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First Cup: Monday

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered a further update on injured Tony Parker before Sunday’s game, describing his strained left hamstring as “very painful” but saying that the six-time All-Star should be back in the near future. “He saw the doctor with the MRI, and it’s basically going to be his confidence level, how he feels in a couple of workouts,” Popovich said. “But so far, the MRI looks good, but he’s got some (swelling) in there. It’s very painful. We’ll just see how his body works through that. But it’s not going to be a very long time. These four days (off) were very important for him.” Parker sat for the 10th time in the past 13 games on Sunday. He’s averaging 16.2 points and 5.2 assists in his 14th season. Popovich had said before Saturday’s game in New Orleans that Parker would be out “a while” with the strain, which has forced him to the bench on two instances since the initial injury on Dec. 5.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Forward Josh Smith moved into the starting lineup in his second game with the Rockets, moving Donatas Motiejunas back to coming off the bench. Rockets coach Kevin McHale that he though Smith picked up enough of the Rockets’ system with one practice to be able to use Motiejunas’ flexibility to play backup center and power forward off the bench. “We had practice yesterday,” McHale said. “(Smith) did well. He just had a shootaround (before Friday’s game). We added a practice so we doubled his learning in one day. I think he picked up what we’re doing. It allows D-Mo to come in and play the four and five. Maybe we can get some more early substitutions in. I have a lot of confidence in D-Mo. Whether he goes in for Dwight or Josh, (he can be) an early substitution for those guys.” The Rockets have had trouble establishing a rotation with so many injuries. The lineup with Smith starting was their ninth this season, with no lineup together for even a third of the Rockets games. “I’m trying to start as much as we can to get our rotations down, if we can get people healthy,” McHale said.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Here we go again. Thunder players are talking about trust. That, of course, has become the go-to buzzword whenever the ball stops moving, the offense breaks down and Oklahoma City suffers the same type of avoidable loss as it did in its 112-107 defeat at Dallas on Sunday night. “We just got to do a better job of trusting our sets, actually running our sets withpace, trusting each other and I think we’ll be all right,” said Kendrick Perkins. They keep saying it. When will they learn to do it consistently? “I don’t know. We just got to figure it out,” said Reggie Jackson. “We got to figure something out or we’re going to continue to have disappointing losses.” The Thunder squandered another chance — its third this season — to climb to .500 after delivering a head-scratching final four minutes and allowing Dallas to snap its two-game winning streak. In that game-deciding stretch, the Thunder went 2-for-6 and had three turnovers. “We had some tough breaks at the end of the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We just got to get better. We got to get better. We got to do a better job of executing. We got to do a better job of getting better shots down the stretch.” Russell Westbrook’s final four minutes were as forgettable as anyone’s.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: What the Mavs took a shot with was playing small ball, which is what Don Nelson was known for throughout his illustrious career. With Chandler (back spasms) missing his first game of the season, Nowitzki made his first start of the season at center, and the Mavs started guards Monta Ellis, Rajon Rondo and J.J. Barea to go with Chandler Parsons, who moved from small forward to power forward. “It was the most un-athletic front line we’ve ever had in the history of the NBA with [Nowitzki] at five and me at four,” said Parsons, who scored 26 points. “The biggest concern was who was going to do the jump ball. I said Monta.” Whatever concerns the Mavs had, they overcame them while beating back an OKC squad that came in with 10 wins in their previous 13 games. With Rondo shadowing Russell Westbrook, the Mavs outscrambled the Thunder while beating them at their own gritty game.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: When Marcus Morris went to the Suns bench to return P.J. Tucker to the starting lineup, there was some Suns concern about what the effect of splitting the Morris twins would be. They have grown past that. "Brother ball," as it is called when they have a sense for where each other are on the court, has been more beneficial than anything and they still play plenty together. The lineup switch has continued Markieff Morris' consistency and shined new light on Marcus Morris' more well-rounded game. "I think they are growing into guys that will be leaders on the team," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "They'll be guys you can count on at the end of games. That comes with experience a lot. We put especially Markieff in that situation quite a bit and he comes through for us." Marcus has accepted the role readily, saying what is best for the team is what matters most to him. "What I tell Marcus is that maybe coming off the bench will give him more opportunities to shoot the ball. Gerald is usually our guy off the bench. If Isaiah's not scoring, we need another guy out there that can pick it up. He's done a great job in that role of coming off the bench and giving us lifts."

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: The Lakers, in need of defensive help at the rim, claimed rookie center Tarik Black off waivers Sunday and the help can’t come soon enough. The Lakers entered Sunday’s game tied with Minnesota for last in the league in points allowed with 109 a game. “He’s a big, physical, strong kid, very intelligent,” Coach Byron Scott said. “I would love to see him get here as quick as possible so we can get him on the practice court and go from there.” ... "All I remember is just that he was physical and athletic,” Scott said. “From what I’ve heard, from the reports about him, is that he’s very active on the defensive end, great communicator on the defensive end and those are two things we need from our bigs.” Scott could have been pointing his finger at Jordan Hill, who seems to have lost an edge in recent weeks. Hill, who moved into the starting center job this season, posted nine double-doubles in November, but produced just three since Dec. 1. “His intensity level kind of went down for whatever reason, I don’t know,” Scott said.

  • David Mayo of MLive.com: It isn't scapegoating if you can prove it was the other guy's fault. The Detroit Pistons are 2-0 in the post-Josh Smith era, and while that small sample size hardly fosters confidence in a meaningful turnaround this season for a 7-23 team, something more tangible -- like a 23-point road rout of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- just might begin to validate one of the most extraordinary personnel decisions in team history. If it wasn't Smith, what was the problem, and why has it vanished so quickly since he was released, to such extent that team president and coach Stan Van Gundy declared the last two games Detroit's two best of the year? Brandon Jennings has looked reborn without Smith, including a 103-80 win Sunday over the Cavs which left James declaring his team "is just not very good." At 18-12, for a team that was tilting Las Vegas sports books as the NBA championship favorite after James and Kevin Love were added alongside Kyrie Irving, few would disagree. And then, there are the Pistons. Just as they looked sunk, they cut anchor and piqued interest. So far, it has worked.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavaliers are still recovering from the season-ending loss of starting center Anderson Varejao. The 6-foot-11, 267-pounder had surgery to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon on Dec. 26. He’ll miss the rest of the season. “This was a tough loss for us, Andy going down,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “We miss him for the player he is, for his personality and the experience he has. These are the kinds of losses you deal with in a long NBA season.” Blatt said he has confidence in Cavaliers general manager David Griffin in finding a big man. “You all know David,” he said. “You know what a hard-working guy he is. He’s doing his work with his staff to see what’s available. I’m sure they won’t make a rash move, one that’s bad for the team. On a daily basis, they’ll wait patiently to see if a move can be made. If not, we’ll continue to go with what we have.” Blatt said he’s experimenting with his rotation. On Dec. 28, he dusted off 7-foot Brendan Haywood, who had a season-high seven points and three rebounds in eight minutes against the Pistons. “You probe a little bit,” he said. “We probed, not necessarily that well, in the first game (without Varejao). We tried something else (in the next game) that seemed to work a little better.”

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: On a night when conditioning and energy were going to play a huge role for the Raptors, Dwane Casey went to his bench early because he had to. Then he went to his bench late because he needed to. Led by Lou Williams, who is becoming more indispensable by the day for this Raptors team, the Raptors gutted another one out with a 116-102 win thanks largely to the contributions from its second unit. Kyle Lowry of course did his thing. It wouldn’t be a Raptors game if he didn’t. But Lowry was the one threat in the starting five actually having any success putting the ball in the basket. Combined the starting five was deep in the minus category for the night with only Lowry and Terrence Ross, the two starters who played most of the fourth quarter with the Raptors second unit edging into a positive differential.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: The compliments started rolling in during the preseason. Jusuf Nurkic wasn't just catching the eye of his head coach, Brian Shaw. The rookie center was immediately opening eyes throughout the NBA. The teams facing the Nuggets during the exhibition season came away so impressed with the 16th overall pick, many of the opposing coaches felt compelled to voice it to Shaw. Since then, not much has changed. Any plans to have Nurkic sit and mostly watch this season have gone by the wayside. And that's because Nurkic has busted through those plans the way he does through bodies to get a rebound. The native of Bosnia and Herzegovina was being called the Bosnian Bear early on, but that has faded a bit. Yet Nurkic's presence on the court is larger than ever. "He's my type of player," Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said. "He likes to bang. He likes to rebound."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Damian Lillard has played through sprained fingers, a bruised shooting hand, illnesses and countless other ailments this season. But through it all, he hasn't missed a game. In fact, he hasn't missed a game in his NBA career. On Sunday night, the All-Star point guard played in his 196th consecutive game, tying Buck Williams for the third-longest consecutive games-played streak in franchise history. Later this week, Lillard should move into second place on the list -- Terry Porter ranks second with 198 consecutive games played -- but it will be a while before he threatens the Blazers' all-time mark. Clifford Robinson, who played in Portland from 1989-97, played in 461 consecutive games.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The Knicks are well on pace to finish with the worst record in franchise history, and it’s looking more and more as if Carmelo Anthony won’t make it to the finish line. Anthony did not finish Sunday’s 101-79 blowout loss to the Trail Blazers, pulled at halftime by coach Derek Fisher after Anthony’s sore left knee acted up late in the second quarter. Anthony stayed in the locker room and it hardly mattered as the Knicks were blown out from start to finish at the Moda Center. The Knicks fell to 5-28, losers of eight straight and 18 of 19 games. Anthony would have sat out the game entirely after playing 45 minutes Saturday night had the club not been decimated by injuries. He played, and shot 5-of-14 for 13 points in the first half before Fisher pulled the plug on Anthony, who said his leg felt “heavy and weak." The long-term future looks bleak, but Anthony says he plans to play on and not make good on his threat to shut it down for a few weeks to see if rest heals his knee completely. He added he feels the season is “crumbling."