First Cup: Tuesday

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Rajon Rondo is duly sympathetic with Derrick Rose and the right knee meniscus surgery that will keep the Bulls point guard out for the remainder of this season. But the Celtics point guard isn’t relating the Chicago star’s situation to his own. Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 campaign after left ACL surgery, and Rondo is still saying he plans to be back this season, maybe soon, after having similar surgery on his right knee. He is not — repeat not — rethinking his own plans after Rose’s most recent injury. ... Rondo is moving better as he continues to rehab. Before last night’s game, he engaged in a series of offensive possessions against tight defense from MarShon Brooks. This after going through his usual shooting drills with assistant coach Ron Adams. And Rondo wasn’t wearing his knee brace. Told that some Bobcats assistant coaches were watching from the far end of the court and saying he looked good, Rondo smiled and said, “They don’t have to worry about me tonight.” According to Celtics coach Brad Stevens, preparations are being made for a smooth transition whenever Rondo does come back.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Since a 120-89 victory at New York on Nov. 10, the Spurs have been a nightly one-team spoiler alert. If they were a movie, Old Yeller would be offed in the first act. Monday’s win — which moved the Spurs to 13-1 for only the second time in club history — was their seventh in the past eight games to come by at least 11 points. It improved the team’s average margin of victory during the streak to 15.1 points. So dominant have the Spurs been of late, it has their regulars pining for the good old days when they got to play in the fourth quarter. “We’re all players and want to play,” said Manu Ginobili, who ended with a team-best 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. “But we can’t complain.” The Spurs’ 13th victory of the season came with hallmarks of many that came before it.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: They are burning with the memory of what happened in Game 7 in Miami. It inspires them, pushes them every practice and every game, makes them chase excellence each and every night of the long NBA season. Men on a mission? Yes, the Indiana Pacers are men on a mission. It’s as if everything they do now, even in these early days of the season, is informed by the predicament they found themselves in last year, playing in Miami’s house for a chance to reach the NBA Finals. A special season is now off to a special start, a potential record-breaking start, the Pacers beating a really good Minnesota Timberwolves team, 98-84, Monday night to push their record to 13-1. Thirteen-and-one. It’s all about Game 7 in Miami. They never want to be on the road again for a Game 7. Ever. “That was the motivation for this year," Paul George said after a 26-point, eight-rebound performance. “It came from coach (Frank Vogel). We were special in the playoffs at home and we knew, if we can give ourselves the opportunity to play Game 7 in our house, we can do some special things."

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: On Monday, Los Angles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant signed a two-year deal that almost guarantees he ends his career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Dwyane Wade said the decision strengthened his desire to want his playing days to finish in a Heat uniform. While Wade still realizes anything can happen, he said ending his career in Miami has always been the goal. Wade came become a free agent next summer. "I've got a long way to go," Wade said. "It's great for a guy like [Bryant]. You feel proud obviously to be able to say that. It doesn't happen for everyone. But Kobe will always be forever looked at as a Laker and loved so much." Wade said he began thinking about being a Heat lifer the moment he signed his first contract extension. "That's something that I strived for, was to hopefully become one of those guys," Wade said. "It's not many. I've got years left to go but I would love to be one of those."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: In this very spot, a few minutes earlier, the Knicks players passed through the hall and disappeared behind the doors like it was a sinkhole. J.R. Smith removed his blue New York jersey and his undershirt on the way off the court, and was shirtless as he came through the arena tunnel. Amare Stoudemire had pulled his jersey off, too, wadded it under his arm, disgusted. Carmelo Anthony, though, cast the biggest figure in the building, letting his teammates pass, then leaning with both elbows on top of a garbage can, his face buried in his hands for several minutes. The Knicks are toast. The Blazers did this to them. Portland frustrated New York, passing the ball so unselfishly the opposition celebrated late in the game when it cut the lead to nine as if it had won. Nic Batum and Damian Lillard each had 23 points, but four other Blazers had eight points or better. Coach Terry Stotts' bench is so deep, and understated, and seemingly comes at the opposition from every angle, it's as if the Knicks never knew they were wounded until they were bleeding out all over the court. It's death by paper cut. I bring up the somber scene in the visiting locker room only because it presents an opportunity to understand what Portland is doing to its opposition this season. The Blazers are 13-1 in November, with Wednesday's important rematch with Phoenix rounding out what feels like a spectacular month.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: It turns out Omer Asik can still be pretty valuable, after all. Asik had his best game since he was replaced in the starting lineup and asked for a trade, playing the entire fourth quarter and helping the Rockets turn a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead. Asik scored just two points, but had 10 rebounds in his 21 minutes. More important, however, he kept Zach Randolph in check, allowing him just two fourth-quarter free throws. “After I came to the West, we played against them six times,” Asik said. “I know how he plays. I just tried to stop that. That’s it.” Asked if he was surprised that Kevin McHale never returned to Howard down the stretch, Asik said he had not considered it. “I don’t think about that,” Asik said. “I just play whenever I get minutes. I just try to play hard.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw calls Darrell Arthur his "safety net." That's good for long-term roster security, but it can mean trouble on a young team. Namely, trouble getting on the court. That cost Arthur some playing time early, but he's seen the court a lot more with the injury to JaVale McGee shortening the big- man pool. In the first four games of the season, Arthur averaged 11.5 minutes. Starting with the Phoenix game, which McGee couldn't finish because of a stress fracture, Arthur has averaged 17.6 minutes. He's shown himself to be arguably the Nuggets' best big man in the pick-and-roll defense. And he's a reliable shooter. "He's a safety net for us," Shaw said. "With him, he might be kind of, without a better way of saying it, he was the sacrificial lamb early on. But I know what I'm going to get out of him.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Former Pistons guard Brandon Knight laughed when it was suggested the first game against his old team was merely one of 82, and there was no extra motivation to show them what they gave up on. “That’s the truth,” he insisted. “I’m coming back from injury. My main thing is getting healthy and getting back on track.” Knight, the Pistons’ first-round pick in 2011, was supposed to be the point guard of the future before being traded to the Bucks this summer — along with forward Khris Middleton — for Brandon Jennings. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the kid who rarely saw failure or adversity before reaching the NBA level. Knight was injured in the first two minutes of the season opener, hurting his hamstring. That has prevented him from taking the next step in his game, a step that the Pistons obviously didn’t think he was capable of making, by virtue of trading him after two seasons. Knight’s game against the Pistons on Monday was just his fourth of the season, and with the Bucks losers of eight straight, his attention is less about his own revenge but about helping a team that appears rudderless. “My main focus isn’t on none of that. My team is struggling right now,” Knight said. “That’s the main thing to get back on track to get what we need to do.”

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: For all the punishment that Jazz fans are being asked to absorb this season, having Boozer personally beat his old team just would have been too much for them to take. From that potentially disastrous ending, some memorable moments ensued during overtime of the Jazz’s 89-83 victory at EnergySolutions Arena. These guys succeed just often enough to maintain the novelty. When they eventually find themselves and start winning roughly one-third of their games, this stuff won’t be nearly as much fun. And eventually, the comparisons of the Jazz to the franchise’s inaugural season in New Orleans in 1974-75 might lose their consistent placement in my chronicles. For now, the latest update: Tyrone Corbin made it past the Scotty Robertson Checkpoint, after the team’s first coach was fired with a similar 1-14 record. And the Jazz’s second victory came in Game 16, compared with Game 18 in New Orleans. In this episode, rookie guard Trey Burke’s key 3-pointer and Jeremy Evans’ dunk of Gordon Hayward’s lob pass served as the signature moments of overtime.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: The news Monday that Bryant had signed a two-year contract extension worth $48.5 million – twice his market value, eight months before it was necessary – was a startling celebration of individuality by a decorated franchise and veteran leader who both should have known better. The Lakers have proven they are about championships, yet they just handed out the sort of hefty contract to an aging and injured star that will likely prevent them from adding the free agents necessary to win another one with him. Kobe Bryant has also said he is about championships, yet he signed this extravagant deal instead of following the lead of wealthy veteran athletes like Tom Brady and Tim Duncan who agreed to take less money for the sake of improving the team. It may seem crazy to question any sort of deal that keeps a Laker uniform on the broad shoulders of the greatest scorer in Lakers history, but a combination of age, Achilles and salary cap issues drain this contract of all common sense. Think about it. The Lakers just gave nearly a third of their payroll to a 35-year-old guy who is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and whose contract will eat up so much of the salary cap, they will be able to afford to add just one highly paid star to this mediocre team next summer. They were supposed to have the room to sign two, remember? Dwight Howard's departure was supposed to give them the freedom to give Bryant a team he could lead back to the Finals before his retirement, right? Forget all that. The summer of 2014 has been deadened.