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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Trading Cousins would be dumber than the dumb things Cousins does that get him in trouble. It would be a panic move, not a panacea. It would be an attempt at a quick fix that removes the foundation of a rebuilding franchise. Two years from now? After Cousins presumably has been surrounded by a more complementary cast, has had time to shed body fat and settle into his 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame, and has had ample opportunity to prove whether he is an underachieving goofball or a maturing veteran gaining control of his life and his career? If the behavior issues persist? Then we talk trade. Now, we talk peace. But this also begs the question. Since Cousins, 21, stays, how exactly does coach Paul Westphal repair the relationship? Westphal has few options. He can issue fines, suspensions and one-game smackdowns – all of which he has done to curb Cousins' outbursts – but the two still have to share the same locker room. As the adult in the room, it's Westphal's responsibility to accelerate Cousins' maturity and establish a better rapport with his young star, because that's usually how it works in the NBA.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: Ricky Rubio had a quiet night with six points and three assists in 23 minute off the bench but he ended up making the defensive play of the game. Rubio generated a huge roar from the crowd when he chased down Spurs reserve guard Danny Green with 5.5 seconds left in the third quarter and swatted away his breakaway layup attempt. "I thought it was going to be a foul on me," Rubio said of his first NBA career block. "I was surprised." Love, who sits next to Rubio in the Wolves' locker room, assured reporters that the play would be shown on ESPN's SportsCenter and blurted out the network's popular jingle, "Da-Da-Da, Da-Da-Da!" "That was definitely a top-10 play," Love said of Rubio's block.

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune People keep talking about whether Ricky Rubio should be starting games for the Timberwolves. But there isn't much disagreement as to how he is finishing them. Rubio's strong fourth quarters already are becoming a hot topic. After Sunday's victory over Dallas, Mavericks guard Jason Kidd talked about how simple theWolves offense was down the stretch. "They ran one play the whole time and he executed it," Kidd said of the pick-and-roll attack. So is that a bad thing? Not to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. After Monday's morning shootaround Popovich talked at some length about his impressions of Rubio and the retooled Wolves lineup. "There are a lot of changes, not just Ricky Rubio," Popovich said. "But you can see a lot of good." ... Asked about Rubio, and specifically how difficult it would be for him to adjust to American culture, Popovich's response was classic: "These guys, they travel around the world," Popovich said of international players such as Rubio and Ginobili. "They're more cultured than we are. Everyone acts like Americans are the ones ... we have sort of an arrogance about us. Like we're the cultured ones? Are you serious? ''Have you watched TV lately? Have you seen what Americans do? How many languages do you speak? And you wonder how they're going to adjust to our culture? I hope they avoid it and keep their own!"

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: What they needed before halftime of what would eventually be a 106-96 loss was a defensive stop to help them further turn the game’s momentum. So, on Minnesota’s next possession, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili slapped down hard with his left hand in an attempt to strip the ball from Anthony Tolliver’s grasp as the Timberwolves forward turned to launch a shot from just inside the 3-point line. Ginobili’s teammates have seen him succeed with the same defensive ploy so many times, they always expect something good to come of it. A serious injury was the last thing on anyone’s mind, but what the Spurs got was the worst outcome possible: a fractured fifth metacarpal on Ginobili’s shooting hand that likely will keep their top scorer this season on the sidelines for a number of weeks. ... Spurs athletic trainer Will Sevening examined Ginobili’s hand and led him to the Wolves’ medical room, where Ginobili’s hand was X-rayed, revealing the fracture. The two-time All-Star is to be re-examined by the Spurs’ medical staff today, after which a timeline for his return will be determined.

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: After a bad start, the Hawks settled down behind a zone defense and better shot selection. Tracy McGrady delivered the finishing blows. “It feels good,” McGrady said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had that feeling. My legs feel fresh. Everything just feels good. It feels right. That’s a good sign. I haven’t felt this good in a long time, probably since the beginning of my knee injury.” We’ll see how McGrady holds up physically but so far he’s looking like the kind of low-cost value the the Hawks needed if they were going to improve the team without paying the tax. He scores, rebounds, passes and defends. And he still loves the big moments. “I’m a competitor, especially competing against the best, LeBron and D-Wade,” he said. “I’m always up for the challenge. Those guys, it brings the best out of you. It felt pretty good.”

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Note to Eastern Conference contenders: Ignore Atlanta at your peril. The Hawks are afterthoughts of the Southeast Division no more. Gradually improving in each of the past four seasons, Atlanta delivered a statement game Monday, handing the Heat its first loss of the season and handcuffing the Heat offensively at AmericanAirlines Arena. One night after winning by 39 points, the Heat lost to the Hawks 100-92. The Hawks (4-1) have yet to allow more than 100 points in a game this season. LeBron James led the Heat (5-1) with 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting but didn’t receive much help from Dwyane Wade, who was 4 of 17 from the field for 12 points. Wade added 10 assists, but it wasn’t enough to crack the Hawks’ zone defense.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: By the time Terry raced around Westbrook and scored on a floater from inside the lane without a single Thunder defender stepping up to provide help defense, the writing was on the wall about what kind of night it would be for the Thunder. Those early miscues characterized a deficient defensive performance by the Thunder in a 100-87 loss to the world champion Mavericks inside American Airlines Center. The defeat snapped the Thunder's five-game winning streak and dropped Oklahoma City to 5-1, the first blemish on the league's last unbeaten team's record. “We didn't have any energy from the beginning,” said Durant. “It starts with me. I got to be better on both ends.” The Thunder entered the night yielding just 40.6 percent shooting. But for the first time this season, OKC allowed a team to shoot above 45 percent. The Mavs converted 48.8 percent of their shots as they had little trouble finding open shooters and driving lanes to the basket. Dallas, perhaps desperate after a 1-4 start, also appeared more willing to do the dirty work it took to grind out a win. The Mavs grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the first half and turned them into 10 second-chance points. “Just energy,” Durant said. “It changes the whole game. We got to play with a little more effort.”

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks' 2011 championship will get the presidential seal of approval on Jan. 9. Though they had to do all the legwork themselves after the NBA schedule did not have them visiting the Washington Wizards , the Mavericks arranged for their trip to the White House next Monday to meet President Barack Obama, a big basketball devotee. "Either the league was stupid, dumb-asses or something worse for not putting that together,'' Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban said. "That's just ridiculous. All you got to do is, when you're putting in the scheduling software, say 'Dallas at Washington, yes.' It's not that hard. It's only happened every single year. Even with the lockout schedule, it's not that hard.'' The Mavericks organized the visit before a two-game trip to Detroit and Boston that starts on Jan. 10. The team will fly to Washington on Sunday, get honored at the White House on Monday, then travel to Detroit for the Tuesday night game.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The Knicks are still a team without a true point guard, or a reliable bench scorer, or a proven big man to spell Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Their bench is a patchwork of rookies, aging veterans and marginal players. The drop-off in talent after the Big Three is enormous. This is the quandary the Knicks created for themselves when they shipped four starters to Denver for Anthony last February. That deal, pushed through by the owner, James L. Dolan — over the objections of the team president, Donnie Walsh — gutted the roster of its best young talent. Replenishing could take months or years. It did not have to be this way. Anthony could have waited for free agency to join the Knicks, sparing the roster. Dolan could have listened to Walsh, who was biding his time with more modest trade offers, knowing that Anthony wanted only the Knicks and that Denver had little leverage. Had Anthony waited, he could have joined a lineup with the capable Raymond Felton at point guard and Danilo Gallinari as a versatile sixth man. The Knicks would have lost Wilson Chandler to free agency, but they could have kept Timofey Mozgov and their 2014 first-round pick. The roster would have been deeper, more balanced. Or the Knicks might have parlayed those assets into Chris Paul, who badly wanted a trade to New York, if only the Knicks had the means to acquire him.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Go on, all you Raptor fans who mocked coach Dwane Casey and his “pound the rock” mantra and rolled your eyes at the thought of some 1,300-pound boulder as some talisman for the season. Make light if you will but in the aftermath of a rather impressive victory, a guy who’d struggled all season before playing a significant role in a 90-85 road win invoked the rock, the mantra and the importance of doing your job every day because good results may come at any time. “There are no moral victories and for us to come through tonight was good because we’re a young team and it’s going to help us with our confidence and knowing we can win tough games by closing them out,” said Rasual Butler, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the victory. “That’s why coach (Dwane) Casey and the coaching staff, we have this statement: Pound the rock. We know it’s going to take work, just like the statement says, it might be the 101st time that you finally crack the rock; you have to continue to work every day.”

  • Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger: The Nets are an organization living in the future as much as it is in the present. In part because in their current state there isn’t much to revel in. The team dropped its fifth straight game with a 108-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers at the Prudential Center tonight. Not helping in the least bit is that their roster, as currently constructed, has been hampered by the developmental curve brought upon them by this fast-tracked season. So after a loss where there wasn’t much to talk about, Avery Johnson focused on what’s to come. “This is not a dire moment for us,” he said. “I am so encouraged. I was talking to (GM) Billy (King), I was talking to our CEO Brett Yormark before the game. There is no surrender. I’m still just as excited about being the coach here and working with our guys. You know, MarShon Brooks wasn’t great defensively but, boy, he’s skilled offensively. That’s a bright spot. Deron (Williams) really did some nice things for us. That’s a backcourt that eventually will be starting — I’m not going to tell you when. Those are things that we need to look forward to.” And on he went down the roster, illustrating how it has room to grow — from the 3-point specialists to the frontcourt rotation.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers found the perfect remedy to fix their winter blues on offense. The New Jersey Nets were more than willing to help the Pacers get out of their early season offensive rut. The Pacers had their best shooting game of the season in their 108-94 victory over the Nets on Monday night at Prudential Center. "It was great," Pacers small forward Danny Granger said. "We knew we would have a chance to get a lot of good shots. It was good to finally get some open looks and knock them down." It was a night of firsts for the Pacers. It was the first time they shot better than 40 percent from the field (52.6 percent). The first time they scored at least 100 points. The first time they shot better than 50 percent on 3-pointers (61.9 percent).

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Putting Al Harrington in the post to defend against Bucks center Andrew Bogut might seem suicidal. But the 6-foot-9,250-pound Harrington made his coach look good when he pushed and bodied Bogut out of position, limiting him to just one basket in the fourth quarter Monday at the Pepsi Center. Nuggets coach George Karl said he felt he had to do something because he was missing power forward Nene and he didn't like the defensive matchups on Bogut with his other big men, including starting center Timofey Mozgov and power forward Kosta Koufos. So what was Harrington's reaction when Karl told him of his final-quarter assignment? Did he frown or think Karl was crazy? "No, I think Al likes kind of the underdog role," said Karl, the former Bucks coach. "People forget Al Harrington made this league on his defense.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Warriors lost a 13th consecutive visit to Phoenix, having the bad fortune of catching Suns point guard Steve Nash during a game in which his bruised rib did not bother him. He had shot 7-for-29 in the previous three games. Golden State (2-3) was missing forward David Lee, out because of illness. Still, the Suns (2-3) looked like a different team with Nash turning efficient and teammates finding their touch in the second half. Nash made 9 of 13 shots and had 21 points, including nine consecutive Suns points during crunch time. Nash also had nine assists with only two turnovers, largely because the Suns turned around that 1-for-12 3-point-shooting start and made seven of their final 11 3-point tries. "I'm just trying to hang in there for the guys," said Nash, who has been taking game-day painkilling injections to quell the rib pain since taking a hit in the season opener. "I've got to make plays for this team. We've all struggled a little bit. I just want to hang in and keep fighting so we can get a little confidence going. "My legs felt better tonight. I could overcome it. I could manage a little bit better. I can move a little bit better after I got hit and not hold my breath as much and not guard it as much. I definitely had some relief."

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Spencer Hawes, the source of boos and displeasure last season, is the brightest of bright spots now for the Sixers, who have split wins and losses in the first four games, with the fifth tomorrow night in New Orleans. Hawes is averaging 12 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists and is shooting 67.6 percent from the floor. He is barely recognizable if you compare him to what he was last season. But if there is a stat that truly stands out, that shows just how much different a player Hawes is, it's that he is averaging only 2.3 fouls a game - in 33.3 minutes of play. Last season, the 7-1 center was often in foul trouble, part of the reason he was on the floor for only 21.2 minutes a game. There are many variables as to why Hawes has become such a good player in the middle for coach Doug Collins. His conditioning is so much better. He has a better frame of mind, has more confidence, and has a familiarity with his coach, all factors in his game that he has never had before. "It's time. I'm in my fifth year and I'm 23 now and it's time to take that next step," Hawes said.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: After watching Greg Stiemsma block three more shots Sunday night in Washington, Paul Pierce [stats] began offering an unsolicited testimonial to the young big man. “The Steamroller,” Pierce said. “That’s my man. He got himself to the league, and now I’m going to keep him here. He’s going to have a 10-year career. Just rebound, set picks and block shots — and know the plays. And get paid. “He’s the Steamroller. You bring it into the lane, and he’s going to steamroll you.” That’s the way a basketball life can be. One year you’re playing in a D-League outpost. The next season you’re honing your craft in Turkey. Then you’re a 26-year-old rookie having a future Hall of Famer sing your praises. “It’s a little overwhelming,” said Stiemsma, pausing his smile long enough to speak. “I think it was on our first road trip when one of the guys asked me where I was at this time last year. It sure wasn’t on a plane with the Boston Celtics [team stats], I can tell you that.” Last night was yet another giant step for the overnight sensation. With Jermaine O’Neal sidelined by a sore left hamstring, the 6-foot-11 backup stepped into the pivot breach and produced 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes. Stiemsma made 5-of-7 shots, all but one a jumper, in the 100-92 victory against the Wizards at the Garden.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Orlando Magic power forward Ryan Anderson began Monday in rarified territory: ranked 10th in the NBA in scoring, averaging 20.4 points per game. He also was first in 3-pointers made and first in 3-point attempts. Those stats signify his progress as a scorer. But as welcome a sign as that progress is, coach Stan Van Gundy wanted to see similar improvement on the defensive end of the court, beginning Monday night against the Detroit Pistons. "They definitely stress that with me a lot," Anderson said. "For me, I know I can get a lot better on the defensive end. The thing is, night-in and night-out these are NBA players. They're going to score. "I just need to do as much as I can and just come out on the defensive end and focus on what I have to do to get stops and understand that there are guys like Dirk Nowitzki that no one in the world can guard."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: The Pistons are big fans of Cousins and are observing what's going on just like everybody else. They grew to like him a lot and the feeling is likely mutual, since Cousins was impressed in meetings with the Pistons in the 2010 NBA predraft combine. However, the Pistons' trade chips are limited in what would be a robust market for Cousins. It's a safe bet the Pistons aren't packaging Monroe and rookie point guard Brandon Knight. They can't trade Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko or Tayshaun Prince until March 1 because they just re-signed, so nothing could happen immediately. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva could be moved, but it's hard to see the Kings settling there considering how they have underperformed.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: With Magic center Dwight Howard at the center of trade rumors, almost on a weekly basis, there's another side to it. Pistons guard Ben Gordon was with the Bulls five years ago, when Lakers guard Kobe Bryant demanded a trade. The Bulls put together a package that included Gordon and Luol Deng , among others. It lingered for weeks before Bryant rescinded his demand. "It affected us early in the season," Gordon said. "You have a guy like Kobe, the whole team is gone, not just one or two players. We didn't know if it was going to happen or what to expect. We were lucky to work through it and it was a little easier."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: The neat thing about Paul Silas in his last NBA coaching gig is he feels no need to remind people he's in charge. He tends to ask questions, rather than issue orders, in getting what he wants from his players. That makes them more vested in making the Charlotte Bobcats better. Just don't mistake that for a failure to assert authority when appropriate. Sunday in Miami became interesting in the postgame, not because the Bobcats were clobbered by the Heat, but because D.J. White unexpectedly is emerging in Tyrus Thomas' absence. White had just scored a career-high 21 points with 10-of-12 shooting. He was the one shining thing in an otherwise awful performance. Silas was asked if it would be a "problem" finding minutes for White once Thomas returns from a sprained ankle, hopefully this week. Silas replied that if this defines a problem, it's certainly not his problem. "He's going to play now," Silas said of White. "Tyrus is going to have to show that he can play better." At 68, Silas is an old-school guy expecting players to earn their minutes. The clear message was White deserves better than to just be a place-holder for Thomas.

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: Kobe Bryant owns so many records, he doesn’t even keep track anymore. So it is no surprise the Lakers star didn’t realize that at 33 years, 131 days, he became the youngest to score 28,000 points. Bryant hit that mark with a free throw Sunday with 10:43 left in the third quarter in the Lakers’ 99-90 loss to the Denver Nuggets. “I didn’t even know I did that,” Bryant said after Monday’s practice. You really didn’t realize that you moved into sixth place on the all-time NBA scoring list? Only five players in league history have scored more points than Bryant, who trails only Shaquille O’Neal (28,596), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Michael Jordan (32,292), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) on the all-time list. “Not really. No, what I realize is that I need to make adjustments with this jumper,” Bryant said. Bryant said he doesn’t put much emphasis on records right now.