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First Cup: Friday

  • Marc J. Spears of The Boston Globe: "Tonight's game isn't bringing back memories of last season's first-round playoff series for everybody. 'I wouldn't consider it a rivalry,' Rajon Rondo said. 'I don't think much of [the playoff series], really. I don't want to talk trash, but in my eyes [Atlanta's] not a rival. I don't know if anyone else considers [Atlanta] a rival.' The Celtics lead this season's series, 2-0, with an average victory margin of 2 points. 'The first one was a buzzer-beater in Boston, and I felt we controlled that whole game until the very end,' Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. 'And that game here [Dec. 17] was back and forth the entire way. We've just got to figure out a way to put together 48 solid minutes against that team like we did in those three playoff games [at home], because that's the only way you're going to beat them.'"

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "For all the talk about who started Thursday night, the Bulls showed once again why finishing is most important. Hours after coach Vinny Del Negro raised eyebrows by starting Kirk Hinrich for the banged-up Derrick Rose, the Bulls continued to turn the United Center into their house of pain with an aggressive 106-87 victory over the Heat. With their sixth win in seven games and the Pistons' home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls are -- brace yourself -- tied for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Nuggets center Nene was steadfast Thursday that he would appeal his two-game suspension by the NBA for his role in an altercation Monday night at Phoenix. Nene was ejected from the game against the Suns after head-butting Suns forward Louis Amundson, who played high school ball at Monarch in Louisville. Nene compared his situation with that of Zach Randolph, a Clippers forward who threw a punch at Amundson and received a two-game suspension. Nene said his was a lesser offense. The NBA added a second game to the suspension -- tonight at Dallas -- because Nene made contact with official Bill Spooner upon the ejection."

  • Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times: "The Clippers didn't offer Jerry West a position but had Andy Roeser talk to him, Mike Dunleavy said, adding that Dunleavy favored adding West as a consultant. There was no interest, as expected, from West. Which may lead to more names getting floated, because there is a school of thought that the Clippers are poised to do something, despite the denials and despite the roughly $11 million left on the remaining two years of Dunleavy's contract after this season. Has Donald Sterling asked Dunleavy to make a choice between the positions of general manager or coach? 'Not at all,' Dunleavy said. 'Even on the Jerry West thing he posed it to me: 'Would you want Jerry West?' I'm not going to say anything negative. A lot of times I ran into him [West], I would do it [ask questions] anyway. The bottom line: Jerry knows basketball.'"

  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: "The hardest part of this season, Gilbert Arenas said, was disconnecting from a team he felt helpless around. It got to the point where he begged team physicians three times to give him a clean bill of health so he could play -- in November, which he now realizes would have set back his recovery. He finally knew that focusing on his own recovery would be his greatest contribution. 'I was like: 'I can't watch this. This isn't basketball,' ' he said. 'Earlier in the season, I'm even cussing Antawn [Jamison] and Caron [Butler], telling them to get on the young players, 'Y'all need to do something, what the [expletive] are you doing?' But after a while when you don't play, everyone tunes you out. You can only get in their heads so much when you're not on the floor with them.'"

  • Peter Vecsey of the New York Post: "It's impossible to appreciate how much Mo Williams' acquisition from Milwaukee during the off-season has meant to LeBron James and the league-leading 58-13 Cavs without understanding his eagerness to be educated by Jerry Sloan. Williams always has been impervious to situational stress; he's credited with seven game-winning/changing shots in Cleveland and countless others during his four seasons in Milwaukee. More remarkably, maybe, is Mo is undaunted by imperial peer pressure; most secondary scorers gladly defer to the franchise player on big shots rather than risk inviting his wrath with a miss. ... 'Jerry taught me how to be a point guard,' he said. I asked him what that entails: 'To think versus rely simply on instincts ... time and possession ... teammates needing to be spoon-fed ... not giving the ball to a big man on the break unless he has a free lane ... creating space -- separation -- which is the object of the pick-and-roll, and then reading and reacting.'"

  • Brian Hendrickson of The Columbian: "Is Brandon Roy ready to assume a spot on the All-NBA team? If you're honest -- and unbiased, though that is not likely to be the case around here -- you'll have a hard time coming up for an argument that he should not. A spot on one of those three all-league teams now appears to be the next natural step for Roy to take in his rise to NBA stardom, and would be the most prestigious recognition that he has yet received. In fact, it would place him in an exclusive Trail Blazers club: Only four players in the franchise's 39-year history have earned the honor, and just one (Clyde Drexler four times) since 1984. ... Only coaches and the media who have regularly covered the league get a say in the 15 All-NBA selections, and they have to choose by position. So if Roy were selected, it would brand him as one of the top six guards in the league. And really, could you make a case that Roy does not deserve consideration in that group? Just go down the list of what defines an NBA star and you'll see he fits right in."

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Coach Phil Jackson hinted Thursday that Andrew Bynum might play a reserve role when he returns from a torn medial collateral ligament. He also seemed to suggest that the 7-foot center could rejoin to the starting lineup. Jackson would not say when Bynum would be back on the floor, however. 'We'll just have to see how he comes back, not when,' Jackson said before the Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons. 'Does he come back in condition where he can play 25 or 30 minutes? Is he going to be a `Starbury' (Stephon Marbury of the Boston Celtics), where he's playing 12 or 14 minutes a game, and then increase it that way? So, we'll see how he fits in. He's running on the court and that's about it. He's doing some basketball skills. There's a considerable amount of time before he's even able to practice with us.'"

  • Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee: "If Bobby Jackson's storied Sacramento stay indeed ends this season, the final act couldn't be more fitting. The most beloved of Kings exudes bravery in his return from injury, playing despite a fractured face that doctors would have fixed had he let them. Instead, he dons a protective purple mask and looks the part of hoops hero. "Purple Haze," as one fan suggests his comic book name should be, or perhaps 'The Purple Protagonist.' That scene may unfold tonight at Arco Arena, where the veteran who broke his left cheekbone against Cleveland on March 13 is a game-time decision against Memphis. 'That shows a lot of heart,' rookie forward Jason Thompson said. 'It shows that he's not here to just pick up paychecks. Obviously we're not in the playoff picture, so he could've easily just said, 'I'm going to think about me and take care of myself and see what happens next year.' But he's not, and that shows he's a leader.'"

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Vanilla Gorilla vs. The Big Cactus. It sounds like pro wrestling and can look like it, too, when Joel Przybilla and Shaquille O'Neal hook up. It's always testy, from the time O'Neal was in Miami and slammed Przybilla in the face with the ball. This time, O'Neal tossed the ball on Przybilla after he fell taking a charge and Przybilla came out of the time out telling O'Neal not to do that and they got offsetting technical fouls for their exchange."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Once on the bottom looking up through a logjam at the two-guard slot, Courtney Lee has been at the top of that pile for more than a month now. He's had his rough patches, but even as Orlando tries to cling to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference down the stretch, the idea of having confidence in Lee is now an afterthought. 'I don't feel like we're playing with a rookie out there,' Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said. 'He just doesn't make very many mistake. ... There's still some situations that veterans have seen 500 times and can just see coming that he can't. But from a poise standpoint he's a veteran guy out there.' The poise that Van Gundy was referring to has shown itself the most during his current stretch as a starter."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "No matter what Gerald Green's shortcomings might be, games like the blowout of Golden State prove just how enticing he is. Fans are more intrigued and captivated by his skills than of any other Maverick. They love to think about how good he could be if he were a 30-minute player. And it's true. The dude can flat-out play like nobody's business when he gets a chance to be athletic and fly around the court. It's that feeling that he has to do everything as fast as possible on the court that is hard to overcome. 'Coach has been saying to be patient,' Green said Thursday. 'That's what I'm doing. And when I get my chance, I play as hard as I can. I do seem to try to do a little bit too much at times. But I'm just so excited to play. The coaches tell me to just play my game and slow down a little.'"

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Choosing among the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Cleveland's LeBron James and Miami's Dwyane Wade is fraught with peril for any expert, even one with Tim Duncan's credentials. There is one bit of advice for NBA voters Duncan has no fear of asserting: His teammate, Tony Parker, deserves consideration for a place at the end of every ballot, on which voters are required to list their choices in order, one through five. 'Absolutely,' Duncan said. 'Of course, I'm biased, obviously. But with the position that we're in, second in the West, right in the mix, and with the amount of injuries we've dealt with all year, he's kept this team consistent, and he's been the consistent one all year long. He should definitely have an opportunity to be in that top five.'"

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "Call it the 'Brazilian Backhand.' Anderson Varejao has added a new trick to his game this season -- well, at least new to his NBA game -- and it is fast becoming a surprising weapon for the Cavaliers.Varejao uses a backdoor cut and will actually catch an entry pass, usually from LeBron James, when he's under the backboard and behind the defense. Then, sort of like a backward layup, he has nearly perfected kissing the ball off the glass with just the right sidespin from what would seem like an impossible angle. At times this season he's shot it backwards over his head and with striking accuracy. It has turned into not just a staple play when the Cavs are facing a zone defense, but also an option in tight late-game situations when the Cavs are looking for a high percentage shot. It happened Wednesday in the Cavs victory over the New Jersey Nets, one of Varejao's backhands proved vital with three minutes left in the game. 'You've got to put a little spin on it to make it work,' Varejao said. 'It comes natural to me, I don't even really think about it.' That's not 100 percent accurate. Varejao learned the shot when he played three seasons with FC Barcelona in the Euroleague. European teams play a lot more zone than in the NBA and there is more passing and off-ball movement than there is in the United States. So before every practice in Spain, Varejao worked on those backhanded shots, reps that are now paying off with the Cavs."