a 20-10 start). They were facing the suddenly functioning Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers. They were starting their 23rd different lineup of the season, and probably the weakest of them all. In the eyes of most: No. 30, No. 10, No. 4, No. 34 and Al Horford. And with this worst of all backdrops, they won, anyway. Of course. They do this. Move aside “Miracle on Ice.” The Hawks led by as many as 14 points in the first half, lost the lead in the third when Kobe Bryant followed a three-point first-half with a 20-point third, showed remarkable resilience with a depleted team and held on to defeat Los Angeles 96-92 at Philips Arena (which was half-filled with Lakers fans). So they’re not dead yet.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Kobe Bryant questioned the defense of Dahntay Jones, which left the Lakers star with severely sprained left ankle, in the closing seconds of the Hawks’ 96-92 victory Wednesday night. According to team officials, Bryant is out indefinitely. Jones was guarding Bryant when he missed a potential game-tying baseline jump shot with 2.6 seconds remaining. Bryant turned his ankle when he landed and stayed down on the court for several minutes. He was eventually helped to the locker room. “I think officials really need to protect shooters,” Bryant told reporters following the game. “You can contest shots, but you can’t walk underneath players, that’s dangerous for the shooter. …I’m always conscious of it. When I go to contest shots I’m always very conscious about making sure I don’t walk underneath them. It’s just a very, very dangerous play. Especially if I’m fading away, there’s no rhyme or reason why I should come down anywhere near somebody’s foot.” At the end of his interview, Bryant added: “I can’t get my mind past the fact that I got to wait a year to get revenge.”

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: There was no guarantee either would be here. Here as in the NBA. Here as in Boston. And here as in on the list all-time great players. Boston is no stranger to milestones. It seems a Celtic — going back to Cousy, Russell, Heinsohn, Havlicek, Bird, McHale, Parish — is always passing somebody on an all-time list. PA announcements from Eddie Palladino are commonplace. But Wednesday night, during Boston’s 112-88 rout of the Raptors at TD Garden, was different. Palladino had the pleasure of informing fans that Garnett had passed Jerry West for 15th on the all-time scoring list. Garnett now has 25,201 after his 12-point night. One quarter later, Palladino used his golden voice to alert the crowd that Pierce had passed the famous/infamous Charles Barkley for 20th on the all-time list. Pierce now has 23,763 after his 15-point effort. Two teenage buddies who took dramatically different paths to get here are now among the top 20 scorers in NBA history. That’s a long way from Slam-N-Jam youth leagues, in which Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It” would blast before games.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Despite a precipitous drop in his shooting percentages from the field since All-Star weekend, Durant remains alive and well for his fourth straight scoring title (28.3) and also had kept his head above water for the prestigious “180 Club” – shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Before the All-Star break, Durant was shooting 51.9 percent from the field; 42.7 percent from 3-point range and 90.7 percent from the free-throw line. Since the All-Star break, he has shot 43.1 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from 3-point range and 92.0 percent from the line. On the season, Durant stands at 50.5 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from 3-point range and 91.0 percent from the line after Wednesday's game.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said his team is on a simple mission as the regular season draws to an end. He just wants his troops to be comfortable and consistent with their brand of basketball every time out. That certainly looked to be the case Wednesday night as the Grizzlies dealt the Los Angeles Clippers a 96-85 loss, and a heavy-handed dose of what Hollins was talking about. The Griz left Staples Center with their sixth straight win and 14th in 15 games. Memphis (44-19) also claimed sole possession of third place in the Western Conference playoff standings. The Clippers’ high-powered offense never got on track against the Grizzlies’ NBA-leading defense, which allows just 89.5 points per game.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: How the standings in the East look today could look drastically different when the regular season ends in the middle of April. The only thing that’s basically certain is that the Miami Heat will finish with the best record in the conference. I think the Pacers have the inside track for the second seed. After that, though, who knows how things will shake out. The New York Knicks have been one of the top three teams in the conference all season. But that could change. … Boston could also make a move up the standings. With that being said, is there a team you think the Pacers should avoid in the first round of the playoffs? I still say it’s Boston over any other team the Pacers could face in the first round. The Celtics are 2-0 against the Pacers this season and you can never shortchange any team that’s coached by Doc Rivers and has Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, both future Hall of Famers, on its roster. They’re the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Midway through the second quarter at Toyota Center, the Rockets were sinking, the Phoenix Suns were leading, and Saturday’s confounding and deflating Rockets loss seemed to be repeating itself. James Harden had missed a 3-pointer and then failed to get back defensively, leaving Jared Dudley open for a corner 3 and a five-point Phoenix lead. As cranky as coach Kevin McHale had been since Saturday’s two-point loss, the message during the timeout must have been at full blast. The point was clearly made, but this time McHale didn’t have to make it. The Rockets heard all they needed from each other, returning to the floor transformed. The game was never the same, either. The Rockets went from that timeout to 18 dominant minutes and from Saturday’s loss in Phoenix to a 111-81 blowout of the Suns on Wednesday night to open a seven-game homestand with their biggest rout of the Suns in franchise history. It all began with those few minutes recharging their batteries on the bench.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: In the eyes of the NBA, a flagrant foul 2 and ejection were enough discipline for Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins was not suspended for Wednesday's game against the Chicago Bulls. He was thrown out of Sunday's loss to Milwaukee for landing an elbow to the back of Milwaukee forward Mike Dunleavy's head shortly after being called for a technical foul in the third quarter. Kings coach Keith Smart received the news in a conversation with Stu Jackson, the NBA executive vice president of basketball operations. … Cousins still missed Wednesday's game because of a left quadriceps contusion suffered in a collision with Dunleavy, who was trying to box him out. The maneuver preceded the technical foul, flagrant foul and ejection. Cousins was listed as day-to-day. The Kings' next game is on the road Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: On the verge of their worst collapse of the season, the Wizards regrouped around Wall, who settled down his teammates with his playmaking and scoring, posting 23 points and 10 assists to lead the Wizards to a 106-93 victory at Verizon Center. Wall was prepared to carry a heavy burden with the Wizards down to just two healthy back-court players and he overcame his own fatigue to log a season-high 43 minutes on the second end of back-to-back games. “I’m still trying to get back into top game shape,” said Wall, who soaked in the cold tub after the game. “Whatever to help my team win and me to getting better, I’m willing to do it.” The Wizards (21-42) surpassed their win total from the 66-game lockout-shortened campaign of last season and improved to 16-14 since Wall returned from a three-month absence with a stress injury in his left knee. Washington also won its third straight game at home and took two of three in the season series against the Bucks (32-31), a likely playoff team.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Kenneth Faried took a risk. He became the first NBA player to join an organization that supports gay rights while playing. Wednesday, the NBA honored the Nuggets forward for his efforts by giving him the monthly Community Assist Award for February. According to the league, Faried was honored for "his efforts to champion equality and bring awareness to the importance of respect and inclusion." Faried, who was raised by his mother and her female life partner, is a member of Athlete Ally, an organization that helps promote acceptance of gays in sports. In a show of support for equal rights, in January he attended the launch party for One Colorado to celebrate the passing of Senate Bill 11, the Colorado Civil Union Act.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Free-agent small forward Dominic McGuire, the defensive specialist who became a fan favorite with the Warriors last season, probably won't be returning to Golden State this season as many fans hope. According to team sources, the Warriors don't want him taking minutes away from rookie forward Draymond Green. It is obvious Golden State could use a defensive stopper. And they have the roster space to add McGuire, who is a free agent looking for a team. And McGuire would be eligible for the postseason should the Warriors sign him by season's end. But the Warriors let McGuire walk during the offseason largely because they believed Green could bring what McGuire did, plus more rebounding. Jackson, who one source said has veto power, doesn't want to inhibit Green's development. So instead of getting a perimeter wing defender, the Warriors decided to fill their hole at third-string power forward, hence the signing of Malcolm Thomas from the D-League. Golden State doesn't have a legitimate power forward behind Lee and Carl Landry since Jeremy Tyler was traded to Atlanta.