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First Cup: Friday

  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: Thursday night's game was about the Cavs trying to snap a season-long losing streak. It was about them picking up the first win of the Western Conference road trip. But it was also another showdown between two of the all-time greats, James and Bryant, the 20th meeting between the two superstars. Neither player disappointed. Bryant, who was on a minutes restriction, finished with a career-high 17 assists, three more than the Cavs had as a team. He also scored 19 points on 7-of-14 from the field. The two went at each other head-to-head a few different times during the game. There was trash talk, conversations while teammates were at the free throw line and a few laughs. Some of their individual matchups in the past have been duds, but Thursday night, even with Bryant at 36 years old, was one of the most memorable.

  • Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: It might have been tempting, especially with LeBron James at Staples Center, and it won’t be the last time. But (self-imposed) rules are rules and the Lakers kept Kobe Bryant on his diet of so many minutes Thursday, and the Lakers’ hot start was wiped away in the second half of a 109-102 loss to Cleveland. Bryant recorded a career-high 17 assists and finished with 19 points and five rebounds in the prescribed 32 minutes. With Coach Byron Scott sticking to the 32-minute limit for Bryant, he had only six minutes to spend in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers were struggling to keep pace with the Cavaliers. With 8:40 left in the game, the crowd began imploring “We want Kobe.” Bryant stayed on the bench as James took control. “Yeah, I heard the fans," Scott said. “I wanted to say, ‘I want him in there, too.’"

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: Folks, I miss the Black Mamba. This latest version – this Fading-to-Black Mamba – is a little concerning and a lot depressing. If Bryant can summon the strength – and willing body parts – to make it only every other game today, where’s he going to be a year from now? Still with another season remaining on his contract after this one, it’s difficult to envision this ending with grace. With an unsightly, cartoonish SPLAT!!!? Oh, sure, that’s not hard to imagine at all. I’m not saying I’m longing for Bryant the player. That would be foolish, as foolish right now as Scott suggesting there’s a chance Bryant could play beyond next season, which the coach did once again Thursday. “Who knows?” Scott insisted, and at what point does some of this thinking about Bryant become delusional? No, Bryant the player, that player, is a memory. A man blessed with remarkable physical gifts and the fire to maximize those gifts no longer can simply choose to flip the switch on how and when to be more brilliant than the opposition. The Bryant I miss is the maniac competitor, the mule-minded driving force who thinks nothing of rising before the sun does to get in an extra workout. I miss Bryant the ornery, dissatisfied curmudgeon who would make Scott’s thorny job even pricklier by challenging his coach’s decisions on playing time and, perhaps on certain special nights, just check himself back into games.

  • Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks has been impressed with the continued development of his former player James Harden. Before Harden scored 31 points in the Rockets' 112-101 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night, Brooks said Harden was playing at an elite level this season. "He is playing as well as anyone in the league," Brooks said. Harden is leading the NBA in scoring with 26.9 points per game. He has also been praised for improved defense. "He can do a lot of good things, and the Rockets are winning," Brooks said. "You have to win in this league, and they are doing that. And James Harden has done a great job of putting the team in position night in, night out to be successful. He shoots the 3, he puts them on the floor, he gets to the free-throw line. His overall game is just solid."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: With the arrival of Dion Waiters, a cloud of uncertainty has emerged over Reggie Jackson’s future. No one knows how Jackson fits into the picture going forward. His minutes could dwindle, his role as the sixth man and trusted closer could soon be taken away. He might even be shipped off before the trade deadline. Things have never looked so bleak for one of the team’s core members. It led to the team’s franchise player, Kevin Durant, being asked at Thursday’s shootaround whether he feels a need to step to Jackson and put his arm around him. Durant responded with a long-winded no. “We’re all professionals here, man,” Durant said. “We know the nature of this game. This not day care. We’re not babying anybody here. We all know that Reggie is such a good professional ...he knows that. He knows how to come to work every single day. And he knows that him and Dion are going to have to play together. And Dion knows that. So we’re not spending any of our energy on that type of stuff because this is a professional game. It’s a business at that as well. So, nah, we’re not going to do that."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Jason Kidd's plan worked to perfection. The Milwaukee Bucks traveled to London one day earlier than the New York Knicks and embraced all things British. Frankly, the Bucks acted like they wanted to be here all along, from their owners to the coaches to the players to the cheerleaders and stats crew. The players headed out to Buckingham Palace, visited the U.S. ambassador's residence and took a team photo at London's iconic Tower Bridge. But they also went hard in two practices and coach Kidd designed a schedule that mirrored a college football bowl preparation. It all paid off with a 95-79 victory over the New York Knicks on Thursday at the O2 Arena. "We had two good practices," Kidd said. "That got the guys' attention. "We talk about trust, and they trusted our game plan about what we were going to do for the week. Understanding they wanted to sightsee, but we had to do our work first, and they did that. "They didn't complain. I've been on that side of the fence where you complain a little bit as a player. But guys were great. For that, we came out with a big win."

  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Amar’e Stoudemire lasted only eight minutes in his return to the lineup, but his limited time was more about the early blowout status of Thursday’s 95-79 loss to the Bucks and not his cranky right knee. “I felt great. I didn’t feel rust at all actually,” said Stoudemire, who missed his lone shot and didn’t score over eight minutes — two four-minute segments in each of the first two quarters — before sitting out the second half in his first appearance since Christmas. “Coach (Derek) Fisher didn’t want to push the envelope and took a more conservative route once the game got out of hand.” Stoudemire did acknowledge before the game that he likely will be placed on some sort of minutes restrictions for the remainder of the season, or if the Knicks move his expiring contract before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

  • Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times: When a reporter recently asked Doc Rivers whether he worries that he'll show Austin favoritism or, perhaps, go the other direction and be especially hard on his son, Rivers said he doesn't anticipate that being an issue. "I probably show favoritism to Blake and Chris," Rivers said. "I love my son, but I think I'm still going to favor Blake and Chris." Rivers acknowledged that there will probably be someone who isn't pleased by that pecking order. "The only one who would be upset at that is Kris Rivers," the coach said of his wife, Kristen.