First Cup: Monday

  • William C. Rhoden of The New York Times: "On Sunday night against the Heat, the Knicks played their first important game since the blockbuster trade -- and won, 91-86. The heavyweights came through. Billups’s 3-pointer with 1 minute 1 second left gave the Knicks the lead for good, 85-84. A subsequent steal -- by Billups -- allowed the Knicks to stretch the lead to 3. This was clearly the most important victory of D’Antoni’s tenure in New York. A victory over one of the most celebrated teams in the league, on its home court. 'I think it’s the best, just the way we won,' he said. In deference to the young players the Knicks traded, D’Antoni said, 'They did a great job of getting us where we are today.' But the Knicks’ potentially great tomorrows will be brought to fans by Anthony, Stoudemire, Billups et al. 'We’ve got to build with this, and this was a big step because we don’t know who we are,' D’Antoni said. For the next three weeks, every Knicks win, every loss will become a referendum on whether the trade was good or bad. Right now, the trade is looking pretty stellar."

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: "The crowd began chanting 'New York [stinks]!' with four minutes to play. Around the same time, LeBron James got in the face of director Spike Lee during a hotly debated play. And that was only the start of a fantastic finish. The sellout crowd left mostly unhappy, although there were enough Knicks fans present on Sunday night to make themselves known. The Heat blew a six-point lead in the final three minutes on a pair of costly turnovers by LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The Heat is 12-15 against teams with winning records and 2-2 against the Knicks this season."

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "There was only one word for this: embarrassing. The New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were smiling, and reserve center Ronny Turiaf wagged a No. 1 finger as he ran off the court. Yes, this wasembarrassing for the Heat. Everyone knew they struggled against the best teams, the tough teams, the ones like Boston that had been together for some time. But a 91-86 loss Sunday to a Knick team that's been together less than a week? Against a roster that New York coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game, 'wasn't ready?' On the first big-event night at AmericanAirlines Arena in months? 'Playoff atmosphere,' LeBron James had called it before the game, and the home crowd sure treated it like that. So if Thursday's loss to Chicago was troubling, this one was embarrassing. It was the Heat that had every edge entering this night. It was the new Knicks that did everything in the final 61 seconds to win this game. ... The Knicks have a depleted roster, but their bench managed 19 points. The Heat's bench had 17 points. James Jones has missed all eight 3-point shots in the past three games. Eddie House is 1 for 7. Mike Miller returned from injury to score 10 points, but that's not enough. The Knicks showed some possibilities Sunday? And the Heat? It left the night with one word. Embarrassing."

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Kobe Bryant caught and passed another Hall of Famer on the NBA's all-time scoring list Sunday afternoon. He swished a jumper from along the baseline to catch Elvin Hayes and passed him with a bank shot. Bryant's scoring total stands at 27,320 points going into Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. If he continues to score at his present average of 25.1 points, he will pass Moses Malone for sixth (27,409) by season's end. 'Cool,' Bryant said. 'Just keep on rolling, I guess.' Bryant isn't old enough to have watched Hayes play in person, but he said he has studied him on tape so he is familiar with his game. Bryant, 32, also said he tried to copy a few of his moves, including one trademark jump shot, in particular. 'Oh yeah, yeah, he had an incredible fallaway,' Bryant said. 'He was one of the first guys to have that baseline fallaway jump shot. His baseline fallaway was incredible, so I learned quite a bit from him, from that shot.' "

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "You've seen this before. Thunder-Lakers. Tough, physical game. Intensity abundant. Baskets scarce. Excitement galore. Lakers win in the end. Now you know why the Thunder needs Kendrick Perkins. Not to start playing good defense. That, the Thunder can do and did Sunday in a 90-87 loss downtown. The Thunder needs Perkins so it can start playing great defense. Come spring, come the playoffs, come another Laker post-season series, that's how you win. You don't beat LA 105-101. You beat the Lakers 87-84. Or they'll beat you 90-87. 'Tough to score against 'em,' said Thunder dirty worker Nick Collison. 'We defended them pretty well. Not a lot of easy buckets for either team.' Just like that playoff series last April, which included scores of 87-79, 95-92 and 95-94. Average score: Lakers 96, Thunder 94."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "After talking with Kings and league types over the weekend, I learned that one reason the Maloofs were reluctant to attend Monday's game was that they were fearful of opening their mouths -- a common occurrence -- about the arena situation. NBA Commissioner David Stern has urged them to remain mum on the topic and their local handlers have advised them to stay away from Arco because they are famously accessible and accommodating to members of the media. Nonetheless, after being advised against doing so by some of their handlers, Joe, Gavin and George Maloof will be at the game. (I was told earlier that Stern threatened with a fine, but the Kings say this isn't the case.) Joe tweeted that the information late Sunday morning. Interestingly, George Maloof, who runs the Palms resort in Las Vegas, has long been considered the family's most ardent supporter of having a franchise in Sacramento. He thinks this is a terrific market. Like I said. Interesting."

  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: "Mark Cuban and writer Buzz Bissinger -- who is known for his book Friday Night Lights -- clearly don't see eye to eye on the NBA's future. Earlier this afternoon, Cuban Tweeted "Buzz Bissinger is a coward," which suddenly set off the fiery Bissinger, who questioned why Cuban was calling him a coward over Twitter. That led to consecutive Tweets from Bissinger where he called Cuban a "spoiled rich boy," as well as other derogatory names. While it wasn't clear at first why Cuban had decided to call Bissinger out, the writer believed it had something to do with a recent column he wrote about the NBA's waning popularity. Based on their Twitter conversation, that's still currently going on, they're in the process of trying to meet up at Tuesday night's game between the Sixers and the Mavericks."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Baron Davis thinks joining the Cavaliers will be a new beginning, so he's selected uniform No. 85 as a tribute to where it all started. 'It's a special number,' he said in his first meeting with the Cleveland media before Sunday's game against Philadelphia. 'That's the street my grandmother lives on. I can get back to my roots ... even if I have to dribble in the snow to get to the gym.' Davis grew up in Los Angeles and was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather put up a basketball court in the backyard. After starring at UCLA, Davis' pro career took him to Charlotte, New Orleans and Golden State before he eventually signed as a free agent with his hometown Clippers. But things never worked out there and by early this year, owner Donald Sterling actually was heckling Davis from his courtside seat. 'You never expect the person who signed you to a contract to be the one who hates you the most,' Davis admitted."

  • Al Iannazzone of The Record: "Jason Kidd's home debut as a Net drew 8,749 to Continental Arena in 2001, but that was when the NBA actually counted people in their seats. Now they count tickets distributed. Deron Williams makes his Nets' home debut tonight at Prudential Center and there are expected to be many more fans actually in the building than for Kidd's first game. More than anything, though, Williams and the Nets hope the team enjoys similar success as Kidd's first game -- a six-point win and a near triple-double. This is Williams' third game since being acquired from Utah on Wednesday and the Nets are hoping for their first win with him when they play host to Steve Nash, Vince Carter and the Suns. 'I think it should be fun,' Williams said. 'There probably will be a lot of energy in the building.' The people and energy at Nets games could be a factor when Williams decides whether he will stay with the team beyond next season. Kidd always lamented the lack of fans at home games and the Nets won two Eastern Conference championships with him."

  • Marc Narducci of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "The 76ers won't receive too many style points for Sunday's 95-91 win in Cleveland against the Cavaliers, but afterwards everybody in the locker room made the same point. Had this game been played in early November, the Sixers wouldn't have won. One of the best traits of the Sixers is that they com to play virtually every night, showing great energy. Against the Cavs, there was no energy and the Sixers quickly found themselves down by 12 points. Collins admitted that he went to his bench earlier than usual because he didn't want the gane to slip away. And Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner combined for 38 points and gave the team the needed spark. ... Against top teams, like Tuesday's opponent the Dallas Mavericks, the Sixers can't afford such a lethargic start. Still, they are winning now while not playing their best all the time, which sure beats the alternative. Teams that have effective inside games can hurt the Sixers and for much of the game they had no anser for J.J. Hickson (22 points, 16 rebounds). Still, they did what they had to, something that likely wouldn't have been acccomplished earlier this season but is now expected at this stage."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard often isn't the first person mentioned when people outside of Central Florida discuss the 2010-11 NBA Most Valuable Player race. But at least Howard has a big supporter close to home: Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing. 'If we were to lose Dwight, we'd be at the bottom of the barrel,' Ewing said. 'He's the MVP on this team. He's the most important player on this team, and he's proven it night-in and night-out, especially by the way he's been playing lately.' Howard has deflected all questions in recent weeks about his MVP chances. He typically says he just cares about 'winning a championship.' The Magic's head coach is more outspoken, noting that Howard doesn't receive much mention as a candidate from TV's talking heads. 'They're talking basically that it's LeBron James or Derrick Rose," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. 'So I don't understand why his name is not in the discussion.' "

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "All this dunking is taking a toll on Jared Dudley. Dudley went 49 games without a dunk this season but slammed Sunday for the fourth time in eight games. Sunday's jam came when he got a steal on the wing and raced out for a painful dunk. 'I think I pulled it on the rim,' said Dudley, who left the game for back treatment in the second quarter but played the final 20:24. 'It was how high I was and the velocity of my body coming down. I know I'm not an explosive athlete, but I need to get my legs under me and it wasn't there as much, but I had enough to play and help the team win.' His preseason pledge to dunk 10 times this season now seems feasible. 'Didn't I tell you I'm doing this for real?' Dudley said."

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Jerry Sloan and longtime assistant Phil Johnson turned in their resignations Feb. 11 for a variety of reasons. A primary one: They were tired of Deron Williams’ act. But while Williams survived Sloan’s sudden departure, the All-Star’s days were also numbered. His increasingly bitter tone and obvious frustration had not gone unnoticed by Jazz management. Sloan, general manager Kevin O’Connor and anyone within the organization with basketball sense easily recognized Williams’ undeniable Olympic talent. But he still had 1½ years left on his contract and his power was growing; former small-market stars such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony had put their old teams through the fire; and the idea that Williams -- who turned down a maximum contract with Utah in 2008 and could opt of his deal after the 2011-12 season -- would choose loyalty over pride, money and power had gone from a possibility to nearly nonexistent. 'He never said what [Phoenix’s] Steve Nash said,' O’Connor said. 'He never said, ‘Hey, I signed a contract, I really like it here. I want to finish it out. I’m committed to staying in Utah. Let’s get some players.’ It was always, ‘I’ll wait and see.’?' The Jazz were growing tired of waiting. Meanwhile, management was questioning whether Williams was the best long-term choice for everything from team leadership to a delicate chemistry that was strong when training camp started but had begun to fracture as the All-Star break approached."

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "With his fifth block of the Spurs’ 95-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at the AT&T Center on Sunday night, Spurs captain Tim Duncan moved into select company among the NBA’s all-time interior defenders. Duncan’s rejection of Zach Randolph’s short jumper with 3:55 remaining in the third period was the 2,356th block of his career, tying him with Alonzo Mourning for 10th place on the NBA’s list. Duncan needs only five more to catch former Celtics great Robert Parish for ninth place. 'It just means I’ve been playing a long time,' said Duncan, in his 14th NBA season. The perennial member of the NBA’s All-Defensive team has a long way to go to catch retired teammate David Robinson for No. 1 on the Spurs’ all-time list. Robinson blocked 2,954 shots, fifth-best in league history. Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon is the all-time leader with 3,830."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "It's understood that the Spurs, Mavericks and Lakers will (likely) be the top three seeds, but George Karl believes that Denver (yes, Denver) can compete for that fourth spot -- and, thus, home-court advantage in the first round. 'I think if we finish up February well and have a good March, what I'd like to do is get those two April games against Oklahoma City (which is No. 4 in the West)," said Karl, whose team is 1-1 against the Thunder (36-22) and 34-26 overall. 'I have a feeling that it will be a fight for home-court situation. And I think you'll have to beat Oklahoma City twice to get the home court.' Only three games separate teams five through 10 in the Western Conference (eight teams make the playoffs), though it's possible Utah will suffer down the stretch after the trade of its best player, Deron Williams. The Hornets, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies and even the Suns join the Nuggets as teams battling for the final four playoff berths. 'All I know is from March 15 to April 15, there's going to be a lot of pressurized games,' Karl said. 'Scoreboard watching is going to start a little earlier this year.' "

  • Kevin Callahan of the Cherry Hill Courier-Post: "Last summer, when LeBron James left Cleveland for South Beach to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, the backlash was so fierce you would've thought King James was going to play for England in the next Olympics. And this week, when Carmelo Anthony got his wish and was traded from Denver to New York, where he is now teammates with Amare Stoudemire, the media railed the move as if China, Japan and the Soviet Union were forming a Super Power country. My feeling is the moves by James and Anthony aren't bad for basketball. 'I think it is good for basketball, from the perspective it brings a lot of excitement,' said NBA agent Leon Rose, a Cherry Hill resident who has James and Anthony on his impressive list of clients. 'This year, ratings for basketball have grown drastically ... people are excited about it, and I think it is good for the game of basketball.' ... There is talk Dwight Howard of Orlando and Chris Paul of New Orleans will play elsewhere after the 2012 season, when they become free agents. Clearly, the trend is to join a big-market team as James did, in choosing Miami, and Anthony did, in going to New York. But that's OK. They just want to win. 'The guys I have been involved with, their primary focus has been on winning and putting team above their own accolades, and I think that is something to be commended,' said Rose. Rose is right. These guys are putting aside being The Man for holding The Trophy. And anyway, playing with the best is the Dream Team way."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "Herb Simon looks at his Indiana Pacers, his small-market team with its small-market revenues, and wonders how he will compete in the years to come. He's not alone. Ownership all throughout the NBA, in places not named Miami, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, are asking how they are going to challenge the big-market hegemony when all the superstars are colluding to go to the Heat, Knicks, Lakers and others. LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the Heat. Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Deron Williams to the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. Dwight Howard threatening to leave Orlando. Leaving Cleveland, Toronto, Denver, Utah and Orlando to wonder how they can compete -- much less survive -- in a league that gets top-heavier each passing month. 'I'm a little concerned about the gravitation away from the smaller teams,' Simon said. 'If Green Bay can win (an NFL) championship with 100,000 population, then we should be able to win a championship, too.' I don't have an issue with the megastars who use their power to join other stars in the bigger markets. That's their right. They are simply taking full advantage of a system that gives them the opportunity to win titles and maximize their brands. What we're seeing is the AAU-izaton of the NBA, with the top players wanting to join other stars to form super-teams, just like they did throughout the summers of their youth. But the NBA has to put a brake to this trend, before the league becomes a collection of four or five super teams and 25 others that have absolutely no hope to compete for titles."

  • Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times: "To those who ventured down to that barnlike structure for games in 1966-67, though, it was exciting basketball for about the price of a movie ticket, and the tickets were readily available. Led by Guy Rodgers, a flashy (for his day) point guard, and Bob Boozer, a rock-solid power forward, the expansion Bulls made the playoffs in their first season. ... How strange it is that 40-some years later, another Boozer is instrumental in leading the Bulls to another promising finish. As far as they know, the Bulls’ current power forward, Carlos Boozer, and their first power forward, Bob Boozer, are not related. 'People always ask me,' said Carlos, who was born in Germany and raised in Alaska. 'To my knowledge, we’re not related.' ... When I caught up with him, it was clear Bob is a class act who still knows his hoops and is very familiar with the Boozer name in sports. 'There was a John Boozer who pitched for the Phillies, and an Emerson Boozer who played football for the New York Jets,' said Bob, who knows there’s no ancestral tie to that pair. 'But Carlos and I are the only individuals that played in the NBA with the name Boozer.' In terms of basketball, the only two Boozers who have ever played in the NBA are practically joined at the hip."