First Cup: Wednesday

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Roughly four minutes into their game against the defending champion Miami Heat, the Washington Wizards had to feel as if they were second-class — or lower — residents in their own building. Two people who don’t play for the team received the loudest recognition from the Verizon Center crowd — Heat forward LeBron James and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III — and the Wizards were something like an afterthought in their presence. By the end of the night, however, the Wizards had flipped the script, knocking off the Heat by keeping their composure in the crucial moments and recording a stunning 105-101 victory. “I told the guys, the only people that really think you have a chance is us here, right in this locker room,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I said we needed to have a statement game. What better opportunity to come and play in front of the fans that we knew were going to be here and to beat this team? And they took it to heart.”

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: A noticeable shift in the Heat’s training-room culture is beginning to reveal itself as more and more Heat players sustain minor injuries. In years past, players were encouraged to play through pain. Not this season. With so much depth on the team, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has the luxury of giving players plenty of time to heal, and that’s what he’s doing. The hope is that players are fresh after the All-Star break and injury free heading into the playoffs. On Tuesday, Shane Battier missed his third consecutive game with a slightly strained knee ligament, and Norris Cole sat out with a slightly strained groin muscle. Both players are expected to return to action Thursday against the Knicks. “We feel that our depth is one of our best strengths and during the course of a long season you have to use that depth, and that will be the case tonight,” Spoelstra said.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: After all those months pining for Dwight Howard, all the phone calls, all the trade proposals, the Rockets on Tuesday night had someone who for one night was better. They had Greg Smith. A free agent the Rockets cut last season, signed to the D-League team and then stashed away since February while they did everything they could imagine to land Howard, Smith went against the object of the Rockets’ affection and outplayed him. While the Rockets went to a hack-a-Howard defense, the Los Angeles Lakers could not stop Smith. While Howard scored five fourth-quarter points, Smith had 13. While the Lakers frantically tried to hold off an improbable rally, the Rockets scored on eight of their final nine possessions to steal a 107-105 victory at Toyota Center largely because when Howard could not make free throws, Smith could not miss. “It felt good, a dream come true playing against the Lakers,” said Smith, who made seven of eight shots and seven of eight free throws to score 21 points to go along with nine rebounds. “I’m from (Fresno) California. I watched them growing up. I just went out there and played hard and competed with the best.”

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Dwight Howard was forced to answer the same questions he had two nights earlier, when the Orlando Magic employed the same tactic in another Lakers loss. Was he expecting to be fouled? How frustrating was it? What's his take on that strategy? "Everybody's trying to win," said a subdued Howard, who made five of 10 free throws in the final minutes and eight of 16 overall. Howard certainly wasn't responsible for the Lakers' giving up 34 points in the fourth quarter or yielding 21 offensive rebounds or committing 18 turnovers. But had he simply made three or four free throws in a row as soon as the Rockets started deliberately nudging and poking him, all this silliness would have stopped. "If they're going to intentionally foul Dwight," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said, "we have to figure out how to try to use that to our advantage in some way." Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni was incredulous when a reporter relayed a question from Lakers fans who wondered why D'Antoni didn't remove Howard from the game. "Because they have no clue what they're talking about," D'Antoni said. "It's pretty simple. You don't do that to a guy and he made his foul shots. He's not the reason that our defense breaks down. He's not the reason that stuff happens. He's got to work through this.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: You can tell the Thunder gets up for games in New York. They can say whatever they want about marquee games being “just another game.” But its baloney. Bull crap. OKC came to Brooklyn, felt the buzz in the building and wanted to put on a show. And that’s exactly what the Thunder did tonight. The most fascinating part about this one was OKC’s offense. Just look at the box score: 117 points, 60.6 percent shooting (a season high), 50 percent shooting from 3, 88.2 percent shooting from the foul line. The Thunder is probably the only team in the league that can post such ridiculous numbers. According to basketball-reference.com, it was just the 26th time since the 1985-86 season that a team has shot at least 60 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 88 percent from the foul line. The last team to do it was San Antonio on April 20 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Perhaps just as impressive is no Thunder player shot less than 50 percent.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Fair or not, the rap on Avery Johnson in Dallas is he was a type-A control freak, the kind of coach who demanded without compassion, and who could prompt Dirk Nowitzki to describe the tenure as “a little dictatorship.” “I’ve heard that,” Deron Williams says, cracking a smile. “At times, he likes to micro-manage the game.” Don’t let the revamped Nets roster or re-branding fool you, or even the anomaly that became Tuesday night’s fast-paced, entertaining 117-111 defeat. This is Johnson’s team. This is his system. It’s his vision of a defense that has developed into one of the league’s best, Tuesday’s effort notwithstanding. Johnson credited everybody in the organization for winning the November Eastern Conference Coach of the Month, but the 11-6 record after Tuesday night’s game can be traced to his hands-on leadership. Faster than many expected — and at a quicker pace than the dysfunctional Lakers — the Nets are jelling under Johnson. They’re still not as good as the Heat or the Thunder, which was reinforced by back-to-back losses to the two NBA finalists — punctuated by a 32-point effort from Kevin Durant. But extending the coach’s contract, which is in the final season of a three-year, $12 million deal, never seemed more enticing.

  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: On a night in which the Timberwolves didn't have much of an inside presence -- Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic shot a combined 5 for 17 and totaled only 12 points -- Wolves coach Rick Adelman let his guards take over Tuesday, Dec. 4, and they dismantled the Philadelphia 76ers to spark a 105-88 victory in front of 13,986 at Wells Fargo Center. "Malcolm and Luke got us going, and J.J. and Alexey were great in the second quarter," Adelman said of his backcourt performers. "I just let them go after that." With Lee as a catalyst, making all four of his shots, including two three-pointers, the Wolves guards were 18 of 30 from the floor for a combined 48 points. Seven of the baskets were three-pointers, four by Shved, who now has 13 in the past four games. Lee, Ridnour, Barea and Shved had 19 of the Wolves' 28 assists and just six turnovers. Lee had none. … The fact that the Wolves delivered such a stunning outcome, in light of the team's injury problems, gave indications of the team's potential if and when everybody is healthy at the same time.

  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: After watching the Sixers get taken apart, 105-88, by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, I'd say the future is pretty much now. The Sixers don't have to give up hope that Bynum will eventually be able to play this season, but whatever contingency plan they have needs to be put into action. This team plays hard. It gives effort. But on some nights that hasn't been enough, and as the season moves on it's going to happen more and more often. It doesn't matter if it's against division-leading teams like Oklahoma City, New York and Chicago or against a struggling team like Minnesota, the Sixers can find themselves in a matchup where their margin of error is just too minuscule to come out on top. As it is constituted right now, this Sixers team doesn't have the luxury of not playing a near-perfect game. Right now, too many variables have to click at the same time for the Sixers to win games. At 10-8, the Sixers have managed to stay above .500, but they are not in a positive situation for long-term success over an 82-game schedule.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Once he was drafted 11th in 2008, teams have tried to create the player they envisioned Jerryd Bayless being. On his fourth NBA stop in five seasons, Bayless is perhaps just where he should be as a scoring backup point guard for a winning team in Memphis. Bayless, the former St. Mary’s High and UA star, entered Tuesday night’s game averaging 7.1 points and 3.1 assists in 17.5 minutes per game. “Winning solves problems,” Bayless, 24, said. “I’m playing all point. The guys who I’m playing with make it easy for me. It’s been great since I’ve been here and hopefully it continues. I can score, but there are so many guys who can do so many different things. I can’t ask for anything more.”

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: When the Suns return home for Thursday night’s TNT game against Dallas, it will mark the first time that the Suns and Mavericks have met without Steve Nash or Dirk Nowitzki playing in the game since March 15, 1988. Even in that season, Nash was a Suns player, but he did not see any game time and Nowitzki had yet to enter the league. Entering Tuesday night, the Suns’ new starting lineup had shot better over seven games (47.5 percent) than the original one did in the first 11 (43.1) but produced fewer points (57.6 vs. 63.5).

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Roy Hibbert’s offensive game has taken loads of criticism from the fans and media (myself included) this season. He’s deserved every ounce of criticism, considering he’s 7-2 and shooting less than 40 percent from the field. But despite his poor play offensively, the Big Fella is having the best defensive season of his five-year career. Just as Hibbert summed up his offensive play this season when he got rim checked on a follow dunk attempt, he summed his defensive play in the final five seconds of the game. After Paul George got beat backdoor by Luol Deng, Hibbert slid over, went straight up in the air and blocked Deng’s shot attempt. … Hibbert, who wants to make the NBA’s All-Defensive team, is second in the league in blocks at 3.1 a game.

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: In this business, we can all appreciate a slow news day, but there’s no need to get nutty about the latest Derrick Rose progress report. Rose could be seen running sprints on Monday at the Berto Center. More specifically, he could be seen finishing sprints. He started in the weight room and ended in the gym, allowing reporters to catch a glimpse of the recovering star. The estimated length of his sprints is probably 20 or 30 yards and it’s the first time a Rose workout has been visible to reporters at the Berto Center since before the circus road trip. The Sun-Times took the opportunity to scoop the world on Rose’s return, stating he “could be just weeks away from practicing with the Bulls again.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we knew that already. Rose has been cutting, running and shooting for a while. When the surgery was complete, Dr. Brian Cole mentioned that the toughest part would be regaining confidence in the surgically repaired left knee. It’s been written here repeatedly that the all-star break (Feb. 16-17) is a reasonable estimate for Rose’s return. Late January would be a best-case scenario, early March a cautious scenario. In all three outcomes, Rose is “weeks away” from returning to practice.