First Cup: Tuesday

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: As the Orlando Magic's losses have increased this season, Arron Afflalo has kept a lid on his disappointment. The losses have worn on him, but he never has singled out teammates even though he has played at an All-Star level. On Monday night, Afflalo channeled any lingering frustrations onto the court. Afflalo scored 13 of his team-high 23 points in the third quarter, and the Magic needed all of the cushion that he helped provide. The Magic led by as many as 17 points midway through the third quarter and just barely held on to beat the struggling Chicago Bulls 83-82 at United Center. "We were holding on, surviving tonight," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "This game was a first-one-to-80 kind of game. We needed points, and there was a stretch he was really good for us."

  • Steve Hummer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: For all the Los Angeles Lakers residual marquee value, in the cold, hard light of the standings, Monday’s meeting with the Hawks amounted to No. 3 in the East vs. No. 12 in the West. Granted, L.A. plays in a much, much tougher neighborhood. But still, for a night, the result almost spoke mismatch. Before the usual lively crowd that the Lakers bring with them, the Hawks beat the Lakers 114-100. They saved their highest-scoring game of the young season for the one night the Lakers came to town. The Hawks seized control of the game with a third quarter surge and on this occasion refused to melt. They overwhelmed the Lakers with their energy. Eleven three-pointers didn’t hurt either. In L.A., the Lakers won the first meeting of the season in early November by two with a markedly different starting lineup than Monday’s. Four different bodies in royal purple ambled onto the Philips floor, the one with Bryant stitched across his shoulders being the most noted.

  • Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News: Of all the remarkable season stats for Joe Johnson, the most impressive one right now rests directly below the “G.” There, you will find the number 24, which meansthat Johnson is one of only four Nets, and the only one who really matters, not to have missed a single game this year due to injury. It is a wonder how he has remained in one piece, while all around him his teammates have been felled like Christmas trees in early December. “I love to come out and play,” Johnson said after he had done something remarkable on Monday night. “I just try to be here for the guys.” Johnson wasn’t merely there for the guys at Barclays Center, he was ablaze. Johnson went on a record-tying 3-point streak that suddenly made a lopsided game worth watching, at least for a period. In that third quarter, he scored 29 points and buried eight of 10 threes, including an impossible bomb from the left corner with defender James Anderson draped all over him — while drawing a foul. “I got a good look, got separation,” Johnson insisted. “I just let it go. I was in the right spot a lot of times, at the right times, catching the ball with the seams every time in the right place.” It was all more than enough to bury the Sixers, 130-94, and to demonstrate again how Johnson has become the rock on a team largely comprised of delicate sand pebbles. “Got to keep giving him the ball, keep giving it to him,” Andray Blatche said.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: After scoring 31 points on 13-for-17 shooting on mostly inside post-ups in Sunday’s home loss to Portland, Pistons forward Josh Smith told reporters to expect more of it the rest of the season. Smith kept his word with 30 points on 13-for-29 shooting in Monday’s win over the Indiana Pacers. That news should be music to the ears of fans who have watched Smith chuck up long jumper after long jumper in the early season. The inside emphasis was prompted by coach Maurice Cheeks, who met with the free-agent acquisition to discuss ways to get him on track offensively. “We talked about it, playing him a little bit more, putting the ball in his hands a little bit more, trying to get him off the perimeter, not allowing to catch so many jump shots on the perimeter,” Cheeks said before the Pistons faced the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. “Just give him more opportunities scoring-wise." Through the first 25 games Smith spent a lot of time on the perimeter and not using advantage of his athletic gifts. He always has been one of the most efficient players in the NBA in the paint. And he punished the Trail Blazers with an array of jump hooks and power moves for dunks.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Bradley Beal now has a Madison Square Garden moment that he will forever cherish, taking the ball from John Wall – right in front of Spike Lee, looking on with his hands in his pockets – and driving left around New York Knicks point guard Beno Udrih for a layup that stunned a sellout crowd. At the NBA’s most storied arena, Beal scored the Wizards’ final eight points to lead his team a 102-101 victory that ended a four-game losing streak and gave Washington a win in New York that the franchise had been seeking since Gilbert Arenas had his first knee surgery. But Beal wouldn’t have been in position to make his second career game-winning shot – and first on the road – if not for an unexpected second-half run that turned a five-point deficit into a seven-point lead, all with Wall watching from sideline. Playing his first came in three weeks, Beal certainly had a hand in the swing, but Martell Webster, Jan Vesely and Garrett Temple made the shots and the plays on both ends that spared the team from another collapse.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Heat guard Dwyane Wade's health is often judged by others based on the ability to make athletic plays on the court. He says it's the exact opposite. Wade can tell if his knees are causing problems mostly on jumpshots. "A lot of my jumpshot is how my legs feel," Wade said. "I'm strong enough to get down on my shot and get up in the air on it. … You got to plant, you've got to be able to raise. Everybody looks at dunking as everything. You can feel great one day and dunking is not going to be a part of it. … It's about how you're able to get up on your shot." Wade used guard Ray Allen as an example. Allen was bothered by sore ankles during the 2012 playoffs, making it tough to shoot, even at the free throw line. "It's just little things like that, that hurt you," Wade said. "The average fan would maybe not know how the body works when it comes to basketball."

  • Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: It was a quintessential Boston moment two years in the making. As Celtics forward Jared Sullinger stepped to the free throw line with his team up three points in the closing seconds of Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Garden crowd saluted the emerging talent with the chant of "Sully! Sully! Sully!" Sullinger hit one of the two free throws, then rebounded a Minnesota miss down the other end, to help cap a tremendous final 12 minutes in a 101-97 Boston victory. Sullinger — whose deep 3-pointer put the Celtics up for good with 2:45 left — finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes against the punishing Minnesota frontcourt of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love. He was a monster in the fourth quarter with 15 points and seven rebounds. Sullinger credited another old fan favorite — assistant coach Walter McCarty — for giving him the confidence to pull the trigger on the killer trey. "I passed up a lot of shots in the third quarter," he said. "I tried to get better shots for my teammates. Then Walt grabbed me on the bench and told me, ‘Just shoot the ball. That’s what players do. When you’re wide open, shoot the ball. We believe in every shot that you take. You have to have confidence in yourself to shoot it.’ "

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Their contrasting styles were on display before, during and after the Clippers defeated the Spurs, 115-92, on Monday night at Staples Center. Arriving about 80 minutes before tip-off because a team bus was running late, Popovich noticed a group of students standing across the hallway from the Spurs' locker room. Informed they were aspiring journalists from Long Beach State, Popovich quipped, "Keep them away from me or they'll want to change their majors." It was a classic retort from a coach who can be gruff and seems to delight in making others — mainly the media — squirm. Consider his response to a harmless question about why the Spurs were running late: "Ah, the sunset was great over in Santa Monica," Popovich said, "so we stayed a little bit longer to watch the sunset." Meanwhile, Rivers exchanged pleasantries with reporters and patted one on the shoulder as he entered a room for his pregame news conference. He was warm, engaging and made you feel as if he wanted to invite everyone over to his home for a Sunday barbecue. It should come as no surprise that he once played in a flag football league with reporters who covered his team when he coached the Orlando Magic. Their different demeanors carried over to the game. Popovich mostly stayed seated on the bench. When he rose, he often stood expressionless, with arms folded in front of his chest or his hands in his pocket. Rivers couldn't seem to stay in one place for more than a moment, clapping furiously after a Darren Collison steal and layup. He later wildly gestured for his players to get back on defense after Chris Paul drove to the basket for a layup. The coaches communicate in their own ways, challenging their players when necessary but also keeping things light whenever possible. ... When it was over, the coaches shared a hearty laugh and a few warm pats. "He's the king," Rivers would say later. Between Popovich and Rivers, it's more like two of a kind.

  • Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: This one is different. This one strikes the Knicks in a deep, dark place, a loss that isn’t as much about a lack of execution or a lack of effort, the usual suspects of this epic fail of a season to date, 17 losses now in 24 games, every light-at-the-end-of-a-tunnel moment met by a steaming locomotive, every single time. No. This one’s different. After this calamitous 102-101 loss to the Wizards, the questions are simpler than any that have come before, speaking to the very competence of the basketball operation: Can’t anybody here play this game? Can’t anyone here coach this game? Does anyone here have the slightest idea what they’re doing? “This,” J.R, Smith said, “is a frustrating way to lose a game.” Frustrating? Frustrating is only prologue to what this was. Frustrating barely gets you past the table of contents. It’s one thing to lose, after all. It’s something else entirely to do as many things wrong as the Knicks did in the final 24.2 seconds of this game — mental, physical, all of it, right down to a team-wide basketball IQ that barely hovers around room temperature now. ... Nineteen thousand people knew enough to call a timeout there. One coach didn’t. His players have been loud in their defense of him throughout these nightmarish 24 games, but what good is any of that? How do you defend a coach who oversees those final 24.2 seconds? Here’s the thing: You can’t.

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: Kenneth Faried is about to embark on a path he would not have chosen – in fact did not choose – but might turn out to be a benefit to him just the same. The Nuggets third-year forward was recently named the team’s National Basketball Players Association player-rep. He’ll be the Nuggets player liaison, attending occasional NBPA meetings and reporting back to the team on league matters that impact them. He’ll be the eyes and ears for the others in the locker room, keeping them up-to-date on matters like the collective bargaining agreement. One large issue on the table right now is the prospect of HGH testing in the NBA. But the players association and NBA are reportedly far apart on agreeing to any kind of deal there. It is Faried’s first year in the position. Asked why he wanted to do it, he swiftly shot that notion down. “I didn’t,” he said. Asked if he knows his exact duties just yet, Faried said, “No. I really don’t. That’s why I’m confused, lost, baffled at the opportunity. But maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. You can learn a lot. They said they would help me through it, other player reps from other teams that have been through it to understand and know what I have to do. So it should be interesting.”