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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks improved to 23-16 with their 107-88 win over downtrodden Orlando Monday at AAC. That’s significant because it pushed them seven games over .500 for the first time this season and the first time since they were 36-29 late in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. They didn’t win their 23rd game last season until Feb. 13, so they’re a month ahead of that pace, not that that’s saying much. “It’s better than seven games under, which last year definitely happened,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “That’s why we had those bad beards last year. We were so far behind .500 and had to fight to get back to it. This is the highest we’ve been all year so we’d love to keep going up … and maybe even move up (in the standings). Why not?” ... The only possible downer on the evening came when Nowitzki got hacked on the arm late in the first half, then was continually grabbing his right arm and shaking and flexing his hand. “I bruised my triceps first and then hit my forearm, so I had a double bruise going on,” he said.

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: Jazz guard Alec Burks’ career night is not going to help teammate Gordon Hayward’s campaign to become the league’s MVP. In Hayward’s absence, Burks’ 34-point effort in Monday’s 118-103 victory over Denver boosted the value of Trey Burke, Marvin Williams and himself, of course. The scoring spree at EnergySolutions Arena also elevated the Jazz to a tie for the NBA’s fourth-worst record (13-26), their best status of the season. Decide for yourself if that’s a worthwhile accomplishment, amid the anticipation of the 2014 draft. It certainly represents a big climb from the Jazz’s 1-14 start, which had something to do with Burke’s missing 12 games with a broken finger. If the story of the night was Burks, the story of the season is Burke, who contributed 18 points and eight assists Monday. Strangely enough, his injury may have saved the team’s draft hopes. It is hardly a stretch to suggest that Burke could have helped the Jazz to about a 4-11 start, and that would give them only the 12th-worst record at this stage. So his absence stuck them in enough of a hole to enhance their lottery opportunity, while they’ve surged lately with improved health and a more favorable schedule. Factoring in the weakness of the Eastern Conference, the Jazz probably couldn’t maintain that middle-tier standing. But it’s apparent that Burke could have altered the dynamic of this season by steering the focus away from any collegians who have yet to arrive.

  • Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: They are working. They are playing defense with far more fervor than they were before, none of the five opponents during the winning streak cracking 100. Tyson Chandler’s continued absence thanks to an upper respiratory infection has mandated Kenyon Martin try to wrestlewith the calendar a little, and there were a couple of moments where he really did look 26 again and not 36. Mostly, they are trying to feed off their first burst of success of the season. They are trying to make this more than just the laws of probability catching up to them and then disappearing again. And there is this: this is clearly a game the Knicks would have lost two months ago. And maybe even two weeks ago. “We lost some close games early in the year because of some bonehead plays as a coaching staff, guys on the floor, we didn’t do the right things,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “We’re starting to figure things out at the end. Even when we were down five, I thought we had plenty of time to secure the win. It was our defense that put is in that position.” There is still so much time, and so much work to do, and still a week’s worth of games under .500 that needs to be worked on, paid down like unwanted debt. There are no guarantees this can be sustained. But the Knicks have another game tonight, another opportunity to keep the grind moving forward. And they are eighth. Eight ain’t great. But it’s a start.

  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: Remember Drake Night? This was the opposite of that. Gone were the theatrics of Saturday night, when the hip-hop impresario/Raptors global brand ambassador “curated” — his word — the game entertainment operations against Brooklyn in front of a sold-out crowd. A Monday evening game against league-worst Milwaukee is a spiritual 180-degree journey from there, surely. For a coach, there is something terrifying about that. A few games ago, Dwane Casey said he does not trust success. In the same sense, he does not trust other teams’ failure. The Raptors’ game against the Bucks on Monday was the third of seven straight games against teams playing below .500. So, this should be time to do some damage. “I don’t even know what [Wednesday night opponent] Boston’s record is. That answers your question,” Casey said before the Raptors’ 116-94 win. “I don’t really look at Milwaukee’s record. We don’t have the luxury of looking at teams’ records. We’ve got to go out and play each game — whoever it is, it doesn’t matter … You keep asking that question. It’s not a legit question because we don’t have that right. We haven’t arrived yet.”

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs survived just the 16th disqualification of Tim Duncan’s career, outscoring New Orleans 12-7 after Duncan fouled out with 6:02 left in the fourth quarter. The Spurs (30-8) led just 89-88 at that point, not long after New Orleans (15-22) used a 10-0 run to erase a nine-point deficit. Parker scored four of his 27 points down the stretch, including a difficult runner that gave the Spurs a 99-95 advantage with 43 seconds left. New Orleans had trailed for most of the middle two quarters before the Spurs closed the third with an 8-0 surge. The continued to build in the fourth, with Marco Belinelli’s 30-foot 3-pointer as the shot clock expired gave them their largest lead at 86-77. The Spurs became the first team to reach the 30-win threshold with their fifth straight and eighth in nine games. Duncan fouled out with 18 points and nine rebounds. Manu Ginobili returned from a two-game absence to score 14, while Kawhi Leonard added 13.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Celtics became the latest team to try a late-game hack-a-Dwight strategy, intentionally sending Dwight Howard to the free-throw line on six fourth-quarter possessions. But Boston coach Brad Stevens also became the latest coach to say he would favor a rule change to prevent the strategy he used. “I would probably support a change that wouldn’t allow that, would call it intentional or whatever you want to call it,” Stevens said. “Call it like it would be called in the last two minutes. To his credit, he made one almost every time up to the foul line.” Howard missed two free throws several minutes before the Celtics began intentionally fouling, then hit one of two on every subsequent trip to the line.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: After coming off the bench for the past 12 games, Nene has returned to the starting lineup as the Wizards attempt to break out of a recent slide. Washington went 7-9 with Trevor Booker starting at power forward while Nene recovered from tendinitis in his right Achilles’ heel. Coach Randy Wittman said last week that he would consider changing the minute limitations for Nene and Bradley Beal after they completed a stretch of four games in five nights against Houston. Before the game, Wittman said, “Both he and Nene are the same.” Wittman failed to mention the big change. Nene had been adhering to a 24-minute time restriction but Booker has also seen his playing time reduced. In the past three games, the 6-foot-8 Booker never played more than 18 minutes and was averaging just 4.3 points and 4.3 rebounds as the Wizards went 1-2. The Wizards bench improved with Nene serving as a facilitator for the reserves but the team has lost five of its past seven games and now trails the Chicago Bulls by one game in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington has trailed by at least 25 points in each of its past four losses and Wittman doesn’t want that to continue.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: And now that we know Ryan Anderson has not one, but two discs herniated in his neck, C-5 and C-6 in the cervical region, and that he won't even be medically re-evaluated for two months, it should be clear that he won't play again this season. More emphatically, he shouldn't play again this season. Even if these two months pass and Anderson's body heals itself, the preferred rehabilitative protocol at this point, there shouldn't even be a thought about returning to the court for what would be the final month of this season. The guess here is the Pelicans, especially coach Monty Williams, won't allow that, though Williams said following Monday night's 101-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs he didn't want to speculate on the possibility, "But I can see where you're going with that, someone as valuable as Ryan and dealing with the spine. I'm sure that topic will come up in a couple of months." When the spine is involved – and Anderson said physicians told him a similar blow to the one he absorbed could prove career-threatening if he wasn't completely healed – there should not be any consideration of Anderson coming back at all this year. It just seems far too risky.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Mikhail Prokhorov hasn’t been to a Nets game since the home opener on Nov. 1, but the Russian billionaire is planning to attend Thursday’s match- up against the Hawks at the O2 Arena in London, a club official confirmed. The Nets are in London for three days leading up to the game, and will practice Tuesday at a local college. Prokhorov has mostly been silent amid Brooklyn’s surprisingly bad start to the season, aside from preaching patience in an email exchange with The New York Times. The Nets are 15-22, but have won five out of their last six behind a stingy defense. The last time Prokhorov spoke to the media during the middle of the season was just after firing Avery Johnson. He then spoke again to reporters at the press conference introducing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, reiterating his championship aspirations and expectations.

  • Zach Schonburn of The New York Times: Its nickname is Big Bella and, at 600 pounds, it took two staff members to roll her out to center court. She sat there for a moment, in quiet repose. Then her 30-cylinder face started to rotate and her twin barrels belched torrents of steam. She began, a bit unnervingly, to resemble one of the Guns of Navarone, painted baby blue. And what did she fire? She fired T-shirts, as many as 60 in five-second bursts, peppering the nosebleed section with a hailstorm of bound fabric. What’s more, she is no longer unique. In almost every N.B.A. and many college arenas this season, multicylinder T-shirt cannons — modeled after the Civil War-era Gatling gun — have become a regular presence during timeouts and halftime shows, partly thrilling and likewise terrifying fans as the latest weapon of mass distraction. Sponsors have seized on them as a marketing opportunity: Many of the cannons and the products they dispense are covered with advertisements. The cotton artillery has grown so popular in recent years that teams actively pursue ways to make the launchers bigger, better and louder than their counterparts — an arms race among marketers tasked with devising new ways to electrify crowds in the high-definition-television era.