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First Cup: Thursday

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: If Dirk Nowitzki was on a mission on a historic Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz, consider it accomplished. In an extremely efficient game for the 16-year veteran, Nowitzki poured in 31 points on just 12-of-14 shooting in leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 108-101 victory over the Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena. The win enabled the Mavs to improve to 39-27 and remain in eighth place in the Western Conference standings. Other than his shooting spree, Nowitzki passed John Havlicek and became the No. 12 all-time leading scorer in NBA history. Nowitzki needed just one point to pass Havlicek, and he got that out of the way very early when he tallied 10 points in the first period. “Dirk was great from start to finish,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Twelve for 14 is ridiculous, and four for four from 3. It’s hard to do much better than that. He really led our team tonight.”

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Being one of the few branches on the Phil Jackson coaching tree means Nuggets coach Brian Shaw gets all the Phil Jackson questions. According to multiple media reports, Jackson will soon accept an offer to become the president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks. Shaw played for and coached alongside Jackson, but this would be a front office job. Saying "Nothing's a sure bet," Shaw on Wednesday added he thought it would be a positive hire for the Knicks. "When you look at people who have been in that position before with that team and what they've done or haven't been able to do, I'd be willing to take a chance on a guy who has had as much success as he's had to try to build something and create a buzz around there that's been missing for a long time," Shaw said. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony talked to reporters about Jackson's possible arrival and said it wouldn't impact his decision about free agency, but Shaw sees Jackson having a positive impact in a number of areas.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: As last-second shots go, this was one of his best. With the clock ticking down on the Lakers' chances of obtaining a high pick in what could be a loaded draft, Kobe Bryant stepped up by stepping back. With only 18 more chances to lose more games and fall closer to the bottom of the NBA standings, the Lakers announced Wednesday that Bryant's fractured left knee has not fully healed and he will not play again this season. Swish! “The amount of time he'd need to rehab and be ready to play ... we've simply run out of time for him to return,” said Lakers trainer Gary Vitti in a statement. Translated, Bryant finally realized that the best way he could help this team would be to leave it alone. And then, just before he disappeared, he stopped by the media room at the Lakers' practice facility and delivered a few parting shots to increasingly embattled owners Jim and Jeanie Buss. And one! Bryant called the Busses out on a family feud that led to their losing the front-office savvy of Phil Jackson, the 11-time NBA championship coach and Jeanie's fiance who will run the New York Knicks. ... The comments were a stunning reminder of the slow decay of the Lakers since the passing of revered Jerry Buss. Can you imagine any player ever criticizing him the way Bryant just criticized his children? Then again, could anyone ever imagine that in a season during which Bryant played only six games, he could eventually be celebrated for the ones he didn't play?

  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: When Phil Jackson’s most recent book tour took him to northern New Jersey last spring, he was asked for his opinion of the Knicks’ reigning star, Carmelo Anthony. Seldom shy, Jackson said, “An amazing ballplayer who still has another level to step up.” From strictly an observer’s point of view, Jackson was most likely speaking in the most general terms. But what if he soon becomes the Knicks’ guiding force and his first major decision has to be whether to woo Anthony back for up to five additional seasons at the cost of almost $130 million? What would “another level” mean, and how exactly would Jackson go about helping Anthony reach it? The essence of Jackson assures us that it would not be in the way that Coach Mike Woodson has used Anthony — essentially giving him carte blanche to dominate an offense mostly characterized by isolation sets on the wing and quick jump shots off high screens or Anthony’s uncanny ability to create space for himself in one-on-one situations. No matter how much authority Jackson might have under Dolan, he would not have the power to guarantee Anthony’s return. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times But while Jackson has been critical of the Knicks’ offense — and seemingly Anthony, by extension — three people who have worked with Jackson believe he would relish the opportunity to integrate Anthony into the triangle offense he used as a coach while winning a record 11 championships with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: As Chris Bosh went to inbound the ball with 3.5 seconds left and the Nets clinging to a 96-95 lead over the Heat, he saw LeBron James slip toward the basket and appear to come free for a second. But what Bosh didn’t account for was the long arms of Shaun Livingston, who managed to get a hand on the pass and tip it away, and after Joe Johnson kept it from going out of bounds, the clock ran out and the Nets escaped with a one-point victory over the two-time defending champions. “It was obviously a turnover,” Bosh said after finishing with 24 points to lead the Heat. “I saw LeBron release, and I threw it to where he was, instead of where he was going. “Shaun Livingston is 6-foot-8 with long arms, and he got a hand on it. That was it.” For the Nets, it was a chance at redemption, after they had lost multiple times earlier this season on miscommunication on switches late in games. “For us to get better at switching,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said of his mindset going into the game’s final play.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It was a modest night for Tim Duncan, one of six Spurs in double-figures with 10 points. He added a team-high 11 rebounds for the 794th double-double of his career, fifth best in NBA history. Perhaps the best stat from Gregg Popovich’s perspective: He played only 26 minutes as the Spurs were once against able to take a big lead and milk it without any significant effort from their aging warhorses. ... Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili achieved another joint milestone, winning their 490th game together to tie the Lakers’ Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper for second all-time among NBA trios. (They also tied the same group for third all-time with 663 career appearances.) Both students of the game, Parker and Ginobili seemed legitimately honored with the feat. “Unbelievable,” Parker said. “I feel very blessed to play with Timmy and Manu. Never in my wildest dreams did I think my name would be next to Magic Johnson and Kareem.” Said Ginobili, “We know we are in a very unique situation, having played together for 12 seasons with same coach. It doesn’t happen very often.”

  • Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: He darn near had a triple-double. He made three of his final four shots, including a 3-pointer that set the tone for the fourth quarter. But just after the Clippers’ 111-98 win over Golden State on Wednesday at Staples Center, there was Chris Paul taking a self-mandated shooting session. “I don’t think we’ve been complacent at any point and CP is a leader doing something like that,” forward Blake Griffin said. “He puts a lot on himself and after a game where he hit big shots, maybe he didn’t shoot a great percentage — and nobody really did — it shows you how hungry he is.” The teams went out and began throwing haymakers at the opposition. By halftime, there were already 20 lead changes, and in the third quarter, the Clippers turned a six-point deficit into a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. It was entertaining stuff and thoughts raced ahead to the playoffs, since if the postseason was to start Wednesday, they would be first-round opponents.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Neither the Charlotte Bobcats nor shooting guard Gary Neal discussed specifics on why Neal was held out of Wednesday’s 98-85 victory over the Washington Wizards. But it was behavioral, rather than medical, and Neal said he made amends. “I made a mistake,” Neal told the Observer post-game. ‘Me and coach talked about it and we’ll move forward from there.” Coach Steve Clifford called this an “internal team matter.” He said it was over after the game and Neal’s minutes won’t be affected when the Bobcats play the Minnesota Timberwolves at home Friday. Neal, who watched the game in uniform, interacting throughout with teammates, sounded contrite. "Just a mistake, something that happened in the confines of the team,” Neal said. “We talked about it, we discussed it and it’s behind us now.”

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Before Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley could even begin to explain his heroics to the media, teammate Courtney Lee yelled “Mike Conley for president.” “What he said,” a smiling Conley then told reporters with a beyond satisfied look on his face. The Grizzlies’ visit to the Smoothie King Center ended with everyone in the building having no choice but to exclaim “Conley for the win.” Memphis’ floor general connected on a floater with 1.5 seconds left Wednesday night and capped a 9-0 run that completed the Grizzlies’ 90-88 comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Griz appeared well on their way to losing just as they had done in three previous meetings with the Pelicans this season. However, Memphis’ fourth straight victory had the two key ingredients that’s made it a dangerous squad of late: a diverse offense and domineering defense with the game on the line.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: With his block of Andre Drummond in the first quarter, Amir Johnson moved into a third place tie with Antonio Davis in Raptors history for career blocks. Johnson, in his ninth year in the NBA, has 405 blocks and now trails Vince Carter by 10 too move into second behind career leader Chris Bosh. It will take a little longer to track down Bosh, who had 600 in a Raptors uniform. Johnson deserves a place in Raptors history for many reasons. Too often though that credit fails to arrive. Yes, Johnson gets some credit in Toronto for what he has done, but not in proportion to some of his teammates. Johnson is the type of player for whom statistics don’t really do justice. Granted those willing to dig a little deeper into the plethora of stats that are available to the public could easily refute that, but for the most part the stats the every day basketball junkie looks at don’t really don’t give one an appropriate. One of Johnson’s biggest strengths is his ability to get teammates open looks and room to operate with the old-school screens he sets. Willing to take an opponent out of the play with contact is the epitome of a team player and Johnson does it as good and more often than not better than any player in the league.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings coach Michael Malone described forward Jason Thompson’s season as “frustrating.” Thompson said that’s a nice way to describe his sixth season with the Kings. “That might not even be to the extreme of how I feel,” Thompson said. “To say that I’m happy, I probably wouldn’t be telling the truth. Some of the things are out of my control and sometimes you’re put in situations where it’s tough to succeed. But in a way, I’m being the ultimate pro and taking what comes to me every day.” What’s come to Thompson lately is he’s out of the starting lineup again. He came off the bench for the second consecutive game Wednesday when the Kings played the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Thompson began the season as a backup before starting 57 games. Reggie Evans started at power forward Tuesday ahead of Thompson, and Derrick Williams started Wednesday. Thompson, the subject of trade talk before last month’s trade deadline, is in the second year of a five-year contract he signed under the front office led by Geoff Petrie, who tried to upgrade the power forward position by adding players before rewarding Thompson. ... Malone, Thompson’s fifth coach in six seasons, understands Thompson’s frustration. “The reality is he’s been around a lot of losing, and nobody likes to lose,” Malone said.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: When I joked with Dion Waiters after the game that he was becoming the voice of sound and reason in the Cavs’ locker room, his eyes twinkled and he flashed a wide grin. “I’ve been in the media a lot for being the bad guy,” he said. “I’m changing my image.” Waiters was joking. Sort of. He has certainly been in his share of headlines this season, but lately he truly has been the role of peacemaker. When Channing Frye seemed irritated with Matthew Dellavedova tonight, Waiters stepped in, just as he has done previously to defend teammates. “Delly’s a chippy player,” Waiters said. “That’s how he plays. He can get under guys’ skin. I was just telling Channing it was nothing, it wasn’t really that serious, he didn’t have to react the way he did.” When Mike Brown exploded following a non-call against the Spurs in a recent game, Waiters is the one who went out to retrieve his coach. Brown turned and saw Waiters coming for him and cracked up. I kept forgetting to ask Waiters what he told Brown that night and finally remembered to ask Wednesday. “You good?” Waiters told Brown. “I said it like 10 times. ‘You good? You good?’” It was obviously the tension-breaker Brown needed.