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First Cup: Friday

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: The jaw-dropping performances are coming so frequently, so effortlessly and so monumentally, Robin Lopez has given up trying to forecast what might happen next. Instead, he’s decided to just hop aboard the L-Train, sit back and enjoy the ride. “LA’s been playing at one hell of a level,” Lopez said, referring to LaMarcus Aldridge. “I know it’s only 20-something games in, but that’s a long time to be playing this way. You thought the apex was going to be the OKC game and then he comes with a game like this. I don’t want to predict what’s ahead, because I just don’t know what’s going to happen.” With MVP chants echoing around the Moda Center at random intervals and a national TNT television audience gushing at home, Aldridge delivered another MVP-like performance Thursday night, leading the Trail Blazers to another impressive victory, 111-104, over the Houston Rockets before a sellout crowd of 19,997. The two-time All-Star finished with 31 points, a career-high 25 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists, while making 14 of 22 shots. It was one of the best individual performances in the NBA this season, one of the most dominant outings of Aldridge’s career, and it continued a 23-game run of brilliance for a player who is, quite simply, playing the best basketball of his NBA career.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets and especially Dwight Howard have cited inconsistent effort for the Rockets sometimes unreliable defense, but he said they also have been working to adjust to changes in style and responsibilities. “On the defensive end, we’re trying to get better, trying to learn how to do more things as a team on the defensive end as far as movement and cracking back on the bigs, stuff like that,” Howard said. “That takes time. It’s something these guys weren’t accustomed to over the last couple years. We just got to get better at it.” The defense with Omer Asik in the middle was different because Asik tended more to stay back defensively while Howard comes out to challenge shooters more often, requiring that teammates move more to crack back, or help the helper. “I hope we continue to trust each other, continue to build the chemistry on and off the court,” Howard said. “We want to peak at the right time. We know we can get better. That’s what we’re striving for.”

  • Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News: The Nets own the longest win streak in the East and are exactly one game out of first in their division. Deron Williams is playing like an All-Star. Remind us, again: What was all that panic about? Well, yes, there had been some reason for alarm. An indifferent roster in tatters. Bad ankles. An overmatched coach on wobbly ground. But that was last week, and this is a much happier day, Friday the 13th. Bodies are growing stronger, healthier. Momentum is gathering. Jason Kidd’s cerebrum is expanding, rewiring. The Clippers were dispatched, 102-93, at the Barclays Center on Thursday night as if they were just another rickety opponent from the Northeast corridor. Williams, inspired by the sight of playmaking rival Chris Paul, came alive in the second quarter and performed as we remember him from Utah. Paul Pierce, inspired by the sight of his old coach, Doc Rivers, came off the bench again and played like we recall him in Boston. Joe Johnson hit his jumpers, like he did in Atlanta. Andray Blatche shot the ball as he does only in his dreams. “Deron pushing the pace, directing, leading, I feel that’s the difference,” Kevin Garnett decided. All is suddenly righted in Brooklyn, where the Nets are on a three-game streak and heading to Detroit, against another beatable opponent. They are a magazine-cover team again.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Jared Dudley is frustrated with his play. He's so frustrated that Dudley said he would "bench" himself for his poor play. That's probably not going to happen, but after going one for seven from the field, one for four from three-point range and scoring just four points during the Clippers' 102-93 loss to the Nets, Dudley was very critical of his play. "For me, personally, I have to play better," Dudley said. "There's no doubt about it. If I was the coach, I'd bench me the way I've been playing, the way I've been shooting the ball. But it's something where I have to just get in the gym and keep working." Dudley has been playing with a sore right knee that has limited him from logging heavy minutes. But he won't use that as an excuse for his play. "When you win and you shoot badly, it doesn't really matter," Dudley said. "Stats and all the other stuff doesn't matter. You want to help your teammates. Certain shots that I normally make throughout my career, I'm not making them now, so that's frustrating."

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: In an interview before the team left to board a plane for Friday night's game in Oklahoma City, Gasol made clear what he usually only intimates. He said he believes his poor play is a result of his poor usage in D'Antoni's system. He said he has come to the conclusion that he just doesn't fit. "This year hasn't been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that's not going to change any time soon," he said. So why hasn't it been ideal? "What do you think?" he said. "I'm not going to say anything, but it's easy to see. You see a guy with a certain skill set, where does it fit better, where it doesn't." When asked about D'Antoni's sometimes pointed criticism of his toughness, Gasol shrugged. "I don't pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don't give much credit to things like that," he said. When asked if D'Antoni has ever discussed this criticism with him directly, for the first time in the interview, Gasol sounded irked. "Nope, zero. Nope, zero," he said. "Like I said, it's not ideal, but it is what it is." A few minutes later, in another part of the emptying gym, D'Antoni offered his own shrug and acknowledged he has never discussed his criticisms directly with Gasol.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs are roughly a quarter through the regular season, and they could have scarcely gotten off to a better start. Sure, they were humiliated last week at home by Indiana in a potential Finals preview, the most glaring result in a string of losses to high-profile teams. Then there was the Great Mexico City Smoke Out of 2013. For the most part, however, they’ll be pleased — or as pleased as a veteran team coached by Gregg Popovich can be in December — with their 17-4 start, keeping them right in the thick of the Western Conference race and putting them on pace to set a franchise record with 66 victories. With Popovich’s emphasis on health and a gradual buildup to the playoffs over raw win totals, it’s doubtful they’ll keep it up. But the Spurs have at least delivered an emphatic answer as to whether that last June’s crushing Finals defeat would bleed into the current campaign.

  • Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger said he's "literally day-to-day" with his return from an injured left calf, but today won't be the day, he said after Thursday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "I don't like where I'm at with my timing and my rhythm and obviously my conditioning," he said. "I don't think I will (play) Friday. "I practiced today, a full-on practice, but I don't feel like I'm ready yet. I dribbled the ball off my foot a couple of times, just things you do when you haven't played. (I) lost the ball in transition on a pass. My rhythm isn't there yet." Granger said he's had no physical setback. "No, no, no," he said. "Just all game legs. I'm not going to go on the court until I'm ready." Granger hasn't played since the fifth preseason game Oct. 18. He missed all but five games last year with an injured left knee. He said earlier this week that there was "a good chance" he'd play against Charlotte.

  • Nate Sandell of 1500ESPN.com: Posting eye-catching numbers isn't anything new for Kevin Love, but he is doing so this season at a near-historic rate. On top of recording his NBA-leading 20th double-double of the season (26 points, 15 rebounds), Love added five assists in the Timberwolves' 19-point comeback against the 76ers on Wednesday. It marked the fifth time in 21 games that Love has hit the 25-point, 15-rebound, 5-assist threshold. No other player in the NBA has replicated that stat line this year. Only seven other players since 1985 have reached the same 25-15-5 line more than six times in a season. Twenty-two games into the season, Love is already poised to climb up that list. Shaquille O'Neal holds the top mark with 12 games of 25-15-5.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Brad Stevens is being met with increasing regard. The number of NBA types who’ve confided that, hey, they knew this was a great hire all along has risen greatly. (Insert raised eyebrow here.) No one really knew what to expect when Danny Ainge recruited Stevens from Butler, but the players, holders of the most important opinions in this poll, have quickly become believers. “I think he’s an easy coach to play for,” said Rajon Rondo. “He’s very positive. He not a yeller. He’s always encouraging and moving on to the next play. Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach like that? He’s a humble coach. I mean, I don’t know if that’s the key, but it has to help. I don’t know. He’s got the secret; I don’t have it.” Brandon Bass certainly wondered what the new guy would bring, but on the way to playing some of the best ball of his career, he’s reached a conclusion. “You know what I realized? A great coach anywhere is a great coach everywhere,” Bass said.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: It's going to be another couple of games before Raptors fans get their first look at Chuck Hayes in Toronto colours. The 6-foot-6 centre, acquired along with Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons in the Rudy Gay deal with the Sacramento Kings, had a previous heart issue and has to undergo a baseline test at the Cleveland Clinic before Raptors doctors will let him play. The delay does not hold up anyone else involved in the deal. All seven participants have taken and passed physicals. The test for Hayes is at the Raptors' insistence. "Chuck Hayes can't go yet until he has his baseline cardiac testing with the Cleveland Clinic," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. "The doctor that does that is out of town. He can't do that until Monday." Therefore, the earliest Hayes could play for the Raptors is next Wednesday against the visiting Charlotte Bobcats.

  • Kevin Tresolini of The News-Journal: Aquille Carr has one highlight video that has garnered 5.5 million views on YouTube and another with 4.9 million. They show the 5-foot-6 Carr sending defenders flailing the wrong way while trying to contain his darting drives or thwart a lightning-quick, no-look pass. He sails long jumpers through the net and skies to the rim to block a shot or make a dunk. Those who cast eyes on the 20-year-old point guard’s highlight-reel skills Thursday night at the Carpenter Center can attest to his watchability. A large number of them, mostly friends and family from Baltimore sitting in section 19 behind the Delaware 87ers bench, cheered Carr as he entered the game against the Idaho Stampede with 3:58 left in the first quarter. The Sevens trailed unbeaten Idaho by 11 at the time. By midway through the second quarter, however, Carr had scored 18 of the Sevens’ 22 points as they battled back to within five. His impact was that quick and significant. ... As a 2013 high school graduate, Carr isn’t eligible for the NBA draft until 2014. It appeared he’d play professionally in China before deciding against it.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: “Unreal." The one word from then-Pistons color analyst and current Detroit Mayor Dave Bing when George Blaha signed off after a marathon, triple-overtime game that produced the highest-scoring contest in NBA history said it all. And it still requires a double take, 30 years to the day later. Detroit Pistons 186, Denver Nuggets 184 on December 13, 1983, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. The sheer numbers are staggering. Five players scored more than 30, including a 22-year-old wunderkind named Isiah Thomas who finished with 47 points, 17 assists and five rebounds. The two leading scorers for the Nuggets, scoring forwards Kiki Vandeweghe and Alex English, combined for 98 points. It was surely a different game back then, but a historic night nonetheless, one witnessed by just the 9,655 people in attendance. “I don’t think it was a sellout and there are probably 40 or 50 thousand people who now claim they were there,” said Blaha, who was in his ninth year as Pistons play-by-play man. Although this was the Chuck Daly-Thomas-led Pistons, it was a far cry from their rough-and-tumble “Bad Boys” days that were to come in the near future. It was a run-and-gun team Daly coached, one that averaged 117.1 points.