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First Cup: Thursday

11/1/2012
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: All that was left for James Harden to do was drive Royce White to Atlanta. He did everything else — much more than even he could have imagined. This is what it means to be a “foundational player,” as Daryl Morey called Harden on the night he acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is why Morey placed a five-year, $80 million contract extension in front of him in a small room next to the Rockets’ locker room before Wednesday night’s game. The Rockets then went out and beat the Detroit Pistons 105-96, blowing the hosts off the floor in the fourth quarter because they had Harden and the Pistons didn’t. Of all the times the Rockets have been Kobed or CP3ed in the past few seasons when sublime players took tight games and made them their own, the Rockets had precisely what they have lacked since Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady’s bodies betrayed them. … Harden’s 37 points tied the second most ever scored by a player making his debut with a team and the most for a Rockets player in his debut, easily topping the 28 points Lewis Lloyd scored in the 1983-84 opener. Perhaps more impressive than his scoring were the 12 assists (along with six rebounds and four steals), making Harden the first Rockets player to go for 37 points and 12 assists in a game since Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1994-95 season.

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: If you are into dance and music, The Palace is the place to be. Owner Tom Gores has brought Hollywood to Detroit. Now if only he could bring the Lakers. The Pistons worked hard in spots, but the music and bass stole the show at The Palace again. The Pistons lost to the Houston Rockets, 105-96, Wednesday night and it is hardly the way you want to begin the season, considering a six-game, nine-day road trip awaits. The Pistons are at least entertaining. They play up-tempo, but it is easy to see they are not ready for prime time just yet. And, that is fine for now. This is a season for developing roles and chemistry. But, folks, this is the last time I will say this: It is the final straw. It is the final season we can talk about development. The franchise was frozen while the sale of the Pistons played out for way too many months after the death of Bill Davidson.

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: If there could be a sunny takeaway from a season's second game on a dreary night at the Rose Garden, it was that Dwight Howard was back. The best center in basketball was himself on Halloween, putting a scare in the Portland Trail Blazers on an otherwise spooky night for the Lakers. Actually, from the free-throw line, Howard more closely resembled sharpshooter Steve Nash, an encouraging sign for a team that desperately needed one. He made eight consecutive free throws during one stretch and 15 of 19 overall on the way to a sterling 33-point, 14-rebound effort during the Lakers' 116-106 loss Wednesday. “So, do I get my Halloween candy?” Howard asked a team spokeswoman in the locker room. “I made my free throws.” The Lakers have major issues, among them a dinged-up Nash, a nonexistent bench and a Princeton offense that doesn't look capable of thriving at the NAIA level. Howard could not be listed among the worries Wednesday.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: So Lakers 38-year-old point guard Steve Nash came as a hobbling 1980s Kirk Gibson. And a frustrated Kobe Bryant came as one of those bright yellow Angry Birds. And Los Angeles forward Ron Artest appeared not to dress up, and acted the same as always, but insisted he was "World Peace." And apologies to long-time Portland broadcaster Bill Schonely, but Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard came as the mayor of RIP CITY. Portland beat Los Angeles 116-106 on Wednesday. Lillard had 23 points and 11 assists. And it should be noted that if Lillard decided to announce his candidacy for mayor in next Tuesday's election, I have no doubt that Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith would end up deadlocked, in a 1-1 tie, and find themselves in a run-off for second place. Lillard already owns a little piece of Portland. Gobbled it up, one dribble at a time while the city's jaw was dropped. The rookie point guard was the leader, but came off the court Wednesday and followed all his teammates off the floor and down the hallway to the locker room dead last. A few steps in front of him was first-year coach Terry Stotts, grinning like a Jack-o-Lantern, 1-0 as a Blazer.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Last spring the Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies played seven bruising games of basketball, leaving Blake Griffin and Chris Paul limping into the second round against San Antonio. And while it’s been 172 days since the two teams played, the intensity and physicality hasn’t stopped boiling. During the Clippers’ 101-92 victory at Staples Center on Wednesday, Griffin and forward Zach Randolph traded shoves and glares. Eric Bledsoe flexed after being knocked to the floor. Vinny Del Negro stomped on the sidelines and pleaded for calls. "After the series we had with them last season, you would expect that," Del Negro said. "I think we enjoy it. I think it's good for some of our guys." A capacity Staples Center crowd chanted and cheered until through the final seconds and howled as Paul lobbed a pass to DeAndre Jordan for a thunderous one-handed dunk. Before the game, Paul and Griffin addressed the crowd, and Paul told fans that he thought the Clippers were a “special team.” Two-and-half hours later, the team did their best to show the crowd why.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Grizzlies have a young core and great expectations of making noise in the Western Conference under the umbrella of new ownership. There's no other way to sum up a vastly different brand that landed in Memphis nearly 12 years ago. But there's one thing the Griz just haven't been able to shake: Opening night blues. Memphis' 101-92 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night in Staples Center marked the 12th straight defeat to start an NBA regular season since the Griz moved to the Bluff City. The game was the season opener for both teams, and also a rematch of one of only two first-round playoff series that went seven games last season. Memphis lost that decisive game in FedExForum.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: All along, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard swore he wouldn’t let his poor shooting numbers in the preseason get to him. When the games started to count, he said over and over, the shots would start to fall. Nobody was more relieved than Leonard when that’s exactly what happened in the Spurs’ 99-95 season-opening victory Wednesday at New Orleans. In one of the best all-around games of his young career, Leonard scored 19 points, making 6 of 13 shots and 3 of 6 on 3-pointers, to go with seven rebounds and five steals. “The first game of the season, it’s always good to start off good,” said Leonard, an All-Rookie first-team selection last season. “We’ve got 81 more games to go. We can’t be too high on the high horse.” If nothing else, Leonard showed his mental toughness, recovering from a dreadful preseason in which he made just 13 of 49 field goals and was 2 of 15 from 3-point range.

  • Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune: He's a hard worker with a great attitude. He's more frustrated than anyone about his injury-riddled tenure in New Orleans. Here's what we know about him so far: He's played in nine of a possible 67 games since he arrived in town. He apparently has suffered the most severe minor knee injury in modern athletic history. He looks good in a suit. This is how it's been since Dec. 28, when Eric Gordon missed the first of his 58 games as a Hornet. Since then there's been much talk and little action from the fifth-year shooting guard from Indiana. Gordon and the Hornets talk the talk. Then game day comes, and Gordon walks the walk to his usual spot at the end of the bench. Gordon didn't speak to the media on Wednesday. He was escorted Elvis-like by security through a side door to the locker room after he arrived at New Orleans Arena. Of course, at this point, I'm not sure what's left to say. We've pretty much heard everything by now, haven't we? Gordon's lingering knee injury is New Orleans' greatest mystery since Ray Nagin's mayoral re-election in 2006.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: When Taj Gibson entered the locker room before Wednesday's season opener, he glumly said he "highly doubted" he would change his mind and accept the Bulls' offer of a four-year contract extension. By night's end, Gibson had tears in his eyes for different reasons — the celebratory kind. With general manager Gar Forman, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and Mark Bartelstein, Gibson's Chicago-based agent, working throughout the game, a deal just beat the 10:59 p.m. deadline. "This is where I want to be," Gibson said. "I feel relief." Gibson said the extension, which runs through the 2016-17 season, is for four years and $38 million. But two sources said numerous incentives would need to be reached for the package to hit that number. The base pay averages just over $8 million annually, sources said.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Point guard Stephen Curry signed a four-year contract extension with the Warriors on Wednesday, the team announced. Team sources said the deal is for $44 million. Curry said accepting the offer was an easy decision because he got a nice salary, the security he hoped, and he gets to stay a Warrior. "I thought the deal was too good to pass up right now," Curry said. "I've been through a lot of injuries the past year and a half. It's back strong and ready to go. ... I'm just excited about the future." News of Curry's extension set off a debate in the Bay Area. Many wondered if the Warriors committed too much to a player who missed nearly a third of the games the last two seasons with multiple ankle sprains. Still, others contended the Warriors made a smart move by locking Curry up at a lower price while his ankle is still a concern. One fact seems fairly unanimous: Curry would have gotten much more if not for his ankle problems. He's had two surgeries on his right ankle in the past two years.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: A year after leaving the Suns and quickly turning up at Golden State in the same role, Rick Welts has endeared himself just as much to his new organization. Welts, Golden State’s president and chief operating officer, spent nine years at the business helm of the Suns but has a rare opportunity to turn around a franchise with a dedicated fan base and lead the construction of a downtown San Francisco arena. “He is just a quality, quality human being. His resume speaks for itself,” Golden State owner Joe Lacob said. “He’s been around the NBA for 30 years, seen it all and is very well-respected. More than anything else, he has a great work ethic and he meshes with the ownership group. We just get along great, see eye to eye and finish each other’s sentences. I don’t even have to think twice when Rick says something. If he says it, I believe it to be true.”

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: Spencer Hawes addressed the fans before the season opener, wishing them a Happy Halloween and encouraging them to support the 76ers this season. By the end of the evening, the Philly faithful was chanting his name and serenaded him with “M-V-P, M-V-P” twice. It was that kind of night for Hawes, who wasn’t typically a fan favorite during the past two seasons. Hawes finished with game-highs in points (16), rebounds (12) and blocked shots (five) in an 84-75 victory over the Nuggets on Wednesday night in front of 19,101 fans at the Wells Fargo Center. Asked the last time he heard folks chant “M-V-P” to him, Hawes replied, “Uh, high school.”

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Wednesday was George Karl's first opportunity to talk to the media about Ty Lawson's contract ex- tension. Karl's offense needs a smart, speedy point guard. And the Nuggets have locked up Lawson for four more years after this season. "(Team executives) Masai (Ujiri) and Josh (Kroenke) do a great job of taking care of our young guys," Karl said. "I just think Ty is one of the up-and-coming point guards in our league, and he's our motor. The way we play, we need a point guard who can make decisions and get in the paint as much as possible. "Now he can focus on the season and try to be an all-star point guard."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The sign of the Pacers being a “team” was on display in the locker room after their impressive come-from-behind victory over the Toronto Raptors. Roy Hibbert was over at his locker relaxing before heading to the shower yapping it up with his teammates. The big fella could careless about missing all four shots he attempted while going scoreless in the second half. “That was the best scoreless half of my career,” he said. “I’ll take a victory over individual stats any game.” Hibbert’s scoreless second half came after he scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds in the first half. But, again, all Hibbert was worried about was the Pacers getting the victory after stinking up the Air Canada Center for three quarters.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Leading the game for almost all of the second half and with that lead as big as 11 at one point, the Raptors had no answer for David West down the stretch as the Pacers forward torched the hosts for 14 points in the final frame, helping Indiana to a 90-88 win. While West did most of the work to get them there, it was a George Hill floater over Jonas Valanciunas after a video replay on a loose ball out of bounds which gave Indy one more possession that finished the Raptors off. With 2.2 seconds to go, the Raps ran a play for Andrea Bargnani but fittingly it was West again, this time defensively, getting in Bargnani’s way and altering his shot which fell short. For West, it was one heck of a fourth quarter. For the Raptors it was another reminder that they’re not there yet. Closing out games was a huge bugaboo last year and at least in Game 1 of the regular season, it was again. The Raptors’ final basket of the night was a Kyle Lowry finger roll with 4:31 left to go. It was all Indiana from that point on. DeMar DeRozan, a guy who just before game time was rewarded with a four-year contract extension that will pay him $38-million before incentives, had plenty to think about after the game but immediately on his mind was the frustration of once again being unable to put an opponent away in a winnable game.