First Cup: Friday

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: LeBron James is averaging a career-low 35.2 minutes, down from 37.9 last season and 39.6 in his career. Chris Bosh is averaging 28.5 minutes, by far the lowest of his career and down from 33.2 last season. And besides sitting out three games to rest his knees, Dwyane Wade is averaging more a minute per game less than last season (33.6), which is the second lowest of his career. “That’s extremely important,” Bosh said. “Our second group has done a magnificent job this year and made our jobs a little easier. It’s making it easier on us not having to play a lot, especially early.” It helps that Spoelstra has continued to get good work from his bench, including Michael Beasley, who had 17 points and 9 rebounds in a season-high 25 minutes against Cleveland on Wednesday. “We’re lucky to have the kid,” Wade said. “A lineup with him gives us firepower. He’s been better defensively.” Beasley offered an amusing explanation for his renewed commitment to grabbing rebounds: “[Chris Andersen] and Chris [Bosh] need help. And I ain’t got nothing better to do.”

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: DeMarcus Cousins has said he considers it a “compliment” when opponents try to irritate him or get “into my head” as a way to slow him down. In the next three games, the Kings center can expect to get figurative pats on the back. The Kings host the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, followed by games against the Warriors on Sunday and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena. Each team features players who have done all they can to play mind games with Cousins and take advantage of his emotions. Sometimes, that means trying to bait Cousins into technical fouls or frustrating him to the point that he begins committing personal fouls. Regardless, the coaching staff keeps an eye on the situation to make sure fouls, technical or otherwise, don’t become a problem, as they’ve been in recent seasons. This season, Cousins has four technical fouls, tied with Golden State’s Andrew Bogut, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s Dwight Howard for most in the NBA.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Kobe Bryant, although in the twilight of his illustrious career, has every right to command the $48.5 million, and could’ve taken more if he had chosen to. It’s a delicate balance to analyze this, and one must include Bryant’s competitive ego, the same hubris that has driven him to the best overall NBA career since Jordan. Bryant — a complex figure, to be sure, because of his persona and various feuds since entering the NBA as a prep star in 1996 — can be difficult to root for, but his point about giving billionaires a discount is well taken. The same crowd who bemoaned James taking his talents to South Beach to join fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can’t begrudge Bryant for this. His contract didn’t give the Lakers enough salary cap space to sign two more superstar-caliber players in free agency, but one reason Bryant is loved by a segment of fans is because he wanted to do it his way, decorum be damned. And the notion that Bryant chose money over winning is absurd — especially given the events of the proud Lakers franchise over the past 12 months.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Through 10 games, Russell Westbrook is shooting just 38.8 percent. He's connected on only 29.3 percent of his 3-point tries. Even his free throws aren't dropping at the rate he's accustomed to, as he's shooting 69.7 percent from the foul line. Wednesday's win against San Antonio stands as Westbrook's low point. He made just two of 16 shots, missed all five of his 3-pointers and scored a season-low six points. You'd have to go all the way back to April 16, 2012, to find the last time Westbrook was held to single-digit scoring in a regular-season game in which he played at least 10 minutes. That came in a 15-point road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. But these are the sporadic struggles the Thunder expected out of Westbrook. While rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee, Westbrook was forced to sit out all basketball activities. Prior to making an earlier-than-expected return on Nov. 3, Westbrook hadn't stepped on a court for a game since April 24. “It's going to take time,” Westbrook said. “Your legs got to get stronger, your body, all your muscles got to get used to working and getting back going.” Oddly enough, Westbrook got off to a similarly slow start shooting the ball when healthy last season.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The entire season has been a distraction to Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters. Through all the rumors and innuendo, however, he has kept his chin up. On Wednesday in the Cavs’ 95-84 loss to the Miami Heat, Waiters was the team’s best player. He matched his season high with 24 points and added six rebounds and three assists. Earlier in the day, a story surfaced on ESPN.com that the Cavs have been shopping the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Waiters. The week before, he was a key participant in the team’s players-only meeting. In the aftermath of that meeting, he didn’t accompany the team on a two-game road trip. The Cavs said he was “sick.” Since that meeting, he has been coming off the bench, even though he’s far and away the Cavs’ best shooting guard. “You have to block that out,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “A lot of people don’t know what is going on or what they’re talking about. At the end of the day, they can assume or guess. “They don’t know what went on in the locker room. I don’t pay that no mind.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: It's the most asked question since the Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in February 2011: Who won it? Everyone wants to win. While the intensity of the query has lost some steam since that blockbuster transaction, this season has tossed a curveball into the analysis. It might ultimately not be a case of who won the trade on the court, but who might win off it. The records since the trade skew decidedly in the Nuggets' favor, 121-66 (.647) to 107-83 (.563); the Knicks' mark marred by a 3-11 start to this season. And while that is fun fodder for Nuggets fans, the upshot of a Knicks season that falls completely off the rails would be the biggest boon of all. From the "file this away" category: There is a chance the Nuggets could both make the playoffs and still be in the draft lottery. It's made possible by what could turn out to be the biggest gift to come from the Melo trade — New York's first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The Orlando Magic is owed a first-round pick from the Nuggets in the three-team trade that brought Andre Iguodala to Denver, but that pick is to be the lesser of their two first-round picks (their own and the Knicks').

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: With Francisco Garcia sharing the Rockets’ scoring lead with Aaron Brooks on Wednesday, the Rockets have had seven players – Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Dwight Howard (twice), Terrence Jones, Brooks (twice), Chandler Parsons and Garcia – lead the team in scoring or share the team scoring lead in the eight games since the lineup change. In that stretch, six of those seven Rockets players had their season-high scoring night. Parsons had 17 points Monday in Memphis, but scored a season high of 24 Nov. 2. “We have such a deep team,” Howard said. “We have a lot of guys who can come in, put the ball in the basket. But the main thing is we all play for each other, play defense and win. It doesn’t matter who gets the most points as long as we win the game.” In the past eight games, the Rockets have scored an average of 113.7 points per 100 possessions to lead the league.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Several Spurs players were amused by a feature story in the “Personal Journal” section of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal that was headlined “Grooming Tips from Giant Men.” The article focused on skin care products and other toiletries favored by NBA players, including former Spurs guard George Hill, who said he is a fan of Shea Souffle moisturizer. Other revelations in the piece included Clippers center DeAndre Jordan’s use of Secret deodorant before games and Amar’e Stoudemire’s preference for Bath and Body Works Stress Relief eucalyptus spearmint body lotion. Spurs forward Boris Diaw, one of the team’s more fashionable dressers, was amused by Pacers center Roy Hibbert’s use of “almond cookie” lotion. “Almond cookie?” Diaw said. “Is that for real?” Diaw actually uses lotion during games, but its use has nothing to do with making himself smell good. “My hands don’t sweat,” he explained, “so I use Vaseline Intensive Care (lotion) to keep them moist. Otherwise, I can’t grip the ball.”

  • Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star: To David West, putting self second is part of the victory pursuit, which explains why he’s unconcerned about his statistically slow start to the season. The 11th-year pro is averaging just 12.2 points — 24 percent off his career average — and 30 minutes played, and he couldn’t care less. His team is 14-1. “We talked about at the beginning of the year that everyone was going to have to make sacrifices, so it’s no big deal,” West said as the Pacers prepared for tonight’s game against Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That’s just the way this team is built. “We’ve got multiple guys that can produce at a high level, five guys averaging double figures. We’re being productive. That’s how our offense is geared this year. “So, I focus on other things.” Long considered one of the NBA’s best power forwards, West is atypical in his approach. After games, he rarely checks his scoring total until he has gone through the categories he considers significant to team success.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The distribution of duties is well defined between Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens. And even though they’re pulling in the same overall direction as regards what is on the horizon, their specific day-to-day focus can often be worlds apart. While Stevens, as the coach, is seeking in each narrow moment to find an edge that will help the Celtics win the next game, Ainge is staring at a much larger picture with victory — the grand variety of victory — as a distant point of reference. As such, Ainge is well aware he has saddled his new coach with a Rubik’s Cube of a lineup to twist and mold. ... Things should fall into at least a better, if not solid, semblance of order once Rajon Rondo returns. But in the interim, Stevens has been left to juggle his rotation in search of a formula that draws the best from individuals and keeps the larger entity competitive. ... For his part, Stevens doesn’t see that much disparity between his field of vision and that of Ainge. What happens now, he believes, is part of what happens later.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Has he lost Iman Shumpert? That is open for debate. But the entire group? Nah. In fact, Woodson is taking preemptive steps to keep the team together. That was clear before Tuesday’s practice on the UCLA campus when Woodson admonished his team for comments that appeared to blame Monday’s loss to Portland on Carmelo Anthony. In separate post-game interviews, both Shumpert and Stoudemire said the lack of ball movement is what hurt the Knicks. That is usually basketball code for “Melo won’t pass.” Woodson and Anthony seemed to take it that way, and the head coach wasn’t about to allow finger-pointing to invade his locker room. According to a source, Woodson actually played MSG Network’s tape of Shumpert’s and Stoudemire’s comments and told his team, “If you have a problem with anyone, say it to their face, not the media.” That’s leadership. Both players needed to be called out, at least behind closed doors. And yet when given the chance to publicly support Shumpert and Stoudemire, Woodson didn’t hesitate.