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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Finally, Ron Artest has shown up. Sadly, it's that Ron Artest. To those who have understandably complained that one of last year's Lakers heroes has been invisible this season, be careful what you wish for. He's back, but, well, he's back. Not the Artest of cute and funny, but the Artest of anger and confrontation. Not the Artest you loved, but the one you feared. Artest's first major contribution of the 2010-11 season occurred Tuesday upon confirmation of a Yahoo report that he engaged Coach Phil Jackson in a shouting match at a recent practice, yelling at Jackson to stop embarrassing him in public. Jackson admitted the report was true, Artest would not deny it, and the Lakers should be very worried about it. First, it is becoming increasingly clear that Artest is not getting along with the coach whose patience and prodding last year brought out the best in the famously troubled star. Second, it is also clear that Artest's strangely distant, almost disengaged play this season has alienated enough people in the organization that somebody in the gym that day would unconscionably rat him out to the Yahoo reporter. Here's guessing the locker room will not be a fun place until Artest finds that source and confronts him. Here's guessing the Lakers will not win a third consecutive championship unless Artest then finds and recaptures last year's Artest."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo were involved in a physical altercation Monday afternoon over a gambling debt during the Grizzlies’ flight home from Los Angeles. Team officials insisted that Mayo’s absence Tuesday night for the Grizzlies’ 110-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder was due to bronchitis and not the fight. But the incident was described as a one-sided scrap in which Allen clearly got the best of Mayo. Neither player was disciplined after meeting with coach Lionel Hollins once the team arrived in Memphis. According to a source, Mayo and Allen were involved in a card game that left Mayo owing Allen between $1,000 and $1,500. Mayo refused to pay and repeatedly insulted Allen. Allen then went to the restroom and returned to Mayo, who was acting more belligerent about losing. Allen then struck Mayo and the two had to be separated by teammates. Allen later apologized to the team and general manager Chris Wallace. A team insider contends the situation will not linger and cited Mayo’s encouraging text messages to Allen during and after the Grizzlies’ win over the Thunder."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "For those who had trouble remembering what it was like when the Spurs lost a game, Tuesday evening reminded everyone. For one, the losses seem to involve Amare Stoudemire. The last time Stoudemire saw the Spurs, he was sweeping them in the playoffs. He’s now 5-0 against a franchise that has lost only four other games since May.Stoudemire was remarkable in this one, too, and one move showed that. Then, in the fourth quarter, he did to Tim Duncan what Duncan has done to others for more than a decade. Duncan reached out over Stoudemire, and Stoudemire rose, created the contact and drew the foul on Duncan. As Stoudemire went to the line, the New York chant pointed at the one responsible for the Knicks’ rebirth. 'MVP, MVP.' His teammates followed him to the rim with similar accuracy, which is why Gregg Popovich began his postgame remarks this way: 'The New York Knicks kicked our ass.' ... Popovich loves sitting at 29-5 today, but part of him hates it, too. He knows teams are never built by early January. His formula has been the opposite; usually, he’s still experimenting at this point in the season. So when he saw what he called 'our worst defense of the year,' his reaction was what it has often been in the past. He didn’t like what he’d seen, and he didn’t like losing. But he could use this. He could insist the current record is meaningless if they don’t continue to take steps toward the playoffs."

  • Alan Hahn of Newsday: "This is supposed to be the toughest part of the Knicks' schedule, a run of 10 straight games all against Western Conference teams. It began, however, with a stunning win over the Spurs at the Garden on Tuesday night. It continues Friday in Phoenix, where Amar'e Stoudemire will get to make a triumphant return as the Knicks head out to the West for a four game trip, their second tour of the season. ... As expected, Mike D'Antoni went with his small-ball lineup for most of the game, especially down the stretch. It's almost amusing when you think about how D'Antoni decided to start Ronny Turiaf at center in the absence of Danilo Gallinari as almost a way to pacify those of us who keep pounding the size issue. Turiaf may start, but when it matters most, Mike is going to do it his way and, really, you can't argue with the results when the team is 20-14 and just beat the best team in the NBA. After seeing how it forced the Heat, Magic, Celtics and Spurs to adjust, I am extremely curious to see how this works against the Lakers on Sunday."

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "Are the Celtics the Spurs North? Or are the Spurs the Celtics South? Each should be flattered by the comparison. Root for a Lakers-Heat NBA Finals if you must. That would put you firmly in the majority of NBA fans worldwide. And it would be appealing, no doubt. That’s not the Finals I want. I want the Finals featuring the Big Fundamental vs. the Big Ticket. I want the Finals with a point guard battle between the elegant Frenchman vs. the Next Great Thing. I want the Finals spiced by a confrontation between the two cagiest combination games of the ’50s and the 21st century, one belonging to an Argentine and the other to a guy from Inglewood who now plays with an Old Celtics soul. We even would have a meeting between Shaq and mini-Shaq (DeJuan Blair). The Spurs are in town tonight, and that is cause for celebration. It always was going to be an enticing matchup, but it’s safe to say that nobody foresaw the Spurs arriving here on the fifth of January with a 29-5 record. It is being done in typical San Antonio fashion, which is to say that there are very few Spurs sightings on ESPN’s daily list of top 10 highlight plays. About all they ever get is another somber report testifying to another methodical conquest of another NBA foe."

  • Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com: "For a man fresh off a vacation in the Cayman Islands, Mark Cuban sure wasn't in a very good mood Tuesday evening before the Dallas Mavericks' 84-81 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Ain't no sunshine on the day your two-time All-Star small forward undergoes season-ending surgery to repair a knee injury. Plus, Cuban got a wee bit perturbed by the predictable question from reporters: How does the loss of Caron Butler affect the Mavericks' approach in the trade market? 'We do the same thing regardless,' Cuban said with a huff. 'Our approach never changes.' The Mavs are always "opportunistic," which might be Cuban's favorite word that's fit to print. They always work the phones hard. They always explore every opportunity that doesn't involve dealing Dirk Nowitzki. That's how they ended up making blockbuster deals right before two of the past three trade deadlines. They'll be smack dab in the middle of trade rumor mill again this winter, especially with Cuban saying that the looming uncertainty with the NBA's labor situation won't limit his willingness to take on significant salary if the Mavs can strike a deal that makes them significantly better. That doesn't mean such a deal will go down. 'The other side has to want to make the trade,' Cuban said."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "The feeling is foreign. Only once before has the Oklahoma City Thunder experienced it, so long ago it had become more of a forgotten memory. A visit to Memphis on Tuesday night, though, restored the reality of a losing streak. The Thunder dropped a 110-105 decision to Memphis inside FedEx Forum and snapped a streak of 10 straight wins following a loss. Oklahoma City fell to 23-13 and 10-2 in games that followed a loss. The Thunder's only other losing streak came on Nov. 3 after a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers followed a blowout defeat against Utah. 'I'm disappointed in the loss, but I understand this is what we go through,' said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. 'In an NBA season, you're going to have some highs and some lows. We've lost two games in a row, but our guys have been resilient all year and they bounce back.' "

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: "Chris Bosh fled Toronto for Miami in search of success, as well as more exposure. The win part is certainly coming to pass. Not so much the other part of the equation. According to the Raptors, Bosh had 553,230 all-star votes through the second returns last season. Despite all the Heat hype, Bosh has received just 260,007 votes through the second returns this season."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Fairly or unfairly, many NBA observers have labeled Gilbert Arenas as either a below-average or average defender. Same with Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu. Their supposed shortcomings created a recurrent criticism of the Magic's trades last month. The conventional wisdom was that Orlando might improve on offense but also worsen on defense. Arenas was asked about that perception on Tuesday. 'The players that left weren't considered 'defensive players' either, so it was an even trade!' he said, giggling. 'At least the guys that are coming in are younger, so we can get trained. But when you have the Defensive Player of the Year it's usually a team effort. So, if you've got guys that are willing to buy into the concept, it's a little bit easier.' The smile hasn't left Arenas' face since the trade. In recent days, he's jokingly given the Magic bench a nickname, 'The Bench Mob.' A reporter told him that another team uses that same nickname for its second unit and suggested Orlando's group should use a different spelling, 'The Bench Mobb.' Arenas grinned and said that was a good idea. On Tuesday, Arenas even kidded that the second unit outscored the starters in practice 20-3."

  • Craig Stouffer of the Washington Examiner: "Wizards practice wasn't easy for John Wall on Tuesday. Then again, Wall's first NBA season hasn't been either, and unlike his only year at Kentucky, after 32 games Washington still has another 50 to play -- not a mere six. 'He's like a rookie in his first month of the season because he got hurt, and then he's coming back practicing,' Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. 'Now what happens is that teams have seen him so they adjust. They're being aggressive with him. He's getting somewhat frustrated at times with that aggression. But he's a competitor. He'll keep on going and go through the learning process.' The Wizards (8-24) have beaten Philadelphia twice, but both wins came in overtime at home. Despite a combined 54 points and 19 assists in those contests, Wall knows the Sixers (13-21) -- including Evan Turner, who was picked second in last June's draft right behind Wall -- will be more determined than ever to stop him. 'It's going to be a learning experience to see what I can do when I play a team two or three times,' said Wall, who maintains he isn't bothered by the physical approach that defenders have taken."

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "There were reports in the summer that the Bulls backed away from Tracy McGrady after a workout because they had concerns he wouldn't be willing to accept a supporting role. For the Pistons, McGrady, 31, has started only when Rodney Stuckey was unable to go. ... Before flirting with a triple-double in Monday night's 102-97 loss at Utah, McGrady said sometimes the media doesn't get the whole story. 'That's just the power of the media, that's what that is,' McGrady said before his 11-point, 11-assist, nine-rebound night. 'And once it gets out there, the public feeds into what the media is putting out there. It's unfortunate in our case because they don't always know the true story that's behind the story. If there were any problems with me coming off the bench, you guys would have reported something about me this year complaining about coming off the bench. I have no problem with it.' ... He figures the Bulls passed on him because he said his goal was to make them look at him as a starter. 'What do you want me to come in and say?' he said. 'I accept whatever role that's given to me? But in my mind, because I'm so competitive and I believe in my ability, I was going to make them believe I was a starter.' McGrady is averaging 5.9 points, 2.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 19 minutes."

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns have used a small lineup of late, with Grant Hill and Mickael Pietrus starting at forward and Vince Carter in the backcourt with Nash. Against a Lakers front line that includes Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and -- off the bench -- Lamar Odom, Gentry said the Suns might have to go big. 'We'll look at that (this morning), but I think it's pretty hard to ask Grant to guard Pau Gasol,' Gentry said. 'He would do it and give us the best effort, believe me. But that's a tall order - how about that for a play on words? -- for Grant.' That could mean starting Robin Lopez with Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat alongside Frye or Lopez with Gortat. But the Suns -- and more recently Memphis -- had success by forcing the Lakers to guard them on the perimeter and the Lopez/Gortat combination wouldn't achieve that."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "The Indiana Pacers' small lineup, which featured three wing players in a loss at New York on Sunday, was not a one-time deal. Coach Jim O'Brien, who is trying to get his team back on track, said he may use the smaller lineup for the rest of the season. 'It plays to our strength,' O'Brien said after practice Tuesday. 'When I look at our team right now, our strength is our (point guard, shooting guard and small forward).' O'Brien will continue to start a traditional lineup, which has a true power forward, but Danny Granger will get extensive minutes at the position. O'Brien's change comes during a time the Pacers (14-18) have looked more like teams of the recent past rather than a club making a move up the conference standings."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Hawks coach Larry Drew usually calls on Jason Collins only when he needs the 7-footer to tangle with the NBA's beefiest post players. So Collins has faced Orlando's Dwight Howard, Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut, New Jersey's Brook Lopez and San Antonio's Tim Duncan. That meant Al Horford, the usual starting center who is undersized for the position, didn't have to wrestle with those bigger players. The alignment has been effective for the Hawks, especially on defense. It has been so good that Drew said he's now considering making the specialized 'big' lineup the regular starting lineup after using it nine times this season. 'I’ve given it some thought,' Drew said. 'I haven’t made a clear-cut decision if that’s what I want to do across the board. For right now I will keep doing what I’ve been doing and match big when we feel we need to go big and move Al to [power forward].' Drew seems to be warming to the idea of starting Collins even when opponents don't have a formidable center. The Hawks used the lineup -- which also includes Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith on the first two games of their current Western Conference road trip. Neither the Thunder nor the Clippers have a center who demands a double team, which is the usual trigger for Drew to call on Collins."

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "In spite of it all, they're in the playoffs as of now. It's undeniable that the seven teams below them in the Eastern Conference flat-out stink. But another way to look at it is the Bucks are maintaining the eighth and final postseason slot regardless of everything that has gone wrong. With a healthy Jennings and a pain-free Bogut at the top of his game, the Bucks are so much better than a No. 8 that it's not even worth debating. The other indicator, of course, is John Salmons. As late as a month ago, general manager John Hammond's decision to extend the 31-year-old shooting guard another four years for $32 million didn't look so good. It seemed as if Salmons had parlayed another one of his hot partial seasons into a nice retirement package. But now, Salmons is much closer to the player the Bucks need him to be, the scorer who carried the team in the final 30 games last season. A productive Salmons with Jennings, Bogut, a resurgent Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and anything from the bench is better than anything outside the top four in the East. Still, the group they put on the floor Tuesday night had no business hanging with the Heat as long as it did. Maybe that's the sound you need to hear."

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Warriors forward Vladimir Radmanovic has spent his basketball career, maybe his entire lifetime, being misunderstood. So it was no surprise that his expletive-filled speech questioning his teammates' practice habits last month was met with mixed reactions. The surprising thing is just how clearly his message has been received since that uncomfortable Dec. 6 afternoon in Dallas. 'If you do say something like that, it's necessary to come in and back it up on the court,' power forward David Lee said. 'If not, your voice won't be heard the next time. He's a guy who we've all grown to respect. After some struggles to start the year, he's playing great ball right now, and he's been a big part of what we're doing successfully.' Since Radmanovic challenged his teammates to work harder in practice and publicly cast doubt on first-year head coach Keith Smart's substitution patterns, the forward has improved nearly each of his statistics. Radmanovic was shooting 33.8 percent from the floor before his speech. He has hit on 52.2 percent since then. That jump is nearly as jarring as his words were a month ago. 'I knew some people would take what I said and be like, 'Who is this guy to talk about stepping up?' ' Radmanovic said. 'But there were problems that I saw and I wanted to say something about them. I didn't really care what people were going to think or what people were going to say.' That very statement is probably why Radmanovic is either loved or hated."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Cavs broadcaster Joe Tait will have heart surgery on Friday at the Cleveland Clinic and is still pointing toward a return after the All-Star break in late February. 'Obviously a number of things could happen that would keep that from happening,' Tait said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. 'But that's my goal.' "