First Cup: Thursday

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Both sides refuse to call it a rivalry. Call it whatever you want: The Warriors and Clippers don't like each other. They played nicely for three quarters in the NBA's Christmas nightcap and then generally mauled each other in between crunch-time heroics during the final period of the Warriors' 105-103 victory in front of the 52nd consecutive sellout crowd at Oracle Arena. "It was a tough, hard-fought game, but I still believe it's not a rivalry, because neither one of us has done anything," Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. "It's just two teams playing with an edge and competing against one another." Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had a much different take after his team led by as many as 13 points and did not trail in the first half. "I don't think it was us tonight, honestly," Rivers said. "I think we were kicking their butts, and they went to something else." Draymond Green and Blake Griffin were involved in a dustup as they headed to their respective benches between the third and fourth quarters. Griffin was called for a technical foul, and Green was ejected with a flagrant foul-2. Two minutes, 17 seconds into the fourth quarter, Griffin got tangled with Andrew Bogut near the basket. Griffin was ejected for his second technical, and Bogut picked up a technical to go with a flagrant foul-1. "When you look at it, I didn't do anything, and I got thrown out of the game," said Griffin, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. "To me, it's cowardly basketball."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Chris Paul is considered by most to be the best point guard in the NBA, but he knows that the league has plenty of good ones who all want to be the best. Paul and the Clippers will face two of the better NBA point guards during their two-game trip. He played against Golden State point guard Stephen Curry on Wednesday night and will face Portland point guard Damian Lillard on Thursday night. For Paul, it's a challenge he looks forward to. "You thrive for it," Paul said. Paul is only 28 years old, but says he is now one of the "elder statesmen" at his position in the NBA. Paul is in his ninth year in the NBA. Curry, 25, was averaging 23.9 points and 9.2 assists before Wednesday night's game. Lillard, 25, is averaging 21.5 points and 5.8 assists. "You just got to be ready because you know they are coming for you," Paul said. "When I was younger, I used to watch film of J. (Jason) Kidd, Steve Nash and you look up to guys like that. But at the same time, there's a point where you have to realize you have to become your own person, where you could care less what they have done."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: No Derrick Rose. No Brook Lopez. No Carmelo Anthony. No Kobe Bryant. And several other notable NBA absences on Christmas. But LeBron James? He keeps rolling through whatever the NBA grind throws his way. It leaves the Miami Heat forward both appreciative and hopeful. "Knock on wood," he joked about a day when the NBA's star appeal was distinctly diminished. But he also explained that it takes more than mere luck to keep pushing through, including his 19-point, eight-rebound effort in 36 minutes in Wednesday's 101-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. "I don't have a key," he said, with himself and backup point guard Norris Cole the only Heat players to appear in all 28 games this season. "I've been fortunate to be healthy. I try to do everything I can as far as strength and conditioning to stay above the curve, I guess. I don't have an answer for it. We all know Father Time, whatever the case may be, is undefeated. But you just try to slow it down, I guess." James said a priority is to make sure the season is just about basketball.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Nick Young played aggressively. His statistical line of 20 points on 7 of 17 shooting suggests he took some erratic shots. But he didn’t. Young made timely baskets, including a four-point play over James and a 3-pointer that cut the Heat lead to 96-91 with 1:51 remaining. Young even guarded James on certain possessions where the Heat star didn’t score. All in all, Young played a complete game where he showed both his aggressiveness and deft scoring touch. Pau Gasol still didn’t look sharp. As indicated by Bosh’s play, Gasol’s defense remained non-existent. Although Gasol finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 12 rebounds, he hardly looked like he felt comfortable with his movement. Chalk it up to a lack of aggressiveness and respiratory issues still lingering.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: After sitting out two games to rest his sprained left ankle, Rockets guard James Harden believed that he turned a corner in dealing with it. He had been improving until stepping on Sacramento’s Ben McLemore Dec. 15, but said he felt much better on Wednesday than when he sat out games Saturday and Monday. “It’s better now,” said Harden, who played 42 minutes, scoring 28 points with six assists and six rebounds. “I’m healthy now. It’s frustrating to kind of keep going in and out, but hopefully it goes away for good and for the rest of the season.” The Rockets had considered Harden a game-time decision and even though it did not come to that much uncertainty, Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he did not know what Harden would be able to give him. “He hasn’t had a chance to do anything for four, five, six days,” McHale said. “I didn’t know how he was going to feel. There is always that (question about) how is it going to feel when he goes 100 percent. He was tremendous. That was one of his better games for floor generalship, moved the ball, made big shots when we needed him to.”

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs’ recent defensive struggles continued as the Rockets shot 64 percent in the first quarter and finished at 52.3 percent for the game, including 12 for 24 on 3s. Adjusted for pace, the Spurs gave up a staggering 118.2 points per 100 possessions. That’s 20 more than their season average of 98.2 — now tied for third with Charlotte — to extend a stretch in which they’ve allowed 104.8/100 over the past 13 games to rank 18th during that span. The ease in which the Rockets scored at times was truly astounding, including 27 points on their first 16 possessions to put the Spurs — who trailed the entire 48 minutes — in a hole from which they never recovered. Harden said the Rockets didn’t do anything special to exploit the cracks that have appeared in the Spurs’ defense. But Chandler Parsons, who scored 14 in the first quarter and 21 overall, said they wanted to exploit their bigs by getting them out on the perimeter via their bread-and-butter, the screen/roll. “We want to put them in as many pick and rolls as possible,” he said. “If they switch, great. Beat the big off the dribble. If not, throw it back and use the secondary pick and roll and keep them moving and go to the offensive glass hard.”

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: When coming off a loss, this Thunder team is focused. When focused, this Thunder team is a hyper-athletic buzzsaw. So Carmelo or not, this one was always destined to be a double-digit laugher. The 9-19 Knicks just aren’t a good basketball team right now. And through 28 games, OKC can make a strong case that it’s the best in all the land. So this was inevitable. But that said, what an offensive clinic put on by the Thunder. Thirteen assists on their first 14 field goals. Thirty-two assists in the game. A season-high 123 points. It felt like one of those preseason high school scrimmages, where the Varsity team uses its JV understudies as a confidence booster.

  • Scott Cacciola of The New York Times: Coach Mike Woodson started his postgame news conference by saying, “Again.” It has become a verbal tic for him this season, albeit for good reason. Again, the Knicks (9-19) could not sustain any sort of effort. Again, the Knicks failed to move the ball. Again, the Knicks were eviscerated at home. “I don’t think we even established anything from a defensive standpoint,” Woodson said. Early in the third quarter, with the game in danger of ballooning into a blowout, Smith missed a layup, and Durant promptly knocked down a 3-pointer. The Thunder’s lead swelled to 25 early in the fourth with Durant and Westbrook on the bench. Neither returned to the game. It was a luxury against an inferior opponent. The Knicks’ loss was the worst by a home team on Christmas Day, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and late in the game, the Garden crowd booed the players (namely Smith) and chanted for team officials (namely Woodson) to be fired. “Yeah, I hear them,” Smith said. “They’re just fans. When we lose, they’re going to boo. When we win, they’re going to cheer. That’s just how the game goes.”

  • Seth Gruen of the Chicago Sun-Times: Make no mistake, having two point guards capable of running your offense is a good problem. But the challenge comes in managing their minutes. So when Kirk Hinrich returned to the lineup Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets after missing the last five games with back spasms, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had to decide how to juggle Hinrich — a starter before getting hurt — with the hot-handed D.J. Augustin. His solution: He didn’t decide. Playing effectively while they were on the floor at the same time, both players jump-started the team in a slow-starting 95-78 drubbing of the Nets in a Christmas Day matinee. They saw time together late in the second and third quarters during the Bulls’ best runs on offense. “We both can see the floor,” said Augustin, who was signed Dec. 13. “So it’s fun playing with him because we can both push it and either one of us can play the one, and on defense we can switch pretty much any pick-and-roll."

  • Howie Kussoy of the New York Post: The Truth is ugly. Following Paul Pierce’s first scoreless game since he was a rookie — an 0-for-7 performance in Monday’s loss to the Pacers — the 10-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP had another miserable day Wednesday, shooting 1-for-8 from the field and finishing with six points in the Nets’ 95-78 loss to the Bulls at Barclays Center. In the previous 15 seasons, there were only three games when Pierce didn’t start, but the veteran forward has now come off the bench in seven of the past eight. Pierce has shown discomfort in his new role, and also seems unhappy with rookie coach Jason Kidd’s distribution of minutes. With Joe Johnson absent from Friday’s game in Philadelphia, Pierce started and scored 24 points, shooting 7-of-9 from the field, but on Wednesday, Pierce played 17 minutes and 33 seconds — his third-lowest total of the season. “You’re coming off the bench, you’re not a primary option, and you sort of try and force things,” Pierce said. “You don’t get the looks every night that you’re used to getting over the years, and I’ve grown accustomed to that. I’m usually the third or fourth option when I’m on the court, and sometimes it’s going to be like that."