First Cup: Monday

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: This isn’t about wins or losses, mind you. The Lakers have too steep a talent decline to win enough to be a legitimate contender. It’s about avoiding epically embarrassing falls like they experienced against the Clippers. “Sometimes you play the right way and you lose,” Gasol said. “But at least, if we continue to give ourselves a chance, that should be our goal in every single game going to the end of the season.” The Lakers did that on Sunday against the Thunder, moving the ball willingly and efficiently enough to collect 31 assists and create sufficient shot attempts for six different players. The sense of community offensively — which helped Jodie Meeks collect a career-high 42 points — had a dramatic influence defensively, with the Lakers as active and tenacious as they’ve been all year. Oklahoma City is among the best offenses in the NBA, yet the Thunder managed just 42 percent shooting while being continually harassed by the hustling Lakers. “This sounds crazy, but I think sharing the basketball on one end transferred to the other end,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. This wasn’t groundbreaking of course. It’s Basketball 101.

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: Joakim Noah was magnificent against the team he loves to hate, getting 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots. The Bulls’ 95-88 overtime victory against the Heat meant that the Bulls beat the Heat 95-88 in overtime, but just try telling Noah that there wasn’t more meaning to it than that. “This what you play basketball for," he said. “I love it. I’m having a great time. I’m having a blast out there. Beating Miami — I don’t care if it’s the regular season, it’s always special." There is a late MVP push for Noah, thanks in part to the three triple-doubles the 6-11 center has had the last month. With Kevin Durant averaging 31.8 points and LeBron James having another excellent season, it’s not going to happen, but understand the significance of Noah even being mentioned. He is not a big scorer, and he is not playing on one of the NBA’s best teams. Some of what he does can be found in the box score, but much of it can’t. On Sunday, whenever Noah found himself guarding either James or Dwyane Wade via a switch, his defensive crouch became more pronounced. Bring it on, he seemed to be saying.

  • Mark Berman of the New York Post: The one person the Knicks should be trying to impress doesn’t seem so impressed with the Knicks’ expected hiring of legendary coach Phil Jackson to their front office. In fact, Carmelo Anthony admitted he was in the dark regarding the team’s pursuit of Jackson and thought it would be best executed after the season. A source told The Post the Knicks expect the Hall-of-Fame coach in the fold any day. The Post reported in Sunday’s editions Jackson was “real close’’ to agreeing to join the Knicks front office and return to the organization that drafted him in 1967. There are ongoing discussions about his exact role, but The Post reported Knicks president Steve Mills would retain a similar position. “I don’t even know what’s going on with that,’’ Anthony said late Saturday night after the Knicks beat the Cavaliers for their third straight win. “Nobody came to me about that. Until that time comes, I’m not going to know what’s going on." ... With Jackson living in Manhattan Beach, Calif. it’s possible he wouldn’t start the job until after the season ends. (Jackson reportedly could have a title of president of basketball operations).

  • Jimmy Toscano of CSNNE.com: If you're going strictly on what you saw out of Rajon Rondo Sunday night against the Pistons, you probably think he could play a full 48 minutes in 100 straight games. But unfortunately, that's not how it works. The fact is that Rondo is still recovering from his ACL surgery, and while it may not appear that he's hindered by anything out there on the court, he's still dealing with the aches and pains that go along with playing 30-plus minutes of an NBA game. For that reason, he will not be playing on the second night of any back-to-backs, at least not in the near future. Boston plays in Indiana on Tuesday, and then comes back home for a game against the Knicks on Wednesday. If Rondo goes in Tuesday's game, sorry fans, you won't get a look at him on the court Wednesday. "It's a matter of a combination of things that bother me," Rondo said. "My lower part of my body: my calves, my Achilles, and then my knee. So it's just part of those three that affect me after games that the next day I need the rest." Rondo feels the pain in his leg more the next day than during or immediately after the game. "Yeah, I'm pretty sore when I wake up," Rondo said. "

  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: It almost has become a pregame ritual for opposing coaches to praise New Orleans Pelicans second-year power forward Anthony Davis. Sunday evening was no different for Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. "Of the young players, he has to be right at the top of the list," Shaw said before the Pelicans 111-107 overtime victory at the Smoothie King Center. "He's a budding superstar in this league. In a short time in this league, he has really improved his game, not only from year to year but it almost seem like month to month. You watch the highlights and you see the numbers when they come in. I think everybody knew that he would be a presence defensively, but I don't think that people knew that his offense would come around as fast as it has." Davis certainly showcased his full array of skills against the Nuggets, tying his career-high with 32 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and posting six blocks, as Davis helped the Pelicans win their third straight game. The statistical feat marked the first time in franchise history a player has scored at least 30 points, grabbed at least 15 rebounds and blocked at least five shots. And it was the first time such a stat line had been recorded in the NBA this season.

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The Nets did what they were supposed to Sunday night, dispatching a Kings team playing out the string and emerging from Barclays Center with a 104-89 victory. Now comes the hard part, as beginning Monday night against the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors in Brooklyn, the Nets will play their next four games against teams with records above .500, and could have to play at least some of those contests without several major contributors after losing both Andrei Kirilenko (sprained right ankle) and Paul Pierce (sore right shoulder) to injuries Sunday. They joined Kevin Garnett — who missed his fifth straight game with back spasms — on the sidelines. ... All three players were listed as day-to-day heading into the contest against Toronto which is four games ahead of the Nets after beating the Timberwolves on Sunday. With Brook Lopez out for the season following surgery on his right foot, the Nets could be down to two of their six All-Stars for Monday.

  • Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle: Jermaine O'Neal tells a story from a recent road trip. The Warriors flew into Chicago, arriving at the team hotel around 1 in the morning, tired and hungry. "(Andre) Iguodala ordered some Harold's Chicken, which is famous in Chicago. He had them open up the restaurant and cook it and deliver it. It was 12 of us in one regular-sized hotel room, sitting on the floor, on the beds and couches, on the nightstands. To me that shows the togetherness this team really has." Charming. But what's it worth? O'Neal believes that guys who like one another are more likely to share the basketball, which is something the Warriors do well. The dunk is the coin of the NBA realm, the play that lights up the crowds. Who doesn't love a good dunk, besides the chump getting posterized? But for the Warriors and their fans, more sophisticated than most, what gets 'em going is the artful pass. I swear, as I typed those last words Sunday evening, Stephen Curry zinged a back-door lob pass to Andrew Bogut for a dunk against the Suns. The dunk is power. The pass is art. Like poetry. "It is like poetry," O'Neal agreed. "It's like a Picasso, it's a work of art."

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The Raptors suffered a major loss before even taking the court on Sunday night. Dwane Casey broke the bad news pre-game that sixth man Patrick Patterson would be lost for at least the next 7-10 days after aggravating an elbow injury against Sacramento on Friday. Patterson had been playing through the original injury and playing the best basketball of his career (9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game on 43% three-point shooting as a Raptor), but doctors have recommended rest for what has been termed a right ulnar collateral sprain. “Only thing is rest that’s going to heal it and that’s unfortunate for us,” Casey said. “So we’re going to miss him but now is an opportunity for someone else ... We still have some other quality guys. Tyler Hansbrough’s played a lot of playoff games, Steve Novak is one of our best shooters. So we have different guys that can step in and give us something different.” John Salmons said the way Patterson’s been shooting and rebounding, he gives the Raptors a different dimension off of the bench.

  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: When the Rockets needed to get something going offensively late in Sunday’s game, coach Kevin McHale decided to throw something different at Trail Blazers. Much like he did early in the season, McHale looked to his guards. Midway through the third quarter and throughout the rest of the game, McHale played guards Pat Beverley, Jeremy Lin and James Harden together with Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard. The smaller lineup gave the Rockets the spark they needed en route to a 118-113 overtime win over Portland. The Rockets trailed by as many 16 points in the game and were down 12 headed to the fourth quarter. “We had a kind of malaise going,” McHale said. “It just didn’t seem like we could generate anything. So I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go small.’” The tactic worked as the Rockets outscored the Trail Blazers 33-21 in the final quarter — Harden had 17 of those, and Lin had nine. ... In the last several wins for the Rockets, there have been multiple lineups that have worked in their favor.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Because of offseason surgery on his left foot, Devin Harris' season got off to a slow start. But the Dallas Mavericks' backcup point guard has more than made up for lost time. Harris fueled a Mavs' comeback Sunday as he poured in a season-high 20 points and added five assists and four steals as the Mavs just shwed some aggressivness again in defeating the Indiana Pacers 105-94 at American Airlines Center. Harris had 15 of his points in the second half when he converted 3-of-4 shots from 3-point range. “He was active defensively and he was hitting shots and he was making plays, and he brings an extra dimension to our guard rotation," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I thought all of our guards played well, but he stood out because he had the ball a lot and he made really good decisions and timely plays at both ends all night." Harris was just glad to see some of his shots find their intended destinations. In the previous six games before Sunday, Harris was just 8-of-33 from the field.