First Cup: Thursday

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: "Chauncey Billups scored 26 points during his third return to The Palace since being traded for Allen Iverson three years ago, including two big 3-pointers in the final minute to keep the Pistons at bay. But this trip wasn't just about breaking a 15-game Nuggets losing streak at The Palace. It was about defending a pal and a former teammate. Billups and benched Pistons guard Richard Hamilton have been constant phone companions. Billups listens and offers advice. But he's surprised Hamilton is in this spot. Hamilton was benched eight straight games as a healthy scratch but was out of Wednesday's game with the stomach flu. 'My thing is he is Pistons royalty with the things he's done for this franchise,' Billups said. 'He has not warranted the activities they have given to him. I feel like he is one of the greats and his jersey is going to hang in the stands at some point. None of the other guys whose jersey is up there had to go through this. It is disrespectful.' ... Billups said Hamilton can still play at a high level and would not mind playing with him again. 'What Rip does is run off screens and make shots,' Billups said. 'You don't lose that unless you can't run anymore. I think people can see he can still run but you've got to be able to use him right. You got to respect Rip. There is a lot to it. Rip is a great player. He can be stubborn at times. If he respects you and have a good rapport. … But you've got to know how to use him.' "

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Kevin Durant tied a career-high with 47 points and pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds to lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to a 118-117 overtime win over the Wolves on Wednesday night at Target Center. ... Thunder guard Royal Ivey was so impressed, he said after the game that the morning headlines should read 'video game.' 'I hope I don't ever take it for granted because he's pretty impressive,' said Nick Collison. 'To be able to kind of carry us like that, we needed every one of those.' Durant found success by reverting to an old style. Rather than spend the night putting the ball in Durant's hands and allowing him to initiate the offense -- a strategy that has yet to yield many positive results -- Thunder coach Scott Brooks reverted to running Durant off screens. And there wasn't a thing the Wolves could do about it, as only a few inches allowed Durant to catch and shoot with ease. 'We're starting to get him some better looks out of the offense so he's not having to create so much himself. And I think that's helping him,' Collison said."

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "The starters for the NBA’s All-Star Game will be announced Thursday night, and if the vote holds true from the first three announced tabulations, New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul should earn his fourth consecutive appearance, third as a starter. However, Coach Monty Williamswas lamenting the fact Wednesday night, as New Orleans prepared to play the Golden State Warriors with a nine-game winning streak on the line, that two other players on his roster were equally deserving. And, that he likely didn’t have enough sway to earn them a spot. Forward David West and center Emeka Okafor are putting up statistics worthy of notoriety, but neither will make the team without the support of Western Conference coaches when they vote for All-Star reserves. League rules mandate Williams cannot vote for either player. 'I feel bad, because I feel like if they played for a coach who had some sort of impact in the coaching world, or basketball world, people might be talking about them,' Williams said. 'But I don’t think my words carry that much weight. If you look at the numbers and what they’ve done over the course of the season, not in bunches, they’ve done it all season. People aren’t talking about them the way they should.' "

  • Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times: "For all Miami’s star power and success, there will be one thing lacking when the Heat plays the Knicks on Thursday night: fear. 'We all love big stages,' said Amar’e Stoudemire, who carved his own path to the Knicks last summer. 'This is nothing special. Nobody is afraid of the Miami Heat.' Stoudemire chose defiance instead of deference Wednesday when considering LeBron James’s versatility, Dwyane Wade’s shot-making ability and Chris Bosh’s post work. Miami has beaten the Knicks twice this season and will aim for a third straight victory when it makes its final appearance of the season at Madison Square Garden."

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: "Get ready for more small-ball from the Heat, both Thursday against the Knicks and likely for significant portions of several upcoming games. With Chris Bosh sidelined by an ankle injury, coach Erik Spoelstra said he will use a small lineup to open Thursday’s game at New York, with LeBron James starting at power forward. He said he hasn’t decided whether James Jones or Mike Miller will start in James’ traditional small forward spot. 'There’s a higher comfort level,' with the small-ball lineup than a week ago, Spoelstra said. 'Ultimately, when we’re fully healthy, it will be a game-changing lineup for us, where we’ll do it for short bursts. We’re trying to get more variety in our offense for each guy.' Spoelstra said Zydrunas Ilgauskas will start at center. But expect to see Joel Anthony play a lot against Amare Stoudemire."

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "NBA infamy is hovering overhead like a buzzard eying a dead carcass. The Cavaliers (8-37) need to win two of their final 37 games to elude the Philadelphia 76ers' all-time worst record of 9-73. Don't laugh. It could happen. The Sixers' black mark has stood since 1972-73. Certainly, the Cavs have it in them to win two games, don't they? 'I look at it game by game,' Cavs coach Byron Scott said. 'I don't care about that crap. I care about our guys getting better, and that's what we're trying to do.' Unless things change drastically, the Cavs will finish with the worst record in franchise history. They finished 15-67 in 1970-71 -- their first year -- and again in 1981-82. They'll head into the Denver game on Friday riding an 18-game losing streak, just one shy of their franchise mark set in one season. They lost their last 19 games of the 1981-82 season (March 19 to April 18, 1982)."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "After losing LeBron James, the value of the Cleveland franchise dropped a league-high 26 percent to $355 million, according to Forbes magazine's annual evaluation. Forbes said the Heat had the biggest percentage increase -- 17 percent -- to $425 million, good for seventh in the league. The New York Knicks ($655 million) have overtaken the Los Angeles Lakers ($643 million) as the NBA's most valuable franchise, and 17 of the 30 teams are estimated to have lost money last season, according to Forbes."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "When the lineups for next month’s All-Star Game are announced tonight on TV, Derrick Rose figures to become the first Bulls player to be voted in as a starter since Michael Jordan in 1998. It’s a prestigious honor -- something the franchise has been longing for since the end of the championship era more than a decade ago -- but his teammates believe he’s deserving of a much higher award, as in most valuable player Derrick Rose. 'That should be his nickname,' power forward Carlos Boozer said. 'He’s won so many games by himself. He was able to hold down the fort with me being out at the start of the season and [Joakim Noah] being out in the middle of the season, and they’ve played great every night. He’s our MVP. He should be [MVP].' "

  • Paola Boivin ofThe Arizona Republic: "The Suns' problems are numerous and far-reaching, but one thing is certain: If the team could secure better play at center, this rollercoaster ride of a season wouldn't be quite so harrowing. Robin Lopez, are you paying attention? Marcin Gortat looked more like the center of the future with his effort against Charlotte on Wednesday night at US Airways Center. He finished with a career-high 16 points and added seven rebounds in 29 minutes. Lopez, meanwhile, started the game and finished with four points and two rebounds in 15 minutes. The Suns hope the competition serves both well as they attempt to solve the riddle that is Lopez. They see a 7-footer with athleticism, a sold work ethic and a promising upside. They also see a player who struggles defensively, lacks a killer instinct on the boards and comes across at times as emotionally detached."

  • Kate Fagan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "For much of the season, an underlying topic for the 76ers has been the possibility of Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner playing well together. ... Before Wednesday night's game against the Toronto Raptors, coach Doug Collins said he liked what he has seen from the pair. 'They've really, actually, been playing well together,' Collins said. 'Tell you what, we're good defensively when those two guys are out there together because we have size, we can switch a lot of things, both of them are good rebounders. One of the things I have to be concerned about is to make sure we have enough shooting on the floor with those guys.' Collins said that he usually tries to put combo guard Lou Williams, perhaps the team's best scorer, on the floor with Iguodala and Turner. Entering the game, Iguodala was averaging 14.1 points per game on 45 percent shooting from the floor, while Turner was averaging 7.3 points on 40.2 percent shooting. 'I don't even really pay attention to it,' Turner said of playing with Iguodala. 'Sometimes I sub in for him. I think once our team gets going and gets on a run, it doesn't really matter who's out there. It's not like it's an isolation for me one time, isolation for him the next.' "

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Sure, Kendrick Perkins returned at less than full speed, but this four-games-in-six-days jaunt screams for the kind of depth that he will give to a frontcourt that is once again waiting on the return of O’Neal from a sore right hip. Perkins, who tore up his right knee at the Staples Center in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, is focusing on the here and now. 'Nothing,' Perkins said of any significance being attached to the game against the Lakers. 'I really don’t care about going there unless it’s in the Finals. The regular season don’t matter, so I try not to think about it too much. I try to forget about (the injury).' Indeed, this trip as a whole has the Celtics occupied enough. 'This is a big trip,' captain Paul Pierce said. 'A lot of these teams we are going to play are playoff teams. I think we really have a tough road trip ahead of us.' To the C’s credit, they are at their best against playoff-quality opponents. They appear to be at their most vulnerable against teams like the Washington Wizards, who are young, athletic, thoroughly undisciplined and potentially explosive. Instead, the Celtics promise to be on their best behavior over the next four games, with another tough western opponent, the Dallas Mavericks, on the schedule for the first game back at the Garden (Feb. 4)."

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: "Wesley Matthews grows angry whenever he sees the Trail Blazers’ record. It’s not so much the number of losses they’ve endured, it’s the losses in games they’ve all but had. Matthews believes that last December’s defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics falls into that group. So tonight’s rematch isn’t about Portland showing it can play with the league’s elite, it’s about showing they can play better. 'We’ve proven we can hang with Boston,' Matthews said. The first and only time these two teams met this season, Portland held a six-point lead midway through the third quarter. Then, the reigning Eastern Conference champs rallied, went up big midway through the fourth, and after Portland cut the deficit to one, Ray Allen knocked down a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to ice the game. Whether it’s Blazers coach Nate McMillan, Blazers center Marcus Camby, or anyone else on the squad, the consensus is that tonight’s game is going to be physical."

  • Hayley Mick of the Globe and Mail: "Inside the Air Canada Centre on a chilly Wednesday night, the injury-hobbled home team suffered an 107-94 loss to the young and workmanlike Philadelphia 76ers, extended a depressing losing streak to nine games -- the franchise’s longest since 2006. But that’s not how Trey Johnson saw it. For Johnson, a 6-foot-5 guard plucked from the obscurity of the NBA’s development league for a 10-day shot at converting his dreams into reality, Game 46 was huge. 'This here is still a partial job interview,' he said. 'It's 10 days and you want to extend that 10 days. I just want to show my worth.' Johnson signed with the Raptors on Monday after spending three days in limbo as general manager Bryan Colangelo tried to find a Band-Aid for a roster decimated by injuries and illness, particularly on the front court."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "One of Herb Simon's greatest qualities is his willingness to remain hands-off with his Indiana Pacers franchise, to put people in place and let them do what they're supposed to do best. It has served him well, producing years of excellent basketball and playoff appearances. The time has come, though, for the Pacers' owner to step up and step in. It's time for Simon, whose franchise is mired in a horrific slump and remains south of a playoff spot in the woebegone Eastern Conference, to do the hard thing and make the change the ever-dwindling fan base demands. He needs to tell team president Larry Bird to fire Jim O'Brien, then insist that Bird coach this group for the rest of the season. If Bird refuses to do it, then Simon has to drop O'Brien, hire an interim coach off the Pacers' bench and tell Bird his services will no longer be needed after this season. Something has to change, and it has to change before this disappointing season is completely lost. Will Bird or an interim coach make any real difference? There's no guarantee. But by making a change now, Simon will send a very strong and important message to this city: We won't stand for this any longer."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "I've always maintained that the Blazers organization's greatest asset wasn't a star player, or the Rose Garden Arena, rather, a forgiving fan base and a monopoly among local sponsors. Portland has only two primary sponsors (Wells Fargo and Comcast) that trade on the major stock exchanges. The rest of the sponsorship revenue is coming from regional affiliates (Northwest Ford dealerships, Burger King franchises, etc.) or local companies, and it turns out that this has been a healthier business model during a recession. The Blazers numbers were so strong in Wednesday's valuation that you wonder if the organization shouldn't be more focused on raising payroll some and taking measures to become a true contender now. Join the arms race, a little. This is a franchise that has corrected its financial issues, and improved the brand, and now only needs to figure out how badly it wants to win. Insiders at Vulcan Inc, Allen's umbrella corporation, will tell you that his advisors have always been interested in seeing the Trail Blazers run lean. And that it's in Allen's nature to deviate from that, seek a thrill and try to win, if he can justify the expense with the butterflies he gets. That's what this has to be about for the Blazers owner, yeah? Thrills? Chills? Adrenaline? Because he can't buy these things anywhere else, and he doesn't get them in a board-room meeting, and he's long since detached from the inspiring moment in which he and Bill Gates shipped off that first of finished version of BASIC."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "If the Mavericks can bottle Tuesday's second-half defensive performance against the Los Angeles Clippers and employ it the rest of the season, Dallas believes it'll be in good shape. After the Clippers torched the Mavs for 62 points on .676 percent shooting in the first half, the Mavs held them to 43 points on .444 shooting after intermission en route to a 112-105 victory. Dallas was more aggressive in the second half, diving for loose balls, rotating out of double-teams, and aggressively contesting shots. 'That's the kind of energy we need to play with to compete in this league,' forward Dirk Nowitzki said. 'I think earlier in this season that's how we competed on both ends of the floor, and that's how we were winning.' The Mavs have allowed 100 or more points just seven times in the past 23 games. That defensive stance serves as the backbone for the 29-15 record the Mavs have pieced together."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn called a New York Times report this week on Ricky Rubio "much ado about nothing" and 'not worthy of a response.' The report quoted an unnamed source close to Rubio asking why the Spanish guard would ever play in Minnesota and stating the Wolves draft pick wants to play for Boston, New York or Miami when he decides to come to the NBA. Kahn said he remains 'absolutely' certain Rubio will join the Wolves next season after a buyout with his Regal Barcelona team becomes affordable."

  • Robert Snell of The Detroit News: "Membership has its privileges. The Miami Heat, one of the NBA's hottest teams, bailed out former star Tim Hardaway, whose namesake son plays for the University of Michigan basketball team, by buying his Miami mansion and clearing up a $120,000 federal tax debt. Hardaway, 44, ran into tax trouble in June despite being paid more than $46.6 million during his NBA career. The IRS filed a tax lien against his property and the bill listed his 7,542-square-foot mansion in suburban Miami. On Sept. 3, three months after the lien was filed, Hardaway sold the mansion to Miami Heat Limited Partnership, which owns the Miami Heat. The team is in second place in the Eastern Conference, led by the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat paid $1.985 million, according to public records. Today, the Heat is trying to sell the five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath estate, which comes with a pool and private basketball court decorated with a Miami Heat logo, for $2.5 million."