First Cup: Friday

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Based on the precedent set only a week ago, Dorell Wright likely will miss at least the next two games with the Heat. That’s the punishment the Timberwolves gave to center Al Jefferson after his recent DUI arrest. There is no issue with Wright being out at 3:30 a.m. If you got out of work after 11 p.m., there is a chance you would at least be up that late, especially with the next day off. Thursday essentially was a weekend day for the Heat, with no practice scheduled. But DUI is not a team matter, it’s a community concern. ... Just three weeks ago, Pat Riley saw enough in Wright that he persuaded owner Micky Arison at the trading deadline to forgo a potential $7 million in luxury-tax savings to retain the sixth-year forward, an impending free agent, for the balance of the season. Since then, the payoff has been limited. There is not a single unimportant day the balance of this season for the Heat. It would be nice if everyone got that message."

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "After the Wizards lost their fifth game in a row to the Atlanta Hawks, the question that had to be asked had nothing to do with the performances of Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, or how they were going to stay energized playing three games in three consecutive nights. No, Mike Miller had to explain his thoughts now that Gilbert Arenas's desire to abandon No. 0 - and all of the Agent Zeroisms that came with it - to switch the No. 6 currently in Miller's possession. As expected, Miller had no problem with it. 'He gave me a call, asked me about it. I gave him the go-ahead,' Miller said. 'If he wants No. 6, he can have it.' When asked what number he'll wear if he and Arenas are teammates in Washington next season, Miller said he would probably go with his familiar No. 33, which became available when the Wizards traded Brendan Haywood to Dallas last month. Miller will be a free agent next season, so he added that he'll make the switch 'if I have the opportunity. We just got to play it out and see how it happens.' "

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "After the game the Hawks were pumping up the Wizards as tougher than they seem because they had been competitive in losses lately. 'We’ll take it,' Horfordsaid. 'They’ve been struggling but I’ve seen them play close games against good teams. We weren’t taking anything for granted.' I understand the Hawks taking a victory any way they can get it against whichever opponent, especially after what happened at Miami and New York. And I know all heck would have broke loose with a loss so give the Hawks credit for surviving. But come on, man. It’s getting a little late for that 'all teams are tough, sometimes you have nights like this' stuff. The Hawks got outworked for most of the game by a team headed for the lottery. They let a bad offensive team have an easy time scoring for long stretches and let a so-so rebounding team dominate them on the boards. ... I keep coming back to Washington’s 49.4 percent shooting and 42-29 advantage on the boards. I can’t stop thinking about how listless the Hawks looked most of the night when they were supposed to be desperate. It’s like they think they are much better than they are despite plenty of evidence they aren’t as good as they can be. And I don’t care how many close games the Wizards have been playing. They are headed to the lottery and after that trade have maybe three guys who could get major burn for the Hawks."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Better keep Derrick Rose away from Dwight Howard. Howard was, and still is, hazardous to Rose's health. The Chicago Bulls point guard hurt his left wrist Thursday night after he drove into the lane, collided in midair with the Orlando Magic center and crashed to the Amway Arena court in a loud thud. Rose sat out the final three quarters of the 111-82 Magic victory. Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said that Rose has a sprained wrist and will have an MRI exam today. ... Thursday's sequence looked almost identical to the collision between Rose and Howard on Feb. 10 in Chicago in which Rose also went up for a shot, bumped into a jumping Howard and fell to the court. That impact left Rose with a bruised right hip and kept him out of the game's final 45 minutes as the Magic cruised to an easy victory."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard wasn't exactly remorseful after knocking out Bulls point guard Derrick Rose again with a hard foul. After knocking Rose to the court and out of the game for the second time in about a month - Rose suffered a bruised right hip after a fall on Feb. 10 -- Howard was asked about Thursday's hit in the Magic's 111-82 victory. 'He went up and he fell,' he said. 'That's all I remember.' In fact, Howard even sort of blamed Rose for both falls. 'As a big man you never try to hurt anybody coming down the lane,' Howard said. 'Me and Derrick are cool. I think he's a great player, a great person. You never want to see him get hurt. I talked to him during the All-Star break and I told him, 'If you come down the lane, always come on two feet. That way you'll be on balance. If you come off one, all it takes is somebody's body to hit you the wrong way and you're gonna fall.' ... Magic coach Stan Van Gundy took the defense of his center a bit farther: 'You know, the thing on that play, looking at it, I don't even think Dwight fouled him. I think Rose fouled Dwight. He pushed off. But regardless, Derrick goes in there with such unbelievable force that it was the same [as last month]. He's going full speed and he's hitting basically an immovable object and he lands tough. I feel really bad. I hope he's not hurt badly.' "

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Jerry Stackhouse worked out for the Milwaukee Bucks coaches in Houston in mid-January, when the team was floundering at the end of a long western road swing. The Bucks liked what they saw in the 35-year-old Stackhouse, even though he had been home in Atlanta since the start of the season and had tried to stay in shape by working out with a local high school team. The match became a perfect union, with Stackhouse providing some needed offense off the bench and a veteran presence in the Bucks' locker room. 'We were already on a bit of an uptick with the way we were playing,' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. 'All of a sudden we add him, a veteran with toughness. Then here comes John (Salmons). Things have fallen into place a little bit for us. During that period, it was very important. At that time, we didn't know we were getting John. We felt like we really needed to get better at that point.' "

  • Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: "But there is clearly much more to Toronto's poor play than a rusty return by Chris Bosh and the comatose Hedo Turkoglu. And certainly, at the very least, there is this: Jay Triano is employing a flabby rotation that continues to tolerate repeated lapses from unfocused players who would be, under a less sympathetic coach, riding the pine. 'You've got to take away some of the freedom around here, what guys have,' said Antoine Wright, offering the coaching staff some unsolicited advice. '(The players') leash is not going to be as loose as it's been. If you're not doing what (the team) needs you to do, you're going to have to come out of the game. That's the only way to address (the situation) right now at this point in the season.' Wright's agenda has been no secret from the beginning of training camp, when he began lobbying for the spot in the starting lineup still occupied by rookie DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has long been underperforming on defence, where he is known for a wandering attention to detail. (Go figure that he was the only Raptor to play all 12 minutes of Wednesday's disastrous third quarter, wherein the Kings shot an astounding 75 per cent from the field and outscored Toronto by a season-high spread 43-23.) So as shameless as his campaigning has been, inserting Wright into the first five is perhaps the simplest way to jostle the Raptors out of their current slumber."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "There can be no debate on the impact of the trade, which is looking more and more like the biggest heist since Pau Gasol (although Washington got exactly what it wanted out of the deal, too, which was financial relief to expedite the rebuilding). This week, we're going to pay homage to the less celebrated member of the threesome that came from the Wizards: DeShawn Stevenson. If you were watching the Minnesota game Monday, you saw Stevenson get punched by Wolves thin man Ryan Hollins. Stevenson did not take it well. He confronted Hollins and looked like he was ready to rumble. He had to be restrained by coaches and teammates. That's great stuff. A throwback to Jerry Stackhouse, the kind of player the Mavericks have been missing since ... OK, since Jerry Stackhouse. Great teams need a rabble rouser. And it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad guy, either. Stack was one of the good guys. So is Stevenson. But both of them were just a little bit flaky, which served their teams very, very well."

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Every team other than the expansion Charlotte Bobcats has enjoyed at least one winning season over the last nine years and Larry Brown's team is on pace to finish at .500 with 41 wins. During that period, the Knicks have had Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens, Herb Williams, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas and Mike D'Antoni as coaches. They've had three general managers (Scott Layden, Thomas and Donnie Walsh) and too many underachieving players with bloated contracts to count. Perhaps that's why Mike D'Antoni chuckled when a reporter asked him if there are signs that the club is turning the corner. 'I can tell you July 1,' D'Antoni said, alluding to the start of the free agency. 'Right now, we're just trying to develop some young guys and be competitive. We have an interesting time ahead of us.' The Knicks (22-42) have the resources in terms of salary cap space to make a dramatic turnaround next season. They have the ability to sign two 'max' free agents, with LeBron James their obvious target. There is a growing sentiment among opposing team executives that at the very least the Knicks will sign Atlanta's Joe Johnson, whose agent, Arn Tellem, orchestrated the Tracy McGrady trade to the Knicks and has been friends with Walsh for 20 years. It's called a 'wink-wink deal,' and even though it is against NBA rules, the practice does exist and is nearly impossible to police. 'I think that's a done deal,' said one Eastern Conference GM."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "Arron Augustin Afflalo was picked up in an offseason trade to provide a boost at the defensive end, is arguably Denver's hardest worker. The dividends have him hoisting 3s for one of the best teams in the West. Entering tonight's game at New Orleans, the Nuggets' starting shooting guard is making 45.1 percent of his shots from beyond the arc -- third best among players with 50 or more treys -- and averaging 9.0 points per game, nearly double his total last year, when he was buried on the Pistons' bench. Not bad, considering few Nuggets thought he was starting material when Denver signed him. 'I don't think anybody did,' Carmelo Anthony said. Originally, Denver signed Triple-A for insurance. The thinking was Anthony Carter would start in the backcourt alongside Billups, and over time J.R. Smith would graduate to the starting role and Afflalo would spot in off the bench when needed. But Afflalo grabbed hold of the shooting guard spot in training camp and never let go."

  • Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman: "The whispers started when the Thunder got off to a 3-29 start last season. Could they challenge the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in NBA history? A year later, the same question hangs over the New Jersey Nets, Oklahoma City’s opponent tonight. Jeff Green feels their pain. 'I know how they feel,' Green said. 'I talked to Devin Harris the last time we played them. It’s hard. I told him I’ve been through it and the only thing you can do is keep working.' ... 'It’s no fun to go through a year like that,' Thunder forward Nick Collison said. 'It’s not our job to be concerned why or why they aren’t winning. That’s part of the business. I’ve been there.' "

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "Statistics can be funny things. For example, take the numbers put up Wednesday night by Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva. He had 19 points to lead all scorers in a 115-104 loss to the Utah Jazz, but the Pistons were outscored by 23 points when Villanueva was on the court. That minus-23 was the worst plus-minus for any player in the game. Jonas Jerebko had the top plus-minus for the Pistons with a plus-16. Villanueva has the team's worst cumulative plus-minus rating for the season: The Pistons have been outscored by 242 points when he is on the court. For a comparison, Ben Wallace, thought by many to be the top defensive player for the Pistons, has the best plus-minus on the team with a minus-30. Plus-minus is an imperfect statistic. When comparing players on the same team, it can be skewed by player combinations. In other words, a poor defensive player can drag down the plus-minus of the teammates he plays with regularly in the rotation. But the statistic still is worth something, Pistons coach John Kuester said. 'It can tell part of the story,' he said. 'There's no question about it.' "

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "Mario Elie verbally spars with Donté Greene and needles Jason Thompson. When running a team in scrimmages, Elie coaches as if the season depends on every call. Elie is also still learning when to get on a player and when to hold back, something he didn't have to do as player. 'Sometimes I give it to them a little harder, and I've got to learn to give it to them smoother,' Elie said. 'It's just my passion for the game. I sort of come off a little tough sometimes, but at the end I love the guys and I just want them to be good.' Perhaps no King knows this better than Greene. The second-year forward instantly became one of Elie's targets for improvement. Elie challenged Greene to earn his playing time by playing good defense. And Elie had no problem getting in Greene's ear about his game. 'Mario likes to talk trash,' Greene said. 'Me being the competitor that I am, I talk trash and try to get back at him. It might get to the point where we stop talking the whole workout.' Greene isn't the first player to benefit from Elie's blunt approach. In his second season as a Warriors assistant coach, Elie began working with rookie Monta Ellis, who entered the league straight from high school. 'We used to play shooting games after practice, and he used to beat me,' Ellis said. 'He was showing me the ropes -- the ins, the outs, the cons, the pros. He told me I was going to be great in this league, and he wasn't going to rest until I was. Even now to this day, he tells me to keep my head up and continue to do the things I was doing my rookie year.' "