First Cup: Tuesday

  • David J. Neal of The Miami Herald: Heat star LeBron James, recently discussing the defensive matchup with an opponent, said “Good offense beats good defense.” Monday night, in a 124-107 win at AmericanAirlines Arena against Charlotte, James proved transcendent individual offense can trash good team defense. Read ’em and gasp: a Heat record and career-high 61 points, beating Glen Rice’s 56 points on April 15, 1995 at Miami Arena against Orlando; a Heat-record 25-point third quarter; and a Heat-record 37 points in the second half. James’ career high also had been 56 points, on March 20, 2005, for Cleveland against Toronto. “First of all, I was able to do it in a win,” James said. “I probably had three or four just Heat check shots out of rhythm, just taking them. Third thing, to do it with a group of guys I would do anything for. It means so much. These guys are really true brothers of mine.” “After three quarters, I wanted to hit 50 on the home floor,” James continued.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: OK, let's be candid here, show of hands: Who had an expectation of anything special on the first Monday of March against the Bobcats? And then, when it was announced Dwyane Wade would be sitting out as part of his knee maintenance program, could anyone possibly have envisioned this as a seminal moment? And yet, with this team, with this roster, any moment, any game can become special. Heck, Chris Andersen made a 3-pointer, and Mario Chalmers' wraparound dribble for a 3-point assist might have been one of the most artistic plays by the Heat all season. And that's the thing, this team knows how to make moments, no player more so than LeBron James. This was captivating, theater of the highest quality. Twenty five points in the third quarter. Thirty seven points in the second half. It was breathtaking. And then to hear LeBron talk about how much it meant to do it with this roster, with these players? He certainly seemed to be very at home in this moments.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Even when their seasons ended with showering confetti and a hoisted championship trophy, the Lakers traveled up here and shriveled faster than the rain that soaks this city. Despite a bizarre season in wh ich the Lakers remainat the bottom of the Western Conference and are competing in June for a top lottery pick instead of an NBA title, somehow their fortunes changed. Few anticipated the Lakers’ 107-106 victory Monday over the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center. The Lakers have won in Portland only eight times out of 33 games since Kobe Bryant’s rookie season 18 years ago, an achievement surprisingly more dismal than the Lakers’ current 21-39 record. Even fewer envisioned how the Lakers secured the victory. After the Lakers nearly coughed up a 15-point lead, they closed out in dramatic fashion. Lakers forward Kent Bazemore threw an inbound pass to Wesley Johnson, who converted on the lob to give the Lakers a 107-106 edge with 6.4 seconds left. Lakers guard Jodie Meeks then tightly defended Portland guard Damian Lillard, whose contested three-pointer fell short as time expired. Best play of Johnson’s four-year career? “It’s definitely one of them,” said Johnson, who said the Lakers routinely work on the play during practice. “It’s nice that we put out the win after we were fighting the whole game.”

  • Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News: Jason Collins, a West Coast guy, came home on Monday to Brooklyn, a few blocks from where Jackie Robinson once busted down a two-foot-thick steel door. That was a very different time, a very different story, but the geography was hard to overlook. Even if Collins wished to ignore such a comparison, the assembled media would not allow it. “I’m just trying to be Jason Collins,” he said. “What Jackie Robinson did for baseball and our society was tremendous, but I’m just trying to be Jason Collins.” Collins, as he pointed out, is not Robinson. Not even close. He isn’t a transcendent star, for one thing. He sat out more than 45 minutes of a blowout victory over the Bulls, 96-80, that propelled the Nets to the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 5. Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche stayed out of foul trouble, which allowed Jason Kidd to ignore the camera crews and chants from the home crowd. Kidd kept his celebrity center glued to the bench, as if to prove this is all about the basketball, not about the headlines. When Collins finally entered the game with 2:41 left, he required only five seconds to commit a foul, a common sight. “It was cool,” he said of the greeting he received. “A lot of fun going into the game. When you get a chance, you have to be ready.”

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Tayshaun Prince is best known for his locker room leadership, defensive prowess and the many intangibles he brings to the court each game. Monday night, the veteran forward stepped up as the Grizzlies’ go-to guy on offense and his season-high 21 points helped deliver a 110-104 victory over the Washington Wizards in the Verizon Center. This is how deft Prince was while making 8 of 10 shots in 30 minutes: After sitting most of the fourth quarter while the Griz sat on a 19-point cushion, Prince returned with 1:17 remaining. He then promptly buried a 23-foot shot that stymied a Wizards rally that had cut the Grizzlies’ lead to four at that point. “He hit the biggest shot of the night,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. That almost was an understatement given Washington scored 40 points in the final period as its otherwise cold shooters came to life by making six 3-pointers.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Ersan Ilyasova has struggled all season to sink shots he normally makes. The Milwaukee Bucks forward's confidence has taken a hit under the weight of so many errant attempts. But Ilyasova was nearly perfect Monday night, and suddenly all was right as the Bucks routed the Utah Jazz, 114-88, before a season-low crowd of 10,022 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Ilyasova finished with 31 points on 13-of-14 shooting, with his only miss coming on a putback attempt in the third quarter. His great shooting performance seemed to be contagious as the five Bucks starters shot 76% (28 of 37) and Milwaukee hit 13 of 16 shots while breaking the game open in the third quarter. "We brought a lot of energy," Ilyasova said. "We had to give the first punch and we did a really good job of moving the ball. We had 28 assists. Sometimes in the pick-and-roll situation they try to switch and I get a mismatch (with a smaller player). You have to read the defense. Now we know each other better as a team."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: When the Kings said they'd begin playing Ray McCallum ahead of Jimmer Fredette after the All-Star Break, there were some predictable reactions -- namely that the decision was a basketball crime against Fredette. McCallum, however, has quickly earned the trust of his coaches, playing key minutes in the second half again during the Kings' 96-89 win over the New Orleans Pelicans Monday at Sleep Train Arena to end a three-game losing streak. McCallum had eight points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and no turnovers. Kings coach Michael Malone cannot praise McCallum enough: "I loved how Ray McCallum played tonight. For me, Ray is growing up in front of our eyes. The last couple of games he played meaningful minutes, making big plays and showing no fear. He was stepping up and taking big shots--even if he didn't make a couple I love that he steps up without any hesitation. They tried to post him up and go at him with Tyreke Evans, but I think that people are going to realize that Ray McCallum can guard. He can guard the one, two, and some threes."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic played nearly 28 minutes — including the final 6½ — in Saturday’s victory at Sacramento, but both he and coach Rick Adelman worried afterward about incurring the wrath of head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam because they exceeded Pekovic’s preset playing-time limit. “I don’t want to talk about it,” Pekovic said. “He’s going to get mad.” The Wolves outlasted the Kings that night, before holding off the Nuggets 132-128 on Monday to end their five-game road trip. Pekovic arrived at Pepsi Center saying he felt fine, even though he knows he will experience pain during games because of bursitis in his right ankle. ... Pekovic started his second consecutive game Monday, as did shooting guard Kevin Martin, who returned Saturday after missing three weeks because of a fractured thumb. Pekovic is supposed to be on a 20- to 22-minute time limit, but Adelman said the cumulative time isn’t as important as the duration of the stretches Pekovic plays. Adelman wants to limit him to five or six minutes at a time.

  • David Mayo of MLive.com: Detroit Pistons interim coach John Loyer has bemoaned his team's lack of defense recently. A visit from the woeful New York Knicks helped greatly on Monday. The Pistons turned in their best defensive performance in weeks during a 96-85 victory at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Andre Drummond had 17 points and a career-high 26 rebounds, and dominated a scintillating matchup of centers despite Tyson Chandler's eight points and 18 rebounds. Loyer talked before the game about how far Drummond has come, but acknowledged the Pistons should be better defensively after allowing 100-plus points to seven consecutive opponents. "For one, we should get back in transition," Loyer said. "There's no reason we can't get back in transtion. We have to get the ball stopped. Our communication has to improve. Sometimes, with young players, communication isn't there over the course of 48 minutes, and we've got to do a much better job of that."