First Cup: Thursday

  • Sam Donnellon of the Philadelphia Daily News: Brett Brown seems to be at that point when discussing Nerlens Noel. The dynamic, though, couldn't be more different. Last year, Collins wanted Bynum on the floor yesterday, last week, last month, RIGHT NOW!! Brown, though, continues to sound like an overprotective parent, practically wincing each time some sunny prediction is issued about the timing of the debut of the Sixers' 19-year-old who was a first-round pick out of Kentucky, as it was yesterday. A source close to Dr. James Andrews told Philly.com that the physician believes Noel will be ready to play in 4 to 6 weeks following a checkup performed last week. Yippee, right? No, not yippee, at least not to Brown. A player-development guy, Brown has a golden opportunity to teach, mold and correct the impressionable teen from suburban Boston, thanks to Noels' long rehabilitation from that anterior cruciate ligament tear. ... He leaves you with the distinct feeling he could wait till next year. And he really doesn't hide that well. Scolded by Sixers brass in October when he stated his belief that Noel would not play at all this season, Brown this time was more careful as he attempted to add weeks, if not months, to Andrews' reported timeline.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Dwight Howard never did hit the Pelicans with the sort of dunk that would require his New Orleans cap, but he had happy memories of the time he win the dunk contest with his superman slam at New Orleans Arena. He will not, however, reprise that performance in the dunk contest next month either. Howard, who won the 2008 dunk contest at New Orleans Arena, said the NBA invited him to dunk again this season in New Orleans, but he declined. “Couldn’t do it,” Howard said. Howard, 28, said he would participate again, “If I wasn’t so old. I’m getting up there in age, man, I tell you. I got a lot of years.” Howard, however, said he had thought about that night just because with the return to New Orleans. “It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Wizards, 7-9 at Verizon coming in and losers of their last four here amid catcalls and jeers, jump out to a 34-point lead! They score more points in a quarter (43) than they have in the history of the building. Only to give 25 points back. Including a dunk ... to Greg Oden! Who hadn’t played since December 2009. In easily one of the zaniest, crazy theatrical regular season games anyone can remember here since Michael Ruffin threw the ball up in the air and thought the game was over and Jalen Rose threw it up for three and Toronto somehow won in overtime — I can still hear Steve Buckhantz’s call of the play, “It’s not possible!” — the Wizards subdued the coasting, cruising Heat. Asked whether this could possibly be a playoff preview, Wittman said deadpan afterward, “I hope not.” “They’re going to be in the playoffs,” he added. “You hope we run into them. Where? Who knows.” January games can mean everything or nothing. Still, after Wednesday night, there is no reason this shouldn’t be a second-round matchup.

  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is still expected to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would be limited to 18-20 minutes according to coach Brad Stevens. Stevens, who would not say if Rondo was in fact going to play Friday, did have Rondo on the bench dressed in uniform on Wednesday night. However, Stevens made it clear after Boston's 88-83 win over Toronto that there was never any plan to play Rondo against the Raptors. Not even when the game got tight in the fourth quarter and the Celtics were in desperate need for someone to do what Rondo does best - pass the ball.

  • Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: Before the game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle took time to marvel at Dirk Nowitzki, who’s avering 21.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in his 15 th NBA season. “He’s just more skilled than everyone,” Rivers said. “It almost comes down to that with him. He’s 7 feet tall, he’s maybe the best shooter in the league if not top 5, still, and at that size, he’s very difficult to guard. As a staff, you’re sitting around, you concoct all these ways that don’t work to try to guard him. It’s amazing how many different ways I’ve seen him guarded.” Carlisle was asked how Nowitzki has been able to return to form after missing the first 27 games last season due to knee surgery. “Never underestimate greatness at any age,” Carlisle said.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: What's next for the Trail Blazers is as daunting as a climb up Mount Everest: A four-game, five-day road trip that begins Friday night at San Antonio, with stops in Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City. Four of the top eight teams in the Western Conference, with an aggregate record of 108-50. "A big challenge," Coach Terry Stotts observed after Portland's 108-96 victory over Cleveland Wednesday night at the Moda Center. "Four teams that are in the playoffs right now. "I'm always reluctant to talk about a whole road trip. Right now, it's San Antonio. (The Spurs) have won six in a row. You can't look at the whole thing. If you're going to read a 2,000-page book, you can't look at the whole book. You have to read the first chapter."

  • Michael Cohen of The Commercial-Appeal: The Memphis starters played as if stuck in the mud Wednesday, with Gasol looking gimpy in 14 ineffective minutes and Zach Randolph missing eight of his 10 field goal attempts. That the formidable inside duo combined for just six points and the Grizzlies still won is a testament to the bench’s fortitude. Led by Johnson and buoyed by Ed Davis (14 points, nine rebounds) and Kosta Koufos (10 points, four rebounds), the reserves staved off repeated, probing runs by Milwaukee that nearly soured what ended as a celebratory victory. Because what mattered on this night, one that is certainly forgettable from a basketball standpoint, was that the Grizzlies reached .500. A weight was lifted, red figures were escaped and, most importantly, the playoffs inched a smidgen closer. Cosmetics were irrelevant. Said Courtney Lee: “We had to grind this one out.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: When things got tough, the Suns had each other’s backs – for a second-quarter scuffle and a decisive fourth quarter of a 121-114 victory against the Lakers. Lakers guard Nick Young found himself among white Suns jerseys after being knocked down by Suns center Alex Len’s flagrant foul 2 in Wednesday night’s second quarter. Len’s strike and Young’s retaliation earned both ejections but Young had more of a problem with his teammates failing to intervene, defend him or calm him than he did with Len’s flagrant foul 2. Young likely will receive a suspension as a result of his open-handed swing that connected on the head of Suns guard Goran Dragic, who had not been involved in the play or the ensuing shoves. It is plausible that Len could also get a suspension or at least a fine from the league’s review of the play. Len’s flagrant foul 2 struck Young in the head while he was airborne for a breakaway slam try, knocking him on his back to the ground. ... After the video reviews, Young and Len were ejected and Marcus Morris was assessed a technical foul.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: The added benefit to playing in the Bay Area for Nuggets coach Brian Shaw is his ability to go home — really go home. This is his hometown, and he has never sold his home in Oakland. It sits ready for him whenever he's in town, as he was for two nights as the Nuggets prepared for Golden State and then played the Warriors. On Tuesday afternoon after practice, he had the basketball team over for food, fun and fellowship. As team-building exercises go, this one got an A-plus grade from the coach. "It was an impromptu thing," Shaw said. "We got a local barbecue place, Everett & Jones, to cater, and the guys just came up for an hour and a half and ate. It just gave us a chance to kind of bond as a team. "On the way from here to the house, they kind of got to see some different areas in Oakland that we grew up in and circumstances around here. So I thought it was a good moment for our team." Shaw is a big proponent of using off-the-court activities to strengthen team ties.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings have tried Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore as the starting shooting guard this season. The one constant has been both have struggled with their shot. Kings coach Michael Malone said it’s not an easy job for either player in the starting lineup with DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas. Thornton has always been a scorer and the Kings believe McLemore will become a proficient shot maker. But there aren’t many shots to go around in the starting lineup. Thornton is shooting 36.4 percent after missing all five of his attempts in the Kings’ 111-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “In defense of Ben and Marcus,” Malone said, “when you’re playing with three volume shooters and scorers in Rudy, Isaiah and DeMarcus, it’s tough for (starting power forward) Jason (Thompson) and whoever that two guard is. Right now it’s Marcus Thornton."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: It has been nearly two years since Richard Jefferson’s ill-fated tenure with the Spurs ended. Now in Utah, with a brief stopover in Golden State, Jefferson still keeps up with his former team and former teammates in San Antonio. Specifically, Jefferson keeps tabs on the player who replaced him as the Spurs’ starting small forward. “As much as they talk about Kawhi Leonard being the future and Kawhi Leonard had a great playoffs and Kawhi, Kawhi, Kawhi,” Jefferson said after Jazz shootaround this morning at the AT&T Center. “Look at Kawhi’s numbers at the three spot.” Jefferson’s point? The same numbers that made his stint with the Spurs seem a disappointment — 11.2 points and four rebounds rebounds in 203 games before being traded to the Warriors for Stephen Jackson in March 2012 — are awfully similar to the numbers that have earned Leonard billing as a star in the making. Through the first 159 games of his NBA career, Leonard is averaging 10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Jefferson’s 3-point percentage in Spurs uniform (40.1 percent) is higher than Leonard’s (36.2 percent).

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: As Derrick Rose walked into the Amway Center with his teammates Wednesday morning, guard Kirk Hinrich said it best. “It’s always good to have him around,” Hinrich said. “Obviously, we would love to have him playing.” Rose is out for the season after surgery to repair the torn right medial meniscus he suffered Nov. 22 in Portland, Ore. For the first time since that injury, Rose joined his teammates on this two-game trip that continues Friday night in Washington and sat on the bench during the game with the Magic wearing a tan suit. ... NBA media guidelines stipulate Rose, who spoke at a Dec. 5 news conference, isn’t obligated to address reporters until he begins practicing. Thibodeau said he didn’t “want to speculate” on whether Rose would practice again this season, reiterating that the team “ruled him out for the season.”