First Cup: Monday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Heat forward Mike Miller tried his best to duck out of the Heat’s locker room on Saturday night without talking to reporters. Alas, they caught him at the door. One of the heroes of last season’s NBA championship, Miller has become notorious during this preseason for playfully trying to elude the media. On practice days, he cuts out of workouts as fast as possible and often jokes with reporters that he’s halfway home to Palm Beach County before the press is escorted into the Heat’s practice gym. Just about the only thing Miller wants to talk about this season is his new energy drink venture, Let It Fly. But on Saturday, he was cornered. There was no flying anywhere for the Heat’s sharpshooter. While LeBron James milled about in the locker room off to the side and Dwyane Wade hurried himself to get showered and dressed for Saturday night’s football game between the University of Miami and Florida State, Miller held court, reluctantly, on the big game he had played and his remarkable recovery from a bad back that, just a few months earlier, had threatened to end his career.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Just because preseason games don't count in the standings doesn't make the outcome completely irrelevant. For the Kings, every chance to play is meaningful as the franchise looks to return to the playoffs after six consecutive losing seasons. And Sunday night, the Kings faced a championship contender that was taking the game seriously, too. The biggest name to change teams in the offseason – All-Star center Dwight Howard – made his debut for the Lakers at Staples Center. The Kings decided not to be admirers of the Lakers' new lineup. And by the end of the night, a preseason game had the look and feel of the regular season in a 99-92 Kings win. "You look in the building, this was not a preseason game," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "You had guys (for the Lakers) trying to get a win here and that didn't happen. But our guys made that not happen because they made the right plays at the right time for our team." Smart reminds his team it has a long way to go before it can be a playoff team, so playing the Lakers is a test before the regular season.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: After six months of back rehab and endless questioning about his return, Dwight Howard could finally smile. He could finally play. He could finally experience what it's like to play with a Hall of Fame-type supporting cast against an actual opponent. He could finallymake his debut in what the Lakers hope marks the beginning of a long-term relationship that consists of multiple championships and another retired jersey in the Staples Center rafters. Howard's 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 12 rebounds and four blocks in 33 minutes weren't enough to stop the Lakers' preseason struggles. Their 99-92 loss Sunday to the Sacramento Kings in front of 18,997 at Staples Center worsened the Lakers' preseason record to 0-6, their worst start since the team officially kept preseason statistics since 1982. They also committed 22 turnovers. But Howard provided examples on why the organization felt giddy after acquiring him this offseason from the Orlando Magic in a blockbuster four-team, 12-player trade. "I'm so thankful to be back on the court after coming off a serious surgery," Howard said. "I'm going to make the best of it."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Dirk Nowitzki’s knee surgery has left the Mavericks with no choice but to take a giant leap into the future. And no matter what the Mavericks look like without their franchise icon, they cannot afford to take a “hold the fort” mentality while Nowitzki is out. There are too many opportunities for loads of players to do that. Plus, the schedule is ultra-favorable. Even without Nowitzki, the Mavericks should be able to get off to a decent start when the regular season on Oct. 30. For starters, of their first 12 games, eight of them are against teams that were in the lottery last season. True, the opening back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers and at Utah will not be easy. But after that, it’s a soft schedule for the following three weeks. By the end of that stretch, Nowitzki will be itching to return to action.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Magic owner Rich DeVos, recovering from a mild stroke last month, still came equipped with his usual wit Sunday night. I asked him if he felt close to 100 percent. DeVos laughed from his wheelchair, “I’ve don’t think I’ve ever been 100 percent.” DeVos said the toughest thing after the stroke was “not being able to read for a while. I love to read. That was the hardest. “I’m fading, I guess.” DeVos, 86, attended Sunday night’s preseason game against the San Antonio Spurs. He will be in town for Monday’s annual luncheon with Magic coaches and players

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The thing that impressed me most tonight was Kevin Durant’s passing. His improvement as a playmaker was evident last year, but he looks even more comfortable creating this year. He had five assists and would have had more if a few of his passes weren’t fumbled. Then there was this. Zero turnovers. Durant has had more turnovers than assists in every year he’s been in the league. But he has a certain bounce about him now that says “I got this.” Against the Nuggets, it didn’t matter who was on him or how many visiting players were blocking his path. Durant got to his spot and made the best decision once there, be it pulling up or dump-off passes to big men. This could be a big year from KD as a playmaker.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves starting point guard Luke Ridnour stayed at work long after Sunday's practice, even though he only mostly shot during it and afterward declared himself "feeling much better." He said he intends to play the final two preseason games this week after receiving a cortisone shot to treat a herniated disc in his back Friday. More than 280 people nationwide have contracted fungal meningitis from contaminated steroid injections, and 23 people have died. Ridnour said he did his homework before getting his injection. "I made sure," he said. "I checked it like three times, though." Ridnour has missed three of five preseason games because of pain being caused by that herniated disc. "I feel good about where I'm at with it, just getting it calmed down," he said.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: What is the value of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau? That’s a question with no easy answer. Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf thinks Thibodeau is worth four more years and close to $18 million, as evidenced by the contract extension he just handed him. Stats geeks and numbers crunchers might measure Thibodeau by an expected number of victories, comparing the Bulls’ performance in various areas to that of their opponents. The problem with mashing Thibodeau into a formula is that there is a relatively small sample size (two seasons as a head coach) and that star Derrick Rose played in only 39 games last season. But it’s the value the players put on Thibodeau that matters most. And that’s a test Thibodeau is passing with flying colors. … “… one of the reasons we trust him is he puts the time in. When you have a guy that puts as much time in as Thibs, you should trust it,’’ says Carlos Boozer.

  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: With John Farrell now helming the Boston Red Sox, Dwane Casey, hired just 16 months ago, is the longest-tenured head coach of Toronto’s major sporting outfits. But he doesn’t see any great achievement in his new standing and hopes that it will be something mentioned years down the line instead of so soon into his time with the Raptors. “I haven’t thought about that, hopefully I’m here for a while because we’ve got something good that’s growing,” Casey said after practice on Sunday. … The Raptors wisely picked up Casey’s option for the 2013-14 season just days after the 2011-12 campaign — one which saw him completely turn around the team’s defence — came to a close. … Though Toronto’s other teams continue the search for stability, it seems like the Raptors finally have found some.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Fuming, Randy Wittman took several seconds to gather himself before acknowledging his assistant coaches, who were circling around him, waiting for some instruction. Wittman finally sat down, scribbled on his white erase board and reminded his players to stick to the plays as they are drawn up before he finally moved on. “Our effort, has got to be a constant for us. Going out and playing with that every night,” Wittman said, adding that he wants to make sure “we don’t take nights off from an effort level and we keep striving to improve.” The Wizards (2-4) haven’t been placed in the most ideal situation this preseason, with their two best players sidelined with injury and several others missing time for various ailments. But at no point has Wittman used the absence of John Wall, Nene, or anyone else as an excuse — nor has he allowed any slippage from the players he has left. Wittman won over his team after stepping in as a midseason replacement for Flip Saunders last January, and his low-key yet demanding, sometimes ornery and often hilarious style is already connecting with the new players the Wizards have added in the past few months.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Of all their problems, the Cavs’ inability to rebound this preseason is most troubling to coach Byron Scott. “Terrible,” Scott said when asked what he thinks of the Cavs’ rebounding efforts this month. “We haven’t done a good job with that. It’s something we keep emphasizing, something our guys are very aware of. We have to be a very sound defensive team in order to be successful.” The Cavs have been outrebounded in three of their five preseason games against NBA teams. Against the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers, two expected playoff teams in the East, the Cavs were pounded on the boards by a combined 103-73. Preseason averages can be deceiving, since no one is playing their typical minutes, but Kyrie Irving, C.J. Miles, Daniel Gibson, Dion Waiters, Omri Casspi and Samardo Samuels are all averaging less than three rebounds per game. The most alarming of those is Samuels, who has only managed to grab five rebounds in 59 minutes.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Roy Hibbert’s definitely not letting the lucrative contract he signed over the summer go to his head. The Big Fella still likes to have fun and interact with Pacers fans. That was evident on Sunday afternoon when he surprised folks shopping at Circle Centre Mall and joined some of his Area 55 members by doing a rendition of Psy’s Gangnam Style. Hibbert and the Area 55 members had this in the works for a few works. He would have his two-a-day practice with the team then meet with Area 55 so that they could work on their dance moves.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The last time Kendall Marshall missed a game, it shook the NCAA basketball world when his March wrist fracture might have cost North Carolina a national championship. His absence from Wednesday night’s game was far less noticeable with the Suns, whose top two point guards (Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair) are clear and who are leaning toward keeping a fourth point guard in speedy 6-foot-5 rookie Diante Garrett. Riding the bench for a game was a stark change for Marshall, who already has to adjust to a reserve’s briefer stints. He could not recall ever sitting out a game when healthy. … He has 11 assists and seven turnovers and would be in a roster-spot battle with Garrett if his contract was not guaranteed for the first two years as a first-round pick.

  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Jefferson’s relationship with Kanter, the Jazz top pick in the 2011 draft, is generally known to be that of a teasing big brother, chiding him for child-like bursts and keeping him in line as a rookie last season. But Jefferson has also emerged as a patient counselor, working with Kanter on post moves with one commonly repeated direction: "Do what I do." The pair worked on that baseline jump shot in the pregame warm-ups of Saturday’s game, and when the player Jefferson calls "my young fella" followed through, Jefferson said he felt like a "proud father." The results have been undeniable. In the preseason, Kanter is averaging 11 points and 9.5 rebounds through six games, up from 4.6 and 4.2 a year ago. Kanter gives the credit to Jefferson.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Leandro Barbosa can do the math. He is fully aware that when Avery Bradley is healthy there will almost certainly be four guards ahead of him on the depth chart — Rajon Rondo, Bradley, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. But that didn’t stop him from jumping on the Celtics’ offer of one year at the veteran minimum. … Asked about the backcourt traffic ahead of him, Barbosa didn’t blink. “That will be on Doc’s call,” said Barbosa. “I think he’s the coach; he knows what he has to do. I’m here to help. They’re all good players. You know, I’m here just to help, and as soon as I get my chance to go on the court, I’m just going to try to do my best to succeed and help the team. It’s an experienced team, so I’m still young. I’m here to learn, too. So whatever happens happens. …”

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Through three weeks into the preseason, New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis has progressed so rapidly that Coach Monty Williams has used him at multiple positions and has run set plays designed to take advantage of his mid-range shooting. If he continues to develop as a scoring threat in the post and perimeter, Davis could eventually cause matchup problems much the same way Dallas Mavericks 7-foot forward Dirk Nowitzki imposes on teams because of his shooting ability. Already, Davis has developed a high release on his jump shot similar to Nowitzki that makes it difficult for defenders to block. … Starting when the Hornets open against the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 31, Davis will see more teams play him physical in an attempt to force him out of the post. That’s what Atlanta did last week, when Hawks Coach Larry Drew had veteran Josh Smith play Davis straight up early in the game, and he banged into him repeatedly.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Avery Johnson seemed heartened by a workout he called the “hardest practice that we’ve had,” which included a few “borderline continuations of last night’s boxing match” at Barclays Center. Johnson said that last part with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eyes. He has always been partial to fighters on the basketball court. But that only served to underline a broader concern: that the Nets still lack the snarl and the defensive tenacity required of a contender. “This team does not have the personality that I thought it would have at this point,” Johnson said. “That has been somewhat of a disappointment.” He added: “We don’t have a hit-first mentality. And if you don’t have a hit-first mentality, then you’re going to get hit. So that’s what I’m talking about.” Johnson has raised these concerns before, but this was by far his strongest statement on the subject. With 11 days to go until opening night, it sounded like an alarm bell. Or a warning shot.