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First Cup: Monday

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers' streak ends this week. Look at the schedule. It begins with a trap game against Utah on Sunday night, a game in Denver on Tuesday where the Nuggets are 9-1, a trap game the next night at Golden State and then a colossal collision with the Lakers on Friday night. The Clippers survive all that, and fat chance, then they have to pick themselves up after an emotional game with the Lakers to take on Golden State the next night. So it was fun while it lasted. … Sure enough, the Clippers beat Utah, and the first thing Coach Vinny Del Negro is telling me, “Pack your bags.” And so here we go with one of the best stories in sports right now, although I'm not quite sure how many are really paying attention to this miracle in the making. Maybe they should change the franchise's name, “Clippers” still meaning something that has nothing to do with success. The Clippers have won 17 games in a row, have the best record in the NBA and maybe the league's most exciting team. Smelling salts, please for Ralph Lawler. But they are not the Lakers, and so that really seems to bother people who think the Clippers aren't worthy of such attention. They have to win multiple championships, I hear so often, for folks to take notice. But yowza, what a show people are missing.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Trying to figure out the reasons for the Clippers' best start in franchise history, one must credit the defense. Or credit the team's stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Or credit the team's bench, which has blown open a bunch of close games. But how much credit goes to Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro? "I think a lot should go to him," Jamal Crawford said. Crawford, who has played for 16 coaches in the NBA said Del Negro has navigated some tough waters in dealing with the team's talented, deep roster. "Everybody here has a decent body of work in some way shape or form," Crawford said. "They've proven something somewhere in the NBA. With that is a confidence that a player has, and there are egos involved. "For him to be able to manage that and put people in the right positions and use people to their strengths, he deserves a lot of credit." Del Negro has juggled a rotation full of veterans without much drama, but he's established roles for everyone from Paul to Ryan Hollins.

  • Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Call it a photobomb. Seriously, turn on the TV. See those guys in the background of the highlights they keep showing? The guys in blue? Those are the Utah Jazz, playing the role of the victim for the third time in a month.The feel-good story of the NBA season, the Clippers happily marched to their 17th consecutive win, this one 107-96 over the Jazz. The Clippers are streaking, the Jazz are reeling, and it’s probably not a good time to be asking which team is more likely to drift back toward its preseason expectations. Seven of the Jazz’s last nine games have been losses, six by double digits, and the new-look Jazz have gotten old pretty quick. Only four Western Conference teams have worse records. "We just have to keep playing hard," coach Tyrone Corbin said, "and it will work itself out." … While teams such as the Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves got better, the Jazz seem to be perilously stuck in neutral. It’s a bad place to be for a team that can win on the road and plays five of its next seven games away from EnergySolutions Arena.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: If you know anything about DeMarcus Cousins, you know there are two statistics he really cares about. One is rebounds. He believes no matter how bad a shooting night he might have, there's no reason he shouldn't rebound at a high rate. The other is assists. He hates seeing a low number or a zero in that category. But in 169 NBA games, Cousins had not had more than nine assists. And entering Sunday night's game against the Boston Celtics at Sleep Train Arena, he was averaging 2.2 assists this season. But Cousins finally reached 10 assists and recorded his first triple double as the Kings won for the third time in four games, 118-96. Cousins was given the game ball after finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. "It's exciting," Cousins said of having the game ball. "I always wanted to get a triple double. It's definitely exciting."

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The need for Avery Bradley is growing exponentially with each embarrassing Celtics defensive performance. Once again Bradley’s name surfaced as a possible salve following the Celtics’ stunning 118-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday at Sleep Train Arena. Bradley is expected to return for the Celtics’ next game, Jan. 2 against the Grizzlies, and his defensive prowess is needed. The Celtics have allowed an average of 108.3 points in the past three games and yielded seven 3-pointers in the fourth quarter Sunday. “The biggest thing is now is just trust in our communication defensively,” point guard Rajon Rondo said about the defensive struggles. “With Avery coming back, obviously that will be a better pick-and-roll defender for the guard spot, but it’s not just going to be on Avery. It’s going to be trust from our bigs and our guards, being patient, and playing together.”

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Tony Parker became the first Spurs player chastised under the NBA’s new anti-flopping policy, receiving a formal warning Sunday for what the league deemed was an over-acting job in the first half of Friday’s 122-116 victory over Houston. Video of the offending play, posted on NBA.com, shows Parker elevating for a defensive rebound when Rockets guard Toney Douglas extends his hand toward Parker’s back. Parker goes sprawling to the ground on the baseline, and no foul is whistled. Parker said he was surprised by the citation, claiming one of the referees working the game admitted he had missed a foul call on Douglas. Parker said he couldn’t remember which official he spoke to, but the ref nearest the play was Jason Phillips. “That’s the choice of the league, and I respect it, but it was really weird,” Parker said. “I watched the replay, and there’s no way there was a flop on that one.” Under a policy instituted before the start of the season, players receive one warning for flopping before triggering an escalating series of fines, starting with $5,000 for the second offense.

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Shawn Marion cut to the crux of the matter when asked if changes were needed to get the Mavericks headed back toward respectability. “We got to get some dog in us, some fight in us right now,” he said. “At times, we look good and it’s going good and at times it’s not. Right now, the times it’s not outweigh the times it’s good. That’s what’s happening. We got to find a way to get it going because this (stuff stinks).” Except he didn’t say stuff. In fact, he didn’t say stinks, either. And coach Rick Carlisle isn’t far from Marion on the frustration meter. “We’ve got to fight harder than we did tonight,” Carlisle said after the Mavericks were humiliated on their home court 111-86 by San Antonio. “It’s not what this organization has been about since Mark (Cuban) bought the team. This is a stretch that’s unprecedented, really. It’s bad. We’ve got to fix it and it starts with me.” Actually, it starts even above Carlisle. But there’s plenty of blame to sprinkle on management, coaching, players and everybody in between. The Mavericks never led against the Spurs and whenever they got within sniffing distance they cratered.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: If this is growth, the Pistons have provided the best evidence possible. Having played three of the top four teams in the East in the last five days, they've beaten Miami and Milwaukee, and it took 58 minutes of basketball before Atlanta put them away. In the last two games, they've withstood a late charge — perhaps games they would've lost as recently as a month ago. "I think you guys can see, we have a lot of work to do but we're getting better," said Frank, confidently, for the first time. "We had a lot of guys contribute. Tonight, I thought we had really good balance and everyone has to do their part to keep taking steps forward." Greg Monroe (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Jason Maxiell (10 points, 10 rebounds) each had double-doubles and Andre Drummond (eight points, seven rebounds) had another strong outing in 19 minutes as the Pistons controlled the boards, since they couldn't handle the perimeter. Charlie Villanueva scored 11, his fourth straight game in double figures. "It wasn't pretty, but as we've seen with these division games, they're grimy, grindy and nasty," Frank said.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Samuel Dalembert and John Henson both were in the Bucks' starting lineup at certain points this season. But both players are sitting more and playing less as Bucks coach Scott Skiles has refined his playing rotation. Sanders is starting at center and Ekpe Udoh is getting most of the backup minutes at center. At power forward, Mbah a Moute is starting and Ersan Ilyasova is getting minutes off the bench. "There's a lot of big guys," Skiles said. "If we continue to win games, he (Dalembert) is in a tough spot. Larry's been really productive. Ekpe does a nice job. Luc came back and we're still in a bit of a search to have Ersan be consistent. It's hard to play five or six big guys in one game." Dalembert has not played due to coach's decision in the last nine games. Henson, the rookie power forward/center from North Carolina and 14th overall pick in the June draft, was put in the starting lineup in Chicago on Nov. 26 and stayed there for five games.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: A day after there were signs the Rockets were getting closer to getting first-round pick Royce White ready to begin his NBA career, the gulf between them seemed as large as ever, with the impasse that has kept them apart as intractable. The Rockets assigned White, a 6-8 forward, to their NBA Development League affiliate Saturday, a move they considered to be the second step in a plan to add him to the team. But White, 21, refused the assignment on Sunday, charging in a statement that the Rockets’ decisions would be “unsafe” because of his anxiety disorder. “I have chosen to not play, because the doctors and I believe it to be unsafe for unqualified Rockets front office personnel to make medical decisions, as they are not mental health professionals,” White said in a statement Sunday. “I do wish to play, but I only intend to do so with the collaboration and recommendation of trained professionals. The purpose of a doctor’s confirmation is to ensure that health decisions are made in the sole interest of health and not conflicted with business. My only hope is that decision makers involved realize that doctors are the only logical source to decide action.” White did not say what “medical decisions” he believes Rockets officials have made or if his objection is solely with the assignment to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers or what steps the Rockets have failed to take to create a safe work environment for him. The Vipers were in Bakersfield, Calif., on Sunday, but White was not expected to report to McAllen until Monday.