First Cup: Tuesday

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: John Wall squared up against the player whose career he would most like to duplicate and did his best to trade him acrobatic layup for head-scratching layup. And for a half, Wall held his own against Derrick Rose, the reigning league’s most valuable player, unwilling to get upstaged on his home turf. But as the game dragged on, and the Washington Wizards continued to miss shots and Rose continued to share the ball with his more-than-capable teammates, the gap between the two players and their respective teams became more magnified. Rose got stronger as Wall disappeared. The Chicago Bulls kept finding ways to fend off the Wizards’ feeble attempts to make the game competitive. And Rose was able to leave town with fans at Verizon Center serenading him with “MVP!” chants, while Wall had to accept a 98-88 loss — and another reminder of how far he is from Rose and how far the Wizards are from being a serious threat. “It all depends. It all depends on my development and it all depends on how your team carry on,” Wall said, when asked if he looked at Rose and saw himself in two or three years. For now, Rose is an established elite player, capable of pacing himself through an efficient game in which he scored a season-high 35 points, handed out eight assists and blocked three shots. He had basically done so much through three quarters that when the Wizards decided to trap the Bulls’ fullcourt in hopes of getting the ball out of his hands, Rose let Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah provide the finishing touches.

  • K. C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: This is what leadership looks like. This is what defines greatness. Vowing "to try to go crazy" before Monday's game against Washington, Derrick Rose did exactly that in the Bulls' 98-88 bounce-back victory. Yet Rose didn't do so in ballhog, I-gotta-get-mine fashion. Thirteen of his 35 points came in the first quarter. Two of his eight assists came in the second, when Kyle Korver got hot. He took over again in the third with 15 points. Then, trapped consistently in the fourth, Rose found Joakim Noah in the high post as his release point. Noah flirted with a triple-double in his fifth straight double-double, posting 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. "They had to trap DRose because he was doing whatever he wanted on the pick-and-roll," said Noah, who even mimicked holstering guns after making one jumper.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: From the looks of things, the Clippers have accepted the challenge that this difficult week might bring. Day 2 of The Gauntlet on Monday night brought the Clippers a showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team with the best record in the NBA and two of the league's top young stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And it didn't turn out to be much of a problem for the Clippers, not with six of them scoring in double figures and Blake Griffin putting on another dunk show during their 112-100 victory over the Thunder at Staples Center. Chris Paul directed the attack, producing a double-double with 26 points on 12-for-16 shooting and 14 assists, doing his part to help the Clippers build leads as big as 22 points. Paul scored 15 of the team's last 31 points. Griffin did his share to help the Clippers win to back-to-back games by scoring 22 points, including yet another stupendous dunk, over Kendrick Perkins in the third quarter. ... The play of the night was another of those highlight-reel Griffin dunks. He took a pass from Paul, rose up and slammed the ball right over Perkins while being fouled by the burly center. Griffin threw the ball down with his right hand with force, his left hand on Perkins' shoulder. Then he made the free throw to complete the three-point play. The play was shown over and over on the video screen, helping keep the fans in a frenzy. For many fans, it was no doubt similar to the dunk Griffin threw down on Timofey Mozgoz when he played for the New York Knicks.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: There’s really not much I can add, except that it was the most vicious dunk I’ve ever seen in person, and I’ve been there to witness some pretty wicked dunks from Blake Griffin the past few years – a baseline slam soaring in from the left wing in Norman comes to mind when he scrapped his head on the backboard, which thankfully was padded. I was seated behind the basket where Griffin threw down the dunk of the year in the NBA on Monday night against the Thunder. Truly scary. I can’t imagine what it looked like from Kendrick Perkins’ point of view. Glad I was lucky enough to see it. A truly amazing athlete, Griffin. Griffin’s dunk easily beat what LeBron James did Sunday as the NBA’s top dunk this season. James jumped over a crouching, 5-foot-somethin’ John Lucas III. Griffin threw it down over the 6-foot-9, 267-pound, get-outta-my-face Perkins. Any questions? Heck, even James himself chose Griffin with this tweet – @KingJames (LeBron James): “Dunk of the Year!! @blakegriffin just dunked on Kendrick Perkins so hard!! Wow!! I guess I’m #2 now. Move over #6“

  • John N. Mitchell of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Coach Doug Collins has talked about the 76ers playing consistently and on an even keel, night in and night out, no matter whom the opposition, in order to keep on rolling. And almost a third of the way of the way through the season, this is exactly what they are doing. On Monday at Wells Fargo Center, it worked again, this time producing a 74-69 victory over the Orlando Magic. The point total was the lowest the Sixers (15-7) have finished with in any game this season, but it was achieved because they held the Magic (12-9) to just 26-for-78 shooting in the game. Gradually, game by game, this year is becoming a series of mini-accomplishments that are starting to build, and allaying the fears that this season, which will be one third complete by the end of this week, is a fluke. The latest step saw the Sixers easily beat an Orlando team - they led by 19 in the fourth quarter - that had previously owned them. They held the Magic below 50 points until they finally hit 51 when Ryan Anderson scored on a put-back to make the score 68-51 Sixers with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left. On numerous occasions the crowd rose to its feet and serenaded the Sixers with applause, the loudest of which came when Elton Brand swatted a short jumper by Orlando's Dwight Howard right back in his face late in the fourth.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Slumping teams often have trouble doing the simplest things. The Magic had reached that point as Monday's game approached. Their point guards recently have faced fullcourt pressure, the Magic were having problems just bringing the ball up the floor and getting into their halfcourt offense. The difficulties began when Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley applied fullcourt pressure on Magic point guard Jameer Nelson on Jan. 23, and the tactic was so effective that teams have continued to do it at times ever since. On Sunday night, the Indiana Pacers often hounded Chris Duhon as he filled in for Nelson. Duhon committed four of Orlando's 19 turnovers in the 106-85 loss. "Yeah, we've got to handle that better," Van Gundy said. "Come on, it's the NBA. You've got to get the ball up the floor." Van Gundy and his assistant coaches want to see Duhon, Larry Hughes and Hedo Turkoglu be more aggressive handling the pressure. Instead of moving laterally, Magic coaches want to see their players maneuver more north to south.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: With the Hornets in town, the buzz was gone. No, this was not the electric atmosphere of Sunday afternoon, when the Miami Heat made a rare regular-season statement with their decision over the Chicago Bulls. Instead, it opened as every bit the struggle of the second night of the Heat's previous two home-and-home back-to-back sets. Languid. Lethargic. Listless. With New Orleans making 10 of its first 11 shots. The difference is unlike those games against the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat found their second wind and used it to blow past the West-worst Hornets 109-95 Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. "We started the game in a little bit of a fog," coach Erik Spoelstra understated. The night almost assuredly would have included LeBron James' first triple-double of the season had he been needed for the fourth quarter, which he wasn't, with the Heat up 87-68 at that stage, later pushing their lead to 27 in the fourth. Instead, James finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, leaving his last triple-double as the one he had in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

  • Sandy Newsham of The Times-Picayune: In that way, this season totally mirrors 2004-05, and that alone should give us a chill. It's understood, if not totally appreciated, that Hornets owner and NBA commissioner David Stern instituted a youth movement. It essentially was his directive, and prerogative, to knock the Hornets out of the playoffs before the season started, a status he guaranteed when he rejected a trade that would have landed the Hornets three proven starters and a valuable backup point guard. But a dump job, necessary from his perspective and totally unnecessary from this view, is the worst kind of season to ask a fan base to endure. Hornets' fans have been pelted by the owners' friendly fire. More than 10,000 of them didn't buy season tickets based on the premise that the team would more closely resemble that 18-64 squad, which was loaded with players who probably couldn't have starred on D-League teams and absolutely shouldn't have been on an NBA roster, than a team that could and would compete for a playoff spot. But that's what they have, record-wise, so far. This team is more talented than that one, but that's moot because other teams are more talented now, too. So we get to watch the Hornets meander through this 66-game season, shuffle deck chairs and determine who will stay and who has to go at the end.

  • Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: Dallas finished 13-5 in January. The Mavericks are 14-8 one-third of the way into the 66-game season and they're in first place in the Southwest Division. "If you would have asked me at Christmas and the day after, I would have said we're in trouble," Nowitzki said after scoring 10 points in Dallas' blowout victory over Phoenix on Monday night. "But I think we've come a long way since the first couple of weeks of the season. I think guys got in better shape. I think guys are learning to play off each other. And I've said this almost feels like last year. We've got a bunch of veterans who want to play and are not selfish, like Vince and Lamar. I really like the setup of the team. I think we were really worried coming into the season, losing Tyson. But the way (Brendan) Haywood has been playing is some of the same stuff Tyson was doing for us, protecting the paint, blocking shots."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: It was a late January night two years ago when the Suns turned around their season when Dallas came to town. It took Dallas' Jason Terry calling out the Suns defense on a TNT halftime interview and Suns coach Alvin Gentry going without Amar'e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson in the fourth quarter for the Suns to win and start a 28-7 close to the season that carried over into a conference finals run. That was the last time Phoenix has beaten Dallas in eight tries. Now national television doesn't want the Suns. Gentry had to be the one to call out the defense at halftime on this late January night. And if going without Stoudemire's and Richardson's offense has not been enough for this team to overcome, the Suns tried to beat the NBA champions without Steve Nash on Monday night with predictable failure in a 122-99 loss at US Airways Center. The Suns fell to 10-25 when Nash has not played but the chances are far more dire this season, although it was the defense that disintegrated without him Monday night. Dallas set a season high for scoring and the Suns yielded more points than they have this season. After taking a knee to his left thigh on the final play of Saturday night's, Nash remained sore without the flexibility to run Monday night. He remains seven assists away from breaking Kevin Johnson's franchise assists record with the Suns playing next at New Orleans on Wednesday night.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: When the locker room door finally opened, Tony Allen had a blank look on his face, a statistical report in his hand and was the only Grizzly sitting at his cubbyhole. The rest of Allen’s teammates were in the showers, trying to wash away an 83-73 loss to the San Antonio Spurs that drew boos from the FedExForum crowd Monday night and led to a lengthy players-only meeting. The topic of discussion was effort in yet another lethargic showing as the Grizzlies’ losing streak swelled to four games. In unison, O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay demanded that no one else enter the locker room after the game ended. They spent more than 20 minutes addressing the team’s lack of focus, trust, hustle, defense, rebounding and offensive execution. In other words, there is a lot wrong with the Griz, whose record fell to 10-10.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: For much of the Spurs’ past few road trips, Manu Ginobili has been a ghost. Still recovering from a broken left hand suffered Jan. 2 in Minnesota, the Spurs’ All-Star guard has been mostly hidden from public view, save for a few appearances behind the bench in street clothes. Though still a few weeks away from returning to the court, Ginobili is out of his post-surgery splint and has been cleared to do some basketball work with his repaired hand. “He’s shooting mid-range shots, lefty,” coach Gregg Popovich said Monday. “He’ll be cleared to go one-on-one in a week or so.” Ginobili remains on a timetable that should put him back on the court at some point during the Spurs’ nine-game rodeo road trip next month. Including Monday’s 83-73 victory in Memphis, the Spurs are 10-7 with Ginobili sidelined. The Spurs’ other injured guard, backup point T.J. Ford, is facing a later return from the torn left hamstring he suffered Jan. 10 at Milwaukee. “He’s further away,” Popovich said. “Hamstrings are a tricky thing.”

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: It might have seemed like the Rockets did nothing special to welcome Rick Adelman back to town. There was no special announcement, no thanks-for-the-memories video. Then the game began, and they could not have been more accommodating. When Ricky Rubio drove to the rim, they got out of the way. When Kevin Love took jumpers, they watched closely. Most of all, when Michael Beasley went to work, they were helpless. Back in Toyota Center for the first time since he was allowed to leave, Adelman walked out with a 120-108 blowout as his Timberwolves reached their season high in points while scoring more than any team had this season against the Rockets. “We never found anything defensively,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We never found a rhythm.” For most of the night, they couldn’t find the guys in the blue and gray uniforms. But Rockets guard Kyle Lowry said there was more missing than that. With the coach he fought to keep after last season down the hall, Lowry said the Rockets failed to adjust to the Minnesota offense, making it clear he was referring to strategy.

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: Rick Adelman's return to Houston on Monday was a bit more quotable than Kevin McHale's return to Minnesota was a week earlier. Surrounded by the media before the game, Adelman took the opportunity to take issue with something he had read. When McHale was hired to coach the Rockets, a column appeared in the Houston Chronicle suggesting that Adelman -- as well as his predecessor as Rockets coach, Jeff Van Gundy -- kept team owner Leslie Alexander at arm's length. Specifically, the column suggested Alexander called his coach three or four times a year but that the coach didn't pick up. "You know, I'm still waiting for that phone call he said he made to me every year," Adelman said. "I never got one, unless he was calling another Rick. I didn't think anything of it until I saw all this stuff about how I never listened to him. It was kind of a joke." He wasn't done. "[Alexander] said he used to call me three or four times a year. It never happened. ... I chose not to accept the extension they offered me. I always thought the operation was Daryl [Morey, Rockets GM] and Les talking and then when I met with Les it was Daryl, Les and I. I'm not real smart, but I'm going to listen to my boss. That kind of turned me the wrong way." That said, Adelman took pains to say how much he enjoyed his four years with the Rockets.

  • Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: Jazz guard Earl Watson is becoming contagious. He tweets words of inspiration. He constantly says an unproven Utah team can be anything it wants to be. He preaches 100 percent effort and respect for the game, demanding the Jazz not give in to lesser temptations. Anything can happen in a lockout-shortened season. Bad teams can be good. Good teams can be great. And with every victory a scrappy Utah squad collects, Watson envisions the Jazz becoming something few expected. Utah did just that Monday, heeding Watson’s words and fighting back from an 11-point third-quarter deficit to punch out the Portland Trail Blazers, 93-89, at EnergySolutions Arena before a crowd of 19,328. ... While role players such as Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans bulked up Utah’s attack, Watson simply inspired. He screamed. He fought. He smoothly ran up the court, then got chippy and confrontational when the moment required. He was everything Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin wants from his team. And Watson’s spirit embodied all he wants Utah to become. “A lot of it is Earl, man,” guard C.J. Miles said. “You can just see it. You can look out there and see Earl holding everybody accountable.”

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: If there ever was a performance that summarized the shortcomings of these maddening Trail Blazers, it came Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena, where they sprinkled a little bit of everything into one of the most painful defeats of the season. Fourth-quarter meltdown? Check. Head-scratching guard play? Check. Poor execution down the stretch that led to a loss on the road? Check and check. And, in fitting fashion for a franchise that has endured too many injuries to count in recent seasons, there even was a injury to a key rotation player. The Blazers fell 93-89 to the Utah Jazz as 19,328 watched a game Rip City has seen all too often this season. "We simply got outworked," coach Nate McMillan said. "That's what it comes down to. That team wanted it more than we did. It showed in their play. You've got to be hungry out here, especially on the road. Utah wanted it more than we did tonight." The worst part for the Blazers is the long-term availability of reserve Nicolas Batum is in question. During one of the most important plays of the game, Batum drove the lane for a potential game-tying basket in the closing seconds only to twist his left knee and collapse to the ground. He immediately writhed around in pain on the arena floor and had to be helped to the visiting locker room.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Jonas Jerebko says the rookie wall is very real. He remembers his rookie season two years ago and recalls a game at Orlando in which he just wasn't there physically or mentally -- mostly mentally. But there isn't a whole lot of worry from the Pistons about their latest outstanding rookie, Brandon Knight, when it comes to the rookie wall -- including from Knight himself. "I heard there was a rookie wall," Knight said Monday at the morning shoot-around before facing the Bucks. "I don't plan on finding out about it, either." Knight played 24 minutes in the Pistons' 103-82 loss at Milwaukee Monday night. He had two assists and didn't score. Knight is second in the league among rookies in minutes played, and the Pistons have been impressed with his professionalism. Despite his 21 years, he gets it when it comes to diet, exercise and proper rest. Knight credits his father for sound advice. "My dad told me if I'm going to do something, do everything the right way," Knight said. "It's kind of something that was instilled in me." Knight also watched veterans and copied their routines.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: When he split two defenders and flipped in a left-handed layup to beat the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Kyrie Irving officially put the rest of the league on notice. The Cavaliers have a budding superstar again, and at 19 years, 312 days, Irving became the third-youngest NBA player to make a game-winning shot since the start of the 2002-03 season, according to STATS, LLC. “When you take shots like that, there is no pressure, unless you’re unprepared,” Irving said. “You practice shots like that, moves like that, all the time. It’s a game of percentages. You’re going to make some and miss some. If you miss one, you look back on it and say, ‘I’ll get the next one.’ ”

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Positive. Intense. Funny. Ask any Indiana Pacers player who has been on the roster for the past two seasons and those are some of the adjectives used to describe coach Frank Vogel. It was a year ago this week that the Pacers organization changed. Former coach Jim O'Brien, criticized for his know-it-all attitude and failure to relate to younger players, had worn out his welcome. Enter Vogel, first as interim head coach, then as O'Brien's permanent replacement. Heading into tonight's home game against New Jersey, Vogel, 38, is 33-24 since taking over for O'Brien on Jan. 30, 2011. "It was a change of pace, it was a breath of fresh air from what we were used to, getting beat down a lot," swingman Dahntay Jones said. "He's developed his own style and tried to give guys encouragement and helped guys overachieve."