First Cup: Monday

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: And a lot of sportswriters, players, coaches and administrators have tried over the decades to make winners out of the Clippers only to fail. I wrote about the immaturity of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin and problems with Paul that have threatened to sidetrack my favorite team in town, no one more of a Clippers honk than Page 2. Shoot, I went to Memphis with the Clippers a year ago and no one goes to such a rathole unless it's to be there for their family. But then you know what it's like raising children. You can't be their friends. Sometimes you have to lower the boom, and toss in a little discipline even when it might hurt you more than them. So I had to spank the Clippers before we could all come together Sunday and beat the Lakers. … Bringing fun to a locker room is just what Page 2 does. And just as I have preached to the guys all year, if you're going to be successful, you have to feast on the really crummy teams to pad your record. Fortunately, the Clippers got to play the Lakers four times this season, which is like having the Houston Astros on your schedule. And they swept them, of course.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Clippers center DeAndre Jordan shouted across the locker room Sunday to Chris Paul. "I don't like you, Chris," Jordan yelled out. Paul didn't flinch. "I don't care," Paul answered. Meanwhile, Clippers forward Blake Griffin turned to Jordan, whose locker is near his, and snipped: "Get out of my way DeAndre. Move," Griffin shouted. Jordan didn't back down."I don't like you, Blake Griffin," Jordan screamed. Finally, all three players shared a hearty laugh. Turns out it was all in fun. But it also was a message delivered to anyone who thinks the Clippers have a chemistry problem or their star players don't get along. There recently has been talk that Paul, Jordan and Griffin are at odds, but it sure didn't look like they had problems as they joked around in the locker room after beating the Lakers on Sunday to clinch the first division title in franchise history. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro insisted nothing out of the ordinary is going on with his young team. "There's not this big friction thing going on like people think," Del Negro said. "We've got some good guys. We have to manage (personalities) absolutely. But I know the guys want to win."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Knicks thus claimed their 12th straight win and gave the streak an indisputable new legitimacy, taking down the defending Western Conference champions on their home court, where the Thunder (56-21) had lost just five times. “Probably one of the biggest wins we’ve had in a long time,” Carmelo Anthony said. For so many reasons. The Knicks reached 50 victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They now need just one victory, or a Nets loss, to clinch their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. And the winning streak is the third longest in franchise history. The drive for a championship never looked more tangible. “It all goes hand in hand,” said Coach Mike Woodson, who got his 68th win with the Knicks, securing the best 100-game start in franchise history. … The Knicks had gone 20 days without a defeat, and 20 days without facing an elite team at full strength. They were spared the burden of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade last week in Miami. Their only victory over a team with a winning percentage of .600 or better was against the Memphis Grizzlies. “This may be the biggest, considering that’s a healthy team that’s playing with all their guns,” Chandler said. “It’s very hard to come in this building and get a win.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Yet the only consistent thing about the Thunder's defense seems to be inconsistency. Oklahoma City followed up its best defensive performance of the season with one of its worst. After holding Indiana to eight points on 2-for-18 shooting in the fourth quarter Friday, the Thunder allowed a season high for points, yielded at least 30 points in three quarters (and 29 in the fourth) and allowed 19 offensive rebounds. The rebounding was the worst of all evils. That's because Sunday marked the fifth time in the past 10 games that the Thunder has allowed at least 16 offensive rebounds. The Knicks converted their 19 offensive boards into 23 second-chance points. … After out-rebounding the Pacers, the league's best rebounding team, by 22, Sunday's showing was the equivalent of five steps back after one step forward. In its past 10 games, the Thunder has allowed 14 offensive rebounds. By comparison, the league's high mark is Milwaukee's 12.3. So are the players not blocking out enough? “It's a combination,” Brooks said. “Everybody has to think rebound. We're such a high, explosive offensive transition team that we can't think about that until we secure the ball. That's just something that we will brush up on and try to get better at that the last five games.”

  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: By the time the Utah Jazz took the floor Sunday, through no effort of their own, they had crept back in the playoff picture. Early arrivals to Oracle Arena sat around the visitors’ locker room, watching intently on a projector as the Los Angeles Clippers ran the Lakers out of their shared gym. "I think everybody knows what the Lakers did today," Jazz forward Marvin Williams said. "We had a golden opportunity to come out and switch places with them." The Jazz took that opportunity and made a golden statement, beating the Warriors 97-90 after Mo Williams made a game-clinching 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds left. With the win, the Jazz moved a half-game ahead of the Lakers. The victory represented the Jazz’s most encouraging road effort of the season. It was just their third road victory over a team with a winning record, and it gave them consecutive road wins for the first time this season. Beating Golden State may have turned the tide of an entire season. The Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, and Minnesota on Friday, then close out the season with road games at Minnesota and Memphis. "We win out," Gordon Hayward said simply, "we’ll be fine."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: It’s less than two weeks before the Celtics take the floor for their first-round playoff series against likely the Knicks or Pacers, and during that time they need to find cohesion. The team decided to rest Kevin Garnett (ankle inflammation) for two weeks, and Paul Pierce also needed a break to rest his gimpy ankle. But sooner or later, the Celtics have to get their core on the floor at the same time, and Sunday night was it. The combination of Pierce and Garnett, with the welcomed help of the resurgent Brandon Bass, led to a 107-96 win over the improving Washington Wizards. If only the shorthanded Celtics had played with the same energy Friday as they did on Sunday, they would have made it easier on themselves in their quest for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. This is a critical stretch for the Celtics, who don’t want to match up with the Knicks, winners of 12 straight games after beating Oklahoma City on the road Sunday without Amar’e Stoudemire or Kenyon Martin. Moving up to sixth — they trail Atlanta by 1½ games — likely would set up a first-round series with the Pacers, who were soundly beaten by the Wizards Saturday, and the Thunder the previous night.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Newcomer Keyon Dooling and rookie Tony Wroten were back with the Griz after playing Saturday for the NBA Development League’s Reno Bighorns. It was a move designed to allow both players to stretch their legs. … Conley recorded his fourth straight 20-point game. The Griz hadn’t had a player score 20-plus points in four consecutive games this season. He’s been efficient, too. Conley took advantage of the Kings’ weak interior defense and attacked the baskets for layups. He’s shot 59 percent (36 of 61 from the field) in the four games. Zach Randolph is having a hard time getting his shot off around the rim because of shot-blocking defenders and he’s missing easy layups as of late. He finished 4 of 13 from the field and attempted just two free throws. Randolph is 11 of 30 in his last two games.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "We're playing like a team. We look good, man." The Pistons fan seated in the first row behind the media table Sunday night sounded surprised in the waning minutes of his team's 99-85 victory over the Chicago Bulls. That's understandable, since it had been nearly two months since the Palace crowd had witnessed a victory. And it had been over four years since fans had witnessed a victory over the Bulls on any court. But with the Pistons' bench combining for 43 points, and Brandon Knight tallying 20 points and five assists, the Pistons were able to get their first victory at the Palace since Feb. 13 -- a span of eight games. "It feels good just to finish out a game strong against them, where we were the team not to make mistakes and to capitalize on their mistakes," Knight said of the Pistons' 18-game losing streak to the playoff-bound Bulls. Although Pistons coach Lawrence Frank downplayed the streak's significance during three earlier losses this season, he admitted it was a topic of conversation.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon and his teammates have experienced their share of disappointing losses and missed opportunities on the road this season. But for the first time in nearly two months they enjoyed a road victory, defeating the Phoenix Suns 95-92 on Sunday night in front of 16,780 at the U.S. Airways Center. … Eric Gordon frequently drove the lane and maintained being aggressive after halftime, which is something he has not done frequently this season. It was the Suns that extended Gordon a four-year, $58 million contract offer last summer. The Hornets matched the offer, even though Gordon said his "heart was in Phoenix." In a heat of the moment situation during this past Friday’s 95-83 loss to Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena, Williams got into a shouting match with Gordon during a timeout in the third quarter. Williams apparently didn’t think Gordon was hustling enough. But both appeared to move beyond the conflict as Williams kept Gordon in the starting lineup Sunday. Gordon played with intensity and the Suns struggled to stay in front of him. Gordon made all six of his free throws and he also had six assists and two steals 31 minutes of work.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Dirk Nowitzki has twisted and sprained his ankles dozens of times. But what happened Sunday night in Portland was different. He said he came down funny after jumping for a rebound in the second quarter. The ankle stiffened up at halftime, when he had it re-taped. He was ineffective in the third quarter, then sat out the entire fourth quarter. The Mavericks limped to the finish line for a 96-91 win. They were ahead by 26 late in the third quarter and by 20 at the start of the fourth. “I said at the start of the fourth it’s a little stiff, and I decided to just sit this one,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously, it got a lot closer than we were hoping for so we had to grind it out down the stretch. I think I jumped for a rebound in the second quarter and must have landed wrong or something. I must have irritated my bone spurs. I got really stiff and couldn’t really move much in the third quarter. I tried, got it retaped at halftime, but it didn’t help much. I said I’m going to sit this one out and the boys will bring it home. It was a lot closer than we hoped, but we got it done.” Nowitzki said he “definitely” will play Wednesday.

  • Michael Beaven of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Cavaliers coach Byron Scott turned to an unlikely five-man lineup for a spark in the fourth quarter Sunday night and the decision paid off big time. Starter Wayne Ellington joined reserves Omri Casspi, Kevin Jones, Shaun Livingston, and Marreese Speights to help the host Cavs rally from a deficit to the Orlando Magic and earn a 91-85 victory. “That group I thought played pretty good basketball, especially defensively,” Scott said. “We didn’t score a lot, but they didn’t either.” A crowd of 16,341 witnessed the Cavs (24-52) start off slow against the Magic (19-59), but regain their composure in time to notch a second consecutive win. “It was a good win,” Scott said. “On the defensive end again, I thought our guys did a lot of good things just like we did in Boston [in a 97-91 win Friday night]. That is basically why we got the win tonight.” … Irving was asked before the game about the speculation that Scott could be let go following the season. He downplayed it and said: “Until that time comes, I’m not really worried about it. To even imagine that, I’m not going down that road. I’m focused on finishing the season with him and that’s all that matters right now.”