First Cup: Thursday

  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: To put it in last week’s terms, Jefferson is the Bobcats’ snowplow. Walker is the team’s ice. Jefferson has been quietly playing as well as any big man in the league for the past month. Walker will continue to be underrated until his team wins more, but he’s as slippery as Independence Boulevard was the first day it snowed. It’s still not enough, and the casual sports fan knows it. Wednesday night the Bobcats played a home game against one of the teams they will compete with for the season’s final third for a playoff spot. The stands were about a third full when the game started. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan turned 51 this week, and he remains dogged by the fact that his tenure in the front office has produced no NBA championship rings to go along with the six he earned as a player. If the Bobcats are ever going to catch Indiana and Miami in the Eastern Conference, they have to be aggressive. The Bobcats probably aren’t going to win the NBA lottery anytime soon. Even if they happen to get in it this year, they won’t have enough ping-pong balls. That means days like Thursday are huge for Charlotte. The Bobcats don’t have a game Thursday. They have something better: An opportunity.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: Many NBA players fret about the trade deadline on Thursday. Dion Waiters isn’t one of them. “We can’t worry about those types of things,” he said. “That’s up to management. We’ll leave that to them.” There are many rumors flying around, as the Cavs are exploring what they can get for veteran guard Jack and forward Luol Deng, among others. The Cavs have also reportedly had some trade talks with the Los Angeles Lakers regarding forward/center Jordan Hill. Everyone will know by 3 p.m. Thursday whether Cavs acting general manager David Griffin improves the team. Brown said he’s not paying much attention to the rumors. “To me, it’s just business as usual,” he said. “If I start thinking about what if, and all the possibilities, I’m not doing those guys in locker room justice.”

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: We might have witnessed the Warriors grow up Wednesday night. They overcame two emotional whirlwinds that could have staggered them, but they maturely responded to both and managed to take care of business with a 101-92 victory over Sacramento at the Sleep Train Arena. The first drama unfolded minutes before the game, when the Warriors' front office pulled off this season's second move to bolster the bench - acquiring dependable Steve Blake from the Lakers for seldom-used Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. But in dealing two spare pieces from a bench that has been inconsistent all season, the Warriors also sent away one of the team's most beloved teammates. Bazemore is a source of positive energy at every turn: in the locker room, in practice and in games. ... While Bob Myers promised to be active on the phones right up until the noon cutoff, the Warriors don't expect to make any more moves before then. They don't have any draft picks to trade before 2019 and want to keep their core pieces together. "We like our core, and I think our core likes each other," Myers said.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Echoing comments general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made last week, Thibodeau said he would be surprised if the Bulls made a trade before Thursday's 2 p.m. deadline. Despite rumors, the Bulls have shown no desire to move Mike Dunleavy because he's an affordable rotation player who fits next season. "I talked to Gar and John just to see what their take is," Thibodeau said. "You just lock into what you have. It doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of movement. I feel real good about the guys we do have."

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs were playing with house money Wednesday in Portland, coming off a huge win against the Clippers the previous night and Tim Duncan resting alongside the injured Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. Not even an injury to perennial nemesis LaMarcus Aldridge figured to cut them much slack against a team they’d lost 14 of the previous 19 meetings. But with Patty Mills doing another spot-on Parker impersonation (29 points, including 13 in the fourth), the Spurs weren’t satisfied, improving to 6-2 on the Rodeo Rodeo Trip and 22-7 on the road overall. Had Mills been forced to play even one more minute, his shooting arm might have detached itself from the socket. As it was, he put up a line that even Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant would be impressed with: 29 points on 26 shots in just 29 minutes, once again picking up the slack for the short-handed Spurs. It was his second straight game with at least 25 points, and fourth on the rodeo trip with 23 or more to extend what has been by far the most productive stretch of his career (21 ppg over the past seven outings on a total of 100 shots).

  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: Rumors about Timberwolves forward Kevin Love leaving Minnesota swirled late Wednesday night as basketball writer Peter Vecsey tweeted, "Wolves' fans nightmare has come true." "He's forcing premature exit," Vecsey tweeted after 10 p.m. Wednesday. Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders quickly denied that. "Rumors of Love telling me he's opting out and wants to be traded are false," Saunders tweeted. "Last conversation I had with him was him telling me how bad my sports coat was." Vecsey continued, "Prior to the all-star break, Love alerted Flip he'll exercise summer 2015 out and sign elsewhere. Expect him to be moved before deadline or offseason." The trade deadline is 2 p.m. Thursday. In a recent GQ magazine article, Love said, "People think it's so far-fetched that I would stay in Minnesota. And I'm not s----- on the Lakers, but we have the better team, the better foundation. I'm having fun."

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: If the Knicks make a move by Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, it likely will be dealing out-of-the-rotation point guard Beno Udrih. Iman Shumpert was a top candidate to be traded until he sprained his left knee during Wednesday’s 98-91 win over the Pelicans. Udrih, who didn’t play versus New Orleans, has been in coach Mike Woodson’s doghouse for a few weeks and has not played in 13 of the last 14 games. Udrih told The Post the Wizards tried signing him this summer and have made a pitch to the Knicks. ESPN.com has reported the Nuggets have offered the Knicks small forward Jordan Hamilton, a former first-round pick. “It’s not in my control," Udrih said. “I’m here right now. If something happens it happens. We’ll see [Thursday]. Right now I’m going to relax and wait." With Shumpert going down, Woodson said Udrih possibly could return to the rotation in the wake of the injury.

  • Adam Wexler of CSN Houston:The NBA's trade deadline arrives on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. central. For the Houston Rockets that usually means one thing. Be ready for some roster changes. Each of the last six seasons, with general manager Daryl Morey calling the shots, the team has pulled the trigger on at least one trade. A total of 17 players have been shipped out, not to mention several future draft picks and cash have been shipped out at the deadline in those six seasons. In exchange, 15 players have been brought aboard, only one of which remains with the team. That's Francisco Garcia, who was acquired at the deadline last season and re-signed as a free agent this past off season. But before any assumptions are made that this year will be no different regarding trades for the Rockets, there are some notable differences. Houston is much more of a contender than in any of those previous seasons, has a significantly younger roster as well and while they have had plenty of injuries, they don't carry a roster of players with major & lingering injury concerns.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Mikhail Prokhorov is still scoffing at the luxury tax. As the Russian billionaire was busy in Sochi serving as president of his country’s biathlon squad, he signed off on some moves for his Nets, who acquired Marcus Thornton from the Kings and were trying to pry Jordan Hill from the Lakers in a separate proposal that would further inflate Brooklyn’s record-breaking payroll. The deal with the Kings, as announced by the Nets on Wednesday afternoon, was the 26-year-old Thornton for two of Brooklyn’s veteran role player, Reggie Evans and Jason Terry. If the Nets reach a deal for Hill by Thursday’s deadline – and they were competing against some other interested teams – it would push their expenses this season to around $211 million, including $105 million in luxury taxes. It’s a record-breaking figure by a wide margin. “Our owner is about trying to get the team going in the right direction with different pieces,” coach Jason Kidd said. “He’s probably not done. We’ll see what happens.”

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The shot felt good the moment Trevor Ariza leapt, kicked out his legs and fired from the opposing foul line in a hurried attempt to beat the buzzer. When it passed through the net, Ariza coolly turned to the Washington Wizards’ bench and flashed the slightest grin. He didn’t want to look too excited about connecting on a routine 80-foot jumper because, as he said afterward, “I do spectacular stuff like that all time.” Ariza laughed — and his teammates were in on the joke after they finally found victory in a building that has produced so much heartache, a 114-97 decision over the Atlanta Hawks. With its tame crowd and expanses of empty seats, Philips Arena is hardly the most intimidating building in the NBA. Yet it has been the location for several disappointing losses for the Wizards in recent years, including an overtime loss that came via a buzzer-beater when the teams met in December. Coach Randy Wittman claimed he wasn’t aware his team had lost 11 straight games in Atlanta, dating from Jan. 11, 2008.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns entered the final hours before the trade deadline not expecting to broker a deal by Thursday’s 1 p.m. deadline, but they remain a possible player because of their cap space, Emeka Okafor’s expiring, insurance-protected contract and precarious playoff position. Bold moves like acquiring the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol and Cleveland’s Luol Deng have been among the wide scope of trade rumors associated with the Suns, along with more subtle moves for frontcourt help like Boston’s Brandon Bass and the Lakers’ Jordan Hill. The Suns’ front office has worked to put the franchise in a situation with cap space to make a free-agency push or trade taking on money in July. It also stands to recover $5.8 million in insurance payout if it holds onto the contract for Okafor, who is not playing this season due to a neck injury. There have been deliberations about seeking short-term help for this team’s surprising run and adding a young piece that could be part of the future or standing pat and letting the team’s strong chemistry stay intact as young players gain experience.