First Cup: Wednesday

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers have gone from not being able to win in the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers to now not being able to lose in the building. George Hill made a layup with 0.1 seconds left to give the Pacers a 79-77 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. The Pacers have won three straight against the Lakers at Staples Center after never winning in the building before. Hill led the Pacers with 19 points, and David West added 16 points and 10 rebounds. With the score tied at 77, Hill turned the corner, got a step on Pau Gasol and with Dwight Howard coming, Hill laid it up over the big man's outstretched arms to give the Pacers a 79-77 lead with 0.1 seconds left.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Mike D'Antoni's pretty system got a reality check Tuesday night against an Indiana Pacers team leading the NBA in field-goal percentage defense. And when the game needed to be decided by a pretty play, it was Pacers guard George Hill who blew past Pau Gasol and his tendinitis-stricken knees and lofted a layup in before Dwight Howard could come over to block it. The Pacers won, 79-77, at Staples Center with Hill's basket falling with a 10th of a second left in the game — overcoming Kobe Bryant's tying 3-pointer with 24.5 seconds left. … "It was just awful," D'Antoni said. "Bad shooting." The worst shooting game for any NBA team this season was Charlotte's 29.1 percent at Oklahoma City. Indiana came in allowing just 40.8 percent field-goal shooting to opponents this season. Gasol returned home from his tumultuous times on the Lakers' just-completed trip and had the ignominy of having five shots blocked — making only two. He still played the last half of the fourth quarter and did contribute some free throws. He then passed up a 15-foot jumper and fed Howard for a dunk and 74-74 tie with 1:56 to play.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: James Harden insisted again and again that his first game against the Oklahoma City Thunder will be just another game. He was not sure how he would feel Wednesday when he returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena and that uber-exuberant crowd roars, he said,but he didn’t think he would be more emotional than in any other game. “I’m on the road trying to get a win,” Harden said Tuesday. “That’s no different than when we played at Memphis or Atlanta or whatever the case may be.” Harden was dealt to the Rockets days before the start of the regular season when he could not come to an agreement on a contract extension with the Thunder. The Rockets signed him to a five-year, $80 million max deal. He said he never expected to leave Oklahoma City after the trip to the NBA Finals last season or through the summer on the Olympic team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but he refuses to consider the game special. “To be honest, I don’t even know,” he said. “It will be good to see some faces, some old teammates and coaches. They’re all my family. I look forward to every single game I play. It’s just another game.” But guard Daequan Cook, who was traded with Harden and Cole Aldrich in the deal, said Harden will be especially driven Wednesday.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: It wasn’t entirely fixed by any means but as Raptors coach Dwane Casey discussed his team’s defensive effort Tuesday, he called himself pleased with the improvements he’d seen over the last week or so. And then Tuesday night happened and it will be back to the drawing board on Wednesday in Memphis. A complete collapse in almost every defensive facet of the game — bad in the halfcourt, worse in transition and mistakes fuelled by a spate of silly turnovers — the Raptors were routed 117-101 by the Houston Rockets and suffered their fifth loss in a row. Even a mild fourth-quarter run and an excellent night from rookie Terrence Ross — 21 points and a series of impressive dunks — couldn’t mask the root problem for Toronto: Porous defence. The Rockets shot better than 50 per cent from the field, led by as many as 27 in the third quarter and were never really threatened.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Goran Dragic came into the league stating hopes of becoming an All-Star and then was stripped of his confidence. His transformation has led to a point guard who will not be discouraged by rough patches. Coming off being dominated by Jrue Holiday on Sunday, Dragic made three turnovers in the first seven minutes Tuesday but just kept coming until he wound up with 19 points and seven assists. He also has found his 3-point range, hitting 10 of 21 in the past four games.

  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: There are several All-Star caliber centers in the NBA. But none of them are putting up the type of numbers Anderson Varejao is. “To me, he’s the best center in the NBA,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. “He’s by far the best in the Eastern Conference. Coaches and players are starting to recognize how well he’s playing. He has nine games of 15 or more rebounds. I don’t think there’s anyone in the league close to that right now.” Varejao is averaging 14.1 points, a league-high 14.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s also shooting 51 percent from the field and 77.8 percent from the foul line. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot from 15 feet any longer. “We told him to shoot the ball when he had open shots,” Scott said. “This year, he has a lot more confidence taking shots. We’re running the offense through him. He’s the facilitator.”

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Elton Brand knows the fan base well. So, he has a pretty good idea what Sixers center Andrew Bynum is going through as the anticipated savior deals with knee problems that have prohibited him from taking the court yet this season. "It's tough as a player," Brand said. "I came here with high aspirations, sort of similar to Bynum, and getting hurt was tough. But you have to keep grinding and try to get out there. I think it will turn out well for the city and well for the fans. Hopefully, he can get out there and play, if not this season, then next season and add his low-post presence to all those shooters they added. It's tough. You have to weigh what's best. If you come back too early, it could really complicate things even further, and there will be no contract at all if you get hurt again, so you definitely have to weigh that when you're a player coming off of injury." He also feels the pain of the Philly faithful. "It might seem like the city is jinxed," Brand said. "They were about to win the World Series [Phillies in 2008] and I think it snowed [to delay the title]. [Fans said] 'God's against us'. But they ended up winning that World Series and I think the basketball team will eventually turn that corner and guys will be healthy and they'll turn it around. It's just been some bad luck."

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Not even a very surprising lineup change could shake the Dallas Mavericks out of their doldrums. Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young combined for 42 points, and the Philadelphia 76ers barely hung on for a 100-98 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center. … Carlisle juggled his starting lineup with the biggest shakeup being the fact that point guard Darren Collison was out of it for the first time this season. Collison was coming off a two-point, four-turnover and 1-of-10 field goal-shooting performance during Saturday's 115-89 humbling loss at home to the Los Angeles Lakers. Dominique Jones started in Collison's place against the Sixers and finished with two points and four turnovers. "Am I happy about the situation? Nah," Collison said. "...I know how hard I worked, and I'm still going to try to lead this team to victories in the near future, and I'm still going to try to make an impact like I tried to do today." Collison finished with 12 points, six assists, five steals and four turnovers in 30 minutes in one of his better games of the season. Afterward, he admitted to playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. "But to be honest, my motivation was just winning the game," Collison said. "... I really just wanted to come in the game and just try to help my teammates out. I'm not in for all that drama stuff." Carlisle tried to downplay the fact that he removed Collison from the starting lineup.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves waved farewell both to Kevin Love's blasted padded glove and their five-game losing streak with Tuesday night's 97-89 victory at Sacramento. Love kept off that protective, fingerless glove he ripped off during Saturday's fourth quarter at Golden State because he said it was restricting him from being the real Kevin Love. Without it, he delivered the kind of 23-point, 24-rebound, 44-minute performance to which Wolves fans have become accustomed ever since his 30-point, 30-rebound game in Nov. 2011, the first such game in the NBA since 1982. On Tuesday, it looked for awhile as if he were aiming to do it all over again, if only a few more of his three-pointers had gone in on a night when he made just two and missed six of them. The real Kevin Love? "Yeah, he did, he did look like it," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "That was one of the more complete games he has played. He let the game come to him. He passed the ball. He set screens. He made shots. He rebounded it. It was just a complete all-around game. He told me he felt good all along, and we sure needed it."

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Why was Evans so badly miscast in the first place? OK, so that's history. But now? Why is he making fewer and fewer of those familiar mistakes? In some respects, the answer is simple. Evans is no longer a man without a country. After two seasons as the point guard-primary ballhandler and a third as a struggling, demoralized small forward, Smart identified him as a slashing, scoring, playmaking shooting guard and returned him to the backcourt alongside Aaron Brooks. If not quite transformational – let's talk after the season – Evans' improvement is more than a little intriguing for a number of reasons, among them his contract status. He will become a restricted free agent next summer and can entertain offers. While the Kings retain the right to match, an excellent season assuredly increases the price tag. "People say, 'Maybe it's (his progress) because he's in a deal year,' " Smart said. "I don't think so. I think he's too genuine for that. He's a genuine guy. He just loves to play ball." It's true. Evans loves to play ball. He loves the entire scene – the camaraderie in the locker room, the quiet chats with teammates, the post-practice shooting duels, the sense of belonging. While Evans' skills have been dissected and at times harshly critiqued within his own locker room, his teammates' affection and fondness have never wavered.