First Cup: Monday

  • Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer: "The Cavs need Shaquille O'Neal to win a title, make no mistake. If he misses eight weeks, though, he could still return during the postseason. In the meantime, you'll see more of the style of play on display in the second half against Boston Thursday. Barkley looked all-knowing in guaranteeing a Cavs win before the game and even more strongly at halftime after O'Neal's departure. Analyst Kenny Smith, meanwhile, continues to see greatness in the Celtics. He predicted Boston would not only win Thursday's game without Paul Pierce but said they will beat the Cavs if they meet in the playoffs. Instead of seeing that same championship mettle, I look at the Celtics and see a bunch of older guys who move as if they're in the early stages of hip replacements. The Cavs basically ran them out of the gym. OK, it's easy to look quick and athletic against Boston. Ask Atlanta, which swept the Team Cocoon this season. And I'm not saying these Cavaliers are a knockoff of the Lakers' 'Showtime' teams. But smaller and faster suits the Cavs well enough against all but a select few teams. If O'Neal returns in time to face Orlando, the Cavs should be all right."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Surely, over at NASA, there's some hotshot astronomer whose intergalactic intelligence will someday discover the planet that gave us Ron Artest. The Los Angeles Lakers forward, who thrived in Sunday's 95-89 victory over the Nuggets at the Staples Center, wears No. 37 because, of course, that's how many weeks 'Thriller' was atop the pop charts — though Artest also publicly pontificates on the glorious catchiness of the 'Free Credit Report' song. He used to drink Hennessy at halftime, once wore a bathrobe to practice and challenged a few unsuspecting fans to a fistfight. He sings, he raps, he tweets (@ThugRaider37) and, most zany of all, he likes playing defense more than offense. 'If I didn't score a point and could just play defense, that would be great,' Artest said after slowing Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. 'Some people get into a shooting rhythm. I get into a defensive rhythm.' "

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "The Lakers pledged to play a physical game and did it. They promised to beat back the swagger and strut of the Denver Nuggets and succeeded. On an afternoon when little went right for Kobe Bryant, the Lakers boxed out their main rivals in the Western Conference, elbowing aside the Nuggets in a 95-89 victory Sunday at Staples Center. It took a second half of defensive resolve, specifically a fourth quarter in which the Lakers forced the Nuggets into five turnovers and five-for-19 shooting. The Nuggets think they have the Lakers' number? Not so fast. 'I think we answered the call,' said forward Lamar Odom, who set the physical agenda for the Lakers after Saturday's practice by saying they needed to 'embrace the game being hard,' fully cognizant of the fact they were drubbed by Denver in November, 105-79, and again in early February, 126-113."

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "Kenyon Martin was smiling, laughing, talking and doing everything big with the mouth the way that bullies love to do. Martin did right in front of the Lakers’ bench to Pau Gasol early in the third quarter. Martin went so far as to pat Gasol condescendingly on the rear. Stone-faced, Gasol offered nothing more than a few nods in reply. Soon came his real answer -- going down to the other end of the court, making a series of clever moves to gain advantageous position on the far more athletic Martin and earning the whistle against Martin. Gasol marched to the free-throw line to score, further fueling the Lakers’ rally toward victory Sunday against the Denver Nuggets. The proper retort in this case was not a forearm to that cocky red tattoo of lips on Martin’s neck or Gasol lowering that shaggy head and trying to bull toward the rim. The right answer was not being a brute, not using force. Gasol is an intelligent, skillful man -- and he played to his strengths. And playing to your strengths is when you’re really being strong. 'They did talk too much,' Gasol said later. 'Way too much.' Gasol said his first option is always trying not to listen, yet he has learned it is imperative he does stand up and speak for himself. 'That’s how I talk – by my play,' Gasol said. 'And other players can’t do that.' "

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Andray Blatche scored a career-high 36 points with 15 rebounds in leading the Washington Wizards to an 89-85 victory at Izod Center. But after Blatche carried his team offensively for nearly 39 minutes, New Jersey native Randy Foye showed his appreciation by taking the team back home with a win. Foye made two baseline jumpers in the final minute to break an 83-83 tie, as the Wizards (21-36) improved to 3-0 this season against the woeful Nets, who are still hoping to avoid posting the worst record in NBA history. 'We didn't want to be the talk of ESPN,' newcomer Al Thornton said. ... 'I'm excited over the way things are going for me,' Blatche said. 'Everything is starting to pan out and my goals are coming true.' In the past seven games, Blatche is averaging 26.6 points and 11.7 rebounds for the Wizards, who have gone 4-3 since their trade deadline deals."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "Team meeting in the morning? The last time the Raptors found themselves in a predicament something like this -- the last time they had a three-game losing streak, one punctuated by a thumping administered by a hungrier young team -- they held the now-infamous team meeting in Washington that turned the season around. And while the straits are not nearly as dire today as they were in early December, there was definitely something out of sync with the team Sunday night. A 119-99 pasting at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder pales in comparison to the meeting-prompting 146-115 thrashing in Atlanta but the three-game losing streak Toronto's on right now has shown some glaring deficiencies."

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "The one fatal flaw in Mike D’Antoni’s argument is that last Saturday the Knicks didn’t foul -- or really defend -- Kevin Durant when he hit a game-tying three with six seconds left in Oklahoma City’s overtime victory. In that game, OKC was inbounding with 12 seconds on the clock. Whatever. This is less about D’Antoni’s strategy and more with how he is dealing with the slightest criticism. On Saturday, D’Antoni grew increasingly agitated when he addressed the matter before finally looking at me and saying, 'Oh that’s right, you’re undefeated as a coach.' Good one, Mike. You’re absolutely correct. I have never had the privilege of coaching an NBA game and have never been in position to earn $6 million by making such life-or-death choices like deciding when or if to foul up three. Not that it matters, but I do have the ultimate respect for coaches since it is their butt that is on the line when things don’t go right. But if I were an NBA head coach making $6 million a year I would hope that I would understand that second guessing comes with the territory. (Or did the Garden stop teaching “Hate and Don’t Trust the Press 101” during their wonderful media training classes.) Seriously, now. D’Antoni has been treated with kid’s gloves for almost two years. Only recently have issues like his lack of communication with the players, his lack of attention to defense and the lack of wins come to the forefront."

  • Tania Ganguli of the Orlando Sentinel: "Under normal circumstances, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy is a quote machine. In the middle of a game? He’s about as useful as a sock puppet. That led his brother, Jeff Van Gundy to suggest the in-game interview be replaced during games featuring those coaches who hate them with an interview with some random fan. We asked about it today after shootaround. 'After the game’s hard enough,' Stan Van Gundy said. 'I can take some time and compose myself and answer your questions I think fairly rationally. Between quarters stuff… I’m not trying to be rude to the people that are interviewing me, but to be quite honest I don’t want to deal with it. I want to get back in the huddle and talk to my players. I don’t want to be out there answering my questions. I know Lisa Salters was upset in the last two games made a comment to my brother. And I got nothing against Lisa Salters. I respect her work. I like her. That’s a bad time. That’s like coming down trying to carry on a conversation in the middle of the game with me. We’re in the game. The game is on. It’s just not where my mind is at that point.' "

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "It's difficult to single out a player, considering the Grizzlies' success this season has been predicated on teamwork and selflessness. However, the home losing streak has been tough on Marc Gasol from an offensive standpoint. The team's starting center averages 15 points on nearly 60-percent shooting for the season. During the FedExForum funk, Gasol is shooting 46 percent and averaging 9.1 points. He's struggled at the free throw line, too. The 7-footer has made 13 of 25 foul shots, averaging four attempts and two makes during that span. Gasol's season average is six attempts and four made foul shots."

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: "The Jazz roar into March as one of the NBA's hottest teams. No lyin'. Utah is 19-4 since Jan. 9, heading into Monday tonight's game at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Jazz went 10-3 in February, including 5-1 on the road and 4-0 on the second night of back-to-back games. 'Great February,' Carlos Boozer said. 'Looking forward to March.' Just ahead, however, is a treacherous stretch during which Utah plays 10 of 15 games on the road and four back-to-back. Deron Williams didn't seem too concerned, however, when he was asked if the compact, road-oriented schedule could be a barrier between the Jazz and a home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Referring to a sloppy 103-99 loss at Sacramento on Friday night, Williams said, 'We're a better road team now. Just throw [that] one out because we are definitely a better road team. We've been able to find ways to get stops on the road, execute down the stretch and win ballgames.' "

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "There's a question the Bulls need to answer that has little to do with making the playoffs or attracting a top-notch free agent. It could have an impact on the team's future, however. Who's better: James Johnson or Joe Alexander? This could turn into an interesting practice battle in the next two months. Both players are big, athletic forwards who can attack the basket. They also appear to have similar, developing jump shots. Which one will be the better NBA player? Their credentials are similar. Alexander was the No. 8 pick of the 2008 draft by Milwaukee, Johnson the No. 16 pick in 2009. In age, Alexander is two months older. ... Johnson and Alexander went one-on-one a few times at the end of Thursday's practice and it was an interesting battle. Alexander appears to be a more polished and experienced player at the moment. It will be a challenge to accurately judge the futures of Johnson and Alexander, but the Bulls need to try. Thanks to Milwaukee's decision last fall, Alexander will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Bulls will have to choose him or lose him."

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "Ever since he replaced injured Chris Paul in the lineup at the outset of February, Hornets rookie point guard Darren Collison has faced a succession of All-Star point guards, some of the best in the game: Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Jameer Nelson. On Sunday night, it was Jason Kidd, who in a win last week against the Atlanta Hawks recorded the 104th triple-double of his NBA career. Collison recorded his first Feb. 19 in a win over the Indiana Pacers. 'I just take it as testimony to the league; it's full of good point guards,' Collison said. 'Every game, you're going to play someone who's really good. I like it that way because it brings out the best in you. I'm always going to continue to compete and try to make it tough on them just as well as they'll make it tough on me.' "

  • Brian T. Smith of The Columbian: "Trail Blazers forward Dante Cunningham first described it as a deer in the headlights-type of feeling. Then he referred to it as a blur. But Cunningham finally settled on a sound. It was the sound of a rush. Of watching the NBA game sprint and zoom by, while more talented and experienced players floated on like the world was simple and easy -- theirs for the taking. The sound: 'Shoom, shoom, shoom, shoom, shoom.' 'In the beginning, me and Jeff (Pendergraph) are out there, and everybody’s zooming past us,' Cunningham, 22, said. But where most rookies spend their entire first season wondering when life on and off the court is going to slow down, Cunningham’s initial campaign has been different. Schooled for four years in a Villanova system that prizes a family atmosphere as highly as it does a professional environment, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Cunningham has played more like an aged veteran than a wide-eyed rookie this season for the Blazers."

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "Since eliminating themselves from the playoff chase, the Pistons have played better basketball. Not good basketball, mind you, but good enough basketball to climb above a bunch of other mediocre teams and decrease their chances of landing a stud in the draft. In short, the Pistons have been maddeningly inconsistent this season. Look at their most recent four-game trip, which -- on paper -- was their most successful extended road trip of the season. (They went 1-3, which means the 'paper' we're talking about comes in four-packs of small rolls.)"

  • Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune: "The Warriors, like the Raiders, know their fans are suffering. The question is what to do for those who work to earn the money it takes to support their product. How to respond? So far, few signs of remorse for accepting payment have been apparent. And nothing remotely close to a half-price sale on season tickets has been offered. Yet, the concept of acknowledgment-and-response is raging through the sports world."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "Reggie Miller has seen the franchise struggle with attendance the past few years as they go through their rebuilding process. The Pacers average 14,058 fans a game, which is 26th in the league. Miller hopes the documentary 'Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks,' which focuses on his time playing the Knicks in the playoffs, will provide a 'good shot in the arm' to the fans. 'Fans can appreciate Pacer basketball again,' Miller said as he walked the red carpet for his premier last week. 'I know attendance hasn't been great, but hopefully this can get things jump-started.' Miller's sister, Cheryl, shared his opinion about a team that likely will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. 'The fans need to really rally behind the Pacers,' she said."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "This week, the NBA will help promote nationwide awareness on the plight of children like Witschen through a multitude of auctions, activities and fundraisers as part of the inaugural Hoops for St. Jude Week. Every NBA coach whose team plays today will wear a lapel pin commemorating St. Jude -- a gesture that will both highlight the week and honor Denver coach George Karl, who recently was diagnosed with throat cancer. Also, today through Sunday, kids across the United States will participate in a physical education program created by Karl as part of a basketball-a-thon. Participating kids have sought donations from friends, family and teachers for the drive and, upon completing their physical activities, will donate the proceeds to St. Jude. There also will be an online auction this week, through the St. Jude web site (hoopsforstjude.org) and eBay, featuring memorabilia and autographed jerseys from some of the most popular and prominent players in the NBA."