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First Cup: Thursday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is well-known for his shocking public statements regarding LeBron James. To that end, Wednesday’s latest bombshell should come as no surprise. Hours before the Heat was to play the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, Gilbert took to Twitter with a message directed at Cavs fans: “Cleveland Cavaliers young talent makes our future very bright. Clearly, LeBron’s is as well. Time for everyone to focus on the road ahead.” Focus on what road ahead, exactly? The message served two purposes. First, it was a public plea for Cavaliers fans to go easy on James on Wednesday night rather than boo him unmercifully and chant stuff like, “Akron hates you.” Secondly, but more importantly, it was Gilbert’s way of extending an olive branch to James. James can opt out of his current contract in 2014, and it’s never too early to start courting the best player in the league. And, of course, here’s the cynical translation of Gilbert’s tweet: Please, for the love of God and my pocketbook — but mostly my pocketbook — cheer for LeBron tonight.” Don’t forget, that when Gilbert lost James to free agency in 2010, the Cavs’ owner lost bank-vaults worth of revenue potential.

  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: If James does indeed return in 2014, when he can opt out of his Miami contract, it would take on overtones of the biblical story of the prodigal son. To many Cavs fans, it would only be good business to take a shortcut back to contention. To others, because of the way he surrendered on the court before leaving and the ugly tone of the television show in which he announced his defection, it would be the story of another, more sinister family. James would be Fredo, as described, after he betrayed the Corleone family in "The Godfather: Part II" by his brother Michael: "You're nothing to me. You're not a brother. You're not a friend. You broke [our] hearts." To these fans, it will always be personal. Most of all, in the Cleveland way, the way of Red Right 88 and The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, and Jose Mesa, it will always be about the next time. Someday, it will be their time, the time when the last game ends and there is no choice but to shine a light on a city that has waited for its close-up for almost a half-century.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: This was not accidental death-by-dunk. No, LeBron James confirmed Wednesday that his power slam at the expense of Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry in the second quarter of Monday night's Miami Heat victory at TD Garden was very much with malice intended.Asked after the morning shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena if he had the opportunity to review the dunk, James nodded and said, "Yeah, I have, I have." He wasn't finished. No, not after Terry has taken opportunities while with both the Dallas Mavericks and now Celtics to launch verbal salvos at James' Heat, including when the Mavericks defeated the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. "It was one of my better ones," James said. "And the fact that it happened to J.T. made it even that much sweeter. Because I think we all know what J.T. talks, and he talks too much sometimes and I'm glad it happened to him." Asked for comment at Wednesday's Celtics shootaround in New Orleans, Terry told the media, "I'm not even commenting. No comment. Zero. I have none. A basketball play. My reaction was when the fans were cheering and I went up and knocked down the technical. That's a great reaction. Wasn't the first, won't be the last." James received a technical foul for his stare-down of Terry after the dunk.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: With Tim Duncan again anchoring the show — to the tune of 25 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocks — the Spurs sent the Warriors to their 29th consecutive loss in San Antonio, a string of futility dating to Valentine’s Day 1997. It wasn’t the most talked-about streak around the NBA, but it was one the Spurs (52-16) were satisfied to prolong. Combined with Oklahoma City’s overtime loss at Memphis, it left the Spurs 21/2 games ahead of the Thunder in the Western Conference race. … If there were any doubts whether Duncan could regain the form from before his Feb. 2 knee injury, the past three games have put them to rest. The 36-year-old is averaging 27.7 points, 14.7 rebounds, four assists, and 3.3 blocks over that stretch. “He’s an all-time great for a reason,” Mark Jackson said. After going 11 of 17 for his third straight game shooting above 60 percent, Duncan was asked to assess the state of his revived jump shot. “It doesn’t feel great, but it’s going in a little bit,” Duncan said.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: It didn’t take long to discern the measure of intensity that would fill FedExForum on Wednesday night. Instead of going around a screen Griz center Marc Gasol set near mid-court, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook charged into Gasol and delivered a deliberate hockey-style check with his right shoulder. Gasol took umbrage and so did referee Michael Smith, who whistled Westbrook for a foul while players from both teams engaged in verbal jousting. And the game was less than two minutes old. The rivalry, however, dates back nearly three years when these teams bumped and grinded through a seven-game Western Conference semifinals series. The Griz actually hit first in this one. Memphis jumped out to an early 10-point lead and then Gasol delivered a knockout punch that allowed Memphis to get a 90-89 overtime victory before sellout crowd of 18,119. Gasol extended the Grizzlies’ home winning streak to nine games when he tipped in a Zach Randolph miss with 0.9 seconds left. Westbrook’s desperation heave was way off as the final buzzer sounded. “I just crashed the boards and got lucky,” Gasol said. “What does Tony (Allen) say: ‘Grit, grind?’ We definitely believe.”

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Jeff Teague made his statement. With so much talk about the Bucks’ guard combination of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, the Hawks guard had something to say about his game Wednesday night. Teague finished with 27 points and 11 assists as the Hawks held off the Bucks 98-90 at Philips Arena in a key Eastern Conference game. It was one point shy of Teague’s season- and career-high point total. The Hawks (38-30) won for the fourth time in five games and kept hold of the fifth spot in the conference playoff race. Teague was challenged by Player Development Instructor Nick Van Exel at halftime to pick up his energy and play. The guard responded with 12 points in a decisive third quarter. “C’mon,” is what Teague said Van Exel simply told him. “Me and him a little way we talk to each other. I knew what he meant.”

  • Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette: When the Charlotte Bobcats acquired Josh McRoberts last month, he was the throw-in on a no-risk trade deadline deal. When they signed Jannero Pargo last week, they were simply looking for a healthy body to back up starting point guard Kemba Walker. On Wednesday night, McRoberts and Pargo were more valuable than perhaps their team could’ve ever imagined in a 107-101 win over the Toronto Raptors that gives Charlotte its first winning streak since Nov. 19 and 21 – or way back when the Bobcats were off a franchise-record 6-4 start. “The journey’s been a long and tough one for our team,” said Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap, whose team has won three of its last five games, including three straight at Time Warner Cable Arena, to improve to 16-52. “But we’re playing hard and we’re playing together.”

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: New Orleans Hornets forward Anthony Davis has some Kobe Bryant in him. It is often said that the Lakers' legend plays best when he's not at 100 percent. Davis was far from 100 percent on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics, but told reporters after the game there was no way he was not going to play with what Coach Monty Williams had described as "a stomach issue." Davis said he nursed his energy throughout the day, sitting out the morning shoot-around, but managing to play 28 minutes Wednesday night. Davis' game-winning tip in of an Eric Gordon miss with 0.3 on the clock helped the Hornets snap a four-game losing streak with a win over a quality opponent. Davis had 9 points and 8 rebounds, along with two blocked shots and a steal. He is the unquestioned future of this franchise. … If there's an indispensible player this year, it's Ryan Anderson. Easily, the acquisition of Anderson over the summer in a sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic was the Hornets best offseason move. Even though Anderson is just in his fifth NBA season, he plays with a veteran savvy that will help solidify the future of the team for the next few years.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With a day off and orders to clear his mind, Jeremy Lin took the opportunity to head to the gym. He did change things up a bit. With Alicia Keys taking over Toyota Center, Lin found a different court and a few different teammates. But Lin’s idea of a day off included basketball. “It’s therapeutic,” he said. After Sunday’s 30-point loss to Golden State, he and the Rockets needed the therapy, so Lin spent a chunk of Monday launching jumpers and playing HORSE. When the Rockets reconvened at Toyota Center on Wednesday, Lin spent the night as if still goofing with his brother and buddies far from the cameras and lights. He repeatedly pierced the Utah Jazz defense, helping to drive the Rockets to a 26-point lead. And when the Jazz rallied in the fourth quarter, Lin knifed through them again, with one drive to a layup and another and a pass for a Chandler Parsons dunk that finally closed out the Jazz 100-93. Lin made eight of nine shots in the paint as the Rockets went from launching 3-pointers to beating the Jazz at the rim, and from a series of slow starts to a rapid bolt from the opening tip that set the tone for the game.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The visiting locker room at US Airways Center was filled with the usual laughter and playful banter that comes following a victory, but the Washington Wizards’ celebration of a much-needed road win over the Phoenix Suns was tempered some by what was happening behind a glass window leading to the training room. There, rookie Bradley Beal sat with a white towel covering his head, left leg elevated as he received treatment on a troublesome ankle that he aggravated in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 88-79 win. “It’s tough for him,” forward Trevor Ariza said, looking back at the beleaguered Beal. “I feel bad for him that he has to go through this.” Beal will likely miss more time after his second gruesome landing this month; the latest coming during a near meltdown in which the Wizards let an 18-point lead get whittled down to just three points with about nine minutes remaining.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Iman Shumpert said he felt a pop in the knee while pushing off toward the rim. The medical staff later told him it was probably scar tissue. … Doctors will re-evaluate Shumpert on Thursday, but no tests are planned. The Knicks can hardly afford another serious injury after losing Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Amar’e Stoudemire in recent weeks. Woodson pushed for a veteran-laden roster over the summer, in the belief that experience wins playoff games. Now it appears that two of those veterans — Thomas and Wallace — will never get the chance to prove the point. Another veteran, Marcus Camby, has hardly played because of foot troubles. And Jason Kidd’s production has declined since the fall. But Woodson remains adamant that the strategy was correct. “Absolutely — I will never back off that,” Woodson said, adding: “We’re still sitting where we need to be, at the top of our division. And we just got to get some key pieces back, like Melo tonight, and get Tyson back in a uniform.” For better or worse, this will be the roster the Knicks take into the playoffs next month. They have no plans to sign a free agent, because it would require cutting a player — likely Wallace or Thomas. That is a trade-off Woodson refuses to make. Instead, he is banking on the possibility, however remote, that Thomas and Wallace could return in the postseason.

  • Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News: Before the game, Mark Cuban lectured the Nets about why they shouldn’t have signed Deron Williams to such a big, suffocating contract. Then Williams went out and disputed that claim with a soaring second half, leading the Nets to a 113-96 road victory over the Mavs that P.J. Carlesimo rightfully labeled, “one of our best games all year.” Williams finished with 31 points in this bittersweet homecoming, all but five of them in the second half. He also had six assists, most of them to Brook Lopez, who scored 38 points on 15-of-22 shooting and 11 had 11 rebounds. Reggie Evans contributed his usual manic energy and 22 boards. It was an inspiring, entertaining victory for the visitors, and for Williams in particular. During one stretch of the final quarter, Williams buried every shot he attempted – from step-backs to fadeaways. When he nailed a running, off-balance jumper from the right side to give the Nets a nine-point lead with 6:28 left in the game, even Williams broke out in a broad smile at his own ridiculous display.

  • Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: With another wave of injuries hitting the Clippers, and probably a little stung by losses in three of the previous four games, Coach Vinny Del Negro was a little testy prior to Wednesday's game against Philadelphia. His point? The Clippers can't worry about lineup rotations. They have games to win. "It's funny," Del Negro said, not smiling. "I hear a lot of talk out there about rotations, 'I've got to get a rotation.' One, we can't do it because we've had so many injuries. Two, it's hard for us to do because guys are in and out of the lineup and three, guys have minute restrictions. "So people talk about rotations, of course we'd like to get a rotation but it doesn't work like that. So everybody out there talking about it needs to do a little research and understand it doesn't work like that.” … The Clippers played without Chauncey Billups, Eric Bledsoe and Ronny Turiaf available. Jamal Crawford is still working through his ankle injury. Maalik Wayns, on his second 10-day contract with the Clippers, started the second quarter at point guard.