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First Cup: Monday

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Atlanta Hawks might as well have been a choir singing the same tune in the visitors’ locker room on the other side of FedExForum. Just when the Hawks thought they would rise up and steal a fourth straight win in Memphis, the Grizzlies’ response wasn’t simply clutch. Their answer to adversity now has a proper name: Mike Conley. All you need to know about the Grizzlies’ 108-101 victory over the Hawks early Sunday evening was that Conley was responsible for 23 of Memphis’ first 25 points in the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies’ floor general either made baskets or handed out assists until 31 seconds remained in the decisive period of their second straight victory. “We talked about him before the game,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “How well he has been playing. We have a lot of respect for Mike. He is one of those guards that is underrated, undervalued or under the radar.”

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: At least the Hawks didn't fall behind 11-0 - as they did against the Rockets Friday. The Hawks stumbled out of the gate, making 1 of 6 shots, to fall behind 9-2. It finally took a three-point play by Shelvin Mack and a 3-pointer by Mike Scott early in the second quarter for the Hawks to take their first lead, 26-23. It would last 1:35. The Grizzlies went on an 11-2 run, which included a 3-pointer from Mike Miller, to regain the lead. The Hawks would need a 16-0 run between the third and fourth quarters to take back the lead, 80-77. It would last 1:23. The Grizzlies went on a 12-4 run, with another 3-pointer from Miller, to regain the lead for the final time. That's it. The Hawks led for less than three minutes.

  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: With Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio recently getting some criticism about his play, Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders has come to his defense. Rubio has had a frustrating season. He usually is a brilliant passer, but his shooting and decisionmaking — especially down the stretch of close games — has often been poor. Saunders says he still believes fully in Rubio, and that the Wolves need to be patient with his offensive development. “Here’s the thing,” said Saunders, a former point guard himself. “Ricky is 23 and he’s still somewhat young and he’s only played 100 games in our league. Is he not shooting the ball well? There’s no question. Has he at times made what some might call questionable decisions? Yeah. But there’s some things you can’t teach, and you can’t teach his offensive instinct and his passing ability.” Going into Sunday’s game with the Spurs, Rubio was sixth in the league in assists at 8.2 per game and his 12.4 assists per 48 minutes trails only the Clippers’ Chris Paul at 15.5. He was second in the league in steals at 2.67 per game and was sixth in rebounding among NBA guards at 4.7 per game. But Rubio’s 34.6 field-goal percentage is the worst among qualified NBA players this season and is on pace to be one of the worst shooting percentages in NBA history. His scoring average also has dipped by nearly two points per game, from 10.7 last year to 8.8 this season.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Last Sunday, the Kings held a players-only meeting. It’s the kind of meeting that’s praised if wins follow but mocked if losses continue. Since the gathering, the Kings have won a season-best three consecutive games. So, of course, it was just what the team needed. Sunday at Sleep Train Arena, the Kings matched the third most lopsided win in franchise history, routing the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-80. The victory margin equaled a 44-point win over Denver on Dec. 12, 1992, and trailed only a 56-point win over Philadelphia on Jan. 2, 1993 and a 58-point victory over Dallas on Dec. 29, 1992. The Kings led by 46 points, their biggest advantage of the season, and tallied season highs in points, 3-pointers (15) and blocked shots (eight). ... “This young team is growing and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” Rudy Gay said. “We can become a really good team. It takes hard work and we’re working hard, and coach has been great. As long as we keep going on that same path, we should be a good team.”

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: The trickle-down effect of the Luol Deng trade can be felt in the Cavs’ rotation, particularly at power forward. Two weeks ago, when Andrew Bynum was initially excused from the team, it appeared to create an expanded role for rookie Anthony Bennett. Even coach Mike Brown said he needed to remain patient with Bennett and allow him to play through mistakes. But the acquisition of Deng has sharpened the Cavs’ focus. It’s clear now the playoffs are the goal, meaning Brown now must play the guys who give him the best chance to win. Right now, that isn’t Bennett. In seven games since admitting he needed to be more patient, Brown is playing Bennett 10 minutes a game. That figure is skewed by the 17 minutes he played in a blowout win against the Philadelphia 76ers, otherwise it’d be even lower. Brown used Earl Clark as his primary backup power forward in the two games with Deng on the floor. Brown’s reasoning is simple: Clark was playing well as the backup power forward earlier in the season before Brown switched him back to the starting small forward. Clark again struggled with his shot while playing on the wing, so Brown wants to give him the chance to rediscover his stroke at the position where he’s most comfortable.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Victor Oladipo demonstrated what Orlando Magic executives and coaches love about him during a 20-second span Saturday night. Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried poked the ball away from him midway through the second quarter, drove halfway down the court and unleashed a powerful right-handed dunk as Oladipo fouled him. A highlight-reel play for Faried. Two blunders by Oladipo. Oladipo could've spent the Magic's ensuing offensive possession pouting, but he didn't. As teammate Glen Davis set a pick for him to go right, Oladipo drove left, straight down the middle of the lane. Faried stood in front of the basket and confronted him head-on. Oladipo went right at the much bigger Faried, absorbed contact and scored on a short floater. Faried fell flat on his back. The entire sequence — specifically, how Oladipo followed a careless play with a superb, gritty play — exemplifies his attitude. He keeps fighting, even when the Magic trail by double digits, even with his team mired in what now is a seven-game losing streak.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The NBA playoffs are still months away, but LeBron James already is conditioning league officials for what will surely be a consistent theme throughout the postseason — when in doubt, hammer James with a hard foul. It’s rare that James screams at someone on the basketball court not named Mario Chalmers, so when James went after Mirza Teletovic of the Nets on Friday night following a foul in the open court, officials reacted by hitting Teletovic with a flagrant foul. It was Teletovic’s first flagrant of the season, and the foul came moments after James actually committed an offensive foul on Andrei Kirilenko. Teletovic’s foul didn’t appear to be overtly aggressive, but James complained during and after the game that the Nets’ big man got a little too physical. ... Although hard fouls are nothing new for James, Teletovic defended himself after the game and then had a little fun with the incident on Twitter. ... Teletovic then did something he might come to regret. The European needled James on Twitter when he posted a screen shot of the scuffle and wrote, “Five in a row…Go @BrooklynNets :) lol ;)” Teletovic then changed the background of his Twitter page to a large picture of the incident.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: The Portland Trail Blazers could use an extra big man on their bench, but if they did decide to make a play for one between now and the trade deadline, it won’t be for center Andrew Bynum. CSNNW.com was informed by a well-placed league source that Portland is not one of the reported eight teams interested in Bynum. Another source backed it up saying, “Portland has not inquired” about the services of the 7-foot free agent Bynum. This revelation isn’t much of a surprise. There are a couple of reasons why Portland opted not to take such a risk: the concern regarding Bynum’s character and how he would fit inside a locker room that has gelled seamlessly, had to have been a huge road block. Bynum has had his share of knee problems, a road Portland is reluctant to travel down.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant has been on some kind of kick lately. Over the past four days, the Thunder star and frontrunner for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award has gone on and on about how he needs to be better. Seriously. He's talked about his perceived need to do more. To shoot less. To play smarter. “That's what I love about him,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's always tough on himself.” Despite appearing at times like a one-man band since Russell Westbrook underwent his latest surgery, Durant is shouldering the responsibility for the Thunder's recent sluggish play. Oklahoma City is 7-5 this season without Westbrook and just 5-4 since he was shut down following a third surgery on Dec. 27. “I'm not doing enough to help them,” Durant said of his teammates. “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.” Durant averaged 18 shots with Westbrook in the lineup. He's averaging 20.2 shots in 12 games without Westbrook and 22.1 in the past nine. Most would assume that to be a natural and necessary spike in shot attempts. But not Durant.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: He can do that, and he's just 19 years old (followed by a shake of the head or a bewildered look). That's the first thing people say after watching Milwaukee Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, the youngest player in the National Basketball Association. The comment might come after a spectacular dunk, such as the one Saturday night when Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins got posterized. It might come after a block, such as the "Greek Freak" wiping out a shot by Thunder star Kevin Durant. Or it might come simply by watching the rookie use his long reach to rebound the ball before sprinting upcourt with wary opponents in fast retreat. The first few months of Antetokounmpo's NBA career have been a whirlwind, both on and off the court. He has grown more than an inch and a half since draft day in June, going from 6 feet 9 inches to 6-10½. He has entertained his teammates, whether it was bringing cupcakes on the team flight for his birthday, learning how to throw a football or climbing up to the top row of the stands in Phoenix, just to get a view from up there, you know? But one thing is coming into focus as Antetokounmpo settles into a starting role on a Bucks team that is going nowhere this season. He is the future, bringing some needed hope to a struggling franchise that hopes to add another major piece in the June draft.

  • Terry Frei of The Denver Post: The Nuggets will honor Carl Scheer, whose 1974-84 tenure as president and general manager spanned the team's stays in the American Basketball Association and NBA, at the Jan. 25 home game against the Indiana Pacers. Scheer, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., and does consulting and ambassador work for the Bobcats, was instrumental in Denver signing David Thompson, Bobby Jones and Marvin Webster when the ABA was at war with the NBA. That helped bring about the merger of four ABA teams — including the Nuggets and Pacers — with the NBA in 1976.