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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the Bulls, forward Luol Deng envisions a return to normalcy. Strange, considering he’s seeing it from the bench after missing his fifth consecutive game with an ailing left Achilles tendon. “I really believe that," said Deng, who insists the Bulls’ best basketball is still in front of them. “I really think so. We had just an unbelievable amount of injuries. Guys have been in and out. I’m really excited. And I think we’re better than what our record says." Deng had better hope so because even with the 95-91 victory Monday over the Grizzlies, the Bulls were still only 12-17, and 5-11 on the road. Deng is excited because his return is imminent and the organization is still pushing forward.

  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Since returning from his third ankle sprain of the season, which sidelined him for two games, New Orleans Pelicans swingman Tyreke Evans has been on an obvious roll. And that momentum didn't slow against the Portland Trail Blazers. Moments after Blazers dynamic second-year guard Damian Lilliard silenced a sold out New Orleans Arena crowd by tying the score with a 3-pointer, Evans made a 20-foot fade-away jump shot with 1.8 seconds remaining, giving the Pelicans a thrilling 110-108 victory. It wasn't quite the shot Pelicans coach Monty Williams would have preferred, but it certainly was the right choice for Evans, whose first eight field goals came inside the paint before his game winner. "He just made a great play," Williams said of Evans. "I'd much rather see him go to the basket, but he felt he had a shot and took it with confidence. We are just thankful it went in." ... It was the sixth straight game Evans has scored in double digits. And in those six games since his return from injury, Evans is averaging 18.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: LeBron James added to his reputation as one of the NBA’s most durable players by returning to action only a few days after straining his right groin muscle. It’s a problematic injury that has sidelined other players for much longer. "Yeah, it was a concern and I went out to warm up in Portland before the game and it didn't feel right,” James said. “So, I know it's a couple of injuries in our league that you don't really want to mess with too much and the groin and the hamstring are two of them. So I shut it down from there." James said proactive stretching and general fitness has kept him healthy to begin his career. "I feel like I prepare my body to the best way I can, to when I do have an injury I'm able to bounce back really fast in my career so far,” James said. And obviously I will hope it can last for my career…but I've been able to prepare my body in the offseason and throughout the season where any time I have an injury, either with an ankle or back or groin or whatever, I'm able to bounce back."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Late in the fourth quarter of the Washington Wizards’ 106-99 victory over the Detroit Pistons, a fan behind the Wizards’ bench shouted, “Let Wall shoot. He can’t shoot it.” John Wall walked away, wiping the sweat from his nose and acting as if he didn’t hear the man. He then turned around and winked in his direction. A few minutes later, Wall would prove the fan wrong — at least on this night.With the Wizards holding on to a four-point lead in the final minute, Wall dribbled right, pumped to get a Pistons guard off his feet, then buried a pull-up jumper to secure the win. An excited Wall then beat upon his chest and hooted after his shot ensured that the Wizards are once again back at .500 for the second time this season. They will enter the new year without a losing record for the first time since 2008.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The 32 points Shawn Marion scored Monday night in the 100-98 win over Minnesota were the most he’s had as a Maverick. You have to go back to his final game in Toronto at the end of the 2008-09 season when he had 34 points. More importantly, his aggressive play probably bought him a little leeway on the game-winning defensive play against Kevin Love. The Matrix stripped Love on the baseline and while the Wolves wanted a foul, there was none called. “If you’d have told me Vince (Carter) was going 2-for-9 and Monta was going 3-for-14 and I really didn’t have it going, either, and we’d still come out of here with a win, I would have said you were crazy,” said Dirk Nowitzki. “Trix was phenomenal. Fun to watch. The last two games, he’s been phenomenal. “And he got the strip. Love basically had it going all night. That was a heck of a strip by Trix to win the game.” The Mavericks moved back to five games above .500 at 18-13, matching their high-water mark of the season. And they did it with grit in a game that they might very likely have lost earlier in the season when they weren’t quite as together as they are now.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Add Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love to the growing list of NBA players who have made Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged fallaway jumper a part of their repertoire. That illustrious list also includes Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Pau Gasol. “It’s kind of an honor to know that some of these guys obviously are trying to shoot it,” Nowitzki said. “LeBron shot it the last couple of weeks, Kevin Durant has been shooting it a little bit.” Coach Rick Carlisle credits Nowitzki’s longtime mentor and coach from Germany, Holger Geschwindner, for helping the 11-time All-Star develop the one-legged fallaway shot. “They work on a lot of these unorthodox looking shots because Holger knew that with Dirk’s body type, size and athleticism that somewhere he was going to need to be able to do some unconventional things extremely well,” Carlisle said. “It’s a very unique shot, it’s an original, and Dirk’s an original. You’ve got guys like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant copying that shot,” Carlisle said. “That’s a huge nod of respect towards one of the all-time greats.”

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Tanking for lottery position? Not exactly. After starting the season 1-14, it appeared Utah was headed for record-setting futility. However, with the emergence of rookie point guard Trey Burke, the Jazz have climbed to respectability. Their ascension continued Monday as they closed the 2013 calendar with an 83-80 win over Charlotte at EnergySolutions Arena. “It’s a hard-fought ballgame and we ended up winning it,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “To be able to make big plays down the stretch, I thought we made some big shots and made some stops down the stretch also.” It was the 10th straight win over the Bobcats for Utah, which improved to 9-7 with Burke, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Derrick Favors together in the starting lineup. “It gives us a lot of confidence winning close games, especially at home,” explained Burke.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Eric Bledsoe spent only one year at Kentucky, so his three years with the Los Angeles Clippers was the biggest part of his life other than growing up in Birmingham, Ala. He played his old team in the preseason in Phoenix and played the Lakers at Staples Center, but that did not stop him from feeling like he was coming home again Monday when Bledsoe faced the Clippers in the regular season for the first time. “I kind of walked to the (Clippers’) locker room and found out the door was locked,” Bledsoe said. “It was weird.” Everything else about his first season with the Suns has felt natural. He said he felt like he was a starter since the Clippers’ 2011 postseason. That was the first two of two years backing up All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who touted him as being ready before he left in a three-team trade with the Suns in July that brought Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to the Clippers. “He’s doing it all right now,” Paul said.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: No team that actually wants Bynum is likely to trade for him because his contract for this season becomes guaranteed for $12 million after Jan. 7. But a team trying to get under the luxury tax threshold of $71.7 million could trade a hefty salary to the Cavs for Bynum and release him prior to Jan. 7, while Bynum’s cap figure can be reduced to $6 million. ... The most intriguing match could be the Lakers and Pau Gasol, who isn’t a good fit with Mike D’Antoni’s system. The Cavs were close to acquiring Gasol last summer before Dwight Howard chose to leave for the Houston Rockets, which lessened the need for the Lakers to unload his $19 million expiring contract. Gasol makes too much to trade straight up for Bynum, but a secondary salary like Alonzo Gee could make a deal work. By trading Gasol now, the Lakers would avoid the luxury tax this season and not worry about repeat offender status next season. The Cavs and Lakers already got together for a previous deal involving Ramon Sessions and draft picks. All of this would have to be done, of course, by Jan. 7.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The Raptors continue to work on a rebrand either in time for the 2015-16 campaign, when Toronto plays host to the all-star game. A name change has been ruled out, even though new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke was initially in favour of such a move, but the colours surely will be getting an overhaul. A report Monday said a black and gold scheme has emerged as a contender and that makes sense, since global ambassador Drake has built his OVO brand around those colours. An advertisement on raptors.com for “Drake Night” at the ACC on Jan. 11 depicts a black and gold Raptors logo beside Drake’s similarly coloured owl trademark. When asked if the black and gold scheme is the current leading contender, Leiweke told the Sun: “We are looking at a few different ideas.” One of them would be a blue and white look, to tie in with the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays. Multiple sources said they have seen mockups featuring the black and gold design.