First Cup: Friday

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Barely able to recognize the Rockets team that back in 2013 lost to team like the Philadelphia 76ers, including the loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Rockets knew they had grown out of that. The clues were ample, from the 25-game losing streak the Sixers brought to town to the Rockets’ three-month run over every losing team they had faced. The Rockets’ remaining goals had become clear. Get the win without too much difficulty. Have some fun. Make sure no one was hurt. The Rockets smacked the Sixers, 120-98, with relative ease once they managed to pay attention long enough late in the first half. They enjoyed themselves along the way. Terrence Jones put on a few ballhandling exhibitions. James Harden got his second career triple double without ever removing his warmups in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard mixed in a few alley-oop slams and highlight-worthy blocked shots to give the highlight shows something to shout about. They did not, however, check off the final box of the to-do list. Point guard Pat Beverley left the game after eight minutes with a sprained right knee, walking very slowly and carefully to the locker room. Though he indicated that he was not concerned, he is scheduled for an MRI on Friday.

  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The league's elite free agents will not sign with the 76ers this summer. And it's not because of the inferior practice facility at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. They wouldn't sign even if they were practicing in the Taj Mahal. Here's why: "It's all aligned to we are not going to be pursuing free agents for a while," said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose franchise plans to build a new practice facility in two seasons. "We are about development. Once the alignment with development collides with a bunch of other things in the program, then you can start talking about free agents. No free agent is going to want to come to Philadelphia at this stage. Why would a good free agent want to come in and be a part of a rebuild?" The Sixers hope they will be a desired destination for free agents in two seasons.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the Portland Trail Blazers’ starting lineup Thursday night against the Atlanta Hawks in midseason form after sitting out the team’s last seven games with a back contusion. The All-Star power forward registered 25 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 32 minutes to lead the Trail Blazers to a 100-85 win, breaking a three-game losing skid. He was nowhere near 100 percent, but you couldn’t tell. With his team facing the possibility of collapsing out of the Top-8 in the Western Conference standings, Aldridge didn’t need any further motivation to get back out there to help right the ship. However, extra motivation was what he got when a close friend informed him about an article written by a journalist near and dear to our site. “Somebody told me what, what’s his name?” Aldridge asked. “ Dwight?” I threw out Jaynes. “Yeah, Dwight Jaynes said me coming back won’t mean anything. So I was kind of motivated by his little article that he put out. So I was locked in. I was ready to do anything tonight.” In the article Aldridge took exception to, Jaynes’ take was that teams don’t need to double-team a player who relies heavily on shooting turnaround jumpers and he makes the case that teams haven’t double him much the second half of the season.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Stop us if you’ve heard this before. The Hawks have struggled in each of their five straight losses from the 3-point line. In Thursday’s loss they were 4 of 22 (18.2 percent) from long range. Over the past five games, they have shot a combined 32 of 121 (26.4 percent). ... Paul Millsap finished with 10 points and six rebounds. It was somewhat surprising following the game when the Hawks’ All-Star blamed himself for the loss, even has he spent much of the game guarding Trail Blazer All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. “I didn’t do much to help our team,” Millsap said. “It’s my fault. … There are no excuses. They aren’t going to feel sorry for me because I’m going up and down the court guarding LaMarcus Aldridge. I’ve still got to get out there and perform. I’ve still got to get out there and help the team. We lost. At the end of the day, we lost.”

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Larry Drew admitted it's tough to take any satisfaction in sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers this season. The Milwaukee Bucks achieved that feat with a 108-105 victory over the Kobe-less Lakers on Thursday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. But when the Bucks also finished just 3-27 against Western Conference teams and picked up only their 14th victory of the season, you see his point. "To be perfectly honest, no," Drew said of taking any pride in the series sweep. The only real negative was a right ankle sprain suffered by Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo in the fourth quarter, although X-rays proved negative and he was optimistic about the injury following the game. And for those worrying the Bucks could lose pole position in the draft lottery chase, the race did get tighter. The Philadelphia 76ers (15-57) lost their 26th consecutive game with a 120-98 defeat at Houston and moved within one game of Milwaukee (14-58) for the league's worst record.

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Coach Mike D'Antoni even laughed about something afterward — reports that Marshall University contacted him about coaching its basketball team. "I hear from them all the time," said D'Antoni, who played at Marshall and remains a big fundraiser for the university. "I'm close friends to them. Whatever they need, I try to do. Come on, guys." D'Antoni has one more season on his Lakers contract for about $4 million. ... Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak already said the team wouldn't want to manipulate its record because of karmic reasons. D'Antoni agreed Thursday. "I don't think you can anyway. It never works out the way you want it," the coach said. "So why not do the best job we can do and then wherever it falls, it falls." They fell flat against Milwaukee. Not that it was surprising. Even against the lowest of the NBA lows.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Whenever J.J. Redick does come back from a bulging disk in his back, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said his shooting guard would return to the starting lineup. "I think it makes our second unit great," Rivers said. "I think it makes our starting lineup better. The questions will be when he comes back, if he's ready for that. But if he is, I'll throw him in on the first night. "I just think that if J.J. is on the floor, someone is going to stand right next to him and that's really good for our offense. Even if he's not scoring, there's someone standing right next to him. You can tell him to stand at half court, someone is going to stand next to him and that creates spacing and that's good for us." The question to Rivers then was when was Redick coming back to play. He missed his 22nd straight game. Redick is with the Clippers on their five-game trip and he has been working out before games. Rivers said "I don't know," when asked what's keeping Redick from playing if his shooting guard is working out.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: As the season has progressed, the Dallas Mavericks have become increasingly pleased with the production of center Samuel Dalembert. Two games earlier this week serve as a barometer for how Dalembert has played lately. In Sunday’s game against Brooklyn, Dalembert collected 12 points and season highs in rebounds (15) and blocks (seven). On Tuesday against Oklahoma City, the 12-year veteran finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. “Sam’s been great,” owner Mark Cuban said. “He’s been going to the offensive boards and having a huge impact, keeping possessions alive even when he doesn’t get rebounds, blocking shots, finishing around the basket, hitting his little jumper. “He’s doing all the things we hoped he would do when we signed him, and then some.” Dalembert, who shook off a stiff back to start Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers, is averaging 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. But he’s averaging only 20.2 minutes, which limits his overall production.