First Cup: Wednesday

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: When he set foot in this city nearly 3½ years ago, Xavier Henry was considered a highly touted draft prospect that could help the Memphis Grizzlies toward a deep playoff push. Henry, whom Memphis selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, never did that. A right knee injury sidelined him for 35 games his rookie season. The Grizzlies then traded Henry the following year to New Orleans, where overlapping injuries buried him on the depth chart. "I was just faithful to God and stayed true to the Bible," Henry said. "I perservered through it. I've been doing that so far in my career. It hasn't been easy," The Lakers signed Henry to a one-year deal this offseason with a partially guaranteed contract worth $884,293, and the move became a good investment. Henry only posted five points on 2 of 8 shooting in the Lakers' win Tuesday against Memphis. But he has averaged a career-high 9.8 points on 44 percent shooting in 20.1 minutes per game. He has also shown marked improvement from November (6.8 points on 37.9 percent shooting) to December (13.9 points on 50 percent shooting). "I'm trying to solidify myself and have a great career," Henry said. "But it doesn't happen in a day. I can't have too many highs or lows. It's about pushing through the whole season."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The shoe that Tony Allen wore when he inadvertently kicked Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul in the face on Nov. 18 will be auctioned online to benefit Youth Villages. Allen, who was ejected from that game and suspended, donated the shoe to the national nonprofit organization headquartered in Memphis. Youth Villages is auctioning the shoe online as part of an effort to raise $15,000 to buy presents for children receiving help on its residential campuses and group homes. The shoe is autographed by Allen and is mounted in a custom Memphis Grizzlies display case. The eBay auction runs through Sunday. All proceeds generated from the sale of the shoe will be matched by an anonymous donor up to $10,000.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: After Damian Lillard bludgeoned the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, swishing a game-winning three-pointer before the final buzzer to carry the red-hot Trail Blazers to another victory, the superlatives flowed as free and effortless as a shotoff Lillard’s right fingertips. “Cold blooded,” Cleveland’s Dion Waiters said of the game-winner. “Incredible,” Joel Freeland said of the dominant individual performance. “He’s like a silent assassin on the court,” Earl Watson said of Lillard. “He’s deadly when he shoots the ball.” Lillard was certainly a last-second marksman for the Blazers on Tuesday, calmly and confidently nailing a 30-foot step-back three with 0.4 seconds left to lift them to a 119-116 victory over the Cavaliers before 15,689 at Quicken Loans Arena. It was the second consecutive game-winner for Lillard — who hit a fadeaway jumper to beat the Detroit Pistons Sunday — and provided another remarkable moment in a season that continues to amaze. “It’s crazy that we’re pulling off wins like this,” Freeland said of the Blazers, who possess the NBA’s best record at 22-4.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Kyrie Irving was caught off guard by Nike’s official release of the Zoom HyperRev on Monday, which the shoe giant said was made with Irving in mind. "I wish Nike would have told me when they were going to release the images,” Irving joked. “But that’s just what the biggest brand in the world does that I’m grateful to be a part of." The shoes go on sale to the public Jan. 1. Irving has not worn them in a game yet, but there are pictures circulating on the internet of O.J. Mayo wearing them. Irving wasn’t sure how Mayo got a pair before he did. “I don’t know if you’ll see him again with them on, but we’ll see what happens,” Irving said.

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The analytic hoops world has been taken over by efficiency numbers and the advanced metrics craze. It’s understandable. And so useful. But it often can’t tell the whole story. Take a look at Russell Westbrook’s past six games. He’s shooting under 44 percent from the field and 20 percent (6-of-30) from three. Bad, right? Except that Westbrook may be in the midst of one of his best career stretches. Forget the percentages. Just look at his ridiculous per game averages in the past six: 21.1 points, 9.8 assists, 9.1 rebounds. Those are eye-popping, crazy, Oscar Robertson-type numbers. And only in a minor way do they tangibly explain his current impact on the court. He’s just been controlling games with his end-to-end energy and non-stop motor. Now if he would just stop jacking those long, early-in-the-shot-clock threes.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: The only place in the NBA where point guard Ty Lawson is more beloved than Russell Westbrook is Denver. In a nutshell, that represents the daunting challenge for the Nuggets to be taken seriously in the league. If Lawson can't blow by Westbrook, Denver will never catch Oklahoma City's elite status in the Western Conference. "When a great point guard comes up, you've got to respond to the challenge," Lawson said. Oklahoma City blew out the Nuggets 105-93 on Tuesday night. The problem: 17 points and 13 assists by Lawson were not enough. At 5-foot-11, Lawson is the biggest talent on the Denver roster. ... Is playing Westbrook on even terms an unreasonable expectation for Lawson? It might be. But here's the deal: The West will be won by an elite point guard. While Durant is the best player in the conference, the strength of the NBA leans hard to the Left Coast because of the talent at the position played by Lawson. Lawson is cut from all-star cloth. But name all the point guards in the West that Lawson must beat out for all-star glory, and you have a very clear picture of how hard it will be for the Nuggets to become a serious contender for a berth in the NBA Finals. Without a blockbuster trade or a draft lottery luck, the lone way this group of Nuggets is going to ever get to the championship round is if Lawson grows into one of the top 20 players in the league.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Steve Clifford double-teamed Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins aggressively for much of the second half. That took some defensive pressure off Al Jefferson, and was just enough to secure a 95-87 home victory. Cousins ended the game with 30 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. Jefferson fouled out in the last two minutes, finishing the game with 10 points and nine rebounds. But it was the Bobcats who prevailed, improving to 11-14. Clifford had been advised by his mentors, particularly Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, to go slow in installing defensive principles. Establish the basic habits now, worry about exotic coverages and “special-player” counter-measures later. “Later” became last week’s road loss to the NBA-best Indiana Pacers. The Bobcats might have pulled that game off had they done something fresh in the fourth quarter to contain center Roy Hibbert and shooting guard Lance Stephenson.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The first shooting guard off the bench the last two games hasn’t been a shooting guard. Malone has opted to bring 6-foot-9 forward Travis Outlaw off the bench and use him and the 6-foot-8 Gay as guards behind rookie guard Ben McLemore. “What I liked about it is we became very long and athletic out there on the perimeter,” Malone said. “At some points you had Derrick (Williams), Rudy and Travis out there and all those guys can switch screens, cover for each other and they all can make a play offensively. I liked it on both ends of the floor. We’ll continue to give it a look as the season goes along.” That has again cut into the playing time for Marcus Thornton. Thornton began the season as a starter but did not play at all Tuesday after playing seven minutes Sunday against Houston. Thornton was pegged as a source of offense with the second unit, but Williams will be looked at to fill that void.

  • Carl Steward of The Oakland Tribune: Andre Iguodala is back, and not coincidentally, so are the Warriors. After missing the previous 12 games because of a left-hamstring strain, the versatile swingman returned to the lineup Tuesday night, and even though he personally showed some rust, the Warriors looked well-oiled in whipping the New Orleans Pelicans 104-93 at Oracle Arena. The Warriors, who went 5-7 without Iguodala, went wire-to-wire in improving their record to 14-12. They played upbeat and confident, buoyed by the return of Iguodala, who logged 17 minutes. He scored only two points -- on a dunk -- had two assists and didn't get a rebound, but as usual, he just seemed to make everybody better. "It felt good -- I got tired of watching," Iguodala said. "You get a little appreciation for the game, especially when you see your brothers struggle. I felt tonight was a great game by everyone just to get a win and put together a string of good basketball the way we did the first three quarters." Indeed, it was a big night for a number of Warriors, most notably Stephen Curry, who recorded a league-best 11th straight game with 20 points or more by pouring in 28 and adding 12 assists. David Lee, meanwhile, was active at both ends, scoring 21 points with 17 rebounds.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: The New Orleans Pelicans are working out final details on a potential two-year contract offer to acquire 7-foot-2 French center Alexis Ajinca, league sources confirmed Tuesday afternoon. Ajinca is in the process of working out a buyout agreement with his current Euro League team, Strasbourg. Meanwhile, Pelicans officials declined comment about the situation on Tuesday afternoon. Ajinça was the 20th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats, who eventually traded him to the Dallas Mavericks before the 2010-11 season. He played only a half season with the Mavericks before he was traded to the Toronto Raptors. The Pelicans are in desperate need of acquiring a center. Jason Smith is their starting center, but he's a natural power forward. Backup center Greg Stiemsma has been out since mid-November with a sprained left knee.