First Cup: Thursday

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: After a franchise-record 12-game losing streak to open the season, the Wizards showed that winning can be an excruciating experience as well. They blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and put fans at Verizon Center through an unnecessarily suspenseful finish before defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, 84-82. Elation followed, but it was muted. No streamers fell from rafters. No champagne celebrations in the locker room. Just the realization that the Wizards (1-12) still have the NBA’s worst record — but at least they are no longer winless. “It’s about time,” reserve swingman Martell Webster said. “Should’ve been here.”

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: After reaching the lowest point of the season, dropping a depressing game to a Washington Wizards team that was threatening to establish a new record for NBA futility, Wesley Matthews retreated to the Trail Blazers locker room and pondered the moment. The Blazers had just lost to the previously winless Wizards 84-82 before 14,114 at the Verizon Center Wednesday night, falling for the third consecutive time at the start of a season-long seven-game East Coast trip. All of the early-season mojo the Blazers had created, when they played free and easy and fun, had devolved into an ugly, lethargic mess, and the team appeared to be teetering toward a free-fall. So as Matthews lingered in the corner stall of a solemn and depressed locker room, he decided he had to speak up. Sitting in his chair, an emotional Matthews urged his teammates to continue to believe, to continue to play with pride and passion and resolve.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The aftermath of Wednesday night’s brawl with the Brooklyn Nets could be costly for the Celtics, who may lose Rajon Rondo for multiple games if the league office levies a suspension. Rondo and Brooklyn’s Kris Humphrieswere the central figures in a fight that spilled into the stands under the east basket with 29.5 seconds left in the first half. The NBA frowns upon 1.) altercations that spread into the stands and 2.) actions by repeat offenders. Rondo had been suspended twice by the league in the past 10 months, tossing a ball at an official last February in Detroit and making contact with an official during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs against the Hawks. … Meanwhile, Celtics guard Jason Terry, who tried breaking up the fight before Rondo charged Humphries and the two tumbled into the stands, had some choice words for the Nets forward, whom he played with in Dallas. “Some guys are tough, some guys pretend to be, he’s one of those that pretends to be, I played with him,” Terry said. “Maybe that’s the role [Brooklyn coach] Avery [Johnson ] wants him to have, but he could leave that to somebody else.” When asked what type of player Humphries was in Dallas, Terry said, “soft.”

  • Peter May of The New York Times: The Nets have now accomplished something in the last 13 days that they had not done in more than half a decade: they have beaten the Boston Celtics twice in one season. Their win total from the month of November against the Celtics matches the number of wins they had against Boston in the last five seasons combined. Nets Coach Avery Johnson is not about to declare a changing of the guard in the Atlantic Division, which the Celtics have ruled over the last five years. But after his team’s fourth straight victory and its first 10-victory month since 2006, Johnson said: “People are starting to take notice. We are a mentally and physically tough team.” The Nets showed it Wednesday night in taking a 95-83 victory in a game that was marred by a fight late in the second quarter that resulted in the ejections of Rajon Rondo, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. Even without two starters, and with Brook Lopez in foul trouble, the Nets kept their composure and relied on their bench, getting a season-high 17 points from Jerry Stackhouse and the first double-double of the season from Andray Blatche (17 points, 13 rebounds.)

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Hey, James, tell me how the grass tastes? In all seriousness, as I said on the night of the trade, I ain’t mad at James Harden. He got his money, his own team and his opportunity to be a star. I’m just having a good time with the first nugget, even though I’m on record of saying I didn’t think it was all that wise of a decision. Harden struggled mightily in his homecoming, scoring 17 points on 3-for-16 shooting. He had three assists and three turnovers. It was his worst game this season and the worst he’s shot in any game in which he got up at least 10 attempts. There was a buzz in the building tonight, clearly a result of this being the most anticipated game thus far this season. The first sign that something was up was the Thunder displaying “Welcome back to Oklahoma City James Harden, Daequan Cook and Cole Aldrich” on the videoboard 20 minutes prior to tip-off. A half full arena cheered the message while most fans were still making their way to their seats. As expected, Harden was showered with a hearty chorus of cheers when introduced 15 minutes later. Any boos were drowned out by the many more fans who voiced their appreciation for his three years in town. … Kevin Durant admitted he felt different before this game. “I couldn’t sleep throughout the day in my nap,” he said. “And last night I was just thinking about playing against my former teammates, my brothers.”

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Harden’s first game against the Thunder was his worst game with the Rockets. Though he maintained before the game that he would simply play, neither using nor ignoring the emotions of the occasion, he seemed clearly ill at ease, which would be more encouraging than to think the Thunder defenders had a book on him so complete that they shut him down. With Harden missing his first nine shots and failing to get his first bucket until a second-half breakaway, the Rockets offense could not keep pace with the Thunder. Oklahoma City led by as much as 18 in the first half and then blew open the game in the fourth quarter on the way to a 120-98 rout, snapping the Rockets’ three-game winning streak and extending their road losing streak to five games. … “I think he had to experience this,” Rockets acting head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Sometimes, you have to go through the moment. The next time he comes here, it won’t be his first time back. He won’t have gone through what he has gone through for 24 hours. It’s a little bit unfair what he’s gone through. We got in Minnesota at 2 o’clock. I saw him again at 8 o’clock. Then we come out here and he’s got such an emotional attachment. James loved Oklahoma City. He loves his (former) teammates. He loves these fans. He had a lot of things swirling through his head tonight.”

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: As Chauncey Billups walked down the hallway at Staples Center toward the Clippers' locker room, sweat dripping off his bald head, he had a smile on his face. Billups finally had been cleared to play, and now he was about to start at shooting guard against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night after coming back from surgery to repair a torn left Achilles' tendon. "Yeah, I'm good and ready to play," Billups said before the game. "I'm excited about this." Billups then headed into the locker to get ready for his first game since Feb. 6, the day he was injured in Orlando. He had surgery Feb. 15 and has been rehabilitating from his injury since then. … "I'm just proud of Chauncey because I've seen on a daily basis how hard he has worked to get back," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I'm happy for him, the team, myself, the coaching staff, the fans, the NBA, that we'll see him back on the court tonight."

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: After Friday’s loss at Portland, Timberwolves two-time All Star Kevin Love claimed he can’t have a rivalry with Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge no matter how intense the matchup gets because those things just aren’t made until the playoffs. The playoff remained a long ways off Wednesday night in Los Angeles as well, but that didn’t stop the Wolves and Clippers from continuing a series that turned both contentious and entertaining last season with a worthy Hollywood sequel this time around. The Clippers’ 101-95 victory at Staples Center wasn’t decided until the final 16 seconds, when center DeAndre Jordan’s emphatic alley-oop slam dunk put the punctuation on All-Star guard Chris Paul’s fourth-quarter performance. For sure, Wednesday’s game didn’t deliver the sheer theatrics of last January’s game, which the Wolves won on Kevin Love’s strut-off three-pointer at the final buzzer that ended a most unlikely comeback. This time, it merely featured Paul’s fourth-quarter precision on a night when the Wolves never quite went away even though they were playing for the fourth time in six nights on the road and even though they played without injured starting forward Andrei Kirilenko.

  • Anthony Rieber of Newsday: The Knicks didn't wilt without Jason Kidd. They prospered. In their second game without the sore-backed point guard, the Knicks outclassed the Bucks at the Bradley Center, 102-88, Wednesday night. Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks (10-4) with 29 points and eight rebounds, shooting 9-for-18 in 30:28 of play. Wisconsin native son Steve Novak, who starred in this arena at Marquette and is treated like Elvis here, started the second half and finished with 19 points. He was 5-for-7 on three-pointers as the Knicks shot 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) from behind the arc. … The only thing Novak did wrong Wednesday night -- at least according to his teammates -- was not attempt to dunk on a breakaway in the fourth quarter. He settled for a layup instead, drawing boos from the Knicks on the bench. "I was thinking dunk," Novak said. "But we all have our limitations." Novak said he never has dunked in an NBA game.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks’ winning streak continues – now at six straight – but the Bobcats made them work for it. Right down to the final five seconds. Josh Smith scored 13 of his 17 points in the third quarter as the Hawks regained a lead they would barely hold in a 94-91 victory over the Bobcats Wednesday night at Philips Arena. The winning streak, the best current run in the NBA, is the Hawks’ longest since they opened the 2010-11 season with six straight wins.

  • Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: Things are happening, just not with the Raps. Bryan Colangelo tried to do a big deal in the summer but swung and missed on Steve Nash. He seems to have few chips to play at the moment. This season, the opening 22 games always looked like a rough start, but instead of the hoped for eight or nine wins, the Raps may not have five. This doesn’t feel like progress. Meanwhile, teams that were well behind Toronto in Colangelo’s first season are now ahead. This isn’t a call for Colangelo’s neck. Not yet. This is a young team. But it is to question how much longer he can seemingly dance around any and all responsibility for the basketball catastrophe in this city. Why does the buck never stop there?

  • Tom Moore of phillyBurbs.com: Kwame Brown, who agreed to a one-year deal for $3 million with a player option for $3 million in 2013-14, has long gotten past the stigma of going No. 1. He’s in his 12th pro season playing for his seventh team (fourth in four years). “You don’t survive 12 years thinking about that,” said Brown after Wednesday’s practice. “Only the strong survive. If I thought like I was being thought of in the media, I wouldn’t be here. That’s just a testament to myself — that I can’t see myself like you guys do. I just go out and play.” Brown, whose best statistical season was his third year with the Wizards (10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds), insists he’s fine with not being a star. “A couple years ago, I modeled myself after guys with longevity,” Brown said. “That’s what I wanted to do. To be in this business, you’ve got to know your role and know what you want to do — forget what pick or meeting expectations. You’ve just got to go out and do your job.”

  • Carl Steward of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors attempted to clear the air on the simmering topic of Andrew Bogut's troubled left ankle Wednesday. After a San Francisco Chronicle story implied the center had grown frustrated by the organization's handling of his return, Bogut and general manager Bob Myers jointly briefed the media to let it be known that everyone is on the same page and there are no hard feelings. "We're square, and I hope he feels the same way. I think he does," Myers said of Bogut. "We've always been square, and I would be concerned if that wasn't the case." Sitting next to Myers after practice, Bogut supported the Warriors' company line. "As far as the reports, there was never any pressure from the organization," he said. "The pressure was from was me, myself. After the big trade, I wanted to be out there to help my team and play basketball games, so the pressure never came from anybody -- Bob or Coach (Mark Jackson) or the owners. It was pressure strictly put on me by myself."

  • Eddie Sefko The Dallas Morning News: The Mavericks need a veteran presence in the backcourt to help mentor Darren Collison. They don’t come much more veteran than Derek Fisher. The Mavs will sign the 38-year-old Fisher on Thursday, presuming he passes a physical exam. The hope is that Fisher can step in — probably as the eventual starter at point guard — and give Collison, who is 13 years younger than Fisher, the opportunity to learn the position from one of the game’s clutch players. … The Mavericks will have to waive a player to make room for Fisher. That could mean Troy Murphy, whose contract is not fully guaranteed, could be the odd man out, although no Maverick personnel would address the situation after Wednesday’s game.

  • Dale Kasler, Tony Bizjak and Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: If the Sacramento Kings end up relocating to Virginia Beach, Va., the move will be funded almost entirely by Virginia taxpayers. Virginia Beach on Wednesday asked the state of Virginia for $150 million to help build a new arena and assist the team with relocation expenses. The city itself would put in $195 million, and arena developer Comcast-Spectacor would contribute $35 million. Including relocation costs, the project would be 90 percent publicly funded – a hefty subsidy that is already sparking some opposition from public officials. The state's share would require approval from lawmakers and the governor. Nonetheless, the tentative financing plan suggests that Virginia Beach is getting increasingly serious about an arena and a major league team. The city's potential interest in the Kings became public in August.