Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: While stopped in his car in Manayunk on Christmas Eve, Lou Williams was approached by a man with a gun. The situation was deflated when the gunman recognized Williams and commended him for his work in the community. Williams said he treated the man to a meal at a local fast-food restaurant by giving him some money. "A guy tried to rob me but decided not to because of whatever I do in the community," said Williams before the game last night. "He's a Lou Williams fan so he didn't rob me." Williams said he was driving in his car when the man approached, knocked on the driver's window and had a gun drawn. "There's crime everywhere," said Williams. "I was debating whether to pull off or help the guy. The gun was already out. He did all the talking and we came up with a solution before I could really say much. I treated him to McDonald's."
Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs managing general partner Peter Holt shared a hug and a laugh with Parker just before tipoff of a game played before a sellout crowd of 18,581. “You had me scared over in France,” Parker told Holt, who served as chairman of the NBA owners labor relations committee and spent much of October and December in New York for negotiations with the players union. Holt wished Parker luck in the opener before praising Spurs fans, who filled the arena to its capacity. “I’ve got to tell you, that (lockout) wore me out,” he said. “I know why I never became a lawyer. At the end of the day, I’m just so happy we’re playing basketball again. These great fans here deserve it.”
Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: A glimpse into the New Orleans Hornets’ future Monday night at US Airways Center indicates the fortunes might not be as blurry as many have predicted. Newly acquired shooting guard Eric Gordon calmly made a 20-foot jump shot with 4.2 seconds remaining over the outstretched arms of Jared Dudleyas New Orleans stunned the Phoenix Suns 85-84 in the regular-season opener for both teams. Gordon, who led all scorers with 20 points, took the inbounds pass from forward Trevor Ariza, who had rebounded a Dudley miss on the other end with 15.3 seconds to go. Gordon dribbled the ball to the top of the key with seven seconds to go before launching the winner. “That was a shot that we needed,” Gordon said. “We were battling back and forth the whole game. All the stuff we’ve been through, the changes in the offseason, I just wanted this game really bad. The play was set up to where I got the ball on the top of the key and then just go one-on-one. I just wanted to finish the play, and I did. Good thing is we won the game, and move on.”
Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Lamar Odom hasn't been as effective as he would like to in his first two games with the Dallas Mavericks. Earlier tonight against the Denver Nuggets, Odom was just 1-of-10 from the field and scored six points to go with seven rebounds in 33 minutes. In Sunday's season opener against the Miami Heat, Odom was ejected in the third quarter after scoring just four points (1-of-6 field goals) and had four rebounds in 13 minutes. The Mavs acquired Odom from the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 10. It's been a whirlwind for Odom ever since as he attempts to settle into a comfortable role with his new team.
Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Kevin Garnett will play against the Heat tonight thanks to the good graces of the NBA, which decided not to penalize the Celtics forward for his actions immediately following Sunday’s 106-104 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York. Garnett, after missing the potential game-tying shot as the buzzer sounded, lunged at Bill Walker and made contact with the Knicks forward’s throat. Celtics president Danny Ainge, who watched the game on television, believes the proper decision was rendered. “I don’t think it was that kind of thing,” Ainge said yesterday. “It might be a technical foul, but that’s all. I don’t know what was said. He was provoked in some regard.”
Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: The opening game of a Wolves season often has served as sort of the first few steps of a long and agonizing death march. This one didn't feel like that. The youngsters were loose before the game. I stopped by Ricky Rubio's locker and announced: Rubio and Barea - Dos Lobos! He looked at me quizzically. I repeated: Dos Lobos. Now, you wouldn't think it possible to screw up the pronunciation of two words as simple as "dos" and "lobos." That means "two wolves" in Spanish, just in case you are the ultimate gringo. And a bunch of folks have written to suggest that was a fitting nickname for the Spanish-speaking backcourt of Rubio and J.J. Barea. Eventually, it was as if a light bulb illuminated over Rubio's head. "Dos Lobos!" he said. It did not sound at all like what I had said when he repeated it. "OK, that's good," he noted with a smile. As it turned out, Dos Lobos played great. Rubio was very good. "You can see the court vision he has," Adelman said. So was Barea. Before too long, this duo likely will see the bulk of the playing time in the backcourt. Barea plays as if he has just chugged a dozen cans of Red Bull. Rubio looks nothing at all like a rookie. They were very impressive, not to mention fun to watch.
Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Coach Flip Saunders complained of selfish play, Andray Blatche called out the coaching staff for the play-calling on offense and rookie Chris Singleton questioned the team’s desire to win. “It’s a fine line. Is it trust? Or is it, ‘I think that I can make a play to get us going again’ and you try to do it individually,” Saunders said. “In our league, you can’t do it, unless you’re one of the elite players. We don’t have anyone that’s at that elite status right now like [Nets all-star guard] Deron Williams.” Blatche — who welcomed the 17,102 fans before the game, declaring, “This is your captain” — took the criticism personally. In his seventh season, Blatche has pledged to take on a leadership role with the team. But as he sat in his locker room, dejected and still wearing his uniform as his teammates were showering, Blatche placed the blame on Saunders for not giving him the ball where he wanted after he finished with 11 points and eight rebounds and was outplayed by his counterpart, Kris Humphries (21 points, 16 rebounds).
Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: It was an NBA debut to forget. Rookie point guard Kyrie Irving's first game was anything but memorable, as the Cavaliers were pelted by the Toronto Raptors, 104-96, on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena. Irving, the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, finished with just six points, seven assists and three rebounds. He shot 2 of 12 from the field, 1 of 5 from beyond the arc and committed one turnover in 26 minutes. "It's just one game," Irving said. "It's a learning process. I didn't shoot the ball particularly well." Cavs coach Byron Scott made the announcement that Irving was his starter after Monday's shootaround. There's no turning back now, especially after backup Ramon Sessions had a game-high 18 points and six assists.
Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: This is becoming more than a concern for the Suns. This is a worry. Concerns have quick fixes. The Suns season has become a full-scale worry after their evident shortcomings played themselves out in a season-opening 85-84 loss to New Orleans on Monday night at US Airways Center. The Hornets are tabbed to be the worst team in the Western Conference by many, but where does that put the Suns after they lost at home with New Orleans missing Jarrett Jack?
Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Fredette's debut became official when he substituted for Marcus Thornton with 6:06 remaining in the first period. In less time than it took public address announcer Scott Moak to introduce "Jim-MER … Fre-DETTE," the 6-foot-2 guard drove down the right side, hesitated as he elevated and was called for double-dribbling. But it's true what they say, what Fredette proved during all those NCAA Tournament thrillers. He can play. He finds a way, never mind the abbreviated training camp, the lack of summer league, the shortened preseason, the lack of NBA experience. A few possessions later, he dribbled to the same spot, pulled up for a similar shot, and converted a 15-foot fadeaway for his first official field goal and a 19-17 Kings lead. Asked to compare his first NBA basket to his first scoring attempt in Provo, Utah, Fredette smiled. "My first one at BYU, I airballed it," he said.
Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: There were a couple of DeMar DeRozan baskets and a couple of Andrea Bargnani baskets and a DeRozan free throw and any questions about who gets the ball and who takes the shots when Raptors games are hanging in the balance have been answered. From this day forward it will be the DeRozan and Bargnani Show, head coach Dwane Casey has decided, and if the results come as they did here Monday night, no one is going to argue. DeRozan had nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and Bargnani had two of his five baskets in the same period as the Raptors got the abbreviated 2011-12 NBA regular season off to a professional and thorough start with a 104-96 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: The buzz at the newly named Bankers Life Fieldhouse (10 cents for every mention) was palpable. Standing-room only. Crazy loud. Ticket scalpers are back in business on Pennsylvania Street. Here's how you know Pacers basketball is becoming an event again: The Good Looking Females Quotient. There is a direct correlation between the quality of Pacers basketball and the number of good-looking females in the joint. Not going to disagree with you there. This team is going places, and I don't just mean Toronto. "Is this the team you thought you were joining?'' West was asked. "Absolutely,'' he said with a smile. "Every spot, we've got guys who can really play.'' Now repeat after me: "Not one, not two ... Not three, not four.
Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: LeBron James attempted 20 free throws during the six games of the 2010-11 NBA Finals. On Sunday, in the Heat’s season opener, he attempted 19. The duality of that disparity — and, more importantly, what it represents — is a haunting reminder of what could have been and also a statement of what to expect this season. As the Heat begins its second season in a row as the odds-on favorite to win the NBA championship, it does so with its best player focused on refashioning his game. James’ rekindled aggression in the paint and his willingness to battle in the low post will make its home debut on Tuesday against the Boston Celtics. ... The Heat outrebounded the Mavericks by 20 and attempted six more free throws. James was the catalyst. Instead of settling for jumpers like he did so often in last season’s Finals, James powered his hulking frame into the paint, creating offense inside while also leaving his teammates wide open on the perimeter. James didn’t attempt a single three-pointer, and neither did Dwyane Wade, who went 11 of 21 from field.
Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: Like many of us, Kevin Pritchard’s ears perked up when he heard about Paul Allen’s sitdown with the Portland media last week. But Pritchard isn’t at liberty to convey his side of the story on the conversation that Allen said led to the dismissal of the club’s former general manager on draft night in June 2010. Like all Blazer employees who are fired, Pritchard was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to receive severance pay. “It was a private conversation,” is what Pritchard would say Monday when I reached him via telephone in Florida, where he was with family for the holidays. “It’s between me and Mr. Allen.” Except it’s not – Allen’s version, anyway – private anymore. The Blazer owner told reporters that Pritchard had, in effect, fired himself on that fateful night at Portland’s practice facility, calling what happened “puzzling and unusual.”
Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Critics, and even some admirers, always include the addendum that serves to undercut whatever praise of Joe Johnson just came before. But that contract ... Johnson is a five-time All-Star, a tough 6-foot-7 guard who can handle the ball and score from anywhere on the court. He’s very good, but is he $124 million good? The Hawks took a chance when they traded for Johnson and paid him $70 million in 2005. He had never been a lead guard, but he blossomed in Atlanta as the Hawks earned hard-fought credibility. But what about that contract that will pay Johnson more than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? On and on it’s gone since Johnson signed the richest deal in the NBA in the summer of 2010. Over and over Johnson has been asked if he feels pressure to live up to that deal. ... There’s a subtle change in tone for Johnson. Before and during last year’s playoffs, Johnson said he carried no more responsibility than his teammates for the Hawks’ success, but now it seems as if he’s taking on more of the load. Johnson has prepared for that by working harder. He said he honed his shooting, ball-handling and free-throw shooting in the offseason even though he’s already good at those things. “It’s easy to be good, but it’s hard to be great,” Johnson said. “I want to be great. In order for me to do that, I am going to have to keep working, keep practicing to get better.” Greatness for Johnson and the Hawks may be the only thing that quiets the talk about his contract.
Brad Rock of the Deseret News: The Jazz open the season tonight, having addressed some pressing issues. In the last 18 months, they've added players who can fill more than one position, such as Josh Howard, Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward. They've become bigger by picking up Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. And they got deeper by bringing on Earl Watson and Alec Burks. What the Jazz haven't resolved is who should be their alpha dog. Right now, there is no team leader. They govern by committee. If a player has something to say, he just says it. There's nobody really there to set him straight. Like jury duty and Republican hopefuls, everyone is a potential candidate. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, everybody's assignment is nobody's assignment.
Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Ex-Charlotte Bobcat Stephen Jackson, now with the Milwaukee Bucks, said he lost his love for playing here once the Bobcats traded close friend Gerald Wallace last February. “When Gerald left, I really left,’’ Jackson said at morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. “Considering what we did (getting to) the playoffs, and then all those changes. To take Gerald away really took a lot out of me. I still was trying to do my job as best I can, but it was a lot harder. When they got rid of Gerald, that let me know they didn’t want to win. I didn’t want to be part of a place like that.’’
Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Not that the Knicks were loaded at point guard to start with, but with Iman Shumpert out, they are now dangerously thin at the position. Even so, don’t expect Nate Robinson to make a triumphant return to his former team. “We’ll look into it,” Mike D’Antoni said. They’ll look, but they won’t touch the high-maintenance Robinson, who played in New York for four-plus seasons until he was traded to the Celtics at the trading deadline in the 2009-10 season. When D’Antoni was initially asked about re-signing Robinson Monday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh, he shot a look as if to say, are you kidding? But his answer was more on the diplomatic side, saying reporters would have to check with interim GM Glen Grunwald. That really wasn’t necessary, since just about everyone in the organization is opposed to bringing back Robinson, who was waived by Oklahoma City on Christmas Eve.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Nikola Mirotic, whose rights the Bulls acquired on draft night, earned most valuable player honors for December in the Euroleague. Mirotic averaged 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds, posted his first career double-double and helped lead Real Madrid to a 4-0 mark with wins over three other top-16 teams. The Bulls are extremely high on the sharpshooting big man, who likely will remain in Europe for two to three more seasons. The Bulls acquired Mirotic, 20, from the Timberwolves, who drafted him 23rd, in exchange for the 28th and 43rd picks and cash. Mirotic is on a five-year deal with a costly buyout of roughly 2 million Euros from which the Bulls eventually will have to negotiate his release. Bulls international scout Ivica Dukan has a longstanding relationship with Real Madrid officials.