First Cup: Monday

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kendrick Perkins recently rounded up Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to sit them down for a talk that he considered much-needed and, perhaps, long overdue. The big man wanted both to check their egos at the door. He wanted his All-Star teammates to cool it on any stat-padding and selfishness and anything else rooted in the wrong place that can work its way into a marathon season. Perkins wanted Durant and Westbrook both to sell out for the team. “We're getting close to the end of the season, and everything is over with as far as the All-Star Game and all that other stuff,” Perkins said. “So we can just concentrate on getting better as a ballclub and taking steps to trying to reach our goal.” If you're searching for what's gotten into Westbrook over the past two weeks, we suggest you start with that conversation. Something about it seems to have done wonders for Westbrook. Ever since, Westbrook has shot up to special. He's taken his already spectacular skill set to an even higher level in the blink of an eye and captained the Thunder on a six-game winning streak. Westbrook used Sunday's 92-78 win over Chicago to confirm what has been clear for weeks: he's in the midst of the best ball of his career. “He's grown up right in front of our eyes,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Asked directly if his injured groin will allow him to play at any point in the Bulls' final 12 regular-season games, Derrick Rose sighed. "I think so," he said. "It's up to me, so, yeah, I think I am." During a pregame interview with ESPN's Ric Bucher on Sunday, Rose hinted at returning next week. And the Bulls' injury carousel keeps spinning. Along those lines, coach Tom Thibodeau more emphatically stated he's the one deciding to continue holding Richard Hamilton out. Hamilton endured a rigorous three-on-three session at Saturday's practice and said he's ready to return from his sprained right shoulder but has no issue with Thibodeau's decision. "I told him I'm comfortable with whatever he wants to do — if we need to shoot more or take more hits," Hamilton said. "(Saturday), we did a little more so it was a little sore but it was a good sore. So we'll see. Hopefully, (Monday)." Hamilton missed his 14th straight game Sunday.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Avery Bradley has brought a new dimension to the Celtics’ starting lineup since replacing injured Ray Allen. While his offensive numbers do not match Allen’s, he has provided the team with another staunch backcourt defender - just witness how he bottled up Miami’s Dwyane Wade in Sunday’s91-72 win at TD Garden. Wade finished 6 for 17 shooting for 15 points, and Bradley (13 points) highlighted his effort with an impressive block of a Wade dunk attempt in the second quarter. Allen has missed the past seven games with an ankle injury, and coach Doc Rivers was asked whether Allen would automatically return to the starting lineup when healthy. "I don’t know, we’re playing well but we’ve also played well with Ray by the way,’’ Rivers said. “I think people forget that part. The good thing is we have options and we have players with confidence and we have a lot of them.’’ The combination of Mickael Pietrus (before he sustained a concussion March 23) and Bradley has vastly improved Boston’s defense in the backcourt. Bradley was primarily used as a backup to Rajon Rondo and started eight games (Jan. 20-Feb. 1) when Rondo was out with a sprained right wrist. Bradley has averaged 12.6 points and three rebounds in the past five games, and his defense early in games has helped the Celtics to establish their game.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: In the first of three games the teams will play in April, the Celtics humiliated the Heat, a pattern that has become the road norm for the Heat lately against top-tier competition. "This was a good, old-fashioned you-know-what," LeBron James said after going without an assist for only the second time in his career. "We've got to own it, and we've got to get better. "We've got to figure it out before the playoffs. ... We understand we have to fix this right now." The Heat are now 6-5 in their last 11 games overall and 3-7 in their last 10 road games. "You've got to figure it out," said guard Dwyane Wade, who was victimized by a humbling blocked shot by Celtics guard Avery Bradley and shot just 6 of 17. "We'll figure it out. That's what good teams do." Then there was power forward Chris Bosh, who shot 2 of 7, rarely playing with aggression. "We have to fix it," Bosh said. "We have to have a better sense of urgency. We still have some basketball left, not a lot, but some basketball to change it." On one hand, anything to keep the Heat away from the Celtics in the playoffs, at least in the first round, probably is a good thing. On the other hand, the Heat hardly have the look of a team prepared for when the games will count the most starting at the end of the month. For now, the road misery should subside for a while, if only because 10 of their next 13 are at home.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Andrew Bynum sat in front of his locker before the game Sunday night with what looked like an adult-sized sleeping bag enveloping his entire right leg. It was actually a cutting-edge compression system, which Bynum has been using for weeks to limit swelling, because by now the Lakers know that Bynum's right knee can swell from a cross wind. Then Bynum's breakthrough season on the All-Star team while staying healthy every game went on red alert because of a traditional, everyday basketball injury: an ankle sprain from landing on someone's foot. Bynum left the Lakers' 120-112 victory over the Golden State Warriors late in the first quarter because of a moderate sprain of his left ankle and did not return. He walked out of Staples Center on Sunday night under his own power and told teammates the sprain was "not a big deal." Without Bynum, the Lakers' best quality this season – defense – deteriorated against a patchwork Golden State lineup. But with Kobe Bryant delivering a major bounce-back game to go with Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions' efficiency, the Lakers still had the firepower to score a season high and survive allowing their opponent season high in points.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: The Warriors have San Antonio's first-round pick and the second-round choices of New Jersey and Atlanta in the 2012 draft. They could end up with a fourth pick if they're among the first seven selections post-lottery and thus don't have to convey their pick to Utah. With rookies Klay Thompson, Jeremy Tyler and Charles Jenkins expected to be back with the Warriors next season and fellow first-year players Chris Wright and Mickell Gladness still being evaluated, it's unlikely that the Warriors will want to add three or four more inexperienced players to the 2012-13 roster. They could package some of the picks to move up in the draft or to keep their top-seven-protected choice, but there's also some consideration of a draft-and-stash. San Antonio has been probably the most successful franchise in selecting players who either haven't completed their European contracts or need more polish before starting their NBA careers. "This isn't the strongest international class, but we're considering a lot of possibilities right now," Warriors general manager Larry Riley said.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: When the season began, Nuggets rookie forward Kenneth Faried wasn't playing at all. Now the first-round draft pick is playing crucial fourth-quarter minutes. Faried is learning the nuances of the NBA game and earning respect from coach George Karl. Faried helped the Nuggets beat the Magic 104-101 on Sunday by grabbing a team-high nine rebounds. He blocked two shots in the final four minutes. "Jameer (Nelson) was coming down the lane," Faried said of his first block, "and he was hitting that shot all game, so I wanted to show him, like, 'Hey, we're going stop this now and we're going to win this game.' He was trying to take over the game. As for Ryan Anderson, he came quickly and it was shocking how quick the back cut was, but I still got up high enough and got my hand on it." Faried leads NBA rookies in rebounds, averaging 7.1 per game. "It's fun for me to outrun bigs, make coaches get mad and call timeouts," Faried said. "And it's fun to outrebound a guy and give him headaches and think: 'Why is he always on the glass? Won't he just stop?' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic's general manager treats his team like family, so it's no surprise that Otis rushed to his brother Wilbur's side recently after getting the grim news. "It's the single most important thing to me. I dropped everything else," Otis said. A constant presence at every Magic game and practice, he missed several games to be where he was really needed. Cancer had made another visit to the Smith family. Wilbur, 43, five years younger than Otis, had been stricken with colon cancer. Otis lost his mother to breast cancer at age 56 and his father, also to colon cancer, at 72. While Otis obviously has the most high-profile job in the family, he admires Wilbur – and not because the two brothers are so much alike. Wilbur works with kids as an administrator at a Springfield, Mass. boarding school. "When he's hurting, I hurt with him. If he's going through it, I'm going through it with him," Otis said. "Every opportunity I get to be with him, I will be with him." Smith has four brothers and five sisters, but says, ""I'm a little more protective of Wilbur. He's the baby."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: It was one of those games where you wonder why Danny Granger can’t play that well all the time. Granger played within the offense. He didn’t try to do too much by forcing shots. He looked to make extra passes. He rebounded instead of trying to leak down court for easy baskets. He even blocked a couple of shots, with his last one preserving the victory for the Pacers. Granger had probably his most complete game of the season when he scored 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-8 from long distance, grabbed seven rebounds, had three assists and blocked two shots in 37 minutes. Sunday was the third straight game that Granger has shot at least 50 percent from the field. “It was just going for me,” Granger said. “My shot was falling. For the most part they ran a lot of plays for me. I got some open shots and I knocked them down.”

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Pacers got the ball to Danny Granger and Goran Dragic quickly fouled him, stopping the clock. Dragic, however, has become the Rockets most irreplaceable player and fouled out on the play. The Rockets needed him on the floor. Anyone else could have committed the foul, but instead Dragic had to take it and a seat on the Rockets’ bench. Dragic had ended up on Granger on a switch. The Rockets usually switch on screens late in games, especially when they need a turnover. That’s why Patrick Patterson, Courtney Lee and Chandler Parsons were finishing games so often, even when the Rockets were healthy. They were switching again on Sunday. Dragic, however, said he told Parsons not to switch with him. “I told CP not to switch because I knew they were going to pass to Granger,” Dragic said. “Just a miscommunication. I got caught in the wrong spot and had to take that sixth foul.” Parsons said the strategy had not changed. “It wasn’t a mistake,” Parsons said. “We were switching to get a steal, see if we may cause a turnover. “We were switching everything because they were spacing us out. We wanted to gamble a little bit and go for a steal at the end of the game. We didn’t want to foul right away.” That makes perfect sense, but it should not have been Dragic trying to come up with the turnover or be forced to foul.

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: LaMarcus Aldridge will probably be able to deal with not making the playoffs. But it would have been awfully hard for him to cope if he couldn’t offer Kevin Love a little payback. The last time Minnesota came to the Rose Garden, Love racked up 42 points and 10 rebounds while treating Aldridge like a sparring partner. This time, it was Aldridge who came out swinging. The Trail Blazers beat the Timberwolves 119-106 Sunday as six Portland players scored in double digits. Aldridge figured most prominently in the stat sheet, scoring 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting while collecting eight rebounds. But his more personal motivation became evident when he and Love engaged in a brief shoving match in the second quarter. The game’s subplot had suddenly become the primary storyline. “That was just two guys going hard,” Aldridge said. “Two guys competing.” Yeah, right. Last year, Love earned the final spot on the Western Conference All-Star team, leaving Aldridge feeling snubbed again. And when Love last came to Portland, he tripled Aldridge’s scoring output. And even though Love still managed 26 points and nine rebounds Sunday, for one game, he was clearly the second-best power forward on the court.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The last time the Timberwolves visited Portland, they walked out of the Rose Garden and into the night winners over the Trail Blazers for the first time in nearly five years. They also left with a winning 19-18 record and fleeting possession of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot after vaulting over the Blazers in one victorious evening. Twenty-nine days later, they trudged off the Rose Garden court looking defeated in more ways than one after a 119-106 loss. "Things have changed," Wolves forward Kevin Love said. "Things have changed a lot." Back then, Ricky Rubio still was the team's rookie sensation and the Wolves ended a four-game Western road trip a very respectable 2-2. They then headed home for a four-game stand that included that fateful night against the Lakers when Rubio clutched his knee in pain after tearing two ligaments in his left knee. On Sunday, they again played without four of their top six starters and lost for the fifth time in seven games. They're now 3 1/2 games behind Houston for that final playoff spot, with Utah, Phoenix and the Blazers all standing between them and the Rockets and 12 games left to play.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: If it seems hard to believe that Grant Hill could return from Friday's knee surgery before the season ends, consider this detail: his right knee has been less swollen following team physician Thomas Carter's surgery than it had before the non-optional scope. Hill's expectation to return for some of Suns' remaining 14 games was clear Sunday, when he returned to US Airways Center for the first time since having the medial meniscus tear repaired. He was cleared to get off crutches Sunday night. "I think I can," Hill said. "Doc is pleased with the surgery and what he saw in there. I'll be back this year." Hill will travel with the Suns in order to rehabilitate the knee with Suns head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson and the staff. The Suns leave today for a three-game, four-day trip and play seven of their next eight games on the road. "We can get a lot done," Hill said. "We'll get double, triple sessions in daily. Being with Aaron and the training staff is the ideal scenario."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: After having only eight players available in the previous two games, the Hornets got some needed help with the return of center Chris Kaman and forward Gustavo Ayon on Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns. Even though each played more than 24 minutes, the Hornets still didn't have enough to avoid a 92-75 loss to the Suns at the US Airways Center. It was the Hornets' third consecutive loss, and they closed out their extended road trip losing four of five games, which included Saturday's 88-85 defeat to the Lakers in which they stifled guard Kobe Bryant into missing his first 15 shots. ``I think that we ran out of gas, but I also think that it was a bit of an excuse,'' Hornets Coach Monty Williams said. ``We have been situations before off of a back-to-back and this was the first time that I thought it affected us from an energy standpoint. I thought the ball didn't move tonight. You can't win games on the road with 19 turnovers and not getting to the free throw line.''

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Five times a day, Gary Forbes takes a tiny needle and plunges it into his body; every day he goes out and pushes himself to the limits of his endurance against some of the greatest athletes in the world, oblivious to the illness, the injections, the routine that is little more than, well, routine. Forbes, an emerging late-season key piece with the Raptors, is a Type 1 diabetic, the injections are insulin, the monitoring of his condition is practically constant but a nuisance more than anything. “It’s a manageable disease,” the 26-year-old Forbes said. “I’ve had it now for eight years, went through different ups and downs and learning and stuff like that but I’m still coming out here every day and competing with the best players in the world.” Forbes has become a tireless worker for diabetes awareness and promoting the idea that it’s not an impediment to athletic excellence. Forget looking at his 6-foot-7, 220-pound body to see the evidence — he’s taking his message as public as he can. He runs a camp for kids in his hometown that promotes diet and lifestyle as much as basketball; he works with the tireless Raptors community relations staff and the Canadian Diabetes Association, spreading the word. Forbes knows first hand how relatively easy it is to deal with diabetes, but he feels it’s part of his job to get the message out.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Nene and Trevor Booker were both seated on the bench, wearing identical walking boots on their left feet and seemingly matching gray suit jackets, as the Washington Wizards took on the Toronto Raptors on Sunday at Air Canada Centre. With their usual starting center and power forward both out with pulled plantar fascias, the Wizards fielded their youngest starting lineup in franchise history — two rookies and three second-year players — as replacements Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin and regular starters John Wall, Jordan Crawford and Chris Singleton took to the court. Coach Randy Wittman has joked that leading such a young team has led his hair to get a little grayer, and his players gave him reason to scoff, scream and fold his arms in frustration as the Wizards fell behind by 15 points in the fourth quarter. But his team made a valiant charge, twice getting within three points in the final 78 seconds, until it simply ran out of time and lost in Toronto for the fifth consecutive time, 99-92.