First Cup: Friday

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "In a statement released Wednesday, the league finally admitted the officiating crew of Mike Callahan, Rodney Mott and Zach Zarba erred in its handling of a controversial play during the Celtics 91-86 loss in Portland on Tuesday. A basket by Blazers forward Travis Outlaw was allowed to stand despite Portland having six men on the floor. However, an admission of guilt isn't enough for Doc Rivers, who remained bothered by the inflexibility of the officiating crew. Callahan later said that though Portland was assessed a technical foul, the violation was discovered too late to disallow the basket."

  • David Waldstein of The Star-Ledger: "Vince Carter promptly went into a rage and was heard to say as he was being restrained that Derrick Stafford had called the soon-to-be 32-year-old Carter 'boy.' The NBA is expected to look into the matter, and there is a slight possibility Carter could be suspended or fined if the league determines he made contact with Stafford during the argument. That could theoretically mean Carter would not, in fact, play against Atlanta Friday, but Stafford issued a statement to a Pistons official after Wednesday's game that Carter had not head-butted him, as was initially reported, so any further penalty is improbable. 'It is being reviewed,' NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Thursday in an e-mail message. More than likely Carter will suit up for Friday's game, and those close to him believe he will be in a statement-making frame of mind. 'He'll be really intense,' teammate Jarvis Hayes said. 'He'll probably want to come back intense. He'll probably play one of his best games of the year.'"

  • Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun: "Jermaine O'Neal feels like the Raptors are stuck in a never-ending loop, not unlike what unfolded in the movie Groundhog Day. The Bill Murray comedy of 15 years ago became a cultural reference point for someone who can't get out of a rut, but what the Raptors and O'Neal are experiencing doesn't have a basis in comedy. 'I don't think anybody could have pictured us going through this,' O'Neal said yesterday. 'We have been searching for the answer for quite some time. We have to figure out a way to win some of these games. We are always talking about the next game, but eventually we are going to run out of the next game. I don't know how much attention we are paying to the way we play. I don't know if we understand what causes a team to win and what causes a team to lose. It is pretty basic. We talk about it all the time. It's just not happening.'"

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Get ready, Thabo Sefolosha. Look out, Larry Hughes. Sharpen those elbows, Andres Nocioni. Here comes King James. With Luol Deng still sidelined with a sprained left ankle, the bulk of the unenviable task of guarding LeBron James will fall on those three players Friday night in Cleveland. 'I'm ready,' said Hughes, James' former teammate. 'I don't have a problem with it. He's definitely a tough match for anybody in this league. You try to cut out some of the things that he likes to do. It's just a basketball game.'"

  • Frank Dell'Apa of The Boston Globe: "The potential candidates to replace P.J. Brown as this season's veteran force off the Celtics' bench continue to diminish. Brown became the latest to pull out of contention by confirming his retirement this week. That leaves the Celtics, who host the Washington Wizards tonight, with youthful backups for Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins. But Garnett is taking proactive steps toward improving the low-post play of reserve center Patrick O'Bryant. 'My game is not perfect, by any means,' Garnett said. 'But I do work hard on it and I try to spread it, and get guys to incorporate that same detail. It looks aggressive. I guess my style is very straight to the point. But if you ask Patrick, Baby [Glen Davis], even Leon [Powe], when I'm talking to you it's very passive and conservative and not as aggressive as it looks. The finishes and explosions, they all have to be aggressive to have the impact at which I'm trying to get them to understand. It can be aggressive at times, but what I'm saying is actually kind of soothing and conservative, and it's not like I'm trying to bite your head off. I'm trying to get you to do what I'm showing you.'

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James patiently and politely explains what an honor it was, how much he enjoyed it, how it helped him grow as a player. Then he heads off to the court to get ready for the game. That might be the most important thing to come out of his Olympic experience for the Cavaliers -- no injuries or lasting fatigue. Oh, there was concern early when James sprained an ankle in one of the first Olympic practices. He missed an exhibition game against Canada, but he quickly returned to full strength for the rest of the summer and, so far, the season. With a couple of notable exceptions, that has been the case since NBA players began taking part in the Olympics in 1992. Of the 49 players who have occupied the 60 roster spots on the past five U.S. Olympic teams, only 11 have played fewer than 70 games in the next NBA regular season."

  • Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News: "It's hard to explain how a center averaging 6 points and 8.4 rebounds in 25.1 minutes a game can be in second place in the Eastern Conference All-Star balloting by the fans. But that's where the Sixers' Samuel Dalembert remains in the third set of vote tabulations released by the league. The Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard is the runaway leader at the position, with 1,709,088 votes. Dalembert, who played only 13 minutes in Wednesday night's victory over the Clippers, is second with a modest 239,089. But that still places him ahead of Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, Toronto's Jermaine O'Neal, Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut and Atlanta's Al Horford. Amazingly, Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas, perhaps the second-best center in the East, is a distant 10th."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Now that their games actually can be seen on television in more living rooms, beginning tonight, the question looming over the Orlando Magic- Miami Heat rivalry is this: When will it be a rivalry again? Here's a little, perhaps overlooked, fact: The Magic have won the past nine games against the Heat, many lopsided. The series again has disappeared from the NBA marquee, billed lately as just another numbing regular-season meeting."

  • Jan Hubbard of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Jason Kidd is a mere 35, which is young in most professions. In the NBA, however, he is a senior citizen and much of the basketball world is dubious about his ability to play at an elite level. Another benefit of age, however, is that Kidd is experienced enough to ignore critic
    s. 'In any profession, anybody can easily blame age, teammates -- there's always a built-in excuse,' Kidd said. 'This is a kid's game, but I enjoy playing it and I still feel like I play at a high level.' Kidd smiled because he has come to enjoy delivering punch lines about his age. 'I'm doing it for the older generation,' he said, 'to show that we can still compete and work.'"

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns' Shaquille O'Neal is 668,151 votes behind Houston's Yao Ming for the starting Western Conference center spot in next month's All-Star Game at US Airways Center. But the NBA's most-recognized player can lean on his game instead of his fame this time. A year ago, the thought of O'Neal being an All-Star again seemed as far-fetched as the Suns trading for him. O'Neal was passed in voting by Dwight Howard in 2007. His record- tying streak of 14 consecutive All-Star appearances ended last year when fans and coaches passed on him. Just before a February trade to Phoenix, there were retirement rumors, and a hip injury had sidelined him for 14 of his final 18 Miami games. Now, O'Neal enters the start of a three-game Suns homestand Friday night with his first three-game streak of 20-point, 10-rebound outings since March 2005. In his past seven games, O'Neal is averaging 24.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks."

  • Janny Hu of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Had they been born with perfect hearts that matched their sport's demands, Ronny Turiaf and Fred Hoiberg may never have known each other as more than NBA players. But when they meet again tonight, 3 1/2 years after both underwent open-heart surgery, there will be more than friendship and understanding between the Warriors' big man and the Timberwolves' executive. 'There's pride,' Turiaf said. 'You do form a special bond with people that have been through this,' Hoiberg added."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Spurs center Matt Bonner didn't have any specific plans for celebrating New Year's Day. He says he likes only the holidays that involve food. 'I'm more of a Thanksgiving and Christmas guy,' Bonner said. 'I don't think New Year's is known for feasting.' Growing up in New Hampshire, Bonner's family did sustain one food-related New Year's tradition. Every Jan. 1, they ate Chinese food. 'New Hampshire is known for its Chinese food,' Bonner said. 'You didn't know that?'"