First Cup: Friday

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: There is a chance that embattled Nuggets guard Andre Miller could find himself back in Denver's lineup in the near future. A league source indicated that there is a slim chance, but one nonetheless, that Miller could suit up again. Miller has missed four straight games after being dismissed from the team for a mandatory two games for his part in an on-court verbal confrontation with coach Brian Shaw in the Nuggets' game against Philadelphia on Jan. 1. Miller worked out on the Nuggets practice court as recently as Thursday, keeping himself in as good a shape as he can while he sits out. The Nuggets continue to explore deals to trade the veteran, but have been unsuccessful to this point. Any Miller return would come with the understanding that playing time still would be scarce or non-existent.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant shouldered the blame because, well, of course. That’s just what Kevin Durant does. He says he needs to be better. Says he needs to do more. From start to finish. This despite scoring 30 points for the sixth time in eight games Thursday night at Denver. But it’s becoming abundantly clear that, without Russell Westbrook, Durant just doesn’t have enough help. He isn’t getting enough contributions from his remaining roster, which is leaving him out to dry as the missed shots keep mounting. But don’t tell him that. “I’m not doing enough to help them,” he insists. “I’m shooting too much. I’m shooting too many 3s. I’m not helping them out at all. So it’s not on them.” Feel free to draw your own conclusions. But that’s bogus.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Throughout his career, LeBron James has had plenty of excellent games with plenty of show-stopping moments at Madison Square Garden. He has had 50-point performances and triple-doubles and postseason glories. Never, though, until Thursday, had James dunked aball with such force that it seemed to almost explode. Yes, in the third quarter of the Heat’s 102-92 loss to the Knicks, James sent a ball through the hoop with such downward force that it likely tested the integrity of the sphere’s rubber walls. The Dunk of Doom was so powerful that its rebound off the floor was more like a ricochet. It bounded down the entire length of the court as if it were rolling downhill, like that runaway ball when you were a kid that always seemed to be pulled by gravity toward the storm drain. The dunk, made possible by a nifty assist from guard Norris Cole, was really the only highlight of the game for the visiting team, but it was so emphatic it almost made up for all the lowlights and the loss to New York. Of course, the added attention of a primetime game on TNT added to the panic on the Internet, which Heat owner Micky Arison felt compelled to address after the surprising loss. “Everyone CHILL [it’s] JAN 9th,” Arison posted to his Twitter account, along with some odd shots at TNT reporter Craig Sager.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Dolan is trying to distance himself from Smith the way Holmes ran away from Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology. Dolan should have been smarter last summer when he foolishly signed Smith to a three-year contract when the team knew the guard was headed for knee surgery. A one-year deal — Smith is at his best when motivated — would have sufficed. If Smith balked, so be it. Heck, the Knicks had already drafted Tim Hardaway Jr. anyway. Smith has never been right physically, and his conduct deteriorated rapidly last week once the club informed him it was cutting his younger brother, Chris. J.R. tweeted a reference to feeling betrayed, and a few nights later in Houston, he took an ill-advised shot in a tie game because he mistakenly thought the Knicks were losing. On ESPN Radio in New York on Thursday, Smith’s former coach in Denver, George Karl, said it perfectly: “He’s going to wake up some day and he’s going to realize that he’s thrown away some great opportunities and great years because of this mockery that he brings to the game.” It’s a little late in the game, but the Knicks have clearly had it with Smith. And Smith knows it.

  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: Having experienced the subversive effects of contractual contretemps while and after he connived to join the Knicks from Denver, a deal completed in February 2011, Anthony might have thought twice about injecting the cloud of uncertainty into another season. It laid a foundation of egg shells for all to walk on. It put everyone on notice, and on edge. It set an organizational mantra: Don’t mess with Melo. Could Coach Mike Woodson really tell his star forward what he thought when Anthony went his own way with the ball? How could a younger Knick with less leverage — Iman Shumpert, for one — not have been affected by the implied policy of pandering? This is not to put the brunt of the early-season struggles the Knicks are finally digging out of — witness their victories over San Antonio and Miami — on Anthony. But his declaration of planned contractual independence did not help his team coalesce around him. The lesson James learned was, as Battier said, “speculation about the future, what could happen and all the hypotheticals, doesn’t add to our cause; we want to make the most of what’s in front of us right now.” As opposed to what transpired for James way back when.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The Players’ Association is mulling whether to appeal J.R. Smith’s latest $50,000 NBA fine for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct’’ violations, according to a league source. One legal argument, according to a source, would be that Smith didn’t untie the shoelaces of Detroit’s Greg Monroe, and it was unclear if he touched them as Monroe stepped away. Smith’s intent on the second violation would one of interpretation. The argument would be Smith only should be fined only for the first violation in Dallas with Shawn Marion. Nevertheless, new footage is out from Friday’s game against the Rockets in which Smith is shown untying the shoelaces of Dwight Howard, who returned the favor and untied Smith’s shoes. Smith said Thursday night the Monroe incident was “a joke gone wrong."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: There's a growing trend throughout the NBA. Players wearing Kevin Durant's signature shoes. Not Thunder players. Opposing players. Denver has at least two players who routinely wear Durant's line of “KDs,” forward Wilson Chandler and center Timofey Mozgov. But should players wear them against Durant? “We were actually having a conversation about that with the players,” said Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. “When I came (into the NBA) in 1988, shortly after that, (Michael) Jordan started with his Jordan One. They only made them in red, white and black, Bulls colors. I remember Nike wouldn't let you wear his shoes. They only let him wear it. You could order them through your account, but you couldn't wear them in games." ... Durant downplayed the potential psychological advantage angle. “I've seen a few guys wear my shots,” he said. “It's flattering to me. I don't really look at it as an advantage at all. More so, it's just cool seeing “KD” on other guys' shoes, because I've grown up watching people wear Jordans and play in Jordans."

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: Most newcomers go out of their way to compliment their new surroundings, especially here. Bledsoe never once raved about Phoenix, or his new life in the Valley. It made many wonder if he really wanted to be here long-term. Now, the game has changed, digressing into the ugly dance of risk management. Bledsoe and his camp have to guard their financial interests. The Suns have to assess their options and health risks moving forward. For any future relationship to flourish, both parties must proceed with sincerity and trust, without having to walk on eggshells. That can be extremely difficult in these situations. So hope that the damage is minimal. Or that the surgery lowers Bledsoe’s value, thereby limiting potential suitors and saving the Suns money in the long run. Or that his injury will relegate the Suns to the NBA’s draft lottery, where they were supposed to finish all along. Problem is, the Suns picked up their 21st victory on Wednesday, matching the season total predicted by most Vegas odds-makers. A surprising basketball team was again becoming a source of community joy. It will be hard to re-embrace the art of losing, and even harder seeing Bledsoe in street clothes.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James has gotten into the football game. More to the point, he has gotten into the Johnny Football game. The Miami Heat forward confirmed before Thursday night's game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden that his marketing firm will represent former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. James said the relationship with his LRMR firm was the product of an ongoing relationship. "They reached out to me when he was going through a lot of off-the-field things, that I thought was just overblown," James said of the former Texas A&M quarterback. "He's not the only college kid that's ever went to a frat party, or the only college kid that ever had fun. But obviously, he's Johnny Manziel so it's blown out of proportion."

  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Dwight Howard still remembers the first time he played in Atlanta. He was a rookie in Orlando and excited about playing in his home town. “It was bittersweet going home and seeing all my family friends but playing against the hometown team,” said Howard, who had 24 points and 9 rebounds in a Magic victory. “I gotta a couple boos. They had a kryptonite section for me. It was pretty cool.” Howard also played in several playoff series against Atlanta when he was in Orlando. For his career, he averages 17.3 points and 14.1 rebounds against the Hawks. He grew up as a Hawks fan but as an NBA player, he jokes that he would rather stay away. “I am from Atlanta and I love the city but I hate playing the Hawks,” Howard said.