First Cup: Friday

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Brian Shaw's eyes inevitably gravitate toward the top two irritants. Free throws and offensive rebounds. Which, to him look like: OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS AND FREE THROWS. The Nuggets won on Thursday night, beating the Chicago Bulls 97-87 at the Pepsi Center to extend their home winning streak to four games. But Shaw basically shrugged. "Let's see, where do we start?" Shaw said. He already knew. "Happy to get a win," he said. "But not happy with, once again, the two areas, that seem to be our nemesis -- giving up offensive rebounds, they had 22, as well as us missing 10 free throws and only shooting 54 percent from the free throw line. Good teams, like this team was tonight, those are areas that you can't continue to give an advantage in and expect to come away with a win." But on this night, the Nuggets did. And they did it because the Bulls were just as bad as they were from the free throw line, and the Nuggets outplayed the Bulls at their own game -- defense.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: For the time being, Mike Dunleavy will start games. If Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has his way, however, Kirk Hinrich will finish them.With Jimmy Butler on the shelf for a few weeks with turf toe, Thibodeau announced before the game against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night that Dunleavy was a better option to start over Hinrich. “I thought it through, I like both guys,’’ Thibodeau said. “I don’t want to disrupt the second unit, so it allows us to get back to our second unit.’’ But as he’s been doing most of the season, he wants to close games with Hinrich and Derrick Rose on the floor. It’s a concept that is four years in the making.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Best win of the season. By far. That’s what the Thunder accomplished Thursday night in its 105-91 victory over the Clippers. We’ve seen stiffer defense and more explosive offense. But never the combination of the two in the same contest. Not like this. Not against a team the caliber of the Clippers. Consider coachScott Brooks‘ opening statement in his postgame press conference. “I thought that was as well as we can execute a game plan,” he said. The Clippers came in averaging 108.7 points, second most in the NBA. They were held to one point more than than their season low. They shot just 41.3 percent. “We had lost a game against them that we all thought that we could have won,” said Thabo Sefolosha of the Thunder’s loss to Los Angeles eight days prior. “So going again against a team like that, we definitely took it a little bit more personal probably, which was good.” The best part about the win, aside from the mix of terrific offense and defense, was that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn’t have to be dominant. They both played well. But the Thunder got contributions from many. Serge Ibaka again battled Blake Griffin. Reggie Jackson was just fantastic off the bench. Jeremy Lamb knocked down shots and played some really impressive defense. Derek Fisher decided he was going to defend anyone Brooks threw him on and defend them well.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "We gave ourselves a fighting chance," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. "That's what you want when things aren't going well. What I want to get to, though, is to be able to win a game against a great team when you don't have your game. And I thought we had a chance to do that tonight, but we kind of let go of the rope." The Clippers (8-5) were playing on consecutive nights and the Thunder (8-3) had two days off before this game. Oklahoma City, which shot 51.9% and got 28 points from Kevin Durant, took advantage of poor defense by the Clippers. "I'm hoping in six weeks or eight weeks from now, our defense will allow us to stay in the game," Rivers said. "I felt in the first quarter, you could see we didn't have it. Offensively, everybody was kind of missing shots and we didn't have any rhythm, no speed."

  • Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: James Dolan agreed to meet with The Post this week, inside a Madison Level suite at the Garden. MV: I’m sure you heard the chants that have already started to fire Mike Woodson, which comes with the territory, naturally. JD: Yeah. MV: How patient will you be with him? He understood when he took the job the expectations that go with it. Will you give him a long rope? JD: I have a lot of confidence in Woodson, and one thing I can say about Mike is he has the respect of all the players. They all respect him. And he treats them fairly and relatively equally, and that’s part of where the respect emanates from. And those are hard things to get from a coach. When a coach loses a team … that’s when a coach is kind of done. ... MV: For Knicks fans there’s one word that riles their passion more than any other: Isiah. JD: Amazing, isn’t it? MV: And you surely know the panic that ensues when a Glen Grunwald gets fired and people wonder, “Is Isiah coming back?” JD: I can’t control what’s in other people’s minds. I can tell you that he’s a friend of mine. We speak, but not as often as we used to because he’s really involved in other things now. We’ll message back and forth once in a while. We used to talk a lot more often. He seems to be moving into another phase of his life, he’s not as basketball-centric, he’s doing a lot of charity work, he got his masters [in education, from Cal-Berkeley], he actually uses me to bounce business ideas off of.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: If Arron Afflalo keeps producing at this rate, he'll be difficult to keep off the Eastern Conference All-Star team. The Orlando Magic swingman entered Thursday ranked 12th in the NBA in scoring, averaging 22.5 points per game. He was fourth in the league in 3-point percentage, having made just over 54 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He has scored at least 30 points three times this season, including 30 in the Magic's 120-92 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Afflalo was asked Thursday whether he can continue to shoot 54 percent from 3-point range. "To be honest, I don't even think about it. I'm at a stage right now where I just try to take the best shot available. I worked really hard this offseason on my 3, being able to shoot them all throughout the perimeter, trying to become a better free-throw shooter, a better post player. So, really, I don't really think about if my 3 is going because there's no pressure for me to perform at the 3-point line every night."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Much was made of Vince Carter calling Dwight Howard a crybaby early in Wednesday’s game because Howard was jawing with the referees. Carter clarified on Thursday that he and Howard remain good friends from their Orlando days. “Everybody is blowing it out of proportion,” Carter said. “First of all, we were just playing around joking. It was a joke because he said it to me first. And we were complaining about his 3 seconds (in the lane). He was saying, stop crying. And I said, you’re the biggest crybaby.” Such harmless needling is fairly common during NBA games. “The emotions are a big part of the NBA game for some very specific reasons,” Carlisle said. “Of all the major pro sports, we have the smallest playing area. Our fans are closer than any other sport and our game is more emotionally charged. All the animated things that happen are one of the great attractions to NBA basketball. “Consistent to that, the team that can handle those emotions the best on a given night is going to enhance their chances to win that particular game. I understand the emotional part of it."

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: If the season ended today — sure, the NBA year is only three weeks old, but stick with me here — the Toronto Raptors would win the Atlantic Division. That’s right: The 5-7 Raptors are atop the Atlantic. It is the first time that has happened later than the first few days of the season since the end of the 2006-07 campaign. That year, of course, is responsible for the only Raptors-related banner hanging in the Air Canada Centre, when they won the division with 47 wins. Following that season, the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and the Raptors have not sniffed these rarified airs since. Obviously, this has less to do with the Raptors and more to do with their Atlantic companions. The Sixers and Celtics have both won more games than they were expected to, but that has only led to nine wins in 26 tries between them. Both New York teams — the Knicks and Nets — have disappointed, going 3-8. “I think it just gives you that confidence,” Raptors swingman Terrence Ross said.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Depth has long been a Spurs hallmark, particularly during their recent ascent back among the league’s elite. It isn’t just a luxury. With Tim Duncan approaching 40, Manu Ginobili not far behind and Tony Parker coming off a grueling summer of international hoops, having a strong bench capable of providing an assortment of options is absolutely essential in their quest to capture another championship. ... The bulk of that output is provided by the Foreign Legion of Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills, who have combined to break open numerous games already. Not just a collection of cool accents, they have the No. 6 plus-minus, at 16.6 points per 100 possessions, among 20 four-man lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together, and the second-best among units that do not include either Duncan or Parker. Their collective offensive rating of 117.2 points per 100 possessions is 14 points higher than the team’s average.

  • Michael Kaskey-Blomain of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Spencer Hawes is a free agent after this season, hooray! Finally, the Sixers can clear that contract from the books! But wait, should the Sixers consider holding on to Hawes? It is an idea that I never would have entertained a couple short seasons ago, as Hawes struggled to stay out on the court for Coach Doug Collins, and looked lost a lot of the time when he was able to avoid injury issues. However, his improving play and the continuing league-wide trend toward small-ball and speed make Hawes’ skill set especially intriguing, and one that might be worth holding on to. There is little doubt that Hawes’ market value will be elevated in the offseason if he continues his impressive play, and while it would not be wise for the Sixers to break the bank on him, it may also be unwise to let him walk without some contract consideration. ... As the league continues to trend towards speed and shooting, Hawes has already demonstrated that he can operate well in the Sixers’ new up-tempo system. If he can continue to open opportunities for others, and thrive under Brett Brown, then the Sixers will have to give some serious consideration to bringing him back.