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First Cup: Thursday

  • Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star: At that point, everyone stays where they are and the Raptors dig in for a playoff run. That would mean sticking with Kyle Lowry, who is playing the best basketball of his career and has emerged as a locker room leader. Though history suggests that Lowry will be looking elsewhere to find a big free-agent deal once the season ends, that’s not the feeling amongst the Raptors management. They remain convinced that Lowry is willing to sign long-term in Toronto. Lowry isn’t saying one way or the other. Regardless, the team is comfortable taking their chance of losing Lowry for nothing, if it means the possibility of a substantial post-season run. However, if the team stumbles through this three-week period, then a lot of hard decisions have to be made about personnel. That failure would put the franchise back on a trade footing. “But that won’t happen,” the Raptors source said confidently. “We’re winning this.” The next little while is, in effect, a mid-season playoff series. If so, the team does not appear at all daunted. That would largely be down to Lowry’s stewardship. A year ago, he made little effort to disguise how little he cared for the set-up in Toronto. While he and Jose Calderon had an amicable relationship, Lowry never seemed comfortable in his skin (of which there was a lot more). He hasn’t mellowed this year. Rather the opposite. But he has exhaled.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: Portland Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams tells CSNNW.com he will opt out of his deal with the team at the conclusion of the season and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Williams, 31, signed a two-year, $5.6 million deal with Portland last offseason and it contains a player option for the 2014-15 season that would have paid him $2.7 million. The veteran guard, who head coach Terry Stotts considers the best backup point guard in the league, says this decision was always the plan and adds that his main objective is to secure a lengthened contract with the Trail Blazers. “I would like to be here long term,” Williams revealed to CSNNW.com. “My goal is to work something out with Portland this summer. I like it here and I want to make this place home.” Williams said team chemistry, camaraderie and fan support are why he and his family are drawn to the city.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: At least for one night, Kevin Garnett won his battle with Father Time. A week after he opened up about his struggles — including an admission that age is making his season more difficult — the 37-year-old carried the Nets in the fourth quarter of a big upset over the Warriors Wednesday night, scoring 11 points over eight minutes, blocking a shot and then intercepting a pass with 12.8 seconds left in a 102-98 win at Barclays Center. “Tonight, offensively, he looked like he was 21,” Jason Kidd said. ... The Nets have won a season-high four straight, all with Kidd on the sideline sporting his superstitious no-tie look. They beat the hottest team in the NBA without Deron Williams, who missed his second game with ankle problems, overcoming a 16-point deficit in the first quarter. Brooklyn is now 4-0 in 2014, undefeated ever since Kidd ditched the neckwear and went with a small lineup featuring Paul Pierce at power forward. “Burn that tie,” Andrei Kirilenko said.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Pacers may have the NBA’s best record - but the Hawks still have their number in Atlanta. The Hawks built a 25-point lead and held on for a 97-87 victory, their 12th straight regular-season home win over the Pacers, at Philips Arena Wednesday night. It was the Hawks signature win at this point in the season. More importantly, the Hawks (19-17) snapped a three-game losing streak. Kyle Korver led the Hawks with 17 points. They also got double-figures from Pero Antic (16), Jeff Teague (15), Mike Scott (15) and DeMarre Carroll (11). Making the win more impressive was the fact that Paul Millsap had just four points. Korver extended his NBA-record streak to 105 games with a 3-pointer.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The highlights will focus on James Harden Euro-stepping his way past the Lakers’ Ryan Kelly with a move so devastating Kelly’s ankles might have thought they had put through a form of rookie hazing. The numbers will point to Harden’s 38 points, making him the first Rocket to score at least 37 in three-consecutive games since Hakeem Olajuwon was rolling through the 1994-95 season. The trend to emerge from the Rockets’ 113-99 second-half roll past the Lakers on Wednesday will be about another comeback against the Lakers, with each of the Rockets’ past seven wins against the Los Angeles coming with a rally from down at least 10 (11 on Wednesday). Yet, when Harden talked about the rally and his roll, the smile did not slip until he was asked about the part of the game that might have been obscured by everything else. Harden’s five steals were the most for a Rockets player this season, two shy of his career high. He’s put up points before. His 37 or 38 a game lately has looked easy, as if he waited until they were needed and then cranked up the offense. But the Rockets turned around the game when they began defending in the second half, turning defense into offense, turnovers into layups. “The five steals, definitely,” Harden said when asked his preference.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs have struggled mightily on defense over the past few months, but they had no trouble against the Mavericks on Wednesday. Ranked eighth in offensive efficiency coming in, Dallas shot just 41.9 percent in the absence of starting small forward Shawn Marion (shoulder). Nobody had more problems than Dirk Nowitzki, who missed 11 of 14 shots. Boris Diaw, who filled Tiago Splitter’s spot in the starting lineup, did the bulk of the work to earn high praise from his head coach: “I thought Boris was magnificent.” Despite the poor performance, Nowitzki became the fifth player in NBA history to register 25,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,000 steals. (The others: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Garnett. Nice company for the big German.)

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Playing his way back into NBA shape in his native Brazil’s pro league, Leandro Barbosa basically had a two-on-one fast-break decision when it came to where he would re-enter the NBA. Like an option for an easy assist or layup, Barbosa could not make a wrong choice. He was either going to rejoin former Suns coach Alvin Gentry and his former Boston coach, Doc Rivers, for a strong Los Angeles Clippers team or return to the Suns in Phoenix, where he played his first seven NBA seasons and had his best years. Barbosa chose the Suns, signing a 10-day contract with Phoenix on Wednesday to put the Suns at the 15-man maximum. “I never thought I was going to have a chance to come to Phoenix, seriously,” Barbosa, 31, said. “I never thought I’d come back to the purple. I’m very happy. I had another opportunity to go to a different team but because of everything in the past that happened with me with the Suns,

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: At this rate, the Washington Wizards might want to avoid sleeping in their own beds the night before a game for the rest of the season — or at least the near future. The Wizards are enjoying life on the road, away from the distractions and demands; and where they can sleep on plush hotel pillows, take in the convenience of room service and experience what it feels like to actually win a basketball game. In their first game against the franchise formerly known as the Hornets, the Wizards had a harder-than-necessary, 102-96 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans and have now won six of their past seven road games. The Wizards are 9-9 on the road, at an unusual time in which they have also lost six of seven at home. “I don’t buy into home and road,” Coach Randy Wittman said.

  • Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: Doc Rivers raised some eyebrows before the game when he said that J.J. Redick, who has missed 21 games with a broken hand and torn ligament, might be able to return to action Friday when the Clippers face the Lakers. Redick was averaging 15.8 points and shooting 46 percent when he was hurt. Rivers will decide at practice if Redick will be able to start. “I have no idea. I haven’t given it any thought, to be honest,” Rivers said. “I’ll think about it more (today) if he’s going to play. If he’s ready, we’ll probably start him, if he’s ready for those type of minutes. If he would be, but I don’t know.” Rookie forward Reggie Bullock, who has missed 17 games with a sprained left ankle, won’t be ready by Friday but his return is close as well.