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First Cup: Friday

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "Blame Trail Blazers point guard Andre Miller if you want today. Or blame coach Nate McMillan. Or maybe, as was suggested by a friend of mine, blame the carpenters for installing the thin doors at the practice facility that allowed multiple media members to overhear a troubling exchange between player and coach on Thursday. But before all that, blame Trail Blazers management. The latest sociological experiment blew up at the practice facility when Miller and McMillan engaged in a 30-minute shouting match during practice. Voices were raised. Viewpoints were vented. And what's left is a squabbling team that must also deal with the Lakers and Cavaliers in the next three days. Miller doesn't fit with Portland. He'll never fit. You know it. I know it. The Blazers players know it. And even though Miller's been successful on the court in spurts, and played lots of minutes, all along this Miller-Blazers marriage was headed toward a blow-up encounter that was fueled by mutual frustration. ... What's true is that general manager Kevin Pritchard, who made so many good decisions before the strange signing of Miller, caused this crisis and must now fix it."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "The torture chamber awaits the Lakers again. The arena is called the Rose Garden. The city is Portland. It is where the Lakers have received much pain over the years, a place where they just can't seem to win. They have lost eight consecutive games to the Trail Blazers in Portland. And the Lakers play the Trail Blazers tonight in Portland. 'Well, we've got a challenge ahead of us, I guess,' Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said after practice Thursday. How can they overcome a challenge that the Lakers have failed at since they last won in Portland on Feb. 23, 2005? 'Play hard. Take the challenge,' Jackson said. 'It's more than just hard work. We have to execute the right way.' "

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "When fans arrive at Verizon Center for the Washington Wizards' gameagainst the Orlando Magic on Friday, they will see a barren wall along the Sixth Street side of the arena. On Thursday afternoon, workers pulled down a huge cloth banner of a dribbling Gilbert Arenas emerging from the team slogan with the words: 'Character. Commitment. Connection.' Within minutes, the banner was on the ground, crumpled in a heap. The image was symbolic of Arenas's fall and murky future a day after NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended the three-time all-star indefinitely for his words and conduct after it was revealed that he had a confrontation with teammate Javaris Crittenton involving handguns."

  • Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post: "Gilbert Arenas's never-realized cartoon series was going to be called 'Gazo the Pranksta,' starring a group of high school pranksters. Inside the stuffed animal promoting the show was a note that began like this: 'Hypocrites, fools and the oversensitive beware.' The pranks and jokes and japes and escapades certainly became part of the Agent Zero allure, and I did as much as anyone to glorify them. And no, I'm not suggesting that any of this stuff warrants the current characterizations of Gilbert as a thug or villain; he's neither. But I do think you could have predicted that at least one prank would end very badly."

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "Brad Miller has his own hunting show on the Sportsman Channel, so who better from the Bulls to comment on Gilbert Arenas' decision to store guns in his locker? 'I was just telling Lindsey (Hunter), I have to get thrown in with the idiots,' Miller said with a laugh. 'I'm not giving up my guns. They're used for the right purpose.' So count Miller among the millions who immediately recognized that bringing guns to an NBA locker room wasn't a great idea. Arenas, the Washington Wizards guard, has been suspended indefinitely by NBA Commissioner David Stern and may face criminal charges. Exactly,' Miller added. 'It's so stupid. What can you say?' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The Magic are coming off a surprise season in which they reached the NBA Finals against the L.A. Lakers. With their slow starts and losses to sub .500 teams, you can make a case that they have struggled adjusting to the life-after part. They've often looked uninspired by the regular season and unprepared to be the hunted, caught up in their ascent. 'That definitely might be part of it,' J.J. Redick said. Thirty-five games in, Jameer Nelson conceded his team was 'lifeless' and 'shell-shocked' to be in their 'funk' after losing to Toronto Wednesday. Last season the Magic didn't lose their 11th game until winning 37 times. 'It's a new year,' Nelson said. 'It's different. Things happen.' Otis Smith says the swoon is part of a learning process that will 'help us more than hurt us' at playoff time and preaches patience. 'Has anybody ever won the championship in December?' he said."

  • Tom Moore of The Intelligencer: "There's no denying Allen Iverson's impact on teammate Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert, the Sixers' starting center, is averaging 9.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, 26.8 minutes and shooting 42-for-73 from the field (57.5 percent) in 10 games since Iverson signed with the Sixers five weeks ago. In 24 games without Iverson, Dalembert is averaging 6.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 23.2 minutes and shooting 53-for-121 (43.8 percent). More than anybody else on the 10-24 Sixers, Iverson looks for Dalembert on dives to the basket, when Dalembert is often left uncovered. The ensuing dunks from Iverson's lobs and easy baskets have resulted in a more active Dalembert at both ends of the floor and, ultimately, more minutes for the lanky eighth-year pro. 'I love playing with Sam,' said Iverson after Thursday's practice."

  • David Waldstein of The New York Times: "A few days ago Donnie Walsh handed Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks’ promising young forward, a DVD that could alter the trajectory of his career. Walsh, the Knicks’ president, gave Gallinari a collection of Larry Bird highlights, a captivating 30-minute compilation highlighting many of Bird’s best moves, passes, post-ups and rebounds. Gallinari said he had watched the tape at least 10 times over the past three days and that every move was seared into his mind. The one play Gallinari enjoyed the most, he said, was when Bird told the former SuperSonic Xavier McDaniel that he was about to shoot a 3-pointer over his head and there was absolutely nothing McDaniel could do about it. 'And then he did it,' Gallinari said, shaking his head. 'What’s better than that?' ... Gallinari is not expected to become the next Larry Bird. Too many 6-foot-10 forwards have been given that unforgiving label and fallen well short. But there can be brief moments when the comparison is apt, and Gallinari had a few of them Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in helping lead the Knicks to a 97-93 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Bucks forward Joe Alexander practiced Thursday for the first time since injuring his right hamstring in an unofficial session in late September. He was able to run and jump without pain as he took the initial step toward a return to the team's active roster. 'He looked good,' Scott Skiles said. 'He moved around really well. You wouldn't have been able to pick him out, that he was a guy who hadn't practiced in a long time. It was his first contact and he went through everything. Now we'll wait and see.' "

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Tyrus Thomas had a few one-word answers, did a great impression of agent Drew Rosenhaus -- 'Next question!' -- and even answered a question with a question. Thomas was most expansive when asked about his impact on the Bulls. 'I think I have a pretty positive effect, whether it be the energy or ... I haven't really put my finger on what it is,' he said. 'I feel like as long as I'm on the floor, we have a pretty good chance of winning.' Some observers might dispute that statement, but virtually no one who has watched the Bulls will disagree that Thomas' play has had a big impact on whether they win or lose. When Thomas plays well, the Bulls are a pretty good team. When he struggles, they usually struggle. The six games since Thomas returned after missing seven weeks with a fractured left forearm are a prime example. He played well in the first four games -- whether it was scoring, rebounding or defending -- and the Bulls won all four. He has struggled in the last two, and the Bulls suffered close defeats."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Some fans would rather see the Pacers slide into a high lottery pick, possibly getting lucky enough to earn a shot at Wall -- Kentucky's star freshman guard -- than back into a likely one-and-done first-round matchup against Boston, Cleveland or Orlando and another mid-first-round draft pick. The Pacers don't see it that way. President Larry Bird doesn't believe in tanking a season to move up in the lottery, and Jim O'Brien is so competitive that he joked he likes to beat his daughter in checkers. 'What has happened to a large extent over the past couple of weeks is downright irrelevant from the standpoint of our guys getting out and competing for a win,' O'Brien said. 'You can talk all you want about this didn't happen well or that didn't happen well or this guy's hurt; it's meaningless. 'Get a win. Get a win. That's it. Now, if we can start getting ourselves in a position where we feel that we're playing solidly, then we can talk about where we are within the East.' "

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "What's certain is that for a Raptor such as Reggie Evans -- a native of Florida whose employment with the Raptors marks the most northernly residence of his life -- finding a way to keep warm during the Hogtown winter is a must. Toronto isn't alone in its status as a sub-zero NBA outpost. There are pro-hoops hinterlands far less appealing than Hogtown, among them Minnesota, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Auburn Hills, Mich. -- a fact often overlooked by U.S.-- based surveyors of the scene. But Canada's club is sensitive to the idea that, say, a free-agent-to-be from, say, Texas, might find himself a little sick of January on Lake Ontario's icy shore. So this week, the club spent most of its week in Florida, chartering from Toronto on Monday morning and not departing the Sunshine State until Thursday afternoon, even though their only must-attend business there was a Wednesday game in Orlando. ... 'It's been nice,' said Jarrett Jack, the Maryland-raised point guard. 'The weather's been, uh, difficult up in Toronto. I think that was the idea – get people out of the snow a little bit. You can get comfortable. You don't have to worry about coming in the night before, dealing with the jet lag.' "

  • Marlon W. Morgan of The Commercial-Appeal: "It wasn't the steadily ringing phone that surprised Dennis O'Connor when he returned to work this week. It was the requests of some of those callers that caught the Grizzlies' vice president of ticket sales and service off guard. More than two months into the season, O'Connor's staff found itself filling season tickets requests, at a prorated cost, for the remainder of the season. That's the kind of excitement a red-hot Grizzlies team, which returns to FedExForum at 7 p.m. today to face Utah after a 3-1 road trip, has generated. 'We have sold more season tickets (so far) in January than we did all of December,' O'Connor said. 'Historically, we don't sell a lot of season tickets in-season. The last time we had a January like this was January 2004.' The Grizzlies hope those similarities continue, both on the court and at the box office."

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Bucks guard Brandon Jennings sported the hi-top fade haircut on Tuesday night in New Jersey, making fashion headlines and sparking plenty of talk. Yahoo Sports was one of the media outlets to react favorably to Jennings' new look. Jennings said Thursday he plans to stay with the Hip Hop look, and he should be sporting it when he returns home to Los Angeles for the Bucks' game against the Lakers on Sunday night at the Staples Center. It will be Jennings' first NBA game in Los Angeles, where he grew up cheering for the Lakers. 'I got it (the haircut) in Jersey,' Jennings said. 'It's from Kid N' Play and the House Party movie. I'm going to be rocking it the whole year. I heard I was on PTI, Yahoo Sports. Hopefully I keep playing well with it. If not, I'm going to cut it.' "

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "By his own admission, Morris Almond went underground after he was released by the Orlando Magic this preseason. When he resurfaced last month, Almond did so as a member of the NBA Development League's Springfield (Mass.) Armor. The Jazz's 2007 first-round draft pick, Almond now is hoping for a second chance to start his NBA career, while trying not to look back and consider what could -- or should -- have been after he was taken 25th overall out of Rice. 'You see other guys in the league that were drafted after you or second-round picks of different teams, but it's just a matter of situations,' Almond said at this week's D-League Showcase, a chance to audition for scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams. 'You can't help where you were drafted. The only thing you can help is how you react to it and respond to whatever situation you're put in.' It took a matter of days with the Armor for Almond to establish himself as the D-League's leading scorer -- averaging 29.4 points in 10 games -- while positioning himself for a potential NBA call-up in the coming weeks. 'Everybody knows he's an NBA talent,' Springfield coach Dee Brown said. 'We talk all the time as a staff. He plays well for us, he makes it look easy. You want him to be around, but you don't think he's going to be around that long.' As Almond, however, learned in two seasons with the Jazz, not even first-round picks are guaranteed opportunity."