First Cup: Wednesday

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: This winning streak has delivered the Clippers to a place few could have imagined. The Clippers have the best record in the NBA. To repeat, the Clippers have the best record in the entire NBA. They got to this 22-6 record by extending their franchise-best winning streak to 14 consecutive games, a 112-100 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night at Staples Center another of the wins along the way. The victory allowed the Clippers to move a half-game ahead of Oklahoma City (21-6) after the Thunder lost to the Miami Heat earlier on Christmas Day. "It's nice," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about having the best record in the NBA. "But it's Christmas. We've got a long way to go and lot of improving to make." It was the play of the Clippers' bench again that put them in this position. Jamal Crawford led the way, scoring a game-high 22 points. Matt Barnes was right behind Crawford, scoring 20 points. Lamar Odom did the all-around work, scoring six points, grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out four assists. Eric Bledsoe had 12 points.

  • Phil Collins Special to The Denver Post: If you're looking for a benchmark for the Nuggets, they found it Tuesday night. They might pride themselves on their bench, but they got a good look at how the Los Angeles Clippers have ripped off a 14-game win streak, the latest a 112-100 victory over Denver at the Staples Center. Clearly, the Clippers are running on reserve power and the Nuggets couldn't match it. Never mind Ty Lawson's promising outing after missing a half with an aching Achilles tendon on Saturday. Forget the free-throw shooting (the Nuggets made 16 of their first 20), or Kosta Koufos making his first eight shots and finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Yes, the 3-point shooting (the first nine missed) continued to stick out, but was that going to help? The Nuggets entered the game seemingly a serious threat to end the Clippers' win streak, but when it was over, the Clippers emerged with the best record in the NBA. Yes, the Clippers. As much as all of that might sting, the Nuggets (15-14) still don't mind being where they are after playing 11 more road games than home games this season.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Heat guard Mario Chalmers saved his best game of the season for the biggest stage. Chalmers had 20 points Tuesday in the Heat’s 103-97 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat’sstreaky point guard was 8 of 14 from the field and 4 of 8 from three-point range. He also had three rebounds and two assists in 37 minutes. Chalmers was averaging 6.5 points and 24.8 minutes per game before his Christmas Day breakout. “No one ever doubts Rio in big games,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You want him in your foxhole when the pressure is high.” Chalmers had 12 points in the first quarter, matching his season high. His five consecutive points in the fourth quarter gave the Heat an 86-77 lead. “We’re clearly a better team when he is at his best,” Spoelstra said. “You have to have everyone as a live offensive threat. Everyone has to have balance.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: In a 48-minute battle, eight were all that mattered down here in Miami. The first four and the final four. Those stretches, if you couldn’t see any other second, told the story of this Christmas Day clash of conference heavy hitters. The Thunder started slow and finished sloppy. It felt like the NBA Finals all over again, a Game 6 that never happened largely because those final four games in June were just like this. The remaining 40 minutes, of course, needed to be played and were wildly entertaining. But, unfortunately for the Thunder, they were nothing more than confirmation that the Thunder still isn’t ready to handle the Heat in a seven-game series. Miami jumped to a 13-2 lead in those first four minutes, the Heat shaking off any rust it appeared to have as it sleepwalked through most of its first 24 games. The Heat, from the start, looked like the more experienced team and, frankly, the better team. That part felt like Game 5 all over again. The Thunder missed shots, from the field and free throw line, turned it over and couldn’t cover anyone wearing a red jersey. Miami, meanwhile, looked crisp. The Heat fired the ball around, got great shots and was locked in defensively. You would have thought the Thunder won the Finals and it was the Heat that wanted to exact a small measure of revenge. As for those final four minutes, the only good thing about them is that the Thunder can learn a boatload from them. Down the stretch, the Thunder went 2-for-9, missed a critical foul shot (by Kevin Durant of all players), lost Miami’s best big man under the basket and got whistled for a technical foul. Even the things that went right for the Thunder in those final minutes felt wrong.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: For all the Rockets’ fast breaks and 3-pointers, all the rapid Jeremy Lin flights to the basket and all of those slow James Harden Euro-steps through the normally tough Chicago defense, a larger point was made by a much larger player. Months after the Bulls decided not to match the offer sheet given to Omer Asik by the Rockets, they were no match for the center they let get away. The Rockets did what they have done well through their four-game run of blowouts, pushing the pace and lighting up the scoreboard. And it began with a strong defensive performance led by Asik. The Rockets rolled to a 35-point lead in the second half by coasting to a 120-97 blowout of the Bulls on Tuesday night and improving to three games above .500 for the first time this season. Asik completed an eye-opening sweep of his former team with 20 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots. “We just want to attack,” Asik said. “We don’t care … how many points we are down or how many points we are up. We just want to attack and play faster than the other team. That’s our mindset.”

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: Painful as it is for the Bulls to make a smart draft-night trade, then watch Asik star for another team in his third NBA season, there are more pressing issues at hand. Two-game losing streaks have been rare for the Bulls during Tom Thibodeau's three seasons as head coach. Now, for the first time, they've lost consecutive games by double digits. They were soundly beaten in Atlanta on Saturday, trailing by 26 points in the third quarter before a futile rally. On this night, they fell behind Houston 86-51 in the third quarter. Nate Robinson (season-high 27 points) put a buzz into the holiday crowd by leading a comeback that cut the deficit from 35 to 15 with 8:10 remaining in the fourth quarter, but that's as close as it got. "Here's the thing: We had a bad fourth quarter in New York (in a win last Friday), we had a bad performance in Atlanta and we followed it up today," Thibodeau said. "So things can change very quickly in this league. "If you're not right and ready, and you don't have an edge, you're not going to win without playing with the right amount of intensity. That part, that's on me. Having us ready, having us playing hard -- I've got to have them ready. That's my job." Of course, it's the players' job to get back on defense and contest a shot every once in a while. Houston blistered the Bulls in fastbreak points 31-8, built a 45-31 rebounding edge and shot 56.1 percent from the field.

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: Fifty-seven days into the season, Steve Nash finally played another home game. Coincidentally, the Lakers beat the New York Knicks, won on Christmas for the first time since 2008, looked like a nicely balanced machine and gave their fans at Staples Center something beyond the free scarves received upon paid admission. Yeah, Nash is going to be pretty important to this team. "You're talking about one of the greatest point guards ever," Kobe Bryant said. "So he's able to line us up and get us into things that he believes will be most effective for us down the stretch. "We're constantly communicating on the floor. There are stretches of ballgames where we say, 'OK, maybe we should go to this. OK, next time let's go to that.' But obviously, he's amazing." Nash had 16 points and 11 assists in his second game since a 24-game absence because of a fractured left leg. The Lakers beat the Knicks, 100-94, Nash making seven of 12 shots.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The Lakers stole the fourth quarter and Carmelo Anthony’s late mojo, and Mike D’Antoni became The Grinch who stole Christmas from the Knicks. In a dramatic duel with Anthony at the electric Staples Center, Kobe Bryant played more desperate down the stretch and guided the Lakers to a 100-94 victory as D’Antoni’s star-studded Lake Show showed how dangerous it can be. It was a spectacular game as Bryant and Anthony each finished with 34 points, but Bryant’s supporting cast was much better down the stretch. “It was fun [going against Kobe], but he got the last laugh with the win,’’ Anthony said. Anthony became tentative in the fourth, one game after dropping 19 fourth-quarter points on Minnesota. But on the grand holiday stage, Anthony scored just seven points in the final period, took just three shots, hardly touched the ball late and was scoreless in the final 1:58. As a result, the Knicks — dressed in garish orange uniforms — posted a 16-point fourth quarter.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: While the Celtics didn’t have much of a rivalry with the Nets when the team was in New Jersey, that has changed since this year’s move to Brooklyn. And things were further intensified Tuesday after two more contentious moments between the clubs in Boston’s 93-76 win at the Barclays Center. While there was no brawl similar to the one Nov. 28 that cost Rajon Rondo a two-game suspension for punching Kris Humphries, there was some chippiness in the fourth quarter, both sequences involving Nets forward Gerald Wallace. After being fouled by Kevin Garnett on a putback at the 9:31 mark, Wallace grabbed hold of Garnett’s shorts near the waist and wouldn’t release them. The Celtics’ Courtney Lee and Brooklyn’s Andray Blatche came into the fray, and all four were assessed technical fouls. … Garnett didn’t believe he should have been assessed a technical but officials have made it a practice to hand them out to each player involved in an altercation — the equivalent to offsetting penalties in football. “The whole thing was a movie,” Garnett said. “People get caught up in the shenanigans. That play was over with. We were trying to make sure each other was safe and that was it. I don’t know where in America you can jack somebody’s pants off. I don’t know what the hell was going on.”

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The scoreboard is inanimate, reflecting only cold results and momentary fate, but it can occasionally serve as an emotional and spiritual marker, reflecting the brilliant highs and the most wrenching lows of the N.B.A. calendar. When the story of this maiden season in Brooklyn is complete, the Nets might see both extremes attached to one opponent: The Boston Celtics have become their personal barometer. Four weeks ago in Boston, the Nets rolled to a victory that required every bit of pride and resolve and for the moment defined their character. Those traits were nowhere to be found on Tuesday at Barclays Center, where the Celtics dominated the afternoon and stole the Nets’ holiday cheer in a humiliating 93-76 rout. Even in a month of demoralizing defeats — now nine in 12 games — this one stood out, for the final margin, for the utter absence of poise under duress and for the general dysfunction of the Nets’ offense, which looked as if it had been soaked in egg nog.