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First Cup: Friday

  • Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: Perhaps it will become known as the Christmas Miracle on 1st Avenue. The Oklahoma City Thunder are here. (You can't see me, but my hand is way over my head.) The Minnesota Timberwolves are here. (My hand is about waist high.) And when the two teams collided at Target Center, there seemed to be two possible outcomes: The Wolves could make a game of it and lose with their pride intact. Or they could get the holiday stuffing knocked out of them. They chose none of the above. The Wolves started fast and kept their foot on the accelerator against the best team in the West and perhaps in all of basketball. They never trailed. Not once. Not even for a few seconds as they beat the Thunder 99-93 on Thursday night, Dec. 20. That put an end to Oklahoma City's 12-game winning streak. "Thirteen is a bad number, you see," Andrei Kirilenko noted. Not necessarily, because it was Minnesota's 13th victory of the season. And it was a very, very big deal to lead from start to finish against a great team such as that.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The slam dunk contest at this year's NBA All-Star Weekend could have one of the game's most explosive athletes participating. Russell Westbrook on Thursday expressed his interest in someday joining the field but said he wasn't sure if he will participate in Houston this year. “It's up in the air,” Westbrook said about this year's dunk competition. “I would (like to) before it's too late. But I don't know where I'm going to feel like doing it or not.” Westbrook, as he has in the past, insisted that he is more of a “game dunker” rather than a dunk contest dunker. Typically, that means a player impresses more with power and by posterizing opposing players as opposed to planning out dunks weeks, if not months, in advance. “It's so many people in this league that jump so much higher than I do, everybody else can do it,” said Westbrook, clearly being modest. “It's a lot of people that can jump. I only can jump high in the games. That's it. I think if it's just regular people would be disappointed.”

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: A year after using a season-opening Christmas Day blowout of the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center as the takeoff point for the franchise's second championship, the Heat warmed up for the holiday season with a 110-95 dismantling Thursday night of the franchise that defeated them in the 2011 NBA Finals. That of course was when Dirk Nowitzki was healthy, and not a spectator from the bench, as he was Thursday, yet to play following preseason knee surgery. And that was still when Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood wore Mavericks colors. Thursday? Just O.J. Mayo missing jumpers, Chris Kaman failing to grab rebounds and Dahntay Jones doing little of anything until garbage time. Yes, they're all Mavericks. "It was good to see us play to our identity," coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat's defensive effort that limited the Mavericks to .385 shooting and Mayo to 3-of-14 inaccuracy. "The starting group set the tone for us. We've developed a little more consistency. Now you're seeing a little bit more of a consistent 48 minutes." While the Mavericks reload, the Heat loaded up Thursday.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: OJ Mayo is looking at his first trip to Memphis since the Grizzlies decided they didn't want him any more as strictly a business trip. … That bold move by the Grizzlies -- or lack thereof -- effectively dumped Mayo on the free agent market. That's where the Dallas Mavericks found Mayo and signed the shooting guard to a contract that pays him $4.02 million this season with a player option for the 2013-'14 season that pays him $4,200,900. Whether Mayo has a chip on his shoulders about the way the Grizzlies gave him the cold shoulder, he didn't give any hint after the Mavs dropped a 115-90 decision to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Thursday. But he certainly has only one mission when the Mavs (12-14) play the Grizzlies (17-6) at 7 Friday night at the FexEd Forum. “I just want to go win the game,'' Mayo said. “They made the decision they made and they’re a heck of a team. They’re playing well right now, so I just want to go in there and compete hard and play well.”

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: This was supposed to be the night Kenneth Faried showed the Trail Blazers what they missed when they passed on him in the 2011 NBA draft. Instead, Thursday was yet another night that J.J. Hickson showed the Trail Blazers what they found when they plucked him off waivers at the last minute last March. Hickson had 18 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks to help the Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets 101-93 and reach .500 for the season. It was Hickson’s 14th double-double of the season, which now includes six in a row. He is just the fourth NBA player this season to record at least 18 points and 18 rebounds in a game - and he has done it twice. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who was waived last season by Sacramento. Faried entered the game saying he didn’t like the Blazers. He said they were “disrespectful” for telling him they were going to draft him, only to pass on him in favor of Nolan Smith. He said he would show them what they were missing. The Blazers didn’t miss much. Faried was ill - he threw up during Tuesday’s game against San Antonio - and he played like it, finishing with six points and eight rebounds.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: JaVale McGee, the Nuggets' 7-foot Pogo Stick of a center, is one of the NBA's most fascinating players. He's perpetually leaping, sometimes for alley-oops and blocks, other times for a goaltending. Or he leaps simply because a player head-faked, sending McGee so high into the stratosphere that even Betty White could dribble by him. Tuesday night against San Antonio, Tim Duncan devoured Denver's low-post man. McGee will never be a Duncan, but the Nuggets hope he can became a formidable player. They pay him as such. And yet, McGee doesn't start, doesn't play starter's minutes and seldom is on the floor at crunchtime. "If I could get him to be a fundamentally sound player all the time, he'd play many more minutes," said Nuggets coach George Karl. McGee's inconsistency leads to a hot debate everywhere from the Pepsi Center to LoDo sports bars.