First Cup: Wednesday

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Kobe Bryant had trouble adjusting to the splint he wore on the finger, so he tried out several options at the Lakers' shootaround and before the game. 'This is the most challenging [injury],' Bryant said. 'I've played with sore ankles, broken knuckles and things like that. It's tough. It affects my follow-through.' Bryant settled on a thin plastic splint, and it obviously was the right choice. After missing his first two shots, he made eight in a row in the first quarter. He scored 10 consecutive Lakers points during one stretch and had 20 points with 2½ minutes left in the first quarter. When asked what it's like to defend Bryant when he's in a groove like that, Kirk Hinrich said: 'It sucks. It just feels like you're wasting all your energy.' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Ron Artest was back in Chicago, playing against the team that drafted him in 1999 and returning to the place where he went astray almost a decade ago, in his own words, as the losses started to pile up for the Bulls. Windy City hospitality? The Lakers forward was asked by a reporter before Tuesday's game whether he stopped by the liquor store that he frequented before games while with the Bulls. 'Not in this environment,' he said, after defending his character by saying the Lakers -- the 'world champions,' he emphasized -- had enough interest to sign him during the off-season. 'This is a basketball environment.' Artest recently acknowledged drinking at halftime of NBA games earlier in his career."

  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: "Many times since his season came to an end last February because of a knee injury, the image of Tracy McGrady drew a strong reaction at Toyota Center. Typically, the crowd booed when McGrady was featured during the team’s pregame highlight video. Tuesday night, however, McGrady’s appearance elicited a much different response from the Rockets faithful. After nine months out of uniform, a career-threatening surgery and a number change, McGrady returned to the Rockets’ lineup against the Detroit Pistons and drew a rousing ovation, with a sizable portion of the crowd rising to its feet to welcome him back. What? Guess it’s that heart-growing-fonder-because-of-absence thing. Yes, it’s confusing. Let’s hope there is no more drama."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "The flagrant-2 was the correct call on Devin Harris' foul on Jamario Moon in the fourth quarter. He didn't go for the ball, he hit Moon in the head, and Moon fell hard. But no one after the game felt it was malicious and it didn't seem to be. In the locker room after the game, LeBron talked about how those types of plays give him a chill as he thinks back to two plays on him when he was 17. One, in a game against Brush High School, former Ohio State WR Roy Hall undercut LeBron on a drive to the basket. Gloria James nearly went out on the court to take revenge on Hall after that one. The other one came in an AAU game in Chicago after LeBron's junior year. He was undercut and fell and broke his wrist, still the worst injury he's ever had. So when LeBron got in Harris' face after the play, he may have been thinking about that. Even though Harris' didn't undercut Moon, it was more than way Moon fell after getting hit that impacted LeBron. 'That's always in the back of my mind when I see that sort of play,' LeBron said."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "This is getting old, but it’s once again time to praise Magic general manager Otis Smith for yet another brilliant personnel move. Hedo Turko-who? Remember all the consternation -- yes, I was a part of it -- during the offseason when Smith decided to let the popular and likeable Hedo Turkoglu go in order to sign the less popular but more talented Vince Carter? Well, at least so far, this has been another Smith smash hit. Not quite as astute as unloading Steve Francis and his bloated contract on the New York Knicks, but close. Turkoglu, sent to Toronto by Orlando in a sign-and-trade this summer, is averaging 14.0 points, 4.0 assists and a team-leading 2.1 turnovers per game as of Tuesday. Carter, meanwhile, is averaging 19.9 points, 3.0 assists and 1.5 turnovers. I’d say Smith has once again been proven right in not signing the over-30 Turkoglu to the lucrative, long-term, 5-year, $50-million deal the Raptors inked him to during the offseason."

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: "Dwyane Wade knew patience would be needed this season, as the Heat waits until summer 2010 to make a big splash in the free agency market. Still, it's difficult for him to watch his team struggle while some other stars thrive. 'It's frustrating at times,' he said this week. 'It's frustrating not playing the way I want to play. Do I wish my team was like other teams? Yes. Do I wish I was playing better? Yes. I always pride myself on my shooting, and 43 percent is not ideal.' "

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Two years ago, the Celtics had their preseason trip to Rome and London to secure their ties. This season they had part of a week in Newport, R.I., but they obviously needed more time to get on the same page. These past two trips have been a crash course in Celtic-ology. 'The road always provides camaraderie -- the plane rides, the bus rides,' Paul Pierce said. 'You’ve got more time to talk about things between the plane, the bus and the locker room. It’s a great place to get things together.' The timing was good, as well, for the four- and three-game trips just completed. Rivers and his troops were complaining after wins, and the club was playing down to the competition. 'It’s something that we needed, because we know we’ve been struggling at home,' Pierce said. 'Sometimes what it takes is a good road trip to bring things together, and that’s where we’ve started to get things together. You have no choice but to focus and do a bit more.' "

  • Lenny Megliola of the MetroWest Daily News: "The Celtics have the best record in the NBA, 20-4. Now, 24 games is a decent sampling, but it can't see the future. It can only drop hints. This we know: it's a pretty good team, and if you you're already conjuring up another Celtics-Lakers final, that's understandable. With a healthy Kevin Garnett and a beefed-up bench (Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels, Shelden Williams) the Celtics are positioned well for a title run. And we haven't mentioned Glen Davis yet. While we're at it, since Tony Allen returned from an injury recently, he's shown some of his old explosiveness. If he can stay healthy, always a problem with him, he'll give this team a nice lift."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Andrew Bogut knows there will be plenty of fans sporting the Los Angeles Lakers' gold in the Bradley Center crowd Wednesday night. That's always the case when Kobe Bryant & Co. make their one Milwaukee appearance of the season. But the young Bucks, who reached the .500 mark with a double-overtime victory over Portland on Saturday, hope to give their own fans something to cheer about as they take on the defending National Basketball Association champions. 'Everyone's beatable,' said Bogut. 'Obviously there's probably going to be more Lakers fans than Bucks fans there. It has been in the past. It would be nice for once to see more of our colors than Laker colors in the arena.' "

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "The Heat shot a too-easy 52 per cent from the field, out-rebounded the Raptors 45-32, and scored 52 points in the paint to Toronto's 30. As the Raptors conceded defeat a disgusted courtside observer shook his head at his former team's softness. 'They don't talk on defence. They don't play any defence,' said Charles Oakley, who owns a steakhouse in town and watched the game from the baseline. 'The league's bad.' "

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "The shining light of the Atlanta sports world takes the court again Wednesday night. Even three years into this wonderful winning stuff for the Hawks, does that still sound a little strange? 'Being able to talk about the post-season before the season even starts -- that feels good,' said Josh Smith, the Atlanta native. 'Growing up, never in my wildest dreams did I envision this could happen, that we would be the team people were talking about. Maybe four years ago, it sounded like a joke even when we talked about the post-season.' Jokes over. The Hawks are 17-6 going into a game against Memphis. Granted, it’s only one-quarter of the way through the season. But that projects to 61 wins. How significant of a leveling off do you expect? They’ve proven they can win low-scoring games (80-75 over Dallas). The’ve proven they can win high-scoring games (146-115 over Toronto). Theyve proven they can run with teams or play half-court. They play defense. They have balance (six different players have led them in scoring)."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Nene and Nick Collison are both about 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, yes, but while Nene looks like a statue, Collison looks like a statistician. Monday night, Denver's sculpted center received a pass on the left block, and with Oklahoma City's Collison defending, one wondered if Nene would also sign 'Hilario' on the poster. But Nene didn't dunk. In fact, he didn't even look at the basket. Instead he looked to pass, settling on J.R. Smith -- who clanked a contested 3, while the Altitude TV broadcaster said, 'That's just not the way to play that play.' 'Nene's unselfish,' Chauncey Billups explained, 'and it's a good feature to have, but sometimes it's to a fault, because you're like, 'That guy can't guard you! Just take him!' I have to encourage him all the time. He's getting better at it, though.' Nene is a puzzle. He is averaging 13.3 points per game and is fifth in the league in shooting percentage (58.1), yet he's a shoot-second big man (perhaps the first?). But then, there are nights he will be aggressive offensively -- only in the first half. Entering tonight's home game against Houston, Nene is averaging 8.1 points in first halves and 5.2 in second halves."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Jared Dudley mostly was limited to corner 3s last season but expanded his range this summer at a Las Vegas academy for pros. 'When it comes to another team or contract time, I want to be known as a pure 3-point shooter,' Dudley said. '(But) I don't want to be known just as a 3-point shooter. I want to be somebody like, 'Hey, he can shoot the 3. But if you close out, he's going to go by you.' ' Dudley runs no risk of being pigeonholed as a shooter after establishing himself as a defender and hustler. However, most of his scoring comes on 3s. His progress as a pro is similar to his college career. He was a 34 percent 3-point shooter for his first three years at Boston College but made 44 percent as a senior. As a pro, he hit 12 of 49 (24.5 percent) 3-pointers in 93 games with Charlotte and was 66 of 148 (44.6 percent) in 72 games with Phoenix entering Tuesday."

  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News: "Every team can use a guy who doesn't care if he gets bloody. Coaches love to compare basketball to wars, dogfights, knife fights and such. Thus, they don't want to go into games with people who are afraid of breaking a fingernail. When my daughter came home from a date wearing a Jazz jersey after one playoff game, she had Matt Harpring's name on her back. She had wanted an Okur or a D-Will, but the store was sold out of those. Still, if she and I were alone in a dark alley, for some reason I'd feel better with her wearing a Harpring shirt than almost any other. Something about him warned that you might beat him, but it wouldn't come cheap. That message is something the Jazz should send to every team they play."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "Will Bynum, who missed Tuesday night's game against the Rockets with a sprained left ankle, was having his ankles taped by Arnie Kander on Tuesday morning at the Toyota Center while he talked about the new shoes he was about to put on. Kander said most players wear shoes that emphasize speed. Players like the feeling of being able to fly up and down the floor, but the shoes lack the support necessary for quick cuts on the court. 'One shoe is like a moccasin,' Kander said, admiring the blue-and-white Nike shoe Bynum was wearing. 'You might as well have been in water aerobics, and this is a real basketball shoe.' Kander then picked up the shoe to emphasize his point. He couldn't get the sneaker to bend much at all. He said other sneakers bend easily. 'Shoes have changed a significant amount," Kander said. "They've cut all the support out of shoes. For guys like Will, they recommend a speed-based shoe -- almost like a track shoe, but it's not a basketball shoe. So he would have the speed, but no stability. He's fast enough. We need more stability in the shoe.' "

  • Jeff Rabjohns of The Indianapolis Star: "Even today, Reggie Miller finds the phrase distasteful. 'Hicks versus Knicks' -- the moniker attached to the Indiana Pacers' playoff meetings with their 1990s nemesis from New York -- embodied so crisply the Easterners' dismissive view of the Midwestern state that spawned a worthy challenger. 'They just thought they were so much better, the New Yorkers,' Miller said Tuesday during a rare appearance at Conseco Fieldhouse. 'They thought they were all better, and we were all raised in a barn somewhere. I kind of took offense to that.' Miller's opinions come through in the film 'Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks,' which will have a special premiere Feb. 26 at the fieldhouse. ... The film, part of ESPN's '30 for 30' documentary series, focuses on what director Dan Klores sees as the four key moments from the six playoff series the teams split between 1993-2000."