Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Over the past week, Russell Westbrook has started cranking up his workout activity. At shootaround in Orlando on Friday, Westbrook was seen taking some full-speed pull-up shots and doing some on-court cutting, working up a sweat. And before the Thunder's Sunday win over the Knicks, he was doing much of the same. But Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said Westbrook still hasn't been cleared for full contact. “He hasn't participated in any part of our practices,” Brooks said. Westbrook's return, according to the team, still remains at least 10 days away, with the first game after the All-Star break set for Feb. 20 against Miami. “I don't know what date,” Brooks said. “Sometime after the All-Star break. We like the progress he is making.” The Thunder is 20-8 without Westbrook this season.
Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: The inevitable Dirk Nowitzki-Larry Bird comparison questions popped up again Sunday during the Dallas Mavericks’ annual excursion to TD Garden. This time coach Rick Carlisle added a new wrinkle to his answer. Before Sunday’s Mavs-Celtics game, Carlisle admitted that he gave Nowitzki something priceless after he became the Mavs’ coach in 2008. “When I first came to Dallas I went over to Germany for a trip and brought a DVD that had about three or four minutes of Bird stuff on it,” Carlisle said. “Some things that I really felt would be good for [Nowitzki] to develop on that right post iso[lation] area that Larry was so great at. “[Nowitzki’s mentor] Holger Geschwindner and Dirk worked on that stuff, and it’s one of the reasons their diligence in developing that stuff over there is one of the things that led to him coming up with the one-legged fade, which now guys are copying.” Nowitzki didn’t grow up watching Bird play. But he’s obviously aware of his legendary status. ... Carlisle was a teammate of Bird’s from 1984-’87 and has coached Nowitzki since 2008. So if anyone can speak of the comparisons between the two legends with firsthand knowledge, it’s Carlisle. ... Owner Mark Cuban said he didn’t see any similarities between Nowitzki and Bird. “Larry could shoot, obviously, and Larry could play all-out,” Cuban said. “But Larry talked a lot of crap, and Dirk’s not really the talker.
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: It only took 50 games for the Detroit Pistons to dig another coaching grave. But Maurice Cheeks should count his blessings. He’s free from this nonsense. Owner Tom Gores needed a scapegoat. He got one. Shocking, isn’t it, that Cheeks wasn’t popular with the players? The Pistons haveperfected the blueprint for insurrection. Some players privately pouted while others openly pounced on Cheeks. When backup point guard Will Bynum unabashedly got in Cheeks’ face at Orlando last week, it was only a matter of time before the Pistons served up another head coaching sacrifice under the guise of demanding better performance. But at some point, it’s less about the coach and more about the culture. Joe Dumars helped create this poisonous culture. Instead of elevating assistant coach John Loyer to interim head coach, Gores should have put Dumars on the bench for the remainder of the season. Instead of entrusting him with the responsibility of finding the next guy capable of creating a more compatible coach-player environment, put him directly in the line of fire and see if he can arrive at a solution there. Dumars remains under contract for a few more months.
Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: Clippers coach Doc Rivers had a simple plan for Chris Paul on the point guard’s return Sunday from a shoulder separation. “I’m just going to start him and play him and let his lungs tell me when he needs to come out,” Rivers said. Paul’s return might have been a breath of fresh air for the Clippers, but that’s about as hard as they had to breathe with the Philadelphia 76ers in town. The Sixers, one game after falling at home to the Lakers and their limited ensemble, traveled coast to coast and absorbed another embarrassment as the Clippers scored a 123-78 win in a game they led by as many as 56 points. It was over from the beginning, Paul’s return or not. The Clippers held a 46-15 lead after the first quarter, then turned on the highlight reel that included consecutive dunks by Griffin, one off a backboard pass from Paul and the other also from Paul after Griffin went behind his back to pass to Paul in transition. “It felt great to play,” Paul said. “It’s one of those things where you never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and play. It felt good to get out there and compete."
Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Two weeks before the NBA trade deadline, David Griffin has been thrust into the position as Cavaliers acting general manager. “It’s not easy,” Griffin said. “But I wouldn’t have wanted to do it otherwise. From the greatest adversity is great opportunity. Sure, this isn’t an easy situation. I’d be lying if I said it was. I can promise you this: It’s one I’m very prepared for.” Griffin was promoted from his role as vice president of basketball operations last Thursday when Cavs general manager Chris Grant was fired. Griffin, 44, said he doesn’t feel like he has to make a trade at the Feb. 20 deadline. “I want to do that which puts us in the best position to be successful,” he said. “We’ll analyze every opportunity and we’ll look for every opportunity that does that for us.” When asked if the Cavs were going to be buyers or sellers, it was clear cut. “I don’t see how you get better and win more games selling,” Griffin said. “We’re going to buy to the extent that it makes us better for the long haul. I don’t think we’re going to do anything that’s an act of desperation. I think we’re going to be willing to buy the right asset at the right price. We are dedicated 100 percent from top to bottom to getting better and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Nik Vucevic's reaction said it all. As the final tenths of a second ticked off the clock Sunday night, Vucevic took a few dribbles and hurled the basketball skyward. The fans inside Amway Center, almost all of them standing, yelled and shouted their approval. Pure joy. The Orlando Magic had won a game they weren't supposed to win and stunned the Indiana Pacers 93-92. ... The Pacers, the team with the NBA's best record and best defense, held a 17-point lead late in the third quarter, but the Magic — led primarily by rookie Victor Oladipo and their second unit — recovered and recorded a shocking victory. ... Less than 48 hours earlier, on Friday night, the Magic bounced back from a 17-point deficit in the second quarter to beat the team with the league's second-best record, the Oklahoma City Thunder, 103-102. In both of those wins, the Magic received a boost from their bench, especially Oladipo. On Sunday, the rookie scored a team-high 23 points — including seven consecutive points during a key stretch from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth quarter.
Michael Lee of The Washington Post: In their final home game before the all-star break, the Wizards wanted to at least come away with a winning record on a homestand that began with such promise after wins over Oklahoma City and Portland but hit a rough patch with losses to San Antonio and the Cavaliers. With the win, the Wizards snapped a three-game losing streak to the Kings, who had won the previous two meetings at Verizon Center. Washington also drew even on the season and at home (13-13), with its final two games before the break coming on the road against Memphis and Houston. John Wall’s college coach from Kentucky, John Calipari, was in attendance to watch his former pupil. But Wall didn’t have his usual dynamic performance and looked winded trying to keep up with speedy Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, who has historically given him problems. Content with taking a back seat, Wall didn’t have any assists in the first half and only handed out four in the second half while finishing with just 12 points. Wall also had a game-high five turnovers.
Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Brook Lopez isn’t a doctor, but he’s dealt with enough issues with his right foot he didn’t need one to tell him what had happened when the X-rays came back after he awkwardly fell on it during the Nets’ loss to the 76ers in December. “I’ve seen enough before,” Lopez said Sunday night at halftime of the Nets’ 93-81 win over the Pelicans, “to recognize that line on the X-ray.” Lopez was sitting on a chair inside Barclays Center’s interview room, meeting with the media for the first time since suffering his season-ending injury. It has only been in the last few days he has been allowed to leave his house on a regular basis, after being mostly bedridden for the past several weeks following surgery early last month. He admitted the hardest part has been being stuck in bed with little to do but think about his current situation. “Yeah, I mean you can only sleep so much,” he said with a weak smile. “I tried to read a lot, write and draw and stuff like that. “But you do get to thinking. It’s inevitable. You try to focus on the positives. In my case, I just go crazy if I dwell on that stuff for too long.”
Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: The Bulls keep finding ways to win games, lose Ping-Pong balls and convince themselves they’ve got a chance to be something. With Derrick Rose out for the season, Luol Deng long gone and Carlos Boozer missing his second consecutive game with a calf injury, the Bulls beat the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers 92-86 with a typical Tom Thibodeau-inspired effort. Taj Gibson replaced Boozer in the starting lineup, scored 12 points in the first quarter to help the Bulls build a 13-point lead and finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Joakim Noah started slowly but picked it up just as Gibson was losing a little steam and added 20 points and 13 rebounds — playing the final 6:53 with five fouls. Kirk Hinrich hit three three-point shots and scored 17 points. And D.J. Augustin, never known for his defense before he came to Chicago, made the defensive play of the game with a steal in the final minute to secure the wire-to-wire victory.