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First Cup: Monday

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "NBA locker rooms aren't usually short on swagger, but the one occupied by the Raptors has been an exception for most of this season. The inner sanctum of the local hoopsters has been a soap-opera set of early-season discord. It's been a hard-to-stomach stage for Hedo Turkoglu's blas√© excuse-making. And even after wins, it's been the scene of no end of cautious optimism spoken by a team that doesn't always sound like it believes in its occasional success. But on Sunday night, finally, Toronto's hoopsters gave themselves a legitimate reason to break out at least a few small doses of cockier-than-thou trash talk. It was just one win, Toronto's 106-105 victory over the L.A. Lakers, and it came only after a buzzer-beating rim-out by Kobe Bryant, one of the game's great closers. But it was as close as the Raptors are going to come to a championship anytime soon, taking a pretty good punch from the defending titlists in front of a sellout home crowd to earn the decision."

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "Kobe Bryant gave his critics the finger on Sunday. Yeah, that finger. His turnaround toss from 37 feet away that left his heavily bandaged right index finger as time expired rimmed out, denying him his fourth buzzer-beating game winner of the season, but there's no denying anymore that he makes the Lakers better when he's on the court, nine fingers and all. Bryant's performance on Sunday should put to rest any thoughts that he needs to rest. He shot south of 50 percent (11-of-24) for the eighth time in his past 10 games, but would the Lakers even have had a chance in their 106-105 loss to the Raptors if not for Bryant's 27 points, career-high 16 rebounds, game-high nine assists and a steal and a block mixed in?"

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "At least the Isiah Thomas Knicks had the decency to fall behind by 52 points on the road. Mike D'Antoni's team made history Sunday and apparently wanted its own fans to witness it in person. The Knicks suffered the worst home defeat in their history by losing, 128-78, to the Dallas Mavericks at the Garden. Dallas, playing without Jason Kidd, thoroughly outclassed and outworked the Knicks and the final score proved it. The Mavs led by 53 in the fourth quarter en route to their most lopsided win in team history. Not even the lowly Nets lose this badly. 'It's hard to even comment on this game,' D'Antoni said. 'It was so bad. They took the heart out of us.' "

  • Staff from The Dallas Morning News: "The New York media swarmed Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Sunday. But rather than talk about free agency and LeBron James, Cuban steered the conversation toward the All-Star Game. 'It literally could be the largest party weekend in the history of the United States,' he said. 'That's how big this thing has gotten. The All-Star Game and its festivities will take over the Dallas area in a few weeks. The game itself is Sunday, February 14, 2010 at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where a crowd of close to 100,000 is expected. Cuban says All-Star Weekend might be bigger than the Super Bowl in a way. 'The Super Bowl, from a television perspective, is the biggest event of the year. But for attendance and partying, All-Star Weekend will make the Super Bowl look like a bar mitzvah.' "

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "The combustible J.R. Smith has forced the Nuggets' brass to discuss a possible suspension because of the guard's behavior in Saturday's game. The team has yet to announce a decision for tonight's game against Charlotte. The struggling Smith was seen pouting, and coach George Karl described Smith's behavior on the bench as 'eclectic' and said: 'You can all interpret his body language as much as I can interpret it. ... It's different.' If Denver tries to send a message to Smith, it would do so at an inopportune time -- all-star forward Carmelo Anthony (ankle) said he won't play tonight. But Smith's immaturity and lack of focus has hit a new low, with Karl playing him just 12 minutes Saturday, and then the coach engaging in serious postgame conversations with numerous members of the front office. 'Some guys had strong opinions,' Karl said Sunday."

  • Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: "Since they entered the NBA as rookies seven years ago, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have established one of the league's most fierce and friendly player rivalries. Expect more highlights, hugs and honest appreciation of one another's work Monday night when Wade's Heat welcomes James' Cavaliers to AmericanAirlines Arena. But their competitive affection on the court is only a hint of the stronger bond Wade and James share away from it. It's a genuine relationship that was further solidified last summer when Wade sought James to surprise 7-year-old son Zaire Wade. At the time, Wade, tied up in a lengthy divorce proceeding that has dragged on nearly two years, had custody of his two children during his week of charity events at home in Chicago. So Wade reached for his phone and called his buddy. 'I asked [LeBron] what he was doing, and asked him to call Zaire for me,' Wade said. 'I gave the phone to Zaire, didn't tell him who it was, and they had a conversation. I don't even know what they talked about. I excused myself from the situation.' When Wade returned several minutes later, Zaire and James were still chatting. 'All I know is I got the phone back, Zaire fell on the floor yelling and was like, 'I can't believe I just talked to LeBron.' ' Wade said. 'It was so funny. He loves LeBron.' "

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "The way the Cavs and Heat are handling the impending free agency of their resident superstars are as opposite as their winter average temperatures. The Cavs are, to use Dan Gilbert's phrase, going 'all in' as they attempt to win a championship this season and convince LeBron James to stay. They spent money on free agents, made a trade for a $20 million-a-year player, are active in trade talks and have added to their support staff to help convince James his best option is to stay home. The Heat, meanwhile, are virtually folding their cards on this season and instead betting long-term with Dwyane Wade. There are merits to both thought processes, as well as circumstances that don't put both teams in the same situation. But their different handling of the risk could lead to very different results in five months."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Memphis has won a franchise-record 10 straight games at home. Can the Griz get solid production from Hasheem Thabeet in back-to-back contests? Thabeet's teammates have tried to keep him pumped up. Zach Randolph was the first person to greet Thabeet when the final horn sounded on the Grizzlies' win over the Thunder. Randolph stopped Thabeet on the court. The veteran forward pounded his hand into Thabeet's chest as he spoke. 'I told him 'That's what you're here for. That's what you're going to get paid to do,' ' Zach Randolph said. 'He just has to control that paint. He doesn't have to score the basketball. He just has to do what he did the last game. It's the best I've ever seen him play.' ... Thabeet has averaged nearly two blocks in 11 over the last eight games. He leads all rookies in blocks (1.26) and leads the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes (5.47). Thabeet is a game-changing player when he's focused. On those other occasions, he looks like a big-time project."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: "The fact the Celtics have been scorched by point guards in the past four games is not lost on coach Doc Rivers or Rajon Rondo. The consensus is there needs to be major improvement on defending point guards if the Celtics expect to make a push for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. And a two-day respite allowed the Celtics to focus more on help defense, especially with physical and gifted Baron Davis of the Los Angeles Clippers coming to TD Garden tonight. In the past four games, opposing point guards have averaged 21.2 points, 8.7 assists, and 7.7 rebounds, shooting 50 percent from the field. Derrick Rose was the catalyst of the Bulls’ stunning win at Boston Jan. 14, providing 17 points and eight rebounds. Jason Kidd piled up 17 assists, to go with 13 points, in Dallas’s win over the Celtics Jan. 18. Rodney Stuckey totaled 27 points with 11 rebounds in Detroit’s victory Jan. 20. The only guard who didn’t lead his team to victory was Portland’s Andre Miller, who tallied 28 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds in an overtime loss Friday night. The commonality in those four guards is their strength and size advantage over Rondo. He simply can’t check those players one-on-one, and Rivers said the help hasn’t been there."

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "A month ago, I was ready to declare the Trail Blazers' signing of guard Andre Miller last summer a mistake. And if everyone can be honest for a minute, so too were some pretty big names within the organization. Management wondered if Miller's introverted nature would fit the Blazers' culture. There were concerns among the coaching staff whether Miller was a cancer. And there were doubts among the players whether his style would fit what the Blazers needed. Even Miller wondered if this was the right place for him. But after a 30-minute argument with coach Nate McMillan on Jan.7, we have witnessed one of the greatest about-faces by a player in team history. With a new attitude off the court, and a new approach on it, Miller in January has exhibited the best point guard play Portland has seen since Rod Strickland was shaking and baking his way to 20-assist games in the mid-1990s."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Antawn Jamison recorded his fifth consecutive double-double against the Clippers with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Brendan Haywood added 18 points and 12 rebounds, but they were unable to keep the Clippers from sweeping the season series against Washington for just the third time in franchise history -- and first time since 2005-06. 'I'm not embarrassed about losing to the Clippers,' Haywood said. 'We're embarrassed that we didn't come out here and execute and we settled for jumpers, when we should've took the ball to the basket. Guys come out and we're launching jumper after jumper. It's something that's happened all year. What game is this? Game 43? It's the 43rd game and we're making the same mistakes we were making in games two and three,' he said. 'There needs to be a new Wizards Man Law: Take the ball to the basket.' "

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Joe Johnson was talking the other night about how the Hawks twice allowed Charlotte to get back in the game. He was looking down searching for the words to describe their inconsistent effort, their stagnant offense, their fickle focus ... and then he seemed to catch himself and suddenly looked up to make his point. 'This is the NBA, man” Johnson said. 'That happens.' In other words, it’s hard to always be dominant. It’s difficult to get good opponents down and keep them there. It’s not easy to always be up. It’s impossible to go all out all the time."

  • Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle: "Atlanta's roster is filled to the brim with athleticism -- Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Al Horford, Maurice Evans, and so on. The Hawks offer a balanced scoring attack -- five players in double figures, and another at 9.2 points -- but it's how they score that can be effective (according to the hoopdata.com, Atlanta makes 62.6 percent of its shots at the rim, fourth-best in the league) and, well, demoralizing. They'll use their athleticism, and it might not be pretty. 'They have so many high flyers, they'll embarrass you,' Shane Battier said."

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "So what necessitated the move after 41 games? Certainly the 13-28 record played a big part. But the most important element precipitating the change was Elton Brand. 'Elton is playing better,' said general manager Ed Stefanski. 'No doubt he is getting his legs under him some more and moving better than he was at the beginning of the season. He gives us a bigger presence.' So forceful was Brand against the Pacers that he often was double-teamed in the post when he got the ball. He responded by dealing four assists. What also has been refreshing about Brand is that he has been a big asset in the team's quest to run. 'I do know when we have Elton in there, we can run as much as we want,' Stefanski said. 'I've never been a proponent that we can't run with Elton. He's a hell of a trailer, who can catch the ball and hit that 15-foot jumper on the [secondary] break. I will also say that we have posted him up quickly. We are still pushing it ahead, and then post him up right away. We have a lot of guys who can rebound and then throw out to, like, Allen Iverson and Andre Iguodala and Lou and Jrue.' "

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "In Friday's and Saturday's home games, the Suns shot 40.9 percent. They shot 50.7 percent in the 20 previous home games. 'We're a loose team,' Suns forward Grant Hill said. 'We play with a rhythm and historically have fun playing that way. When you lose games and go through a tough stretch, it's hard to have fun. (Former Suns coach Mike) D'Antoni used to always say, 'The ball finds energy.' We just haven't had energy. We come in the locker room before the game, and it's like everyone is feeling sorry for themselves. The only person who should feel sorry for himself is LB (Leandro Barbosa) because he has to have surgery. When we're upbeat, excited and have energy, we tend to play well. We have been knocked back and put our heads down.' The Suns have not been in sync and have lost their status as the NBA's top-shooting team. Their 48.6 percentage fell below the 48.7 percent marks of Boston and Utah, Monday night's Suns opponent."

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "How good is Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson feeling these days? He did a cartwheel during the team's pregame layup line on Saturday night. Nelson then played his best game of the season, according to coach Stan Van Gundy. He scored 21 points, including six in overtime, and had seven assists with just one turnover to help beat the Charlotte Bobcats. Nelson was just having fun with the pregame gymnastics. He's been back on the floor for 17 games since arthroscopic knee surgery Nov. 18, slowly rediscovering his skills after missing more than a month. Nelson has been dealing with periodic swelling and soreness in the knee. But he has looked more aggressive and stronger the last few games, beginning with a 13-point, eight-assist effort in the Magic's loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles last Monday night. He played almost 39 minutes -- the most this season -- in Orlando's win against Charlotte on Saturday night. 'It just takes time to get everything back, your rhythm, your legs … everything,' he said."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "In his third season, Kevin Durant has continued to struggle in coming up with last-second shots to tie or win the game. Durant missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer on Friday at Memphis. He had his potential game-tying driving layup attempt blocked by LeBron James with 2.9 seconds left to play Saturday at Cleveland. But the budding All-Star forward says he’s getting better in those situations. 'I’m learning,' Durant said. 'I’m learning each time I do that. Last year, we didn’t have this many close games, or the year before that. But I’m learning, that’s all I can say. I’m going to continue to be aggressive in those times, and hopefully they fall for me.' Durant also failed to net big shots against the Sacramento and the Los Angles Lakers. But when asked what he’s learning, Durant said that he needs to continue to be aggressive. 'I think I made a good move (against Cleveland) and shot a good shot, but it got blocked,' Durant said. 'Against Memphis, I shot a good shot and missed. It’s going to happen. I think I’m going to learn from those and hopefully I start to make shots.' "

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "Six games. Six defeats. That's the simple way to summarize the Kings' longest road trip of the season that ended Saturday night with their most lopsided loss of the season, a 31-point beating by the Miami Heat. It's not uncommon for teams to use a long road trip to gauge where they fit in the NBA hierarchy. The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of their eight-game 'Grammy' trip. The San Antonio Spurs will begin their eight-game 'rodeo' trip next week at Arco Arena. Both have used success on such long trips to propel themselves to NBA championships in recent seasons. For those hanging on to the notion the Kings could turn things around and possibly contend for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, this trip was a rebuke. The trip, instead, reminded everyone the Kings still have a ways to go before they're a postseason contender."

  • Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman: "J.P. Wilson was 7 when his parents gave him a magic set they purchased in Las Vegas. Mastering a trick a week, it wasn't long before he performed at kid's birthday parties. Thirteen years later, Wilson, a sophomore at OU, has one of the NBA's hottest halftime acts. But that's not enough to assure his magic act can earn a living full-time. Many halftime acts work a second job. 'NBA halftime is a tough circuit to break into,' Wilson said. 'There have been a lot of halftime shows that try to make it but can't.' Wilson's second job is shooting photos for the Thunder. Combine that with 15 scheduled NBA halftime appearances, performing a two-hour theater show and school fund raisers he had only five days off the final three months of 2009. The Norman North graduate wouldn't have it any other way. ... 'My act is new, original and fresh compared to acts that have been around a while,' Wilson said. 'Fans love it because they never know what to expect next.' "