First Cup: Thursday

  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Arnett Moultrie participated in five-on-five scrimmages Tuesday for the first time this season after preseason surgery on his left ankle. He is expected to play later this month. An exact date for his return will depend on his conditioning, which at the time is not good. "The knock on Arnett is: Can you do that?" Brett Brown said of bringing consistent energy. "Is that how you play? Is that your [Denver power forward Kenneth] Faried motor? "That's what he needs to aspire to be. He needs to be a junkyard dog, energy guy. That type of toughness. That's his challenge." Moultrie welcomes the challenge. He said toughness is part of his personality. "I like to play aggressive, playing with a lot of energy, run up and down the floor," he said. "Try to get a lot of those 50-50 balls and just try to dominate the paint. I think that's what we are lacking." Brown believes that the 23-year-old could have a long NBA career if he plays that way.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: After the Nuggets' eighth consecutive loss, 114-102 to Philadelphia on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, J.J. Hickson agreed with the notion that the Nuggets have hit rock bottom. But that point may have come earlier, in the second half, when Andre Miller, headed for his first healthy scratch, decided he would verbally take it out on coach Brian Shaw. Miller yelled about the disrespect he felt he was being shown by sitting. And if he was being disrespected, he'd do the same to the Nuggets' first-year head coach. "There's a time and place for everything," Shaw said. "In the middle of the arena in front of everyone ... I just tried to calm it down." Asked if Miller understood the reasons for his one-game seat on the bench, Shaw said, "You'll have to ask him." But by that time, Miller had already left. Many of his teammates remained, however, to explain the free-fall the Nuggets are in.

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: Wolves radio announcer Alan Horton’s call of the final moments of the Wolves’ loss to Dallas on Monday has gone viral. If was entertaining, to say the least, to hear Horton describe the final seconds of the game, when Shawn Marion appeared to foul Kevin Love at the endof the Wolves’ 100-98 loss. Horton, on WCCO-AM, described the play. Then, as he watched the replay, he yelled, “Oh, that’s a foul!’’ And, moments later, Horton yelled, “OH, ED MALLOY!’ when he saw the official who chose not to make the call. Tuesday the league issued a release saying a foul should have been called. By that time, Horton’s call was all over the Web. Deadspin’s Tom Ley called it a “wonderful conniption fit.” On Yahoo, writer Dan Devine said, “That’s some goooood righteous indignation, right there.” Many agree. “I’ve gotten more of a response than any other call in my seven years here,” Horton said before Wednesday’s Wolves-New Orleans game. “From fans, through Twitter mostly. They enjoyed hearing it, they were pumped up by it, they thought I summed up how they were feeling, which I take as a pretty good compliment." Horton’s call carried so much weight because of the evenhanded way he calls games.

  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Every now and then, over the course of an 82-game regular season, NBA teams turn in a lackadaisical, disinterested performance. For the New Orleans Pelicans, Wednesday night obviously was one of those occasions. One game removed from their biggest victory of the season, the Pelicans turned in perhaps their biggest stinker so far, sleep walking their way through a dismal 124-112 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. "No matter how frustrated you are, you still have to be real," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "That's the side of me that comes out. But the reality is the game plan that I gave them was not appropriate for this group. We should have just kept it as simple as we have been." ... The 124 points allowed were the most yielded in regulation by the Pelicans this season.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: With wins at Chicago, Minnesota and Washington over the last five days, the Dallas Mavericks went 3-0 on a road trip for the first time since beating Washington, Toronto and Philadelphia from Feb. 26-Mar. 1, 2011. Oddly enough, superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki didn't score a single point in the first quarter of any of the past three games. But Nowitzki was the first to point out that the Mavs received significant offensive production from Monta Ellis, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Jose Calderon on this road trip. "I thought Monta and Vince has been great,'' Nowitzki said after Wednesday's 87-78 win over Washington at the Verizon Center. "(Marion) was obviously great the first two games for us, Jose has always been shooting the ball well, even though he struggled a little bit tonight. "But we can mix it up. We've got some shot-makers, we've got some playmakers and we like what we've got."

  • Jason Reid of The Washington Post: Although the Wizards have made encouraging strides, the Dallas Mavericks reminded them how far they still must go Wednesday night in an 87-78 loss. Attempting to defeat only their second opponent that currently has a winning record, the Wizards faded down the stretch. That’s a problem. In the pathetic Eastern Conference, only the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks have more victories than losses. If the playoffs began today, the 14-15 Wizards would be seeded fifth in the eight-team field. The Wizards have proved they can defeat weak teams. Fortunately for them, there aren’t many strong ones in their neighborhood. For the Wizards to reach the heights they hope to achieve, though, they’ve got to perform better against the game’s best. After winning five of six, the Wizards could have made a strong statement by opening the new year at Verizon Center as they closed the old one: with a victory. The Mavericks appeared to be the right type of opponent to provide exactly what the Wizards needed.

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: This was a monumental result, perhaps the biggest verification that the Raptors’ recent streak is not just a mid-season mirage. The Raptors are set to embark on a gruesome three-game road trip, with games in Washington, Miami and Indiana. Before the Raptors’ win in Chicago on New Year’s Eve, you would have said the Raptors would have been lucky to win twice in the five-game span. They are already there, and with no asterisks. Against two of the best defensive teams in the league, the Raptors have not backed down. “Last year, or even two months ago at this time, I don’t know what we’ve done,” Casey said. “But we’re meeting the challenge.” ... As the seconds wound down, forward Amir Johnson exchanged high-fives with some fans sitting courtside. Frequently during his post-game press conference, Casey emphasized that the Raptors still have a long way to go to become a true threat. It was easy to see Casey preparing himself for his next task: keeping the Raptors’ egos at bay in the face of all of this success. A month ago, that all would have seemed absurd.

  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: So how could this happen? A team that recently traded away a so-called star in Rudy Gay and on Wednesday finally pulled even at the .500 mark and out-Pacered the Pacers? “Too careless with turnovers and fouling,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel explained after Indiana coughed up the ball 22 times. “We didn’t get the whistles that we normally would’ve wanted … We beat ourselves,” said center Roy Hibbert, who fouled out for only the second time this season. His final trip to the bench with 3:25 remaining was the lowlight of a 27-foul team performance. “Defensively,” George said, “they played the style that we play; they just helped one another.”

  • Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: During a five-game stretch in which it seemed that Jared Dudley had turned a corner, the forward averaged 14.8 points, making 52.8 percent of his shots from the field. In addition, Dudley hit 14 of 30 3-pointers (46.7 percent). In the five successive games entering Wednesday, Dudley averaged only 4.6 points per game, shot 38.1 percent from the field and made only 2 of 9 3-point tries. “He’s just really struggling” Rivers said, “He’s trying, he’s doing all the right stuff, he’s coming in on days off, he’s coming in early on days of practice. That’s all you can ask as a coach. You know he hasn’t forgotten how to shoot. He’s been a great shooter for most of his career but he’s going through a tough stretch. Sometimes they’re short-lived and sometimes they last forever." Rivers normally counts on players to shoot their way out of bad stretches but does not want the drought to leak into the rest of his game.

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Byron Mullens has traded up teams while relinquishing his role as a steady contributor. The former Charlotte starter is barely playing for the Clippers. Mullens played sparingly against the Bobcats, which has become the norm for a center who has appeared in six games since late November after signing a two-year, $2-million contract over the summer. He made both of his shots Wednesday and finished with six points in one minute. Mullens entered the game averaging 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 7.6 minutes per game, significantly down from the 10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 26.9 minutes he averaged last season. "You can't get much out of a guy you're not playing, you know what I mean?" Rivers said. "He's just not in the rotation right now, but I give him credit: He still works at it every day and I think at some point he's going to help us in a game or two or maybe fight his way into the rotation."