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First Cup: Friday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers won three consecutive titles from 2000 to 2002 and then failed to reach the 2011 Finals after back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. In other words, Bryant knows what the Heat is struggling with right now. The team entered Thursday’s game with a 6-5 record in January. “It’s like a malaise that kind of sets in over the team,” Bryant said. Bryant added that he believes James has done a “fantastic job of keeping the guys going with his own energy, which is his responsibility, to keep guys engaged. “And then when [the] time roles around, hopefully the other guys will get charged up and ready to go and role into the playoffs,” Bryant said. “The most important thing is being ready when the time is right. You’ve got to make sure you have everybody healthy and make sure your competitive spirit is ready to go when the playoffs come around. That’s really the most important time.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: A month from now, if it appears the Nuggets are feeding Timofey Mozgov the ball more, it will be because they are. Mozgov is Denver's most improved player. Going into Thursday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the 7-footer was averaging career highs in points (8.7), rebounds (6.0) and blocked shots (1.2). He was shooting 55.8 percent from the field, another career high. A lot of what he's done has been done in the low post, and that's what has caught the attention of coach Brian Shaw, who wants the Nuggets to play inside-out offense. "We've had to evolve into getting away from that," Shaw said. "We're actually going to come back around to getting the ball inside, because what's been a pleasant surprise has been Timo inside. When we do get the ball inside to him, he's shown the ability to finish and do things with it, with his back to the basket. So, particularly for him, we're starting to diagram, dial in more things for him to get touches and use his size and shooting ability inside to our advantage."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: LaMarcus Aldridge scored 30 of his career-high 44 points in the second half -- including Portland's last 15 in a row -- in the Trail Blazers' 110-105 victory Thursday night at the Moda Center. It snapped a two-game losing streak for the Blazers (32-11), who trailed by 15 points in the third quarter before beginning to reel in the Nuggets (20-21). And it came on the heels of news earlier in the day that Aldridge was not voted by fans as a starter for the Western Conference in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game. But Aldridge said the slight didn't provide extra motivation. "It was nothing about that," said Aldridge, who also had 13 rebounds and five assists. "We had lost two games. We just needed this one." Pressed by media, Aldridge added, "I should have been a starter, but it's over with now … I'm used to these things happening. Everybody around me was more upset than me." Asked by Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge and SI.com if Thursday's performance served as a statement game for Aldridge, teammate Wesley Matthews grinned. "I think his statement is coming on Saturday," Matthews said. He meant Saturday's Moda Center visit by Minnesota to face the Blazers. The Timberwolves' star power forward, Lake Oswego's Kevin Love, was voted as a West starter. Love and Aldridge have waged a fierce rivalry in recent years, fueled by debate over which with Portland connections is the better player.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Stephen Curry said he has never heard his father, Dell, sound quite like he did on the phone Thursday night. “He’s not an emotional guy,” Curry said after learning he had been voted a starter in next month’s All-Star Game. “I could tell his voice was a little shaky. I could tell how proud he was." This was a huge day in the career of Curry, the former Davidson and Charlotte Christian star who now plays point guard for the Golden State Warriors. In addition to the All-Star selection, he was named one of 28 candidates in the pool to play for USA Basketball in the World Cup and Olympics. Curry called Thursday’s announcements a “surreal” experience. He received more than a million votes from NBA fans, who select the starters. Seven reserves for each conference will later be selected by the league’s coaches.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: While the Bucks veteran small forward from Racine was stoked after scoring 30 points in the Bucks’ 104-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Caron Butler Bobblehead Night, he made a pit stop to talk to Bucks owner Herb Kohl. “I had a moment with Sen. Kohl after the game because I really wanted to talk to him and express to him how excited I am to be here,” Butler said later. “I want to be here in Milwaukee and I want to be part of the process. This is home to me. I want to help these guys develop.” Just over a week ago, there were reports that Butler was disgruntled with the team’s disappointing start and upset about his role with the team. ... Butler said he not only told Kohl he was on board with the Bucks’ “process” but said he also had similar discussions with Bucks general manager John Hammond and coach Larry Drew. “It’s tough but the first thing to leave a ship when it’s sinking is the rats,” Butler said. “That ain’t my mentality. I’m not a person who jumps ship."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: The New Orleans Pelicans are giving their much-maligned mascot, Pierre the Pelican, a makeover. The mascot has come under heavy scrutiny and been the butt of jokes since his debut in the season opener Oct. 30 vs. the Indiana Pacers. Pierre's appearance has drawn national attention, for all the wrong reasons. He's been panned as a poor man's knock-off of the famed San Diego Chicken and ridiculed for not looking like, well, a pelican. A league source said there will be a redesign of Pierre's head. "Any good ornithologist (zoologist who studies birds) will tell you that a young Pelican is constantly evolving!" said the league source, who has knowledge of the planned redesign. The new look likely will be unveiled during NBA All-Star Weekend next month in New Orleans.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Hard to believe it was 18 months ago that Deron Williams held the Mavericks hostage. The talented point guard was weighing his free-agent options in the summer of 2012. The Mavericks were in the hunt, at least they thought they were. They had everything else on hold waiting for a decision. When Williams elected to stay with the Brooklyn Nets, there were howls in Dallas that the kid from The Colony should have come home. However, that wasn’t necessarily what the Mavericks wanted. There was a reason owner Mark Cuban didn’t show up at the recruiting visit to woo Williams in July 2012. Looking back, it might not have been the worst thing in Mavericks history to lose out on Williams. In the season and a half since he signed a five-year, $98 million deal, Brooklyn has gone 57-45 in games Williams has played. They are 8-12 when he doesn’t play. That 65-57 overall record isn’t much different from the Mavericks’ 66-60 record. The Nets have only a first-round playoff loss in seven games to Chicago last year to show for their investment. Probably not what billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov had in mind when he won the Williams sweepstakes.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: DeMar DeRozan has unique insight into the Richard Sherman kerfuffle, a situation he is bemused by. DeRozan, Toronto’s star guard and Sherman, the All Pro cornerback who has been the main story ahead of the Super Bowl for a controversial post-game rant were both born in Compton, Calif. They have a number of common friends, including Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings and DeRozan, about 11/2 years younger, used to watch Sherman play when their rival schools would meet on the gridiron. After making a game-saving play in the NFC Championship game against San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree — who he had a bit of a personal history with — a pumped-up Sherman told a shell-shocked ESPN reporter Erin Andrews: “I’m the best corner in the game ... When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me.” Reaction was instantaneous on Twitter and it became the story du jour all over the airwaves and in print, with most pundits ripping Sherman, calling him pompous, a bad sport, a thug, or worse. Though not a close friend, DeRozan knows enough about Sherman that he couldn’t believe the response. “That situation he had last week, Sherman’s not like that. He’s a good dude,” DeRozan said to a couple of reporters following practice Thursday.

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: Rod Hundley, the iconic former broadcaster for the Utah Jazz, is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Hundley, 79, lives in Arizona with his partner, Kim Reardon. She told The Salt Lake Tribune this week that the disease has progressed to a "moderate" stage. Hundley no longer speaks to large groups, Reardon said. But they plan to attend festivities in Utah next week, when the Jazz will honor former coach Jerry Sloan. ... In 1979, Hundley followed the team to Utah, where he became one of the most recognizable faces of the franchise for the next three decades. Hundley handed over his TV duties to current play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack prior to the 2005-06 season. But he remained on the radio for another four years.