First Cup: Wednesday

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: For all the Rockets did along the way, they had to do more. They had to do it with the game on the line down the stretch, against the team with a pair of enormous, fresh championship rings earned by winning in the final, crucial minutes. The Rockets moved the ball and made shots and built leads that swelled to as many as 15 points. They got huge performances from Terrence Jones and Pat Beverley. They even somehow stopped LeBron James in the second half, swarming into his path until he settled for jumpers and, in the most shocking development of all, missed. But none of that was enough. The Miami Heat made their charge. The game was tied midway through the fourth quarter. The Rockets were rapidly fading. With that, the Rockets did something more significant than they had in the first 42 minutes, answering the run to stun the Heat 106-103 on Tuesday night at Toyota Center by doing all the things they had done to build those leads. “Early in the season, we probably would have let one slip away,” said Rockets guard James Harden, who had 11 assists, the first time in his career he has been in double digits in consecutive games. “We missed some shots. They made some shots. Kind of got down on ourselves. But we’ve come a long way.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: With the Indiana Pacers losing to Golden State on Tuesday, a victory for the Heat would have pulled it even with the Pacers in the loss column. Instead, the Heat trails Indiana by two games in the Eastern Conference standings. It was a painful final seconds for James, who was hit in the face inadvertently by Howard during Harden’s turnover. Both players jumped for Harden’s pass and collided in the air. James remained on the ground for a several seconds before walking to the Heat’s bench and preparing for the final play of the game. “It feels like my nose is broken,” James joked after the game. James went 9 of 18 from the field, 0 of 3 from three-point range and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line. He had six assists, but just one rebound. Before the game, James acknowledged being road weary from the Heat’s home-away back-to-back schedule. After months of buildup, there wasn’t much to the head-to-head matchup between Dwyane Wade and Harden. Wade had used comments made by Kevin Durant about Harden and Wade as motivation throughout the season, but that background didn’t materialize into anything compelling on the court.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The night belongs to Z. Unfortunately, it is turning into a three-ring circus. The Cavaliers will retire former center Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ No. 11 during what promises to be a moving ceremony on March 8 at Quicken Loans Arena. It’s no longer about Z, which is wrong on a number of fronts. It’s becoming about who wants to attend the ceremony: LeBron James. The Heat have the day off. James will fly into Cleveland on his private jet to attend the affair. It has caused quite a stir around Northeast Ohio and the entire league. Remember, James spurned the Cavs in free agency in July 2010 and agreed to “take his talents to South Beach.” He’s gone on with win two NBA championships with the Heat. Now, he wants to return when the Cavs raise Ilgauskas’ jersey to the rafters. He should be smart enough to know how his presence could affect Z’s night. Sixty-point headlines might scream: “James returns to The Q.” Then in a subhead underneath, “Cavs retire Ilgauskas’ number.” That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point. That’s how the national media might cover the event. It’s the way of the social media world we live in.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Q. How do you get players to take ownership of the offense? Is it a confidence thing? Popovich: “That’s a good question. A lot depends on the competitiveness and the character of the player. Often times, I’ll appeal to that. Like, I can’t make every decision for you. I don’t have 14 timeouts. You guys got to get together and talk. You guys might see a mismatch that I don’t see. You guys need to communicate constantly — talk, talk, talk to each other about what’s going on on the court. “I think that communication thing really helps them. It engenders a feeling that they can actually be in charge. I think competitive character people don’t want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do. It’s a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people. Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’ And I’ll get up and walk away. Because it’s true. There’s nothing else I can do for them. I can give them some bulls—, and act like I’m a coach or something, but it’s on them."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant scored a game-high 42 points, the Thunder held the Sixers to an opponent season-low 34 percent and yet the story of the game was Russell Westbrook. He was that good. He registered his second triple-double of the year, the eighth of his career, with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. He had eight assists before he scored a point. By halftime, he had 11 helpers, setting a Thunder-era record for assists in a half. Westbrook chuckled when asked if he came into the game with a “pass-first” mentality. He then repeated the phrase, “pass-first.” My guess is he linked the question to the stigma that’s followed him throughout his career. “I just play off my instincts, man,” Westbrook said. “I never come in looking to shoot first, pass first, rebound first. I just play off instincts. (If) some guys help, I hit them. If they don’t, I keep going.”

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Coach Brett Brown's personality is one that makes him approach things head-on. There is little wiggle room in what he says. It comes from the heart, it is the truth and it is without filter. So bringing up the current losing streak, which reached 15 games with last night's 125-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, is expected by the first-year coach of the 76ers. He talks openly and honestly about it. And he charges at it just as he would a 15-game winning streak. He just doesn't bring it up to his team. "I don't even think I've mentioned it, this streak," Brown said. "We talk candidly about having to make sure we share the ball, don't play in a crowd, get back in transition. Everybody talks about us not winning for the rest of the year, or whatever they say. And that's all true. We have to focus on sharing the ball, playing together and not playing in a crowd because we drive the paint all the time and we don't have great perimeter shooters right now, and we better get back in transition.

  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: Stephen Curry has built up high expectations for himself, but can’t be expected to carry the load each and every night for the Warriors, who are too talented a team for that to happen. That’s why a win at Indiana with Klay Thompson hitting the game-winner and the bench with Steve Blake collecting six assists was big. On a night when Curry could have played better, his teammates picked him up. “He showed composure the whole quarter to make the right play, take his time, and it paid off for us,” Curry said of Thompson, whom he said he’d owe dinner. Thompson took the shot without hesitation and described it was a fairly simple play. Mark Jackson had drawn it up for Thompson to get the ball. Curry, who struggled in the fourth quarter, was able to get away with making some mistakes and the Warriors still getting the win. That didn’t happen at Toronto and Curry making missteps, but it worked at Eastern Conference-leading Indiana with the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd hungry for a comeback win.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: For all his excellence, though, he is remembered for being the centerpiece of a team that imploded. Did he play a role in the Brawl? Absolutely. When two idiot fans walked onto the floor looking for trouble, O'Neal took a running start, thankfully slipped (or he would have killed somebody) and punched the interlopers in the head. His actions, though, were forgivable. By then the whole thing had gotten treacherously out of hand, and two fans had taken it upon themselves to walk onto the floor in front of the Pacers bench. "It's not something I like to talk about," O'Neal said. "…The Brawl divided the whole city. It became a cultural issue. That's the biggest issue I had with the whole thing. And remember, people made bad decisions after that. But you can't condemn a culture for what happened. A person for what they did, yes, but the problem was it became a cultural issue, it became a big conversation piece. Then the tattoos, the headbands and the braids became too much. That's the issue I had. But I completely understood a change was needed. And you've got to accept whatever role you played in it." Now he was back in town with the Golden State Warriors, taking a victory tour of the NBA in what will likely (not surely, but likely) his 18th and final season.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: It is still uncertain when starting shooting guard J.J. Redick will return to the court for the Clippers. Redick is sidelined by a bulging disk in his lower back. He has missed the last 11 games, including Tuesday's game at Phoenix. When the Clippers disclosed the nature of the injury on Feb. 18, Redick had already missed four games with what the team had been calling a hip injury. There still is no timetable for his return, and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was asked Tuesday night if he feared that Redick could be out for the rest of the season. "I don't know," Rivers said before the game against the Suns. "I haven't had that fear yet. I don't want that fear, maybe would be a better way of putting it. But I don't know. I just keep getting updates. "I'm sure there is some thought of that. He's been out for so long. But we're just hoping for the best." On Monday in Los Angeles, Redick did some shooting before the rest of the team practiced.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns rookie center Alex Len was talking Tuesday morning about his decreasing playing time with diminishing results, small lineups and Shavlik Randolph’s addition. “I’ve just got to stay ready and wait for my opportunity,” Len said. That did not take long. Len made his first NBA start Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers and center DeAndre Jordan. Miles Plumlee, who had started each game this season, had been playing through a right knee sprain in recent games but was held out Tuesday night with expectation that the issue will subside by Thursday’s game. Len’s role had been reduced to spot time against the bigger centers, especially after the Suns added Randolph to use as an experienced reserve center. Len’s rookie year has been less than ideal, starting with two ankle surgeries that kept him on crutches all summer and in-season setbacks with his ankles. Len has made 26 reserve appearances, averaging 8.7 minutes, trying to catch up after beginning basketball work during training camp. “Actually, it’s getting better,” Len said of his ankle.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: With his team reeling, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams shuffled his starting lineup, pressed for urgency from his players and scheduled extended shootaround sessions in hopes for a breakthrough. It had little impact until Tuesday night, when the Pelicans pushed with effort and executed effectively for a change before having to hold off a late rally from the Los Angeles Lakers to secure a 132-125 victory at the Staples Center and end a disastrous eight-game losing streak. Until Tuesday, the Pelicans had not enjoyed a victory since Feb. 12 when they beat the Milwaukee Bucks 102-98 before going on the All-Star break. But New Orleans (24-37) came out and ambushed the Lakers by beating them in transition, hitting open shots and challenging nearly shot they attempted during the opening three quarters. The Pelicans had lost eight consecutive games against the Lakers at the Staples Center and 12 of the last 13 overall.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Without additional draft picks and enough cap relief to fall behind the luxury tax threshold, the Lakers found a silver lining that shipping Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks could accomplish something to their backcourt. Even if the move came at the expense of losing Blake’s locker room leadership, toughness and playmaking, the Lakers would have a better chance to evaluate how Kendall Marshall and Jordan Farmar fit into their future. Two weeks since that move, the clarity has proven so drastic that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni conceded after the Lakers’ 132-125 loss Tuesday to the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center that he’ll make a lineup switch. Farmar’s 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting in 26 minutes against New Orleans represented a steady progression with both his playmaking and aggressiveness after missing a combined 30 games because of a torn left hamstring. Marshall’s zero points on four field goal attempts and 10 assists in 21 minutes marks a puzzling pattern in the past seven games where has gone scoreless in four of them and logged single digits in three of them. Will Farmar take Marshall’s starting spot? “He could start. We’ll talk about it,” D’Antoni said.