First Cup: Tuesday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: The game-winning jumper was a perfect capper to another brilliant night for James, one that included 37 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists and a vicious dunk off a Norris Cole lob that left Heat nemesis and nuisance Jason Terry flat on his back, an emasculation that warrants an aside. It was Terry who teased and tormented Miami in the 2011 Finals, and who had said over the weekend that he “wasn’t impressed” by anything the Heat did, even the streak. “I seen him down there,” James said. “I don’t think he saw me.” James could smile about that second quarter encounter, because of what occurred in the game’s final 10.5 seconds. Because, even after James’s jumper, there was still that little time left — time that, in Boston for the Heat, is usually too much. Green drove on Shane Battier, but Battier, in as a defensive substitution, stuck with him and blocked the ball out of bounds. … with all that hooting and hollering clearly heard from behind the closed door. In NBA history, over a 23-game stretch, only one team has been better. “If you’re not first, you’re last,” Wade quipped. “That’s what Ricky Bobby said.” That’s a reference to the movie Talladega Nights. The race to the Lakers continues Wednesday in Cleveland, as everyone is now fully aware.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: At the Nuggets' pregame shootaround Monday, this exchange happened between coach George Karl and some local TV guy. TV guy: "You scored 64 points in the paint in the Bulls game in Denver. I wouldn't expect you to get that here at the United Center, would you?" Karl: "Wanna make a bet?" Sure enough, Denver scored 64 in regulation time and finished with 68 in its 119-118 overtime victory over the Bulls. The Nuggets' brand of basketball leads to persistent paint penetration. It's NASCAR basketball. The fast-breaking Nuggets entered Monday leading the NBA with an average of 57.6 points in the paint, scoring 60 or more 27 times. In the NBA this season, the six-highest paint-point totals have come from the Nuggets, with 78 as their high. Nuggets fans should appreciate what they're watching — few teams win this way. The Nuggets are just different. … Denver could finish with the highest average of paint points since the league started keeping that stat in the 1996-97 season. The record was set by the 1997-98 Lakers, who averaged 54.1. Denver entered Monday leading the NBA with an average of 19.7 fast-break points and trailed only the Clippers with 19.7 points per game off turnovers.

  • Bob Conney of the Philadelphia Daily News: How the Sixers will move forward will be the biggest question surrounding the organization in quite some time. DiLeo said repeatedly during the season that Bynum was "Plan A." But Bynum, who is making $16.5 million this season on the final year of a contract he signed with the Lakers, can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Sixers will have to decide whether Bynum will be healthy enough to continue his career, if indeed he wishes to return to the team. Bynum, 25, was obtained during a four-team trade in August that cost the Sixers Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and a protected first-round draft pick. In mid-September, Bynum hurt his right knee while working out to get ready for training camp. It was announced the day before training camp that he would be out for about 3 weeks, but could be ready for Opening Night. … Hopes were high for the Sixers after they obtained Bynum, who averaged career highs in points (18.7) and rebounds (11.8) last season with the Lakers, playing 60 of 66 games in a lockout-shortened season. Hopes have faded to disappointing reality as Bynum will not see the court this season. Whether the team is willing to take another chance on him will no doubt be a heavy topic.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: The Knicks didn't go winless on their five-game road trip, and hobbled Kurt Thomas was a big reason for it. The 40-year-old Thomas showed his toughness after a pregame X-ray revealed a bone spur in his right foot. It could be worse than that; there are fears that Thomas has a stress fracture. He will undergo an MRI Tuesday to determine the severity of the injury. But Thomas, the oldest player in the league, pushed aside the pain. He logged 27 physical minutes in the finale of the trip, and his interior defense helped the shorthanded Knicks to a 90-83 win that snapped their four-game skid. "That's a pure warrior right there," said J.R. Smith, who led the Knicks with 20 points. "We gave him the game ball after the game," Mike Woodson said. "He deserved it, too.''

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Jerry Stackhouse hadn’t played for nearly two months. He looked, however, like he hadn’t played for about two days. Stackhouse, playing his first minutes for the Nets since scoring six points in Houston on Jan. 26, went 5-for-6 and scored 10 points in 19:22 to help the Nets cruise to a 119-82 win over the Pistons in front of 16,072 inside The Palace of Auburn Hills. “It’s always good to get out and compete,” Stackhouse said afterward. “I kind of understood the dynamic of what needed to happen. Coach [P.J. Carlesimo] came to me and told me what the deal was a couple months ago. ... He told me he was going to give the younger guys some time, and that the odd guy out would probably be me.” … Part of the reason Stackhouse made his return to the lineup was because Keith Bogans sat out with a sore left ankle. After the game, however, Bogans said his injury won’t force him to miss any more time, and he’d be ready to go when the Nets take the floor again tomorrow in Dallas.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Reserve guard Jerryd Bayless’ open-court windmill slam highlighted a third-quarter surge that featured alley oops and 3-pointers that helped the Grizzlies run away with a 92-77 victory Monday night in FedExForum. “We knew we had to come out and put them away,” Bayless said about the Griz building a 25-point lead in the third quarter. The Grizzlies (45-21) played their first home game after a taxing road trip that featured four games in five nights. There was plenty of pep in their step for the homecoming, and Memphis nailed its eighth straight home win. … Mike Conley picked up two steals and broke his own franchise record (144) for steals in a single season. Conley needed just one steal, and got it with 6:27 left in the opening period. He now has 146 steals and has recorded a steal in an NBA season-high 57 straight games.

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: When Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap was hired, the directive was to develop players, even if it was at the expense of winning games. When you can accomplish both tasks – as Charlotte did Monday night in the 119-114 win over the Washington Wizards – it certainly has to feel good. Fourth-year forward Gerald Henderson led the way in the early going, then second-year guard Kemba Walker closed out a comeback rally on both ends of the court. “I was brought in to develop players,” Dunlap said in response to a question about Henderson’s recent improved play. “His development is not deniable. So is Kemba’s.” Their development has coincided with a recent surge for the Bobcats, as they have won two straight home games in a year in which they once lost 16 straight home contests.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Go ahead, scratch your head. Rub your eyes. The boxscore is not wrong. Gerald Green, the player who has spent the past two months on the bench other than garbage time, was back in the rotation against the Cleveland Cavaliers. And he was very effective during his 23 minutes off the bench. Green was so effective that he led the Pacers in scoring. Green, getting a shot to prove he’s worthy of playing time, scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the Pacers’ easy victory. Green’s stay on the bench lasted way longer than D.J. Augustin’s demotion earlier in the season. Part of the reason is because rookie Orlando Johnson stepped in and hasn’t done anything to make coach Frank Vogel want to yank him from the rotation. I give Green credit, he didn’t become a distraction during his time on the bench. He easily could have, especially considering he hasn’t lived up to the three-year contract the Pacers gave him last summer. … Now it’s up to Green to continue to play well off the bench.

  • Tyler Killian of The Arizona Republic: After establishing himself as a reliable starter through the first five seasons of his career, all with the Houston Rockets, Luis Scola has often found himself in an unfamiliar place this year with the Suns: on the bench.Scola is averaging the least playing time (26 minutes, 11 seconds entering Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers) since his rookie season in 2007-08 with Houston, when he seized the starting power-forward job midway through the year and never again came off the bench for the Rockets. With the Suns struggling to forge an identity under interim coachLindsey Hunter, Scola’s role often has been reduced as Hunter experiments with different rotations. The 6-foot-9-inch Argentinian admits to feeling discouraged at times. “It’s hard for me. It’s hard,” Scola said. “It is (frustrating), but I try to use that frustration to work a little harder. Just try to stay ready and in shape.” Whatever frustrations he may be feeling, Scola is keeping them private, living up to his reputation as a team player.

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Then came the 30-point triumph on Sunday, followed by the squashing of New Orleans on Monday. So I asked Lacob: Can you say that Mark Jackson definitely will be the coach next season or that you're contemplating an extension offer past next season? "Honestly, we will not even discuss this until after the season," Lacob said in the email, adding that all focus is on making the playoffs this season. "We are clearly better now than a year ago. That matters." It does matter. And it's fair for Lacob and the Warriors brass to defer on any public statement on Jackson or anybody else until after the season. But read between the lines: The start of this trip was a landmark period for this team and this coach; getting the ship headed back the right way was the only thing that mattered. Everything else flows from there -- making the playoffs, playing credibly once they're there, ensuring Jackson is the coach next season. There are clearer answers now, because of what the Warriors have just done, and it will get clearer and clearer if they continue to do it.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Although guard Dahntay Jones would have loved to have remained with the Dallas Mavericks, he believes he’s in a much better situation with the Atlanta Hawks. The Mavs traded Jones to the Hawks for Anthony Morrow on Feb. 21. At the time, the Mavs were just 24-29, while the Hawks were 29-23 and in the middle of the playoff picture. After beating Atlanta on Monday, the Mavs are 32-35 and chasing a playoff berth, while the Hawks are 37-30 and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings. “They have a great group of guys, they play hard, they play together, they’re very focused, they have fun with the game, so I have no complaints,” Jones said of the Hawks. “And they’re playing for something. “And the sky’s the limit for this team, so it’s a great situation to be in.”