First Cup: Wednesday

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
5:10
AM ET
  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Yet there is no mistaking Anthony’s mood shift over the last seven days, coinciding with a new Knicks winning streak and a change in coaches from Mike D’Antoni to Mike Woodson. The good times continued Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden as the Knicks rolled past the lowly Toronto Raptors, 106-87, stretching their winning streak to four games. Anthony is still searching for his jump shot (5 for 15), but he put together a complete game, with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, along with some animated defense and many gleeful grins along the way. ... Anthony had chafed under D’Antoni’s direction and sagged through the Knicks’ six-game losing streak, ultimately leading to D’Antoni’s resignation last week. Anthony’s renewal and Woodson’s firm hand have sparked the Knicks’ longest winning streak since early February, when they won seven in a row. Each of the last four wins has been by 14 points or greater. “I think now we’re playing at a different level, a very high level,” Anthony said. ... Asked why Anthony would not have given the same effort in the first two months of the season, Woodson said: “I can’t explain it. I can’t explain that. I can’t. I wish I could. We probably wouldn’t be sitting in this position that we’re sitting in today, fighting for a playoff spot.”
  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Coming into Tuesday’s game Bargnani appeared to be slowly rounding into the scoring form he had before a 20-game layoff with a left calf strain. Casey sees the progress and he’s fine with that. What he’s not fine with, however, is the slippage in Bargnani’s defence. As apparent and understandable his offensive struggles have been since returning from the long layoff, Casey seemed more concerned about his game at the other end of the floor. “Defensively he’s kind of been a step off too,” Casey said. “I told him I understand the offence being (slow to come) but there’s no reason defensively that you can’t be where you are supposed to be. It’s not effort. It’s more focus and recognizing the situation." ... In the six games since his return, Bargnani has averaged 12.8 points and 5.2 rebounds. As a team the Raps have given up an average of 102.2 points since his return. For the year opponents are averaging 94.8 points against Toronto. One change for Bargnani Tuesday night was the lifting of his minutes restriction. It was a preventative measure put in by Casey to ensure he didn’t overwork Bargnani too early in his comeback.
  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: Yao is adjusting to his new life as a college student at Jiao Tong University in his hometown of Shanghai. The nine-hour days are a far cry from life as an NBA player. ... Yao says his left foot, which suffered fractured bones at least three times, is fine, “good enough for walking, but not good enough for playing in a basketball game,” but he looks a little chunky. That happens when you stop working out and start working. Aside from his studies, Yao keeps busy as the owner of Yao Ming Family Wines, which released a Napa Valley cabernet in China late last year and plans to begin selling in the U.S. this year. Yao also owns a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. The Shanghai Sharks made the playoffs this season with Marcus Landry, younger brother of Yao’s former Rockets teammate Carl Landry, leading the way. The Rockets are Yao’s team too, and despite being so far away, Houston will always be his American home. “Just coming to the building, as soon as I drove my car onto the highway, I already felt the emotions,” Yao said. “Everything is just so familiar. It lasted almost 10 years. But today I walked in with a different (identity). But I feel very happy.” It was a fun, emotional night for the universally liked and respected big man. He clapped as the Rockets chased the Lakers down to claim an important win, undoubtedly reminiscing about the days when the crowd cheered wildly for him. Yao sat courtside next to former Rocket Robert Horry, who played only four years in Houston but won two championships. Horry went on to win five more titles in a 16-year career. Basically, Yao played seven NBA seasons, missing more than 20 games due to injuries in three of those. He retired with that single playoff series win. It must be difficult not to wonder what if. “I like to look forward,” Yao said. “There are no ifs. There are no ifs.”
  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: In the end, coach Mike Brown insisted he wasn't as upset with center Andrew Bynum's third-quarter ejection as he was with the Lakers' porous defense and lack of hustle during a 107-104 loss Tuesday night to the Houston Rockets. Brown also said he wasn't as concerned about Bynum's lack of discipline with the game up for grabs as he was with the Lakers' inability to keep the shorthanded Rockets from picking them apart when it mattered most. "Our defense is the worst it's been all year," Brown said after the Lakers lost their second in a row after a five-game winning streak. "The last seven or eight games, we just haven't been playing well defensively. "We score 104 points in a regulation game. We shoot 51 percent from the field. Are you kidding me? We can't play good enough defense and box out and come up with enough rebounds to stop them (the Rockets) from winning the game?" Kobe Bryant brushed off Bynum's ejection by saying he likes the way the 7-footer plays with "a chip on his shoulder," and to take away that part of his game would take away something that makes him a force in the paint.
  • Toney Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune: Tuesday’s 97-90 loss to the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena may have exposed a flaw that could become fatal if left to fester. The Thunder have slowly but surely become very vulnerable to physical teams with the size and the depth to score and defend in the paint. As fate would have it, the Utah Jazz are one of those teams. For the entire game Tuesday night, the Jazz picked at that flaw like a scab, taking turns pounding the ball inside to Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, drawing fouls on Kendrick Perkins, and closing up the middle on Durant. It was an all-around performance that bothered the Thunder. Perkins was seen talking to himself angrily during the loss. James Harden left the locker room in 10 minutes, headphones on, without so much as a word to the media. ... The blueprint for playing with Oklahoma City is out: Score a bunch of paint points, don’t let the Thunder score a bunch of points on offensive rebounds, and try to force either Durant or Russell Westbrook to have a tough shooting night. The latter is obviously easier said than accomplished. The Jazz, however, did all of that and more Tuesday night.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: This team’s inconsistency is a full blown problem. There’s no other way to put it. Don’t think for a second that the Thunder is good enough to turn it on 20 games from now and drown its deficiencies. Right now, the Thunder isn’t even playing like the final 20 games are enough to correct the problems. The freighting thing is we might not have even seen rock bottom yet. The current 10-game stretch that started tonight could expose the Thunder like we’ve never seen. This is by far the toughest portion of the schedule, and unless the Thunder gets its act together we could be in for several more stinkers. ... Something told me that nothing good could come from KD and Russell Westbrook combining to score 23 of the Thunder’s 25 first-quarter points. It’s been proven, time and time again, that the Thunder is at its best when everyone is involved offensively. Tonight, a pair of free throws by Serge Ibaka were the only other points for OKC in the first period. I’d say the first six minutes or so was really good offense. The last six minutes of the first quarter looked like ‘Let’s get it to our All-Stars and let them make a play.” In the end, the All-Stars didn’t have it, and it cost the Thunder the game.
  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Frank Vogel may not make George Hill the starting point guard, but what he did during the fourth quarter Tuesday was just as effective. Vogel went with Hill over Darren Collison the entire fourth quarter. You can’t blame Vogel for making that call. Hill scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, dished out six assists and didn’t have any turnovers in 28 minutes off the bench. Collison, meanwhile, had four points, two assists and a turnover in 25 minutes. ... Hill was always looking up the court trying to find the open man while also still being aggressive with his shot. To Collison’s credit, he was up cheering his teammates throughout the fourth quarter when they led by as many as 19 points. It’ll be interesting if Vogel will make the switch or keep things the way they are, with the exception of going with Hill in the fourth quarter of close games. If Tuesday was any indication, it should be an easy decision for Vogel.
  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: The company line from Clippers players and coaches this season has been that this team will score points. The emphasis will be on defense because on offense, the team is too skilled not to fill it up. But after a 102-89 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night, maybe it is time to rethink that stance. The Clippers have scored 100 points in just two of their last 12 games and haven’t cracked the century mark in their last seven. In Indiana, the team looked like it was going to get there without much problem in the first quarter as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin led the team to 31 points in the quarter. But for as efficient as the offense was, the defense was a mess, letting the Pacers get easy baskets in transition and on offensive rebounds. The Clippers, desperate for points, didn’t do themselves any favors, hitting only 9 of 20 from the free-throw line. Indiana hit 24 of 26 from the line.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks guard Monta Ellis could feel the love from the Golden State fans when he saw the YouTube video of the crowd booing co-owner Joe Lacob at halftime of Monday's game against Minnesota in Oakland. The fans booed Lacob as he made remarks to honor Chris Mullin, who had his jersey retired by the franchise Monday. Mullin and former Warriors great Rick Barry tried to intervene to support Lacob, but Barry's lecture to the crowd was greeted with more boos. Ellis laughed when asked about the video and whether he had seen it, after the team's shoot-around Tuesday morning. "It was a pretty crazy scene," Ellis said. "I don't really know what to say, but I love those fans. I know they love me, too." ... Ellis also said he wasn't upset about the trade. "It was past due with us and we knew they had to make a move," Ellis said.
  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: Tuesday night, for the first time since announcing his retirement in December, three-time All-Star Brandon Roy walked back into the building where he used to star. Joined by his wife, Tiana, Roy’s appearance was meant as a means to surprise his good friend Jamal Crawford, Portland’s backup shooting guard. As he walked toward his courtside seat across from his the Blazers’ bench, the arena’s sound system blared the “Rocky” theme music, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation that lasted at least a minute. He then seemed to point to Crawford, and was greeted by Joel Przybilla, who put his arms out as if to say, “What are you doing here?” “It was good to see him, Przybilla said. “He had a smile on his face. I just wish we could have gotten a win for him.” Neither Crawford nor any of the Blazers knew that Roy would be making an appearance. As a result, it had its intended effect.
  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: You’re worried about the fact that your center rebounds like a point guard, that Chris Bosh sometimes drifts, that Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry haven’t earned consistent minutes, that Udonis Haslem is often a finger-tip short. But here’s the thing: None of these guys are good enough to earn a rotation spot for the games that matter. Spot duty? Perhaps. But Erik Spoelstra is likely to shrink his rotation to 8 or 9, as he did during the 2011 playoffs, only turning to Juwan Howard out of desperation. And when he does, he’s likely to go with the guys he trusts, guys who know his defensive system by heart. I can’t envision him cutting significantly into Haslem’s minutes, and he is not going to shelve Anthony — especially against quicker frontcourts — considering the way he plays against the pick-and-roll. So stress all you want. But I can’t stress enough: Nobody Miami signs this week will average more than 8 minutes per postseason game — and my prediction is only that high, to protect myself from garbage time.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns have shown interest in power forward J.J. Hickson, but he is likely to pick Golden State once he clears waivers today. Hickson, 23, was bought out Monday by Sacramento and needs a situation where he can resurrect his career after falling out of favor with Sacramento. Golden State is down a big man after trading Ekpe Udoh with Monta Ellis to Milwaukee and getting back injured center Andrew Bogut. In Phoenix, the Suns would have to curtail the development of rookie power forward Markieff Morris in order to play Hickson at a position where they already have Hakim Warrick out of the rotation. The Suns considered drafting Hickson in 2008 when they took Robin Lopez with the 15th pick. Hickson fell to No. 19, where he was taken by Cleveland when Suns General Manager Lance Blanks was in the front office there.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings had the opportunity to offer Jason Thompson a contract extension by Jan. 25. The deadline passed without an extension for the fourth-year power forward. That didn't go unnoticed by Thompson. "That was on my mind, but it wasn't on my mind," he said. "It was just about playing consistently." Thompson has done that and become a player the Kings want to keep. By reaching a buyout agreement and waiving forward J.J. Hickson on Monday, the Kings showed Thompson is someone they see playing a part in their future. Hickson and Thompson were in position to receive qualifying offers and become restricted free agents this offseason. The Kings would be able to match any offer to their restricted free agents. "At some point, if you go back to the beginning of the season, we were going to have to make a decision on both of those players in regards to a qualifying offer or not to give them a qualifying offer," Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie said. "We felt we were going to qualify Jason, and his play continues to be in the home improvement aisle."
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: For some reason, the Grizzlies are distracted and less dynamic than normal on defense. Credit the Sacramento Kings for causing some of that. But mostly blame the Grizzlies for being outworked and for lacking intensity throughout a 119-110 loss Tuesday night before a crowd of 11,105 in the Power Balance Pavilion. “We got our butts kicked because we didn’t play hard and we didn’t play together,” Griz coach Lionel Hollins said. “We’ve got to compete and be committed to playing defense and committed to being focused.” With Randolph and a full complement of players, the Griz still are a bunch that relies on overwhelming opponents with aggressiveness and a string of stops. The Griz packed neither to start a four-game West Coast trip that shifts to Portland for a game Thursday against the Trail Blazers.

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