First Cup: Thursday

December, 24, 2009
12/24/09
9:02
AM ET
  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: "'Twas the night before the night before Christmas ... and the Nets still lost. They had Yi Jianlian back from a knee injury, and he made a big difference. They shot the 3-ball better than they have all season, making nine. Keyon Dooling played a season high minutes and excelled. Courtney Lee shot like Courtney Lee is supposed to shoot. Devin Harris drove and pushed the ball and scored. And the Nets still lost -- against the second worst team in the NBA. So it didn't matter if it was the night before the night before Christmas or the Fourth of July or Income Tax Filing Extension Day. They lost."
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "LaMarcus Aldridge stepped out of a boisterous Trail Blazers locker room and strutted down a dimly lit corridor in the bowels of AT&T Center toward the team bus, echoing a fitting phrase over and over. 'This is a good day for the Trail Blazers,' he said, grinning. 'This is a good day.' In yet another head-scratching outcome, the Blazers overcame yet another injury and played yet another inspired game to defeat the San Antonio Spurs 98-94 Wednesday night before 18,581. Jerryd Bayless, in his first career start, had a career game, and the Blazers enjoyed key contributions from virtually everyone on their decimated roster. 'I don't think anyone (outside the organization) believed we could win,' Bayless said. 'But we're just trying to set out and prove people wrong.' Shortly before tipoff, the Blazers learned All-Star Brandon Roy would not play because of a sprained left shoulder he suffered in the closing minutes of Tuesday night's win at Dallas. Roy, who underwent multiple medical tests in San Antonio, will have an magnetic resonance imaging performed today after the team returns to Portland."
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: "Don't believe the hype or numbers. Kobe Bryant is the best player in basketball and no one, not even LeBron James, comes close. The champion Lakers play the Cavaliers on Christmas Day, and of course it's billed as Kobe vs. LeBron. The truth is, the only thing the two truly have in common is they're Nike puppets. One Eastern Conference scout said there's no comparison between Bryant and James, noting the difference in how they perform in the clutch. Bryant has numerous game-winners, while James has a handful. 'Kobe is a killer, and to be that, you must be selfish,' the scout said. 'Kobe has a level of arrogance that he doesn't give a (darn) what anyone thinks. LeBron has always had to share, ever since his childhood. It's not in him to be selfish. Whatever that 'it' is, Kobe has it and LeBron doesn't yet. (James) can get to a point where he's dangerous, but to Kobe's level? I don't think so.' "
  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "With the Heat playing in Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, Erik Spoelstra said he doesn't anticipate Dwyane Wade and his impending free agency being much of a story, despite the New York media's history of dredging up the issue with most of the 2010 free agents. 'By this point now, if it hasn't been an issue, I don't think it will be,' Spoelstra said."
  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "For nearly two months, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was remarkably patient with his underperforming veterans, but he finally got tough Tuesday night -- yanking John Salmons and Brad Miller from the starting lineup at the beginning of the second half of the Bulls' 88-81 loss to the New York Knicks. It's about time. Now, I'm not saying that all of the Bulls' woes are because of Salmons and Miller. All I'm saying is that everybody on a team -- including veterans with a proven track record -- must be held accountable for their actions."
  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "The Nuggets got sweet revenge on Atlanta, a team that smacked them around Nov. 7. The Nuggets are 13-1 at the Pepsi Center, the best home record in the NBA, thanks to a 27-assist performance with the players actually passing to one another. Smith shot himself out of a slump that had caused his coach consternation. His recent shooting totals included 0-for-8, 5-for-14 and 2-for-12 in the most recent game at Memphis. 'I don't think my jump shot has been as consistent as I want it to be,' Smith said, 'but I don't think it's been an up-and-down year, as long as my defense is still consistent.' On Wednesday, Smith shot 15-for-25 from the field but 1-for-6 from the foul line, where he has struggled all season. 'I would bet it's never happened in the NBA,' Nuggets coach George Karl said. 'You saw history tonight.' "
  • Scott Cacciola of The Commercial-Appeal: "Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have emerged as one of the most dynamic post tandems in the NBA. The simple truth is that they have made each other better, and the Grizzlies are flourishing as an inside-out team. 'They just vibed so quickly,' assistant coach Johnny Davis said. 'Neither one of those players is selfish by nature. They enjoy the other's success. There are no jealousies, there are no hidden agendas. They just both enjoy the beauty of the game.' They also have enjoyed winning. And if there are differences in their backgrounds, then they share remarkable similarities. Both are versatile big men who can post up, pass, rebound and shoot. Both joined the team with much to prove — Randolph as a reclamation project, Gasol as just a project. And both are here as a result of the deal that sent Pau Gasol, Marc's older brother, to the Los Angeles Lakers in February 2008."
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "During the first third of the NBA season, Dirk Nowitzki has played at such a high level that the Mavericks have survived the following: 1) One of their best players, Josh Howard, missing 20 of their 29 games. 2) Another top contributor, Jason Terry, shooting 46-of-138 (33.3 percent) over the last 10 games. 3) Yet another key player, Erick Dampier, missing eight games. 4) Eight starting lineups, one for every 3.6 games. Considering all that, it's a darn good thing Nowitzki has played MVP-caliber basketball through the season's first two months. If not, the Mavericks wouldn't be atop the Southwest Division and perched behind the Los Angeles Lakers with the second-best record in the Western Conference."
  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal has a special relationship with Bill Bertka, an Akron native who is in his 29th consecutive season with the Los Angeles Lakers and his seventh as director of scouting/basketball. 'Bill Bertka is a legend and taught me a lot,' O'Neal said as the Cavs prepare to visit the Lakers on Christmas Day. 'He was vital to my career. He kept me out of a lot of trouble.' No doubt there are a lot of Lakers -- present and past -- who can make the same claim. ... Although O'Neal once gave Bertka a Rolex watch as a gift, Bertka said the two don't communicate often. Still, he feels as if they're close. 'I always have a real warm spot in my heart for Shaq and always will,' Bertka said. 'I always enjoy seeing Shaq. He's not looking to take an 82-year-old man to dinner, but he's always very warm and friendly when I do see him.' "
  • Kate Fagan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "After Tuesday night's loss, a game in which the Sixers were ahead, 79-72, going into the fourth quarter, Sixers coach Eddie Jordan repeatedly called the fourth-quarter defense "horrible," while power forward Elton Brand, clearly not speaking about himself, said, 'Certain guys have a longer leash than others, so they played longer and the mistakes were shown.' By deduction, Brand's words seemed to be meant for backup center Marreese Speights, who played 9 minutes, 51 seconds in the fourth quarter, nearly all of that time alongside Brand. Speights is known for his scoring, not his defending. Brand said the Wizards 'did what they were supposed to do. They out-energy-ed us, outhustled us.' Five games ago, Jordan moved Brand, who had been a starter for all of his 10-plus NBA seasons, to the bench. After the loss to the Wizards, Brand seemed frustrated, nearly despondent. When asked whether he had any ideas that might improve the team, Brand said he did not. 'I have no idea,' he said. 'I'm just going to follow ... and work hard and try to turn this thing around.' "
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "The Rockets almost bring back Von Wafer, don't sign Von Wafer, and then sign Mike Harris instead, with Harris in Toyota Center anyway, watching the Rockets play the Clippers on a night off from his gig with the Vipers. Harris had no idea the Rockets had anything in mind for him, but Wafer failed a physical and lost his chance while the guy next in line was sitting in the stands. The most amazing thing in all this was that Wafer and his agent would let him fell a physical, at all. He had bombed in Olympiakos, one of the worst fits imaginable, and had made himself a free agent in a buyout. Things could have worked out, however, with the Rockets having a roster spot and a sudden reason to feel a need for what he does. The Rockets were going to give him a minimum contract for the rest of the season, a good value for them and another chance for him. But he had already reportedly failed a physical with the Grizzlies. To go for another one made no sense unless he was sure he could pass it. The Rockets have not said what went wrong, but Wafer has long had back issues."

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