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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Marc J. Spears of The Boston Globe: "Hawks.com currently offers a chance to watch highlights from last season's Celtics-Hawks playoff series. The video describes tonight's game in Atlanta as a 'renewed rivalry.' If you didn't know better, you would have thought the Hawks won the first-round matchup. The video also says rapper Ludacris is performing at halftime, features a picture of Kevin Garnett, and has a reminder that tickets are still available. All this before entering the website. Although the hype might have caught the Celtics by surprise, they understand why tonight's game is such a big deal to the Hawks. 'We were talking about [the website],' Ray Allen said. 'I'm sure it's been up there for a couple of days. We are really looking forward to it. Atlanta is ready and waiting and they've been promoting this for a while. The building is going to be a playoff atmosphere so we need to go down there with a different mind-set.'"

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Tonight, the Spurs return to the Big Not-So-Easy for the first time since they stole that Game 7 on the Hornets' home floor and sounded midnight on New Orleans' Cinderella season. Though the Spurs won the decisive game, 91-82, the series did wonders for New Orleans' street cred. While the Spurs moved on to face the Lakers in the conference finals, the up-and-coming Hornets had proven they could compete on the NBA's biggest stage. The stakes won't be nearly as high tonight as they were in May. All that is on the line is early control of the Southwest Division, and -- for the defending division champion Hornets -- a modicum of revenge."

  • Fran Blinebury of the Houston Chronicle: "This is must have been what it was like when Lennon and McCartney put it all down on a sheet of paper. This was what Daryl Morey and Rick Adelman thought they had drawn up over the summer when they added Artest to the mix of Yao and McGrady. This was the Rockets shrugging off a defenseless first half to play a third quarter that practically blew out the amps and had everybody dancing in the aisles. It was 25 games into the season and, finally, they all figured out how to play in tune at the same time. 'We can be a dangerous team,' McGrady said. 'When we got the defense, as well, clicking like that, we can be a pretty good team.' Which is like saying The Beatles or the Rolling Stones could be a pretty good band."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "When doctors viewed X-rays of Zydrunas Ilgauskas' left foot in Philadelphia on Dec. 10, they were astonished. 'Doctors in Philly were shocked when they saw the X-rays and all the screws,' Ilgauskas said. '(The team doctor) said, 'It's a miracle you're playing. What happened here?' ' Ilgauskas didn't have the patience to walk the doctor through his vast medical history, which has included at least five foot surgeries. All he said was, 'It's a long story.' ... His left foot was reconstructed by Dr. Mark Myerson of Baltimore. Apparently, it's quite a work of art in podiatry circles. 'It is indeed a long story,' Myerson said. 'And quite a remarkable one that he is still playing, given what he went through many years ago. (It's) a tribute to him personally, rather than myself the surgeon.' However, because there is so much metal in the foot, he can't get an MRI."

  • Jim Alexander of The Press-Enterprise: "They're the worst 21-3 team in the history of professional basketball, at least according to the talk shows, bulletin boards and blogs and the overcaffeinated, instant-gratification portion of their fan base. They haven't even played the Boston Celtics yet -- that ABC matchup is still eight days away -- but they already suffer in comparison. Not as tough, not as efficient, not as defensively sound, etc. But maybe this is our problem in evaluating the Lakers: we fail to incorporate boredom into the equation. Not ours, theirs. Can we stipulate, please, that the Lakers are vastly superior to most of the people they've been playing lately? And may I submit that maybe they haven't always looked dominant because they haven't always felt challenged?"

  • Don Seeholzer of The Pioneer Press: "Before the Wolves can entice any top free agent, they know they have to improve the product on the court to the point they are considered a team worth joining. 'I think that's very important,' GM Jim Stack said. 'I think markets can get a little bit overrated. The top players want to go to a city where they can win. We're in a position to add not one but two high-level max free agents to a core that hopefully is going to continue to grow. As we move along, we want to get the team playing better, have a good draft and look at free agency even this year. I think that's going to put us in really good position to get this team moving in a good direction to where we could start competing for championships in 2010.'"

  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "Rasheed Wallace isn't only a player. He's an entry on a balance sheet -- an easily disposed-of asset. That's his true value to the Pistons. And that's why it would be ridiculous to trade him for somebody who could contribute now. It might generate some buzz, convince a few more ticket holders to come to the Palace rather than eat the cost of the ticket. But it doesn't change the reality of a Pistons season that's more about tomorrow's possibilities than today's. So don't get frustrated over Wallace's dwindling offensive production -- only one double-digit scoring performance the past five games -- because the only number that matters now is his $14-million salary slot. That's why teams are calling Joe Dumars, fueling speculation that the Pistons will entertain offers for Wallace with the hope that it might resuscitate a season that seems destined for early-round playoff disappointment."

  • Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News: "It's a coincidence. Really. But it's a weird little fact: The last three coaches Theo Ratliff has played for have all been let go. That would be the Minnesota Timberwolves' Randy Wittman, the Detroit Pistons' Flip Saunders and the 76ers' Maurice Cheeks. 'I'm not the one,' Ratliff said, laughing after the Sixers' second full practice under new coach Tony DiLeo. But Ratliff, who has been in the NBA since 1996, knows the drill. 'Every team I've been on, when you change coaches guys try to pick it up, because they don't want [anyone] to say it's them,' Ratliff said. 'That's always the obvious thing.' Whether that approach lasts is another issue."

  • Matt Steinmetz of The Examiner: "Stephen Jackson is having a bad season, clearly his worst as an NBA player. Jackson, himself, would likely agree if for no other reason than his team is 7-18, and he's the best player on it. Again,
    there are reasons. But from a production standpoint, and production alone, Jackson has not been good. If you've been watching the games, you know it. But statistics tell the story every bit as well. And the stats also show Jackson is growing more and more frustrated with his season, as well. ... No one doubts Jackson's toughness and the 'gamer' in him. But if he's going to have this big of a role, he can't play this badly. And if he's going to play this badly, he can't have this big of a role."

  • Geoffrey C. Arnold of The Oregonian: "Long before the ceremony of retiring his jersey number started Tuesday night, Terry Porter said he would get a little emotional. He got very emotional. 'This is truly a special night,' said Porter, struggling to remain composed. 'I'm so touched by this evening.' His wife and three children watched. So did former Blazer players Geoff Petrie, Buck Williams, Wayne Cooper and Jerome Kersey. And Harry Glickman, founder of the franchise. Porter was visibly moved during the ceremony of the Blazers retiring his number and raising to hang alongside other Blazers greats during halftime of the Blazers' game against Sacramento. 'Whenever you're blessed to play this sport, you always want to recognized,' Porter said. 'Everybody wants to recognized for their services, especially when they think they've done something well.'"

  • Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: "Showing your sensitive side can be a tricky thing in the macho world of professional sports. When you are Paul Pierce breaking down after receiving the first championship ring of a 10-year career, you get a pass. When you are Glen Davis covering your face with a towel on the bench after being on the wrong end of a Kevin Garnett tirade Dec. 5 vs. Portland, you get 23 YouTube posts of the incident with more than 2.5 million views. Davis said it is all part of the Big Baby package even if he feels the situation was misrepresented as Garnett reprimanding him specifically. 'It was never Kevin telling me something that I did,' he sought to clarify. 'It was Kevin telling the whole team something. I am just real hard on myself. I feel I didn't play my best and I got upset about it. Sometimes when I get mad that's what I do.'"

  • Julie Bisbee of The Oklahoman: "The chairman of Oklahoma City Thunder has been named the 2008 Oklahoman of the Year by Oklahoma Today magazine. 'No one came close to Clay Bennett as we set about selecting this year's Oklahoman of the Year,' said Louisa McCune-Elmore, Oklahoma Today editor-in-chief. 'His accomplishment presents an extraordinary moment in the life of Oklahoma, probably among the most important achievements in our capital city's history,' said McCune-Elmore."