First Cup: Thursday

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: The Celtics might come into the Garden on Christmas Day without a hobbled Paul Pierce. Later on that day, Kobe Bryant could be sitting out with a wrist injury when the Lakers host the Bulls. Obviously, this is not the kind of news David Stern needs, only four days before the NBA opens another lockout-shortened season. But as Celtics coach Doc Rivers put it, thinking about the upcoming 66-game kamikaze run with his aging stars Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, “Hell, that’s just the way it rolls right now.” For all 30 NBA teams. It’s unfortunate, but it’s entirely predictable. Stern was so intent on putting his product out on Christmas, it didn’t matter if training camps and the preseason would be reduced to jokes. As long as his TV partners could show a few games with Bryant, Pierce and other superstars on the day when most of America starts paying attention to pro basketball, that’s all that mattered. It’s not just that there’s a good chance that the quality of play is going to be compromised. You can bet on that, especially for teams with new coaches, such as the Lakers, or a team such as the Knicks, who have new core players. Holding 16-day training camps, half of what’s normal, while playing all of two preseason games, instead of the usual eight, is no way to enter a regular season.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: LeBron James understands Dwight Howard faces scrutiny now that everyone knows Howard wants a trade from the Orlando Magic. But James just doesn't think the spotlight on Howard can compare to what he faced as he chose to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. "No, he ain't going through what I went through, don't say that," James told a reporter Wednesday, before the Magic hosted the Heat at Amway Center. "He's nowhere near going through what I went through." James, of course, grew up in Akron, and many people in Cleveland and Ohio still regard him as a villain. Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert ripped James in a letter to the team's fans. Fathead, a company owned by Gilbert, changed the price of its James wall graphics to $17.41; 1741 is the birth year of Benedict Arnold.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Life is good being the Clippers coach these days. Sure, the pressure is on Del Negro to succeed with all the talent the Clippers have assembled, but, he said, it's the kind of challenge he has embraced. "The pressure is more exciting to me than not having itbecause it means people think we're relevant," Del Negro said. "I take the pressure as a positive." Del Negro rubbed his chin and smiled again after that statement. ... The Clippers have the option of picking up Del Negro's contract for next season. But that's not his concern right now. He's concerned about what takes place on the court. Four keys, he said, are for his team to hold down their opponents' field-goal percentage, strong defensive rebounding, a good assists-to-turnover ratio and "managing personalities." "If I can do those four things and figure out how to do them well, then we should be all right," Del Negro said. "What I tell my players is that if our mental approach matches our physical ability, we will have success. That's the challenge I have as a head coach."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: The Trail Blazers' morning started with more ominous injury news involving a center. It ended with a failed comeback and a 92-89 loss to the Utah Jazz in the final game of the exhibition season. But none of that could put a damper on the biggest development of all Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena: LaMarcus Aldridge is back. It didn't matter that he missed a potential game-winning shot, committed a costly late-game turnover and, by coach Nate McMillan's account, "looked rusty." The Blazers were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the franchise cornerstone returned after missing most of training camp recovering from a medical procedure on his heart. "He looked rusty," McMillan said. "And that's to be expected. His timing, I thought, was off. But it was good for him to get a game in. He had been off all summer like the rest of our guys and you've got to work yourself back into shape."

  • Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: For a coach preparing for his team’s regular season opener that is now just four days away, seeing old friend Kris Humphries at the Nets’ shootaround this morning was a welcome thing. “We’re thrilled — thrilled to have him back,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said after Humphries reported for work in time for the Nets’ final preseason game tonight against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. “It’s time to play basketball, it’s time to rebound and be Hump and run, and dunk, and play defense. And just with his game in particular, there’s another level for him to go to.” The 6-9 Humphries, who averaged 10 points and 10.4 rebounds last season, was named earlier in the day as the Most Disliked Player in the NBA. The Garden crowd booed him upon his introduction to the game and every time he touched the ball in the Nets’ 88-82 loss to the Knicks. He played six minutes and had an assist, all in the first half, and, late in the second half, the crowd chanted: “We Want Humphries!” “I felt like ‘Rudy’ out there, or something,” Humphries said with a sheepish grin.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: David Kahn said again Tuesday night in Milwaukee that he will not discuss any contract negotiations with Love's agent publicly, other than to call the matter "very important" and say he expects Love will play for the Wolves for "many, many" years. If Love does not sign an extension by Jan. 25, he will become a restricted free agent next summer. The Wolves then could match any other team's offer. Or Love could then elect to accept a one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team in summer 2013. Asked Wednesday if he's decided he will seek a maximum contract, Love said, "Not really. I'm still thinking things through. It's just going to depend on what they think is right and what me and my agent decide as well. We'll look at the scenarios." One thing to keep in mind: Love's agent is Jeff Schwartz, who represented Al Jefferson in his negotiations with the Wolves four years ago. Jefferson signed a five-year, $65 million extension just scant minutes before the deadline and later said Schwartz had urged him to hold out for a maximum contract offer. Love grew up in Oregon and spends his summers in Los Angeles, where he played one season at UCLA. He speaks freely about his love of California, but said the Wolves' recent moves -- signing point guard Ricky Rubio and Adelman, namely -- will influence his decision whether to stay with a franchise that won only 56 games in his first three NBA seasons.

  • Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News: Two eight-year NBA veterans made their debuts for the Utah Jazz in Wednesday night's exhibition win over Portland, and while both Josh Howard and Jamaal Tinsley each had some shaky moments, on the whole they impressed their coach and the fans at EnergySolutions Arena. Howard, who sat out Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage at ESA, saw 20 minutes of action and came up with eight points and three rebounds, while Tinsley, who didn't play two nights earlier in Portland, had six points, three assists and six rebounds from the point guard position in just 12 minutes. "I thought they both did great," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. "Josh is getting in basketball shape, he knows how to play. He's in good shape, but not basketball shape. Tonight was a great opportunity to get him more minutes." As for Tinsley, Corbin said, "Jamaal did a great job. He knows how to play, he penetrates and get the ball to the right guys. He's a tough defensive player, he can guard and force guys to where he wants them to go."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: It took only two exhibition games for Kings coach Paul Westphal to see the effect Jimmer Fredette could have on the team's offense. Though Fredette can have an impact without the ball, Westphal said, the Kings need to get the ball to the rookie more often. With Fredette's shooting and playmaking ability, teams will have to monitor him at all times, which should open the floor for his teammates. With the season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers four days away, the Kings are still learning how to do that. "I think our spacing needs a lot of work," Westphal said after Wednesday's practice. "I think we missed (Fredette) a few times where we should have got him the ball." Getting Fredette the ball hasn't been a bad idea in the preseason. In the two games, Fredette made 11 of 20 shots, including 6 of 9 from three-point range.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Guess it's safe to say that rookie Brandon Knight has blended in well with his teammates. Minutes after he helped the Pistons to a 90-89 victory over the Cavaliers in the exhibition finale Tuesday night, he was joking around with veterans Ben Wallace and Rodney Stuckey in the visitors' locker room at Quicken Loans Arena. They like the talent he showed when his key steal led to the winning free throws from Austin Daye. Knight has made a good first impression with his personality and a work ethic that usually makes him one of the last guys to leave the practice floor.

  • Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald: JaJuan Johnson has a long way to go in his NBA career. But the good news for Celtics fans is the rookie has already taken one very important step on the path to success: He’s accepted the mentoring of Kevin Garnett. Garnett can be notoriously tough on newcomers. If a young player resists Garnett’s first offering of advice, there will be no second chance. Garnett simply moves on and leaves the youngster to fend for himself. That’s why it was such a promising development when coach Doc Rivers mentioned that Garnett had taken Johnson under his wing. “Obviously I try to watch everything he does in practice,” Johnson said before scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds in last night’s 81-73 preseason win against the Toronto Raptors at the Garden. “He practices with a lot of intensity, he’s very vocal, he’s always willing to help you. He has 17 years in this league so obviously he has a lot of experience and knowledge. Whatever I can get from him is just going to better my game.”

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: New Charlotte Bobcats center Byron Mullens made weekly visits to an Ohio prison during the lockout, looking for a good pickup game. It wasn't charity work, though it was good for inmate morale. Mullens traveled to Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio, looking to toughen himself up. "The idea was just to take the fear out of playing," Mullens said Wednesday. "You play against those guys and this (an NBA practice) feels like nothing." Mullens had his first workout with the Bobcats on Wednesday, after Monday's trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Bobcats need help at center and Mullens never got much chance to play in his two seasons in Oklahoma. The Bobcats will send a 2013 second-round pick to the Thunder as compensation for acquiring Mullens. So now, fresh off those weekly prison games on a concrete slab, Mullens is ready to show what he can do.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavaliers view Christian Eyenga as a wild card. At some point, the second-year swingman could evolve into a devastating and arguably the most athletic defender in the NBA. Or, he could drift into oblivion and return overseas once his contract expires. The 6-foot-7 1/4, 210-pounder clearly doesn’t always get “it.” He’s jovial, fun to be around and always has a smile on his face. However, he seems to live in his own world at times. Just days away from the start of the 2011-12 season, Eyenga appears to be buried in Coach Byron Scott’s rotation behind expected starter Omri Casspi and backup Alonzo Gee. He was held out of the Cavs’ 90-89 loss to Detroit on Tuesday in the final preseason matchup. Eyenga, 22, seems destined to spend some time with the D-League’s Canton Charge this year. As always, it seems to be a matter of making the right adjustments on the defensive end.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The Raptors are taking their appreciation for the Canadian Armed Forces even more public. The players will wear new “camouflage” jerseys – green and black with a prominent Canadian flag on the back neckline – four times during the regular season, the first being March 21 against the Chicago Bulls on Canadian Forces night. The team had to get permission from the NBA for the stark change to its look; it will be the first time any league team has worn anything like the new jerseys. The Raptors will now sport four different jerseys at times during an abbreviated 66-game season. They have their traditional white home uniforms, red ones for the road, black ones as a “third” jersey and the camouflage ones. Gone are the green uniforms worn around St. Patrick’s Day and the blue Huskies throwback jerseys.