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First Cup: Friday

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Kyrie Irving is smart. He’s well spoken. He has learned the craft of saying things without actually saying them. So when he said “I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time,” I’m sure it sounded swell to a lot of fans who were clamoring for him to say something along those lines. But I gave him another chance to say he’d accept a max contract extension from the Cavs this summer and he again refused. That’s twice the topic of a max extension has come up and both times he refused to say he would take it. “It’s still too early to say. I’m still trying to get through this season,” Irving said tonight. “Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me … I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.” I asked him last summer, in the days after John Wall signed his max extension, if he would accept the same deal from the Cavs. “I’m not really worried about that right now,” he said. “Right now I’m focusing on the year ahead, my third year, then I’ll worry about that in the summer time.” I’m not saying Irving is leaving, I’m not saying Irving is staying. But I know Dan Gilbert has said he’ll never allow another player to hold his organization hostage, and I also know if Irving wants out, his chance could come this summer. ... If Irving truly wants out of Cleveland, we’ll find out this summer. All he has to do is reject the extension and force the Cavs’ hand.

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: A Cavs spokesman said there was no update on the missing Austin Carr No. 34 banner that disappeared from the rafters in The Q sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning. The Cavs don't know where is or who has it, but already have taken steps to replace it.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: But Irving isn’t solely responsible for Cleveland’s dreadful 16-30 record, just like Carmelo Anthony doesn’t shoulder all the blame for the Knicks’ disappointing 19-27 mark. Cleveland’s most recent first-round pick, Anthony Bennett, is on a pace to go down as the biggest bust among top draft picks in league history. Including the Cavs’ 117-86 loss to the Knicks Thursday night at the Garden, Bennett has scored a grand total of 96 points as a rookie. Kevin Durant can do that in two games. The lesson, of course, is that not every top overall pick is a franchise changer like LeBron James. Look at Toronto with Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors have improved since trading the Italian. Conversely, the Knicks hadn’t looked this good all season until an elbow injury knocked him out of the lineup and forced Mike Woodson to play small. Call me crazy, but I think Anthony at power forward is a little better than Bargnani at power forward. Actually, the locker room may be Bargnani’s best position. So while Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando and Milwaukee are trying to build through the draft, James Dolan can use Cleveland as an example of why stockpiling draft picks doesn’t always guarantee a better tomorrow.

  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: For J.R. Smith — actually, for all the Knicks — the 2013-14 season has been a collection of extremes. The team has had ups, downs. Injuries everywhere. A five-game winning streak is followed by a five-game losing streak. For Smith the season began after rehab from knee surgery and a five-game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. There was a fine by the league plus the public blistering and two benchings by coach Mike Woodson for the shoelace nonsense. So Thursday was just a fun night, an utter 117-86 blowout of the hapless Cavs. Smith got a start for the shorthanded Knicks, who were down five bodies, including Iman Shumpert. He brought energy, enthusiasm, points. And fun. Smith felt it was about time. “Without a doubt,” said Smith

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: There are times when Goran Dragic is faced with unfavorable odds on a fast break or driving into the paint, and he simply puts his head down and forges ahead like a charging bull. His Suns have taken on the same personality. Pick them to finish last, and all they do is take the NBA’s eighth-best record to February. Write them off without Eric Bledsoe, and all they do is have their first 4-0 road trip since the 2009-10 conference-finals season. Don’t consider Dragic an All-Star, and all he does is spend the night showing otherwise. The Suns were supposed to have no business getting a 102-94 victory over formerly league-leading Indiana on Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Suns were playing their fourth road game in five nights at a place where the Pacers were 21-1 and seeking vengeance for a 124-100 trouncing in Phoenix eight days earlier. To make it worse, Dragic had a sore, swollen left elbow that made him a game-time decision. “What’s the word?” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek asked Dragic as he warmed up with a padded sleeve. “Green,” Dragic said. “As in green light.” And he floored it. Dragic overwhelmed Indiana with a 21-point, five-assist first half in which he looked like a player hell-bent on proving he should have been an All-Star.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: From the beginning, Lance Stephenson was a 50-50 proposition to make the All-Star team, so that said, it's not exactly the crime of the century that he got passed over for a berth Thursday night. There are arguments that he should have made it, and there are arguments that he shouldn't, so there will not be any foaming at the mouth over his exclusion. ... After the game, Stephenson tried to downplay the importance of the All-Star Game, but he wanted it and he wanted it badly. Why wouldn't he? It's the ultimate validation for an up-and-coming player. If it wasn't a big deal, why roll out the Sir Lancelot All-Star video? "You only get two All-Stars until you win a championship like the Detroit Pistons,'' Vogel said after the game. "We're a balanced team. Not a big two or big three type of team. Detroit got one or two every year, then they won a championship and fot four. I think we had four (Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Stephenson) but we're not going to get that kind of recognition." If Stephenson stays grounded, though, he will be an All-Star. It's just a matter of time.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: During the past 1 1/2 seasons, the matchups between the Warriors and Clippers have often gotten extremely physical. This time, the physicality was extremely one-sided. The Warriors dominated the paint, the glass and the general tenor of Thursday night's game to march away with a 111-92 victory in front of the 60th consecutive sellout crowd at Oracle Arena and a national TV audience. "It hasn't been a happy place around here the past couple of days," Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. "A lot of guys are edgy right now, and that's because we haven't been playing good basketball." The Warriors (28-19) were reeling, having lost five of their previous seven games - including dropping three of four at home. But they regained the grit and edge that characterized their 10-game winning streak earlier in the season by owning the points in the paint (66-22), the second-chance points (18-13) and the rebounding battle (53-34).

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: The first Warriors reserve player to get into the game was Barnes -- for Thompson. The second was Crawford -- for Iguodala. The third reserve to check in was Green -- for Lee. And almost immediately after getting into the game, Barnes started rocketing to the basket for easy baskets; he had 10 points at halftime -- his first double-digit game since Jan. 15, eight games ago. "When you believe in somebody that doesn't mean you just believe in them when they're rolling," Jackson said before the game. "The Harrison Barnes that showed up 12 games in the playoffs started the whole year -- that guy didn't play 82 nights. We believed he had that in him and I still do. So he will play his minutes, he will get his calls, he will get his touches, and he's going to be just fine." That's what the Warriors have believed all season, and that's just about the only way they can move into the West's upper echelon. They have Green. They need Barnes. And if Barnes isn't there every night, they'll need more and more from Green ... and everybody else.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: To no one's surprise, Clippers guard Chris Paul was selected to the Western Conference All-Star team as a reserve by the NBA West coaches. Paul, who is out because of a separated right shoulder, said he's aware of the NBA rule that states a player has to play in a game with his team before he can play in the All-Star game. The timetable for Paul to return had been around the time of the Feb. 16 All-Star game in New Orleans, meaning he probably would play for the Clippers in a game Feb. 9 against Philadelphia. Paul was shooting, running and working on his ballhandling skills before Thursday night's game against the Golden State Warriors. "I'm still trying to get that range of motion, just trying to get it out of my mind," he said. "Me and our training staff, we're doing everything possible to get back on the court… Once they clear me, I'll be out there."

  • Andrew Keh of The New York Times: The world of Andray Blatche — an often colorfully odd place — is expanding. After finishing practice with the Nets on Thursday, Blatche casually and rather comically confirmed an international report that he was being recruited to join the Philippine national basketball team before the FIBA World Cup this summer. Blatche, 27, is from Syracuse, more than 8,000 miles from Quezon City, where the Philippine team trains. The incongruity of all this was met Thursday with bewilderment on social media and laughter inside the Nets’ practice complex. Even Blatche was a tad hazy on the details. “I’m not too quite sure about anything about it,” he said. “They brought it to my attention, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds cool.’ ” On Blatche’s end, it may actually be that simple, and as a whole, the situation may not be quite as random as it seems. Blatche said he first learned about the opportunity through the Denver Nuggets’ JaVale McGee, his friend and former teammate.

  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News The Jazz began asking Jerry Sloan two years ago about a jersey retirement ceremony. He always declined, mumbling about others deserving it more. But the team finally prevailed in arranging Friday’s event at EnergySolutions Arena, though not before he made a final plea: Couldn’t they just save it for his eulogy? Not a chance, he was told. If anything supersedes Sloan’s underlying humility, though, it’s his loyalty. So when the ownership group of Gail, Greg and Steve Miller insisted, Sloan conceded. ... So on Friday the Jazz will unveil a banner to commemorate Sloan’s career. It will bear the number 1,223, commemorating his wins as Utah’s coach. The event might even make the iron-handed coach cry. That’s hard to picture, because farmers don’t often show emotion. Sloan, who still owns his Illinois property, often said coaching isn’t pressure; worrying about a crop is.