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First Cup: Thursday

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: So we’re to believe James Harden was rushed, that he wasn’t given enough time to decide whether to stay with the Thunder or bolt, so to speak. Harden said Thunder general manager Sam Presti gave him one hour to accept a four-year, $54-million extension, or he would be traded to the Houston Rockets. “After everything we established – everything we had done – you give me an hour?” Harden told Yahoo! Sports. “This was one of the biggest decisions of my life. I wanted to go home and pray about it. It hurt me. It hurt.” Truth is, this all didn’t come down to one hour. There were 16 previous weeks of talks. Evidently, at no point while winning an Olympic gold medal, throwing an all-white (attire) yacht party and making it rain at a topless bar during the offseason did Harden feel any urgency to ponder the Thunder’s latest offer. From the get-go, it was evident Harden would not get a four-year max extension from OKC, or roughly $60 million, before the league’s Halloween deadline. … A deadline had come and somebody had to make a move. For nearly four months, that move was Harden’s to make. When that last hour was up, it was Presti who took control. Whose fault is that?

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Accountability. That’s the only way the Pacers will be able to stay afloat for the next three months without Danny Granger. Everybody has to be responsible for their actions. The unit that hasn’t been accountable this season is the bench. I’m still waiting to see the upgrade. Lance Stephenson was effective offensively in the third quarter, but that changed once the Hawks went to a zone in the fourth quarter. Vogel had nowhere to turn in that fourth quarter when Kyle Korver was running Stephenson ragged through screens. Vogel couldn’t turn to Sam Young or Gerald Green. So he tried change things up with the players he had on the court. He put Hill on Korver and Stephenson on Jeff Teague. There was no way Stephenson could stay in front Teague. But again, it’s not like Vogel could go to his bench.

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: The version of the Lakers appearing Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena was so lifeless and so ineffective that the Jazz can receive only so much credit for a 95-86 win. The Jazz obviously had something to do with the Lakers’ struggles, hounding them defensively andcontinually outworking them. If both of these teams were supposed to be desperate, having each lost three of four games to open the season, only one of them played that way. The Jazz’s effort was evident from the start, when Paul Millsap blocked a Dwight Howard shot and Gordon Hayward stripped Kobe Bryant and drove for a dunk. They’re not always artistic, but they’re trying. … So they got a win, mostly because the Lakers (1-4) played worse in falling to last place in the entire Western Conference. I’d suggest clipping and saving today’s NBA standings, just for fun. As for the Jazz (2-3), nobody should be sure how much value to place in this victory. Jazz center Al Jefferson, for one, struggled with the proper framing. "We really can’t be happy with it," he said, before clarifying, "we’re happy with it, but we can’t celebrate too long." That’s because more evidence is required to say the Jazz have ironed out their offense.

  • Mike_Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant was still seething as he sat in front of his locker, acknowledging he played with an anger and fire he hadn't displayed in a while. "Just a little bit," he said, practically spitting out the words. Why? "Nothin' I care to share," he said. Bad sign for the Lakers. Bryant is mad. Or maybe it's a good sign. It can't hurt at this point. If Bryant was angry with Pau Gasol, it made sense. The four-time All-Star had five points in 36 minutes, missing seven of nine shots as the Lakers were outmuscled badly by the smaller but tougher Jazz. If Bryant's mad at Coach Mike Brown, he's not alone. Lakers fans are displaying little to no patience for the Princeton-based offense that has taken one victory in five games. If Bryant's irritated with himself, he shouldn't be. He had 29 points and made 15 of 17 from the free-throw line, though his six turnovers were a problem on a team that seemingly loves to give the ball to opponents. If he's mad at the Utah crowd, he should also perish the thought, even if Jazz fans hurled a mildly obscene chant upon the Lakers in the final minute of play. It was completely accurate. The Lakers really do, um, stink these days.

  • Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: How ridiculously talented are the Heat this year? How ruthlessly efficient has Showtime East been on offense through five games? It's actually become a fair question to wonder whether the Heat at times pass up too many open shots in pursuit of the perfect look. … It's early, yes, but the Heat used this mini-test against a rising Eastern Conference foe to build their reputation as an offensive juggernaut. "The ball is popping, it's moving, the unselfishness has become contagious," Spoelstra said. "The ego-less part of it, I think, is one of our biggest strides right now. … The ball just moves to the open man." It's not just the Heat's scoring average, which sits at an even 110 as they embark on a six-game road trip over the next two weeks. Points per possession — at both ends of the floor — are much more meaningful to Spoelstra, who couldn't have had many complaints with the way the ball was moving on offense in the first half.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: With contracts signed, the roster set and their summer transformation complete, the Nets quickly crafted a vague outline for their bright new future, with one overarching goal: to catch the Miami Heat. No team was mentioned more often by Nets officials this fall. With a starry new backcourt and a replenished lineup, their sights were set high. Eventually, the Nets might meet that lofty vision. For now, the gap remains considerable, even glaring. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade needed less than three quarters Wednesday night to demonstrate the point, and the Heat cruised to a 103-73 rout at American Airlines Arena, dealing the Nets (1-2) their worst loss of this young season. ... The Nets shot poorly from the perimeter, rarely got into the paint and never did find a way to slow down the N.B.A.’s pre-eminent superstar tandem. James and Wade combined for 42 points, nearly matching the entire Nets starting lineup. “Nobody said we were on Miami’s level,” Coach Avery Johnson said. “We aspire to get there. We’re not there. We’re definitely not there with three games in the regular season.” As Johnson pointedly noted, it took the Heat (4-1) a while to develop an identity when they brought Wade, James and Chris Bosh together in 2010. Wade himself stressed that the Nets will need patience as Deron William and Joe Johnson get acclimated to one another. The process apparently will be ugly at times.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: People want to know when Chauncey Billups will return to the court. He was asked Wednesday morning after the Clippers' shootaround. "I'm not going to throw a date out, obviously," Billups said. Less than six hours later, Billups appeared on ESPN's Countdown and told a different story. "Barring any setbacks," Billups said, "I'm hoping in a month I'll be back out there." He was asked about his return for a third time before the Clippers' game with San Antonio and gave a third answer. "Write whatever you want," he said. The main reason why Billups' return date is cloudy is because it's actually a mystery. At this point, Billups said he's playing at game speed in practice without soreness in his Achilles' tendon. "It's been nothing in my Achilles'. My Achilles' is great. It's strong, powerful," Billups said. "It's recalibrating the rest of my body, getting it up to speed, telling it 'It's time to go.'"

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: He doesn’t like to do it. In fact, he admits he despises it. But until NBA players such as DeAndre Jordan learn to make more of their free throws than they miss, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is not going to stop calling for intentional fouls against them to force them to the foul line. “That’s a lie,” Popovich said, straight-faced, when asked before Wednesday’s Spurs-Clippers game at Staples Center if he again intended to employ intentional fouls against Jordan. “I have never hacked anybody on purpose.” In fact, Popovich has been one of the most frequent employers of the tactic, from calling for ‘Hack-A-Shaq’ against Shaquille O’Neal to using it against Jordan and teammate Blake Griffin in the Western Conference semifinals in May. “Yes, we’ll use it again tonight,” Popovich said before tipoff. “I think it’s ugly. I think it’s awful. But it’s legal. It’s there. If somebody doesn’t want to get hacked, they should shoot free throws better. “Shooting free throws is part of the game, but I’ve got to admit it’s an ugly thing when that Spurs coach does that.”

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics wanted to get off to a positive start this season, definitely one better than last season’s 5-9 start, during which they looked completely unprepared following the lockout. Rajon Rondo, the anointed team leader, points to Sept. 4 as a critical date for the development of this retooled Celtics club. That’s when many members of the team showed up in Waltham and played intense pickup games, attempting to develop chemistry and get a jump start on the new season. But it seems regardless of how many offseason workouts that attempt to simulate real practices, no matter how much hanging out and bonding teammates do, and how much players rehearse game situations, nothing compares with actual NBA games. That’s when chemistry is built. At 2-2, the Celtics hardly look capable of making a title run, but it’s still early November and there is plenty of time to gain cohesion and develop into a contender.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Telegram: Rick Carlisle has a shiny diamond ring he won when he led the Dallas Mavericks to the 2011 NBA championship. But the Mavs coach accomplished something Wednesday he's never accomplished since he became the team's coach in 2008. With a 109-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors, Carlisle got the Mavs off to a 4-1 start for the first time in his five seasons in Dallas. The win enabled the Mavs to sweep a three-game homestand before they start a two-game road trip Friday in New York against the unbeaten Knicks. Playing the Raptors without Dirk Nowitzki (knee), Shawn Marion (knee), Rodrigue Beaubois (ankle) and Elton Brand left the Mavs with only 11 healthy bodies in uniform. But they were able to fight and scratch and reach the 4-1 mark for the first time since 2007-08.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The burning question about Vince Carter was always about his heart, his effort, and whether he had it in him to be as great as his jaw-dropping athleticism would allow him to be. Would he put in the extra hours? Would he develop every facet of his game? Would he last? Or would he be an NBA supernova, one of the gifted few who flash before our eyes and burn out as rapidly, leaving fans to wonder: Is that all there was? Well, it’s been a decade and a half since a scrawny 21-year-old Carter became a Raptor. He’s in his 15th NBA season and no matter what you think of him, or what memories or emotions he evokes, there is something to be said for the staying power of the Dallas Mavericks swingman.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: With the Bulls up 99-93 against the Magic and 3.8 seconds left in the game on Tuesday, Noah fired up a three-pointer in hopes of cracking the 100-point total and getting the fans at the United Center free Big Macs through a promotion the team had going. “Talk to Joakim about that,’’ Robinson told the media after the game. Media types weren’t the only ones who wanted to talk to Noah about it. Coach Tom Thibodeau was not pleased with Noah’s decision. “I talked to him about it, but I’m going to keep that private,” Thibodeau said after Wednesday’s practice. Not that Noah needed a visit to the principal’s office to know it was wrong. He realized that right after the game.

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The 76ers were without swingman Jason Richardson and center Kwame Brown for Wednesday's game against the New Orleans Hornets, and that might not change for at least the remainder of this three-game road trip. Coach Doug Collins said Brown, who aggravated a calf strain Monday, would almost certainly not be ready to play in Boston on Friday night or in Toronto on Saturday night. "His calf is as large as a grapefruit," Collins said. Richardson, who sprained his left ankle on Sunday, is making more progress, but a return against Boston would be unlikely as well. Additionally, of course, the Sixers are still without projected starting center Andrew Bynum, for whom the organization is not presenting any time line concerning his first appearance of the season.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Pekovic share more in common than a first name. They hail from Montenegro and have played together on the country’s national team. They even hung out a bit this afternoon. But they will put their friendship on a temporary hiatus a few hours from now, when Vucevic’s Orlando Magic faces Pekovic’s Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center. “We talk really often,” said Vucevic, who prefers to shorten his name to "Nik" in the U.S. “We talk about everything. As a player, he’s a very strong dude. He’s basically one of the strongest big guys in the NBA, and he uses his body great. He knows what his strengths are and he uses that. It’s very tough to guard him.” Pekovic is a good scorer and is one of the NBA’s most physical players — so much so that Dwight Howard once likened facing him to a mixed martial arts fight.

  • Brian T. Smith Special to The Denver Post: Ty Lawson dominated his personal battle Wednesday, pouring in a game-high 21 points and dishing out eight assists during Denver's 93-87 victory over the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Lawson exposed Houston point guard Jeremy Lin in the process, limiting his counterpart to just six points on 2-of-9 shooting. Early in the game, Nuggets coach George Karl believed Lawson was settling: deferring instead of distributing, reacting instead of attacking. Lawson responded with a second-quarter outburst, unloading 14 points in 3:21. He buried two 3s and made three layups, consistently blowing by Lin. By the time Lawson's burn was over, it was 54-39 Nuggets, and Denver (2-3) was sprinting toward its first road victory.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Long after the Rockets’ loss, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin were on the Toyota Center practice court working on their shots. Mostly, however, they might have been working off frustration. “I’m just frustrated, man,” Parsons said. “I could be playing so much better. Missing the shot is the last of my worries. People are going to miss and make shots. It would have been a big shot that would have helped our team. But little things. I’m turning the ball over too much, having (Danilo) Gallinari just tip the ball over me is just effort. That’s usually what I do to people. It’s frustrating to allow that to happen. We got to be a team that’s going to win games even when we miss shots. We got to move the ball. We got to cut hard. We have to run in transition. We got to get back in transition. We have to rebound, dive on the floor. We have to do all the scrappy things.”

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Action got heated with 10 minutes left when Kings rookie Thomas Robinson nailed Jonas Jerebko in the neck with an elbow. Veteran referee Bennett Salvatore ejected Robinson with a Flagrant-2 and Jerebko lay on floor for a few minutes clutching his throat. The Sacramento Bee reported Robinson wasn't in the locker room after the game, but Tyreke Evans said Robinson did apologize to this teammates for his flagrant foul. Evans added that Robinson said Jerebko “flopped a little.” It was a rough night all around for Jerebko, who was also hit in the right eye earlier.

  • Kyle Veazey of The Commercial-Appeal: To some, the $175 million in debt that Robert Pera's ownership group took on to help its purchase of the Memphis Grizzlies may be eye-opening. But not in the world of the NBA, one of its executives said Wednesday. "There is nothing unusual about the financing to acquire the Grizzlies," said Rob Friedrich, a vice president of the NBA and the league's general counsel. "It is standard in the context of team acquisitions and fully compliant with the NBA's debt policies. The financial wherewithal of Robert Pera and this ownership group is very strong and the team remains on a very solid financial footing." The Pera-led group closed on the $377 million purchase of the franchise from Michael Heisley late last month. A source told The Commercial Appeal Monday night that the group used $125 million available to NBA teams through the league's credit facility and another $50 million in bank financing to close the deal. But that's nothing new in the NBA. Nineteen of the league's 30 teams use the league's $2.3 billion credit facility, and many use it to the $125 million per-franchise maximum.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: If you really love the NBA, you probably have the league’s official Register and Guide, publications that are very good and are printed annually. If you want to go a step further, get Harvey Pollack’s 2012-13 Statistical Yearbook. It’s the bible of NBA trivia and statistical analysis and has been printed every year since 1968. Flip to any page and you’ll learn something you didn’t know before. Like how many assist-rebound double-doubles there were in the league last season (there were 18, including six by Boston’s Rajon Rondo). The book is 355 pages of pure enlightenment. Pollack, by the way, is the only person left who has worked for the NBA in some capacity in all 66 years of its existence. He’s 90.