First Cup: Friday

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: Why on earth would anybody want to actually spend money to watch or sponsor or contribute anything to this once-proud franchise again this season after they openly mocked their legacy and culture in a 142-94 loss to the Clippers? On a night when the Clippers were unstoppable, their brilliance was still overshadowed by the Lakers' heartless lousiness, and enough about how they are missing Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. ... While D'Antoni will take the biggest fall here, Thursday night was a complete organizational fail. In the year since the death of Jerry Buss, there has been no clear organizational leadership, direction or plan. Their biggest hope is the return of aging superstar Kobe Bryant, upon whom Buss bestowed a two-year extension worth $48.5 million this season even before Bryant had recovered from his Achilles' tendon tear. Bryant, of course, has played only six games, making that extension one of many terrible Lakers moves this year. None of which was as bad as Thursday, when a team that had already seemingly lost everything surrendered its last remaining shreds of heart, soul and identity. The Lakers are no longer even the Lakers.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Revenge for one of the toughest Finals losses in NBA history can’t be had in the regular season. But for one night, having struggled so badly against the league’s elite this season, tagging the two-time defending champion Heat with their worst loss in 2013-14 felt pretty damn satisfying to the Spurs. “I’m sure this one had some special meaning,” Gregg Popovich admitted. “To say it’s something different would be silly.” The Spurs, who limited LeBron James to 19 points two games after he set a career-high with 61, raced out to a 15-point lead and never led up, leading buzzer to buzzer despite a spirited Heat charge in the third quarter. “We’re starting to turn the corner,” Tim Duncan said after scoring 23 points with 11 rebounds. “We have all our guys out there and we’re starting to get back into a rhythm.” As always, it takes a team effort to contain a player of James’ caliber. Or to be more specific, it takes a team effort to wall off the paint and force him to settle for jumpers. (James complied by missing 10 of 11 shots outside the paint.) But Kawhi Leonard was outstanding as the first line of defense, forcing four of the four-time MVPs five turnovers while picking off five steals.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James refused to use it as an excuse. James scored just 19 points on 6 of 18 shooting in the Miami Heat’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs Thursday, but said the poor performance may have been a result of his uniform. Both teams wore the NBA’s new sleeve jerseys. “I’m not making excuses,” James said. “I’m not a big fan of the jerseys, not a big fan of them. I’ve got to figure something out the next time I wear the short-sleeved jerseys.” James will not have to worry about the jerseys, with this being the last game this season the Heat wear them. He said the sleeve jerseys affected his jumpshot because of the tight fit. “I already don’t have much room for error on my jumpers,” James said. ... Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and forward Kawhi Leonard both expressed their displeasure in wearing the jerseys. Giniboli wore a uniform one size bigger to improve comfort. ... Heat guard Dwyane Guard and center Chris Bosh were also among those to complain. Bosh was the only member of Miami’s Big Three to shoot 50 percent from the field.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: When you are arguably the NBA’s most improved team, singling out which player has improved the most is like choosing a favorite child. Suns coach Jeff Hornacek can’t do it. “They’ve all done something more than they’ve done last year,” Hornacek said. Seven veterans are averaging career highs. Three rookies are growing up. The road from last place in the Western Conference to the upper-third tier of the NBA is filled with improvement but each Suns player’s advancement probably takes away the chance of any one of them becoming the league’s Most Improved Player winner. The Suns are vying for most improved team with Portland but with a completely different dynamic. The Suns had three players who were on the active opening-night roster for each of the past two seasons. They had a first-year head coach with a new staff. The canvas was blank for roles and reputations, creating an environment for many players who were still trying to prove themselves in their careers to advance as Suns. As the sage veteran, Channing Frye was just trying to rediscover his game after a year away from basketball. He has seen the maturation in teammates around him and gives credit to that environment created by Hornacek and the front office. “They felt like this year they’re going to get a real opportunity,” Frye said of his teammates.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Where to begin ... Defense, of course. That’s what’s ailing the Thunder right now. OKC watched the Suns score an opponent season-high 128 points tonight and shoot 52.5 percent. Phoenix made 15 of 27 3-pointers and got to the free throw line 39 times. The Suns scored 40 points in the third quarter. They overcame a 16-point deficit with 3:47 left in the third period and took a three-point lead into the final frame. “We’ve got to get back to getting stops,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We’ve got to get back to having some toughness on the defensive end.” Since the All-Star break, the Thunder is now yielding 109.2 points per game, 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 41.8 percent shooting from 3-point range. That’s Sixers territory. The last two categories are worse than Sixers territory. The Thunder is 3-4 since the break. And the three wins came against Memphis, Charlotte and Philadelphia. That doesn’t look good at the moment. Opponents have hit at least 10 3s on the Thunder in five of the past seven games — six of the past eight if you include the final game before the break.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: The Bulls’ offense has learned to live without Rose, and in many ways it has evolved far beyond the team Rose played with before his knees betrayed him. Look no further than center Joakim Noah. The two-time All-Star continues to show that he is the best decision-maker the Bulls have in the fourth quarter. Yes, that includes Rose. The offense is a lot tougher to defend with Noah playing point center and having the ball in his hands at the top of the key than it was with Rose in isolation. Noah’s decision-making opens up the cutting game, pulls out the opposing big man to open up the rim and makes it so there is no one player on whom to key. It brings balance to a possession, as opposed to sitting back and counting on Rose one-on-one as the shot clock winds down. Noah also has developed into an outstanding pick-and-roll player, especially late in games. That’s a skill that Rose will need to embrace.

  • Erik Gundersen of The Columbian: The Trail Blazers and their recently stingy defense got back on track against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday before the team embarked on a five-game road trip on Thursday morning. The other matter at hand is that of their superstar forward's lost timing after his 1-of-13 performance. In his game against the Hawks, LaMarcus Aldridge said he was forcing the issue at times in order to find his rhythm, and it led to bad shots. "My timing is just off. I haven't really felt that my timing has been great. I've been really trying to find it and then I miss," he said. He did say, however, that he would work after practice to find that rhythm again when the Blazers play against the Mavericks in his hometown of Dallas. Blazers coach Terry Stotts feels that one reason he isn't in his normal rhythm is because of his minutes restriction that has been placed on him. "We got to get LA back into rhythm," Stotts said. "I think the minutes situation is a little bit frustrating for him. He was working hard, the shot just wasn't falling for him." Some questioned him if he was compensating because of his groin injury, but Aldridge rebuffed those claims.

  • Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: The Cavaliers don't know if they'll manage to squeeze their way into the playoffs. Twenty games remain, and they are still 3.5 games behind the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That's why, in essence, they're beginning their playoffs now. Because when it's against two teams clustered around them in the conference standings – Charlotte and New York this Friday and Saturday – it means even more. "All these games mean something, so there's added pressure to perform the right way and come out with a win," coach Mike Brown said. "It's a big game for us Friday -- and I say that because at this point in the season for us they all are." Adding to the pressure: Charlotte sits as the No. 7 seed in the East, 4.5 games ahead of the Cavaliers. Another Bobcats victory would give them three wins over Cleveland and the tiebreaker in any scenarios between the two teams.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: There was the expected crowd of local media waiting for Rudy Gay following Thursday’s practice at the Raptors practice facility in the Air Canada Centre. Gay was asked what kind of reception he expected from fans tomorrow night when the Kings play the Raptors. Based on some of the messages I received after the trade in December, I’d assume a lot of fans around here were happy to say goodbye to Gay. Gay’s stint in Toronto was marred by losing and inefficient offense from Gay. The Kings have seen the opposite. Gay responded to the question by saying he didn’t care how he was received in his return to Toronto because that was for others to talk about. “I tell these guys if you put two rims up in the kitchen I’ll go out there and play,” Gay said, referring to his teammates. “It doesn’t matter what happens, who’s booing or who’s cheering, I’m just happy for those guys and how they’re playing.”