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First Cup: Monday

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Eric Bledsoe turned 23 on Sunday, and against the Raptors, he scored 14 points with six assists, two steals and four rebounds. And even though Bledsoe has played on his birthday plenty of times during his life, "this was probably the best one," he said. Just like it did against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday and like it has during the team's current six-game winning streak, the Clippers' bench proved why they're a difference-maker. The Clippers trailed by three after Toronto put together an 11-0 run to close the first half and led by just four points when Vinny Del Negro inserted his bench to start the fourth quarter. Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Lamar Odom held the Raptors to just three field goals in the final quarter, as Toronto barely managed to score 10 points thanks to a Linas Kleiza three in the final seconds. "We're coming in hungry," Turiaf said. "We have a supreme confidence as a group. We believe we're game-changers."

  • Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: The Raptors’ pursuit of Pao Gasol — and other NBA players of quality — comes with a question of timing and direction. This is the last year on Bryan Colangelo’s contract with the Raptors. What needs to be addressed by ownership: Is Colangelo looking to trade to make his team better for the future, or would he be trading to make his team better in the short term, which would make certain his contract gets extended. This isn’t Colangelo’s fault. This is the fault of ownership, putting itself and its GM in this dubious lame-duck position. Should Colangelo move Andrea Bargnani and friends, for example, to Los Angeles for Gasol, which isn’t necessarily happening, he would be getting the best player in the deal. That’s good. What isn’t good: He would be picking up a 32-year-old in his 12th NBA season. That’s setting the supposed plan backwards. While the Raptors are off to an atrocious start and no doubt need moves to make this team better, Colangelo isn’t dealing only with devalued assets. He’s trying to deal all the while knowing, for him, there may not be a next season in Toronto.

  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: The stars were out at Staples Center. And maybe that explains much of Utah’s 117-110 win Sunday over the Lakers. But the Jazz weren’t about to let the absences of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash be the prevailingstoryline Sunday night at Staples Center. … Behind 24 points from Paul Millsap and an inspired effort from the bench, the Jazz withstood several runs to escape with their most cohesive performance of the season. Tabbed a preseason favorite for the NBA title, these Lakers (9-12) have been a mess from Day 1 and are hobbling through December without Gasol and point guard Nash, both sidelined with injuries. However, Sunday night was about the Jazz (12-10), who won their third consecutive game and just their fourth on the road. … The Jazz had won on the road this season — snapping their road bugaboo with victories in Toronto, New Orleans and Washington. But those are where visiting NBA teams go to thrive. Beating the Lakers in Los Angeles marked the Jazz’s first road victory over a bona fide opponent, although the Lakers are quickly fading from that category.

  • Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times: If you believe the return of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol is going to make everything all right for the Lakers, here's some bad news: It won't. There's too much wrong for even Nash, as gifted as he is, to fix what ails the Lakers. And there's certainly too much out of kilter for them to rest their hopes on the return of Gasol, who has been memorable so far this season only for his struggles at both ends of the floor while battling tendinitis in his knees. Even Coach Mike D'Antoni acknowledged the Lakers can't count on Nash and Gasol to save them —and that was before the team's too-often-passive 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday in a home game jammed between a 1-2 trip and four more games back East. … It's one thing to know what's wrong and another to fix it. The shame is that the Lakers can't seem to muster the collective energy to find ways to stop all their defensive leaks. "It's baffling," Duhon said. "Until we do it we're going to continue losing. Until we come out and play hard and go after teams and not expect teams to let down just because of who we are, things are not going to change." And they won't automatically change when Nash and Gasol return.

  • Barbara Barker of Newsday: Carmelo Anthony may be having an MVP-caliber season, but his former coach, George Karl , was in no mood to give him the lion's share of credit for the Knicks ' outstanding start. "I don't think it's him by himself," the Nuggets' coach said before Sunday night's game. "I think it's a combination of Tyson Chandler 's leadership, Jason Kidd 's veteran-ness and Raymond Felton coming here with a mission. There's a lot of psychological toughness out there that the team hasn't had in the past." Karl coached Anthony with the Nuggets from 2003-11 before the Knicks traded for him in February 2011. The two often butted heads as Anthony put up big numbers but the team got out of the first round of the playoffs only once. It's been almost two years since Anthony was traded from Denver, and it's finally starting to look as though the Knicks got the better of that deal. "I've always said that Melo is going to win a championship someday,'' Karl said. "He's going to figure out that numbers and stat sheets aren't important, it's the team scoreboard and the intangibles in the end that make the winners champions." Karl did not say if this is that season for Anthony. But it was clear that he thinks the Knicks and their star are headed in the right direction.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: How funny is it when one looks back at the pieces Denver nabbed from the New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade? Of course, Danilo Gallinari was the marquee get — he's Denver's leading scorer, though his shooting percentage has been that of a frat guy shooting at a Pop-A-Shot after shooting a bunch of bourbon. Raymond Felton turned into Andre Miller, a coach George Karl favorite. But Timofey Mozgov seldom plays, we wonder if Wilson Chandler (hip) will ever play and the fifth fellow was Kosta Koufos, who has been the surprise of this season. The 7-footer starts for Denver, and while his numbers are just OK — he entered Sunday's game averaging 6.6 points per game and 5.9 rebounds — he leads the Nuggets in one category. Actually, two. He leads the team in syllables (Konstantine Demetrios Koufos) and in plus-minus. By a lot. Koufos entered Sunday a plus-4.3. The next highest Nugget is Miller at plus-1.7. Incredible.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Monta Ellis entered the game shooting 38.9%, more than seven points under his career mark of 46.4% entering this season. But the Bucks guard, who was not feeling well, hit 8 of 13 shots and also got to the foul line and sank 8 of 9 free throws. And he made a key basket late in the game, driving for a layup after Brooklyn had cut the Bucks' lead to six points. "It's the beginning of the season; it's a long season," Ellis said. "You go into slumps sometimes. You've just got to keep kicking at it. My teammates and the coaches have the confidence in me. I just have to keep shooting my way out of it." Ellis was 8 for 30 in the previous two games. "We would be really concerned if we felt like he wasn't getting any good looks," coach Scott Skiles said. "One thing he does, when he gets trapped, he gives the ball up. So it's not like he forces bad shots or anything.

  • Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News: Kris Humphries was benched before the Nets’ loss to the Bucks Sunday night, and then the power forward went out played like it. For the first time in over a season, Humphries was not in the Nets’ starting lineup. Humphries was a miserable 2-for-8 from the floor for four points when he came off the bench. He had seven rebounds and tied a season-high with three turnovers in the Nets’ 97-88 loss to the Bucks at the Barclays Center. Humphries said he was not told if he would start Tuesday when the Nets host the division-leading Knicks. Nets coach Avery Johnson started Reggie Evans, the team’s leading rebounder and defensive spark off the bench, at power forward. With center Brook Lopez missing his fifth straight game with an injured foot, the Nets again started Andray Blatche along with Evans. “We’ve been struggling defensively to start games,” Johnson said. “When Reggie and Blatche play together, pretty good combination for us. We just wanted to mix it up a little bit.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant has a chance to become only the sixth player in NBA history to join the 50-40-90 club, a fraternity reserved for only the very best of the league's best shooters. It's a club that honors consistency and recognizes players who go an entire season shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line. Durant admits he has aimed to join that select list of players since his second season. But this season, Durant's most efficient yet, he appears to have his best shot. … But just being in range, even if it's still early in the year, is an achievement in itself. It speaks to Durant's continuous development and illustrates how far he's come since being widely considered a chucker as a rookie. “I think we're just seeing him put it all together right now,” said Kevin Martin, who's no stranger to scoring efficiency but never could quite crack the club. Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are the only players to post 50-40-90 seasons. Bird and Nash are the only players who have done it multiple times. Bird did it twice. Nash has done it in four different seasons, the last time during the 2009-10 season.

  • Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star: A shakeup in the Indiana Pacers' struggling second unit could be coming based on an internal call-out from coach Frank Vogel. "They've just flat-out been challenged to get the job done better," Vogel said prior to Sunday night's game at Oklahoma City. "More toughness, more intensity, more determination on the defensive end." And there should be improvement on the offensive end, he said, given modifications. "We're basically adjusted for each guy coming off the bench, a different package of plays to help them get going a little bit more offensively," Vogel said. … Vogel said he's considering giving third guard Ben Hansbrough and seldom-used forward Jeff Pendergraph playing time at the expense of those struggling. "It's something we weigh every day," he said. "It's something we challenge our (second-unit) guys they have start picking it up."

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Former Orlando Magic center Marcin Gortat might be feeling a bit restless these days. Gortat, whom the Magic traded to the Phoenix Suns in December 2010, continues to start for Phoenix, and he did so again Sunday night versus his former team at US Airways Center. But his minutes, scoring and rebounding have declined lately. Gortat entered Sunday averaging 11.0 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, down from his averages last season of 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. … There's no indication the Suns want to trade the 28-year-old center. But even if they did, it would seem unlikely that the Magic would try to acquire him. First, Orlando likely would have to relinquish some youngsters and draft picks, and for a rebuilding team such as the Magic, giving up assets isn't an attractive prospect. Second, Gortat is owed a total of $7.3 million in salary this season, and about $7.7 million in 2013-14, the final year of his contract. Third, and finally, although Gortat would make the Magic better in the short run, he probably wouldn't make the team significantly better.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Watching the Suns can feel like it has never looked this bad since the last time they played a season without Steve Nash. Now, it is true. For the first time since February 2004, the Suns are on a seven-game losing streak after dropping a Sunday night matchup that they should have no business losing at home against an Orlando team with similar struggles at the end of a Western swing. After the 28th-ranked offense scored 81 and 82 in two previous road losses, the Magic (8-12) became the third losing team to beat the Suns during this skid by making 52 percent — 8 percentage points better than its average — of their shots. Just like Saturday’s loss, the Suns entered the fourth quarter within a point but faded away to move to 0-5 in the second game of back-to-back sets this season.