First Cup: Tuesday

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: New Year … new approach … a new player surprisingly impactful in the rotation. And finally for the Charlotte Bobcats, a new streak. The 18-game losing streak is history, and this victory was no fluke. They thumped a Chicago Bulls team that had beaten them in their last five meetings, holding the home team to 35 percent shooting in a 91-81 victory at the United Center Monday. This was a stunner to a sellout crowd of 21,986, and the sarcasm echoed throughout the stands. The same guy who screamed “Bobcats are a joke!” with seven minutes left ended the game by yelling at the Bulls, “How about try next time!” … Monday was a relief all around that locker room. Five Bobcats scored 15 or more points and they managed to avoid 0-for-December. “We knew we were better than this,” Henderson kept saying. “We started out 7-5. We never thought we’d see another 18-game losing streak.”

  • Dave van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune: The Bulls saved their worst play for the last day of the year. In a New Year's Eve matinee, the Bulls looked like they were ready for a new start after a disheartening 91-81 loss to the Bobcats. Not only had the Bobcats been outscored by 13 points per game during an 18-game losing streak, they had allowed a league-high 104.5 points per game for the season. And it could have been worse if the Bobcats hadn't missed 17 free throws. "Right now we are not a 48-minute team," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I have to figure this out. I have to make us ready. We need an edge to start the game. We cannot ease our way into a game and say, 'OK, we're good, we'll get ourselves corrected.' It doesn't go like that." The Bulls pretty much played their way out of Monday's game in the first quarter when they shot only 29 percent and fell behind by 10 points.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers didn't practice Sunday. It was supposed to be a day of relaxation after playing back-to-back games the two days priorto that. That wasn't the case for center Roy Hibbert and coach Frank Vogel. The two were inside the gym for about 90 minutes trying to help the fifth-year center find an offensive rhythm -- any kind of rhythm -- to get out of his funk. Things are still a work in progress, but Hibbert at least got on the board in the Pacers' 88-83 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. He had nine points, six rebounds, four blocks and three assists in 33 minutes. Hibbert's numbers weren't eye-popping, but the Pacers will take Monday's stats over what he gave them against the Atlanta Hawks over the weekend. Hibbert was held scoreless, grabbed only one rebound and was benched the entire fourth quarter.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: It would be misleading to say that the offensively impaired Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers showed flashes of brilliance with the basketball. The reality is both teams took turns looking ugly over long stretches. In other words, both squads lived up to the reputations earned recently. So it should come as no surprise that the Grizzlies suffered an 88-83 loss to the Pacers Monday afternoon in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Memphis went into a malaise in the fourth quarter and never found a way out. … Griz point guard Mike Conley called the team "selfish." Power forward Zach Randolph said "it's crazy" the way the Griz fell apart. The Grizzlies locker room remained closed longer than normal after the loss. There wasn't a players-only meeting, but there was constructive criticism bandied about.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets took no action Monday regarding rookie Royce White’s not reporting to their NBA Development League affiliate. White said in a statement Sunday that he would not comply with the assignment, but he was not scheduled to join the Rio Grande Valley Vipers until Monday. Rockets officials were still considering their next step, which could include a suspension. White worked out last week with basketball staff intern Derrick Alston, but Rockets coach Kevin McHale said at the time he did not know how White was doing or if he would be able to contribute this season.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: James Harden killed the Hawks again. The Rockets guard scored a game-high 28 points en route to a 123-104 victory over the Hawks Monday night at the Toyota Center. It was Harden, you’ll remember, who poured in 45 points in a Rockets victory in the Hawks’ season-opener. That’s two games and 73 points. Harden had 11 third-quarter points as the Hawks tried to come back from a 21-point deficit. It was the 13th consecutive 20-plus point game for Harden, a career-best. “Not quite the way I wanted to finish 2012,” coach Larry Drew said. “I have to give credit where credit is due. This team is very hard for us to match up against. The fact is that they do such a phenomenal job off the dribble. We have a hard time defending this team off the dribble. They have four guys the starting lineup that can all make 3s, are all good coming off the dribble.” The Hawks (19-10) had their four-game win streak snapped.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: In the second quarter of the Thunder's 114-96 victory over Phoenix on Monday night, Suns forward Luis Scola inadvertently elbowed OKC All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook above the right eye. A bloodied Westbrook remained underneath the Thunder's basket and went to the locker room at the next stoppage of play with 1:13 remaining. … Westbrook received stitches and did not emerge from the locker room until the 7:05 mark of the third quarter. He immediately went to the scorer's table and checked in at 6:24 with OKC ahead 68-59. Westbrook has not missed a game in his NBA career (342 games), the league's longest active streak. He finished with 24 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and just one turnover in 33 minutes.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Good riddance to 2012. From the end of the Steve Nash era to the worst team the franchise has seen in nine years, the Suns should be eager to turn the calendar, even if they have to take a six-game losing streak with them to 2013. The Suns have had issues with beating any team during seven- and six-game losing streaks in the past five weeks, so dropping the ball on New Year’s Eve was no party favor for Oklahoma City. The Suns played a solid first half, needed a rally to get within two points in the fourth quarter and then did what they have in each of five winnable games during the skid — faded down the stretch for a 114-96 loss Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Suns (11-21) lost their ninth consecutive road game despite testing the Western Conference champions at home, where the Thunder are 16-2. The Thunder’s No. 1 scoring offense and No. 2 field-goal percentage defense was too much for a reeling Suns team that braces itself for collapse. “If we were getting blown out every game, it wouldn’t hurt as bad,” said Suns small forward P.J. Tucker, who received his first NBA start to defend Kevin Durant. “It might. Losing like this is tough.”

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Kawhi Leonard’s effect on the Spurs’ ever-improving defense was evident in the team’s drubbing of the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. After Joe Johnson scored 12 points in a relatively close first half, Leonard held the Nets’ shooting guard without a point in a decisive third quarter, when the Spurs turned the game into a rout by outscoring Brooklyn 30-5 en route to a 104-73 win at the AT&T Center. … Some advanced defensive metrics suggest the Spurs’ youngest starter has more to do with his team’s recent defensive success than the 21-year-old admits. According to defensive efficiency figures compiled by NBA.com, the Spurs’ points allowed per 100 possessions this season is 94.6 when Leonard is on the court, compared to 99.6 when he is not. The Spurs’ recent stinginess also appears to have been affected by his return to the lineup after missing 17 games with left quadriceps tendinitis. For the season, the Spurs are yielding 96.4 points per game. In the 16 games Leonard has played, they have yielded 93.4. But in the six games since his return, the Spurs have given up 90 points per game.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: At this rate, the Nets don’t need Phil Jackson. They need a time machine for Deron Williams. The point guard continued his unforgettable season for the wrong reasons, finishing with just eight points in an embarrassing 104-73 blowout Monday night to the Spurs. It was Williams’ worst game of the season, just in time to add to what should be an extensive resolution list. “Nope,” Williams said when asked if he ever had scored just eight points with two assists. The Nets didn’t have Gerald Wallace, who sat with a bruised knee, and they got no production from Williams, who continued his inexplicable descent into ordinary. His matchup with Tony Parker represented the biggest gap at the AT&T Center. Williams was sloppier with the ball. He shot just 3-of-11, getting outscored by Parker by 12 points. … GM Billy King said on the radio Sunday that Williams might be burnt out from playing consecutive summers overseas (in the Turkish league and Olympics). Williams, who has been dealing with nagging injuries – including a bum ankle and wrist — essentially agreed. “I didn’t take any time off. After last season, I never stopped working out. After the Olympics, the day I got back I worked out the next morning,” Williams said. “I thought it was the best thing to do, and now looking back, it probably would have been smarter to take some time off and get a little bit of rest, especially on my legs, and my ankles in general.”

  • Andre C. Fernandez of The Miami Herald: LeBron James finished the year of his life Monday night with a victory. He also capped one of the most amazing months in league history. With his 36 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds against the Magic, James became the first player since Larry Bird in March of 1986 to average more than 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. James averaged 27.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists in 15 games this month. James joins Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to average such numbers in a month over the past 45 seasons. James, the reigning league MVP, also extended his streak of scoring at least 20 points in consecutive games to open a season to 29 surpassing Kevin McHale for second on the all-time list. James trails only George Gervin’s streak of 45 games to open a season.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The sound of pro wrestler Ric Flair's "Woooo!" blared from Amway Center's loudspeakers with 4 minutes, 7 seconds remaining in the first quarter. A 3-pointer by J.J. Redick seconds earlier triggered it. Redick recently added Flair's catchphrase to his celebration for made 3s, yelling "Woooo!" as he outstretches three fingers on each hand and brings them toward his hips. Magic officials then decided to add the "Woooo!" sound to their library of game-night noises. So why did Redick draw from Flair? "The craziest thing is, I'm not a wrestling fan," Redick recently explained. "I never was. I wasn't even allowed to watch it. I didn't even know who Ric Flair was. We had a student assistant when I was in high school, and he was the biggest wrestling fan. And when we would do free throws at the end, he would always do this thing where he would go, 'Woooo!' And I never understood it. For like three years, I'm like, 'What is this?' Finally, my senior year, someone explained the Ric Flair thing to me. Actually, Josh McRoberts is a huge Ric Flair fan, and he makes me watch YouTube clips. If you've ever seen any of Ric Flair's greatest quotes on YouTube, they're worth the search."