Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: When Dirk Nowitzki heard that Toronto coach and former Rick Carlisle assistant Dwane Casey said last week that the Mavericks’ icon was back to his 2011 level, the big German said he knows better than to believe all that. ... Nowitzki had a magical Monday night, popping in 31 points in the 111-104 win over Houston, which stopped a two-game skid and ensured that the Mavericks would not have their first three-game losing streak of the season. He also passed Alex English for 13th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. ... It was a team effort to turn the game around in the third quarter, which probably was the best 12 minutes they have played all season. In the fourth, Nowitzki simply was too good for the Rockets. “Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the great players in the history of the game."
Matt Schwab of The Oakland Tribune: Denver Nuggets fans showered Andre Iguodala with boos every time he touched the ball Monday night. The Warriors responded with a cavalcade of early points. Then they had to grind away in another Western Conference battle for an 89-81 win, their second straight workmanlike victory. Iguodala, who led the Nuggets to a franchise-best 57 wins last season, including averaging 18 points in a first-round playoff series against the Warriors, said Monday morning he didn't know what to expect in his return. He quickly found out. "It's just our day and age with sports now," Iguodala said of all the booing. "There's so many transactions, and fans are really into it. They're so close to the game. You're going to see a lot more." Iguodala's reputation was sullied last month when ex-Nuggets coach George Karl labeled him a Warriors "mole" during the playoffs -- a charge a seemingly mystified Iguodala denied Monday morning.
Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Jim Dolan can’t like how the Knicks have had several late-game mental meltdowns, the ones that have shown a real communications problem between his coach and players. But with Woodson still hanging onto his job, Dolan must alsounderstand that all of the injuries have contributed to this rotten start. They’re saving Woodson’s skin, at this point. The one positive until Monday was that Anthony had been able to answer the bell for every game and had been having a very good season. Not MVP caliber, as he did in the early stages of last season. But he also hasn’t had help from Chandler or Raymond Felton, who continued Monday to be a walking injury when he suffered a groin strain. But at least the Knicks didn’t see their season implode Monday, as the Bulls and Nets have. ... But among Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, nobody can force a defense to send an extra man and rotate, creating openings for shooters, the way that Lopez often did. Or like Anthony often does, whether he’s playing small forward or power forward. He has that kind of presence and talent level. Like his game or not, Anthony needs to stay off that list. Or else the Knick season is officially over.
Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Notice that sound coming out of the Indiana Pacers locker room — it’s the peaceful silence of a drama-free season. And point guard George Hill knows why. “I think we rely on each other,” Hill said. “I think all of us stay on each other’s back and stay on each other at all times and make sure everybody keeps grounded, throw the egos out and not worry about what others think about us and (only) what the locker room thinks.” So as an Internet rumor circulated on Monday that mentioned Hill and Danny Granger in a trade proposal to Boston for All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, Hill remained unaffected. Hill’s agent, Michael Whitaker, informed The Star that he has not been in contact with either team nor has he taken part in any trade talks involving his client this season. By Monday night, Hill had heard the rumor then shoved it to the back of his mind.
Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Marco Belinelli replaced Green in the starting lineup for the second time in the past four games, marking only the fourth instance Green hasn’t started since earning the job midway through the 2011-12 season. Green responded with his best game in a month, scoring 12 of 14 points, including all four of his 3s, in the fourth quarter. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t elaborate much on the move, as you’d expect. But he did say it wasn’t based on the offensive end, where Green has been even streakier than usual following his record-setting performance in the Finals. With Belinelli playing so well on offense — at least before Monday, when he scored just four points and missed all five 3-point attempts — it wouldn’t be surprising to see he and Green shuffle back and forth as Popovich experiments. “You don’t bench people because they’re not making shots,” he said. “We just changed the look and changed the rotation a little bit. It could change again.” Green, for his part, said he doesn’t care if he starts or not. “It’s not about who starts,” he said, “it’s about who finishes.”
David J. Neal of The Miami Herald: The green jackets Wade gave each of his teammates as a Christmas present both commemorate their 2012-13 NBA Championship and act as homage to the tradition at golf’s greatest tournament, The Masters, of giving the champion a green jacket. Though not a golfer, LeBron James said, “I do respect those golfers who’ve won the Masters over the years. It’s unbelievable the focus you have to have to compete against, not your opponent, but to compete against the green, against the weather, against yourself. I’ve always been fascinated with those guys.”
Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Everybody remembers theirs, even if the details are sketchy, even if the dates and numbers aren’t precisely correct. But that feeling of helplessness never leaves an NBA player’s mind. Watching Dwight Howard “baptize” Pistons center Andre Drummond Saturday night for 35 points and 19 rebounds brought back memories for various members of the Pistons. For Pistons president Joe Dumars, it wasn’t Michael Jordan who gave him his “baptism.” Supersonics sharpshooter Dale Ellis gave Dumars a 47-point performance in 1988 in Seattle, when Dumars was in his third year as a Piston. Ellis made 19 of his 30 shots, with just three 3-pointers in a 109-106 win. Dumars scored 14 but remembered the night vividly. “I was jumping around, in his face; he just gave it to me,” Dumars said. In return, Dumars said he has “baptized” more than a few players in his Hall of Fame career but wouldn’t give any names. Brandon Jennings said his baptism was from current teammate Chauncey Billups, in 2009, when Billups was a member of the Denver Nuggets.
Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Pelicans sixth man Tyreke Evans said he didn't have too many emotions about returning to Sacramento to play the Kings. After spending the first four years of his professional career playing for the Kings, who drafted him with the fourth overall pick in 2009, Evans was shipped to New Orleans this offseason in a sign-and-trade deal. Before the Pelicans closed out five-game road trip in Sacramento, Evans said he was looking forward to playing against his former teammates and good friends for the first time. But he added it was no big deal. "Not really," Evans said when asked if this game would bring added emotions.
Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies haven’t felt this good about themselves since that four-game West Coast road trip they swept slightly more than a month ago. It has been that long since they were able to string together consecutive wins. That is, until Monday night when the Griz earned their second straight victory by beating a pesky Utah Jazz squad, 104-94, in FedExForum. “Maybe the wheels on the train are starting to roll for us,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said after watching his team end a three-game home losing streak following last Saturday’s win at New York. ... There was less hesitation and fewer mistakes than the Griz had experienced lately on offense. Joerger lauded the Griz for more activity on defense. “We’ve just started to focus more,” Joerger said.
Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Bottom line: The Charlotte Bobcats don’t like deficits, but there’s no longer reason to fear them. There’s a pattern to winning three of their last four: Get down by 16 or more points, pour it on in the second half and go home a winner. That was again the script in a 111-110 overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday. They trailed the team with the worst record in the NBA (6-22) by 18 points in the first half. They did pretty much the same thing in Toronto and Detroit, yet came away with victories. Coach Steve Clifford says there’s a lesson that he’s glad his team has absorbed: “They understand in this league, that while you don’t want to be down, 10 or 12 points (is nothing.)” Monday was a curious mix of good and bad. Point guard Kemba Walker had a near-triple double, with 25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Center Al Jefferson had his scoring high as a Bobcat with 26 points (plus nine rebounds). And the Bobcats – a league-worst 30.1 percent from 3-point range – were 10-of-17 from the arc.
Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: The Suns have been surprising this season. But when their former lottery pick Kendall Marshall caught on with the Lakers, now that was downright shocking. After all, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni loves playmaking guards who can shoot. And while Marshall was regarded as a good passer who could see and anticipate what was happening on the floor, shooting is something that would not be high on his resume. But with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all out with injuries, the Lakers needed a playmaking guard. Marshall was playing in the NBA D-League for Delaware after being released by Washington, which got him as part of the Marcin Gortat trade. “It’s been crazy. It’s been a whirlwind the past week,” Marshall said after the Lakers morning shootaround. “But I’m excited about it.” He made his Lakers debut at Golden State Saturday night and actually hit his only field-goal attempt, a 3-pointer no less, and turned the ball over four times in a 5:54 playing stint. So, pretty much exactly the opposite of what one would expect. But D’Antoni said it’s too small of a sample size to reach any conclusions and he hasn’t even seen Marshall in a practice yet. Marshall is just glad to be back in the NBA.