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First Cup: Thursday

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "Inspiration can come from some interesting places. At least three Detroit Pistons spoke of someone’s words helping inspire them Wednesday night after a 103-94 victory by the Pistons against the Cleveland Cavaliers that extended Cleveland’s losing streak to 26 games. It was not Pistons coach John Kuester. Or Joe Dumars. Or Ben Wallace. Or anyone else in the Pistons organization. It was ESPN analyst Tim Legler, who had predicted a victory for the Cavaliers over the Pistons. 'Tim Legler, we heard you,' Tracy McGrady said into a camera while he spoke with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after the game. 'You gave us some bulletin-board material. We used that.' It wasn’t just material for the bulletin board. The Pistons watched a video of Legler making the prediction shortly before the opening tip. Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace also brought up Legler’s name during their post-game comments."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "How is it possible, when a team has lost 25 straight games, to come out with the sort of performance the Cavaliers put forth in Wednesday night's 103-94 loss to the Detroit Pistons at The Q? This shell of a basketball team absorbed its 26th straight loss, tying the all-time professional sports record set by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first two years of existence in 1976-77. The performance was so bad that coach Byron Scott threw a fit at halftime and another one after the game, when he kept the locker room closed for 30 minutes. But, frankly, he is at a loss to explain what is happening. 'I'm mad as hell because ... I can deal with losing, especially when our guys play as hard as they have in the last couple weeks,' he said. 'But I find it very hard to deal with when guys don't come out ready to play.' "

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "A key regarding whether he would sign the extension, Carmelo Anthony said, is getting a full understanding of what the Nuggets' plan is going forward. Anthony is signed for next season, but can opt out of his contract to become a free agent. ... Anthony said it wouldn't be an easy decision on whether to sign the extension, nor a quick one. But he admits to giving it more thought than at any other time since the season began because of the impending trade deadline. Anthony is one of a number of Nuggets whose contracts either expire at the end of the season, or have an opt-out clause that would make them a free agent. Anthony said the constant trade rumors aren't wearing him down and that the team needs to keep fighting to improve its playoff position. 'I think they feed off of me, and my energy,' said Anthony, who is averaging 24.6 points and a career-high 7.8 rebounds. 'If I come in here and my head is down and moping around and not practicing and not playing hard in games, then they are going to do the same thing. As long as I keep coming in and do what I gotta do and being the guy that I am and the person I am, then they have no worries about it.' "

  • George Vecsey of The New York Times: "Blake Griffin’s first venture to Madison Square Garden as a professional turned into a 116-108 victory by the Clippers that should have been humiliating to the home team. Griffin scored 21 points and had a few nice dunks, if not the spectacles that have made him quite the rage this season. After he had dressed, and wearing professorial dark-rimmed glasses, Griffin said he loved being in the Garden -- 'the atmosphere, especially with the Knicks going well.' They did not play well Wednesday, but this rediscovery of good team basketball -- some of the time -- has allowed Garden fans to appreciate opponents the way they did Oscar and West in kinder times, and when Jordan and Reggie Miller came to torment the Knicks in more recent combative times. Griffin did not get much sympathy, however. When he was sent sprawling early in the first quarter, Griffin seemed dazed as he lay on the floor. Fans jeered and said, 'Welcome to the N.B.A., baby' and 'This ain’t L.A.' and other niceties. He sustained a cut lip but recovered his consciousness, as the Knicks more or less lost theirs."

  • Frank isola of the New York Daily News: "The 'We Want 'Melo' chant could be heard loud and clear at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, but the words spoken by Amar'e Stoudemire carried greater meaning. The Knicks franchise player called out his teammates following Wednesday night's lackluster 116-108 loss to the Clippers, accusing them of playing 'afraid' and criticizing them as a group for failing to heed his pregame warning. 'I said it before the game that we have to have supreme focus,' Stoudemire said. 'I guess they figured I was talking to the wall because we didn't come out with any focus. You can tell before the game. You can tell by facial expressions and body (language) that guys weren't ready to go.' Considering that the Knicks hadn't played since Sunday afternoon, their lethargy was inexcusable."

  • Brad Rock of the Deseret News: "The atmosphere at EnergySolutions Arena during Wednesday's introductions was a lot like the way it was when Carlos Boozer played for the Jazz. It was impossible to prove (but easy to interpret) whether the crowd was calling 'Booooo!' or 'Boooooz!' People didn't completely know how to greet him when he played here, did they? Do you applaud him for his stats or criticize his inability to stay healthy? Do you cheer him for his reticence or condemn him for never saying anything revealing? Does looking for a better deal ("I'm going to get a raise, regardless") make him a terrible guy? Not necessarily. But unpopular? Definitely. 'Yeah,' he said when asked if he liked the negative reception. 'It was a little bit of everything.' It didn't get better after Chicago's 91-86 win over the Jazz. Not that Boozer had a ton to do with it. It had just as much to do with a couple of other Jazz former Jazz players -- Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer -- who turned in a 3-point basket and a steal, respectively, in the late going. But, of course, the focus was on Boozer. Every mistake he made was loudly applauded."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "One of the things I like about Charlotte Bobcats coach Paul Silas is his acceptance of what he can and cannot control. Had he raged after this game, had he acted all indignant and paranoid, foaming at the mouth, he might have felt better for a few minutes. And considering the awful call at the end, we all would have sympathized. Instead, Silas did two things: He said it should have been a foul on Darren Collison, on Stephen Jackson’s final shot attempt, and he said there’s nothing within the rules to do about that. That has the effect of reminding his players to move on from something that, regardless of its injustice, is over. Then he wisely praised Jackson for controlling himself in the face of all this. 'He just played basketball -- wasn’t complaining at all,’ Silas said. 'If he plays like that the rest of the season, we’ve got a chance.’ That’s coaching: Reminding people who don’t always show great judgment that when they do, the team is better for it."

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: "It does not matter where the Lakers and Boston Celtics play each other. That's because the rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics, the two teams with the most NBA championships, is so intense and historic. They will square off Thursday night at the TD Garden, but the venue is not important. Each team has won recently on the other's court. The Lakers won here in the regular season last season, and they won Game 3 of the NBA Finals here in June. And the Celtics defeated the Lakers, 109-96, at Staples Center on Jan. 30 and won Game 2 in the Finals in Los Angeles last year. 'If we were to play a game in the park against that team, it would be hard-core and [trash] talking,' Lamar Odom said after the Lakers' practice Wednesday. 'It's always going to be intense when you respect a team. You don't have to disrespect a team to want to kick their [butt]. You have that much respect for them, which intensifies the game.' "

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "While it’s certainly true there is no way of telling in advance when a truly great game will break out, there is no denying that some games are far more anticipated than others, and anticipation is the lifeblood of being a sports fan. The thought that a special game will take place can get someone through a dreary workday. On very rare occasions, circle-your-calendar games come in little bunches. That’s very much the case with the current home schedule of the Celtics. It started Friday with a visit from the dangerous Dallas Mavericks (who proved to be very formidable), continued with an appearance by the Orlando Magic, hits another gear entirely when the ancient rival Lakers take to the parquet tonight, and, amazingly, ascends to yet another height Sunday afternoon when the hated/loathed/despised/reviled Miami Heat show up. That’s a heavy emotional load for any fandom to carry. I mean, how much venom can one set of fans spew? In matters like these, fans might have to think about pacing themselves. But there is no doubt they will be spiking the venometer tonight, this being their first up-close-and-personal look at the Lakers since Game 5 of the 2010 Finals when the Celtics moved to a 3-2 series lead with a 92-86 victory. The return trip to Los Angeles was not very pleasant for the Celtics and their fans, and particularly for center Kendrick Perkins, who sustained a knee injury in Game 6 and was unable to play in Game 7."

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: "The NBA coaching fraternity is generally a pretty entertaining bunch, but Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich perhaps stands alone. The crusty 62-year-old taskmaster does things only one way -- his way -- and that includes how he deals with the pre-game drudgery of meeting with the press. The man who has guided the Spurs to four NBA titles was in rare form ahead of Wednesday’s tilt with the Raptors. The first clue came when he got arena personnel to switch off the overhead lighting and then, the small light on a camera recording the scrum. 'If you don’t need it, turn it off,' the former Air Force intelligence gatherer said rather sternly, the first sign this gathering would be a tad out of the ordinary. ... After a few less-than revealing answers to queries, Popovich explained why he doesn’t take much pleasure in his daily bantering with the media. 'After a certain number of years you get tired of the same old stuff. You hate asking (questions), I hate answering,' Popovich said, before adding jokingly, 'I’m not that helpful, I know that. I’ll make up some stuff. I get funny.' ... He also said the Spurs have not fought at all to try to get ex-Raptor Matt Bonner into the all-star three point competition. 'We don’t do much lobbying. We could care less.' And that’s the beauty of Pop and his Spurs. They march to their own beat and thanks to their years of success, nobody can tell them it is the wrong one."

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: "Moses Malone was one of the NBA's dominant centers, yet he insists that the term double-doubles didn't mean much to him, a surprising viewpoint considering he averaged 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds over his 19-year career. What mattered most to Malone was doing the necessary hard-hat work to help his teams win games. In fact, Malone is adamant about never having discussions about double-doubles with teammates or management. 'Double-doubles?' Malone asked Wednesday when reached by phone at his home in Houston. 'What's that? I didn't care about that stuff.' Malone, 55, admitted that the term is more on his radar these days because of Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, the NBA's leading rebounder with 15.6 per game. As one of the NBA's premier rebounders, Malone can identify with players who know how to get the job done under the basket. Love is closing in on Malone's 44-game streak of double-doubles (points-rebounds) after extending his run to 38 Tuesday night in Houston. The last time Love failed to reach a double-double was a forgettable game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 19. Love was scoreless in 37 minutes (0-for-7 shooting) and had only seven rebounds in the Wolves' 112-95 loss at Target Center. For the curious, Love is a long way off from the NBA record. Wilt Chamberlain had 227 consecutive double-doubles from December 1964 to November 1967."

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: "In the first half of games this season, the Thunder ranks last in opponent field goal percentage at 53.3 percent. In the second half of games, the Thunder trails only Miami and Chicago at 42.9 percent. A glass-half-full kind of guy, Kevin Durant saw this as good news. 'See, if we can just get our first-half numbers closer to the second-half numbers, we'll be in great shape,' Durant said. No doubt, but why hasn't the Thunder been able to do it? Why such a huge chasm between the first half and second half in opponent shooting percentages? ... Coach Scott Brooks is sick of being asked for an explanation, and is even more sick he doesn't have one. There are dozens of reasons why this is happening, yet nothing specific. Brooks shakes his head. Players shrug. The first-half intensity needs to pick up, but that's obvious. If you know it, then do it. Why wait until halftime? If Brooks is channeling Vince Lombardi, then maybe Brooks should break out his halftime speech during the pregame chat. Tell all the players what they're doing wrong before the opening tip. Brooks has offered to cancel the next day's practice if the Thunder has reached a certain number of assists in the game the night before. Perhaps he should change that to an opponent's field-goal percentage. How about 43.0 percent or lower?"

  • Charles F. Gardner of Journal Sentinel: "Bucks guard Brandon Jennings missed 19 games following surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. He has played in the last seven games and has hit 25 of 77field goal attempts (32.5%), including 9 of 24 against the Wizards on Wednesday. 'There's no reason to run from the fact that so far in his career he's struggled to make the jump shot inside the three-point line,' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. 'That's a fact. That's something he's got to improve in. Finishing at the rim and making those jumpers inside the three. He's good with his feet set from three. On a given game, some balls will go in. Brandon's has never been hurt in his life. He's never gone through anything like this. He deserves some time to get his legs back under him and get out there, bang bodies and get the feel of the game back.' "

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "It was a simple e-mail, but it certainly meant the world to 76ers coach Doug Collins. In fact, as Collins spoke of it, his voice seemed to crack a little bit. Sixers legend Billy Cunningham, a Hall of Fame player who coached the team to the 1983 NBA title, sent a simple note to Collins to let him know how fine a job he thinks the coach is doing. 'Billy was a mentor and a big brother when I played,' Collins said. 'He said for the first time in a long time he's looking to see when the Sixers are playing and how excited he is to see us playing together as a team with passion and playing to win and being so unselfish. He said, 'Make sure you let the guys know now that teams are starting to know them and now it becomes even harder to win.' That meant a lot to me coming from Billy because he taught me this NBA game.' Cunningham, who accumulated a 454-196 record in eight seasons as the Sixers' head coach, didn't want to make a big deal out of his remarks, but couldn't help to further praise Collins. 'I just think that it is spectacular what he has done with that team in such a short amount of time,' Cunningham said yesterday. 'I just wanted to let him know how proud I was of him and how much fun this team is to watch again.' "

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: "The Spurs showed some remarkable balance in piling up assists Wednesday night at Toronto. Four different Spurs had at least six assists in the game, a feat that hasn’t happened for the franchise in more than 18 seasons acccording to STATS LLC. Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with nine assists, Tony Parker had eight, Tim Duncan and George Hill had six in the Spurs’ 111-100 victory over Toronto. STATS reports the last time the Spurs had four players with at least six assists in the same game came in a 113-105 loss at Atlanta on Dec. 5, 1992, in a game coached by Jerry Tarkanian. Vinny Del Negro led the team with eight, Lloyd Daniels had seven and David Robinson and Sean Elliott each had six assists in that game. And it’s been nearly a year since it happened in the NBA. Golden State achieved it on Feb. 10, 2010, in a 132-102 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Stephen Curry led them with 13 assists, C.J. Watson had eight and Anthony Morrow and Ronny Turiaf had six apiece."

  • Jeff Rabjohns of The Indianapolis Star: "The more NBA calls he fields, the less Ron Hunter is surprised. Alex Young, the current star of Hunter's IUPUI basketball team, has moved onto the league's radar. The 6-6 junior would be the second IUPUI player in recent years to make the NBA, joining George Hill, who is in his third season with the San Antonio Spurs. 'What helps Alex is a lot of NBA teams are saying, 'How did we miss on George Hill? We're not going to miss on this guy,' ' Hunter said. 'Alex is getting additional attention because of what George has done.' Hill is averaging double figures (11 points per game) for the second year in a row for the Spurs, who have the best record in the NBA. Young leads IUPUI in scoring (20.0) and rebounding (6.9), but it's his performance against marquee opponents that has attracted attention as much as his season-long success. When the Jaguars hung with then-No. 2 Ohio State on Dec. 9 in a 75-64 road loss -- the teams were tied in the second half -- Young had 20 points, hitting 4-of-8 3-pointers, and six assists. A little more than a week later, Young had 19 points and eight rebounds in a 56-54 loss to No. 7 San Diego State. So far, scouts from 24 NBA teams have seen Young."