First Cup: Wednesday

  • Jason Reid of The Washington Post: Presumably, Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is only getting started. And if so, he’ll soon announce even bigger, needed changes. Although Tuesday’s firing of beleaguered coach Flip Saunders was inevitable, Leonsis clearly left the job half-done. He took the easy route in choosing to treat a symptom of Washington’s sickness rather than targeting its cause. Leonsis’s approval of the decision to make Saunders the fall guy for yet another embarrassing Wizards season (is there any other kind?) prompts an obvious question: So when does team President Ernie Grunfeld get the boot? Once Leonsis accepted that his house was in disrepair, which has been painfully obvious for weeks, replacing the architect should have been his opening act. Leonsis needed to begin with the person most responsible for the franchise’s long-running ineptitude: Grunfeld, the head of Washington’s basketball operation since 2003, whose contract expires after this season. Through a team spokesman, Leonsis declined an interview request after Tuesday’s news conference at Verizon Center to introduce former assistant Randy Wittman, who has the job for the remainder of the season. No matter. There’s little Leonsis could have said to justify the weak move. “This is a black mark on all of us,” Wittman said. Excising Saunders from the Wizards’ dysfunctional situation is like arresting a lowly accomplice while permitting the mastermind to go free. First and foremost, this is Grunfeld’s mess, and so far, Leonsis has let him off the hook.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: When the Wizards decided to fire Coach Flip Saunders on Tuesday, one league source said the franchise probably didn’t go far enough. “It’s like an episode of ‘Hoarders,’ ” the person said, “all you did was remove one item.” Yes, the Wizards are a mess. And at 2-15, the problems go way beyond the coach. But something had to be done for the franchise to reassure its fan base that it wasn’t going to tolerate the current direction. Eight losses by 10 or more points — including the last-straw, 20-point drubbing in Philadelphia — spelled doom for Saunders. Was it all on Saunders? No. The roster was certainly among the worst assembled in the NBA, but the players had tuned him out and the Wizards had grown concerned about the sporadic play of former No. 1 overall pick John Wall and the inconsistent and insipid performances of everyone else on the roster ... Replacing Saunders with Wittman was puzzling to one player agent, who said, “Witt is Flip without the accomplishments.” ... A league source said the Wizards realized within the first few months of his first season that he probably wasn’t the right fit for the supposedly playoff-ready team they had assembled. Several players on that team felt that Saunders failed to handle potential problems within the team before they became unmanageable.

  • Robbie Levin of The Miami Herald: Wednesday marks the one-month mark of the lockout-shortened season, and several consequences of the compressed campaign have already come to light. Field-goal shooting, free-throw shooting and three-point shooting in the NBA are all down at least 15 percent. Turnovers have increased by an average of .8 per game, the largest jump in 29 years. Bosh said that in addition to the increased miscues, players have less time to learn from their mistakes. “We have to really pay attention to film, you have to pick things up on the fly, you’re not always able to go through live situations all the time,” Bosh said. “It’s a moment where you have to use your experience as a basketball player and pick things up without actually practicing them.”

  • Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer: Byron Scott has been nothing if not consistent in monitoring and limiting the minutes of rookie point guard Kyrie Irving. The coach has stuck to a rotation that again netted him 43 points Tuesday night from his reserves, including 10 from Ramon Sessions. But certainly some would have liked to see a few more fourth-quarterminutes from Irving in the 92-85 loss to the Miami Heat in American Airlines Arena. Irving played just the final 5:03, contributing seven points and two assists. His driving layup with 9.1 seconds cut the Heat lead to three (88-85). The kid finished with 17 points and four assists in just under 26 minutes. Thus, the balancing act continues for Scott, whose team plays again Wednesday against the Knicks at The Q. The back-to-backs are starting to pile up and the coach is trying to keep all his players, including Irving, fresh. He ranks 47th in minutes (27.8) among guards, but ninth in scoring (17.4). He's fourth in rookie playing time for guards behind Ricky Rubio (32.6), Brandon Knight (31.8) and MarShon Brooks (29.8).

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: One day soon, Eddy Curry might provide 15 minutes of significance to this season. One day soon, he might be the guy who makes an opposing Chicago center actually play defense during some crucial stretch of the Eastern Conference Finals. One day soon, he might even step on the court of the NBA Finals and fortify the middle of the Heat in a manner no one does now. That's really the golden scoring opportunity here. It has months to pay off. And it might just pay out 15 minutes at a time. Think if the Heat had that kind of help last June against Dallas center Tyson Chandler? In the meantime, Curry sits on the bench on nights like Tuesday and plays six minutes a game on other nights. And he tells the tailor to get ready. He'll be coming in again. "I'm motivated to do what's necessary,'' Curry said. He's hungry, in other words, in the best of ways.

  • Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer: In the end, doing everything possible to win now and keep LeBron James happy didn't work for the Cavaliers. Just like it hasn't worked for Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard. Denver tried it for a while, then gave up and traded Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Carmelo wanted New York, he has New York. Since the trade last season, the Knicks' record is 20-25 and he's getting booed. The Knicks also signed Amare Stoudemire, so they have two stars ... and a 6-10 record. Denver is 29-12 since trading Anthony for some of New York's best young players. As the Cavaliers rebuild with Kyrie Irving, they should not worry about building around the rookie point guard. Just build with him. Make him an important part of the team, but not the center of the basketball universe. Obtain the best players possible, period. Try to win now, but don't sacrifice the future. Treat Irving with respect, but don't say things such as "He allows me to coach him," as former coach Mike Brown said of James. Irving has star potential, but it's extremely dangerous when a player begins to view himself as The Franchise. Cavaliers fans know that. ... A theory being offered is if James doesn't win a title in Miami by 2014, he may opt out of his contract. Some have said he may come back to Cleveland. A better guess is that he could be like Shaquille O'Neal, playing for several teams in his career as he shops for what he thinks is the best deal.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: For one month now, everyone around the NBA has tried to figure out this crazy, compressed 66-game schedule. For instance, how could a team play so terribly after two days of rest, while an opponent finishing its second game in two nights looks energetic? But there was no reason to overthink things Tuesday night. The Orlando Magic were so angry with their loss to the Boston Celtics the night before that they just took out their frustrations on the Indiana Pacers. The Magic overcame Dwight Howard’s first-half foul trouble and the fatigue from their second game in as many nights to rout the Pacers 102-83 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Why would we have so much more energy on the second night of a back-to-back [after] getting in at three in the morning?” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy asked afterward. “Well, because we got our butt kicked last night and we were embarrassed.” Howard set the Magic’s career scoring record in the third quarter, but not before his teammates saved the day after he picked up three early fouls.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Sometimes I just have to shake my head at the reaction of some fans. It just days ago that fans raved about the Pacers after they went into Hollywood and beat the Lakers behind an incredible performance from Roy Hibbert. Then two nights later some fans are cringing and thinking the bottom has fallen out on the Pacers after Orlando easily beat them over at the Fieldhouse. “Pacers were pathetic tonight, lackluster w/ no defense, if we r to be an elite team, we can’t have off nights like tonight,” one person said on Twitter. “I am beginning to doubt Paul George. Not aggressive enough on the offensive end,” another person wrote. It’s only one game. Did the Pacers play bad? Yes. Was it embarrassing to only have eight assists on 31 field goals? Without a doubt. ... It’s only one game, let’s see what happens in these next three games – Chicago, Boston and Orlando – before deciding to jump off the ledge.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: Bobcats coach Paul Silas was Baron Davis' first NBA coach and doesn't believe the former All-Star point guard is on his last legs. "If he can come back, he's going to have a positive effect on this team because he's been around a long time and he knows how to lead," Silas said. "That's really what's most important in every team -- having a point guard that knows how to lead." Davis continues rehabbing from a herniated disc and working toward his Knicks debut. It could come during this four-game trip. Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni wouldn't rule out Davis for Wednesday's game in Cleveland. Davis didn't sound that optimistic. "I would love to play, but I don't think that's possibly going to happen," he said. Davis had no pain after his first practice Monday. He played three-on-three Tuesday and sounded frustrated about his timing and conditioning and said he wasn't able "to push off."

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Charlotte Bobcats rookie Kemba Walker's term -- "embarrassment" -- was actually a kind description of a 111-78 home loss to the New York Knicks. Consider the evidence: The Bobcats played a team that lost six straight. A team whose leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, shot 0-of-7. A team that already lost at home to the Bobcats and nearly lost to them twice at Madison Square Garden. A team that plays little or no defense, yet held the Bobcats to 33 percent shooting. A team that outscored the Bobcats 59-36 in the second half. Oh, yeah. This was an embarrassment. "It's a (self-) check," said Bobcats center Byron Mullens. " I didn't come out to play. Tyson Chandler had 17 rebounds. That can't happen. "I'll take full responsibility for that." Bobcats coach Paul Silas frequently used the term "soft" post-game, and it didn't require a mind-reader to see Mullens was prominent in that description. Ex-Bobcat Chandler is hardly an offensive force. Tuesday he finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds, eight of those offensive rebounds. That more than compensated for the one-point performance by Anthony.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Eight games was enough. The return of the Raptors leading scorer Andrea Bargnani and a rare opportunity to be the fresher of the two teams on the floor — the Suns were on a back-to-back while the Raptors have been in Phoenix since Sunday night — did the trick. The skid is over. Bargnani hit a season-high for points with 36 in his first game back after missing the past six and the Raptors won a game against Phoenix for the first time in 15 tries. The 99-96 win was the Raps first against Phoenix since Feb. 10, 2004. Steve Nash no longer owns Canada’s team. “Andrea coming back makes things easier for everyone else,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “He opens up the lanes for (Leandro Barbosa) to get in there for layups, James (Johnson) could get in the lane and get on the offensive boards. He’s kind of a hub everyone can play off of.” The eight-game skid is over and it’s a good thing too because this trip only gets tougher. From Phoenix, the Raptors head directly to Salt Lake City for a date with the red-hot Utah Jazz and then on to face an equally hot Denver team.

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: US Airways Center officially has been declared a disaster area. Add the Toronto Raptors to a list of losing teams that includes the New Orleans Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Jersey Nets that have beaten the Suns on their own floor, threatening to leave a season in rubble. The Raptors held off a torrid rally that came too late from the Suns to win 99-96 Tuesday night, dropping the Suns to 6-11 in a shortened season that doesn't leave much time to clean up the mess. ... The Suns have a future Hall of Fame player at point guard and a young, emerging center in the middle. 'That's usually a pretty good place to start in the NBA. Nash and Marcin Gortat are playing at an All-Star level and did again against the Raptors. Gortat scored 21 points and took down 12 rebounds, his ninth consecutive double-double. Nash had 17 points and 14 assists. The problem the Suns have had during an uneven start to this hectic season has been fitting pieces around Nash and Gortat and getting consistent production. The search continues. "We're professionals and we have to figure it out, take the criticism and keep moving forward," said reserve Channing Frye, who has been mired in a shooting slump that continued against Toronto after he hit his first shot, a 3-pointer.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Forget about the marketing dream it would have been with tickets bought and jerseys sold, the thought of Steve Nash ever pulling on a Raptors uniform would have made fans delirious; adding a two-time NBA MVP has a way of bestowing legitimacy on a franchise like little else does. ... A confluence of events — the relative merits of teams in Toronto and Phoenix, the vagaries of the NBA’s salary cap and collective bargaining agreement and the lack of assets necessary to acquire a player of Nash’s calibre — combined to insure the best basketball player ever produced in Canada would never wear the uniform of a Canadian team. But what if ... What if Nash was throwing lob passes to Vince Carter back in the day? What if Nash was running his trademark high screen and roll with a shooting big man like Andrea Bargnani? What if all those standing ovations he’s received when he’s shown up with the Phoenix Suns had been heard every night with him in a Toronto uniform? There would have been no more fitting an addition to the lone NBA team north of the border. Nash has never spoken specifically about playing in Toronto — at every opportunity in the last seven years to become a free agent he’s re-signed with the Phoenix Suns — but there is no denying his affinity for the city. ... The 37-year-old Nash becomes a free agent again this summer, the Raptors might have enough cap room to make him a significant offer but at this stage of his career, and at this stage in the development of the Raptors, it’s unlikely Toronto will get any consideration. Too bad, from a lot of angles.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies awoke Tuesday morning as the hottest team in the NBA because they hadn’t lost a game in two weeks. By nightfall, their offense looked cold and a seven-game winning streak was put to sleep. Memphis, looking tired and unable to find another gear in the second half, suffered a 97-84 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Rose Garden. A second straight improbable comeback victory just wasn’t in the cards for the Grizzlies. Monday night, the Griz shockingly beat the Golden State Warriors, 91-90, after erasing a 20-point second-half deficit. But the Grizzlies’ game-long struggle to make shots and match the Blazers’ energy on the boards did them in after halftime. Portland bridged the second and third quarters with a 22-2 run and pulled away. “We kept battling. We gave it all we had. It just wasn’t enough tonight,” Griz coach Lionel Hollins said, adding that, “You have to give (the Blazers) credit. They took us out of a lot of things we usually get buckets on.”

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: Nate McMillan this season has used the silent treatment, sitting tight-lipped in team meetings, allowing the mistakes on the game film do the talking to his players. And Nate McMillan this season has used the fire-and-brimstone approach, chewing his team out so hard in Atlanta last week that the players still chuckle about it when asked to recite the details. "He's always figuring out ways to light fires under us," veteran center Marcus Camby said. "Some days he's not that vocal, and if we don't respond to that, he comes in and, let's just say expletives. He has challenged our manhood. Our pride." So I wondered what is next for the coach of the Blazers on Wednesday when Portland goes back on the road to play Golden State. Because as evidenced by this early-week homecoming to the Rose Garden, the Blazers are a completely different team at home than on the road. And the Blazers aren't just heading back on the road tonight. It's at Golden State, where the Blazers have dropped 10 of the last 11. And it's the third game in three nights. McMillan said he would start with the Blazers' record in Golden State. And their overall road record (3-6) this season. "That should be some motivation," he said. But the real answer, the real motivation, has to come from within the Blazers' locker room, and McMillan said the first thing he heard when he opened the doors to address his team after Tuesday's thorough 97-84 win over Memphis was the baritone voice of Gerald Wallace. "Let's not be satisfied with two," McMillan quoted Wallace, referring to the Blazers' two victories in their three consecutive games to open the week.