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First Cup: Monday

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: At one point Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, new Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan turned to the press table and said, "What a way to make a living, huh?" Boylan is in for more tense times after taking over last week for Scott Skiles. But so far he's surviving quite well with a 3-1 record after his Bucks rallied from an early 20-point deficit to defeat the Toronto Raptors, 107-96, in a matinee before 17,384 fans. Despite getting pounded on the interior by the Raptors tandem of Amir Johnson and Ed Davis, the resilient Bucks came up with some huge plays in a 33-point fourth quarter. And none was bigger than a sensational block by Bucks center Larry Sanders, who had struggled in the first half. Sanders wiped away a close-range attempt by Raptors forward DeMar DeRozan, leading to a three-pointer on the other end by Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy. Instead of being down by one, the Bucks were ahead, 95-91.

  • Robert McLeod of the Globe and Mail: For Amir Johnson, it is a rite of passage following a basketball game; take delivery of a basin filled with ice to plunge your right ankle in for 10 or 15 minutes. Johnson’s ankles are what Bobby Orr’s knees were – terrible – but the stoic 6-foot-9 forward for the Toronto Raptors realizes he has little choice but to try and grin and bear it. The Raptors already have two bigs out of the lineup in Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas and can ill-afford a third. Johnson was on the limp – again – Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre, rolling his right ankle for the fourth time this season after he stepped on the foot of a Milwaukee Bucks player while grabbing a rebound late in the first half. Johnson winced in discomfort but it was the Raptors who felt the collective pain, blowing a 20-point first-quarter lead as the Bucks (19-17) stormed back to earn a 107-96 victory over Toronto (14-23) before 17,384 disgruntled fans. … If there is such a thing as a must-win National Basketball Association game for the Raptors this early in the season, Sunday’s contest was it. The Raptors had won 10 of 13 games heading into the contest against the Bucks, who are battling the Boston Celtics for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The loss left the Raptors 5 ½-games behind Milwaukee.

  • Anthony Rieber of Newsday: Carmelo Anthony wasn't just hungry for a win Sunday. He was hungry for "the biggest steak that I can possibly get." Anthony revealed after the Knicks' 100-87 win over the New Orleans Hornets at the Garden that he has been fasting for "spiritual reasons"for the last 15 days and that it has sapped his energy. Anthony, who shook off a 1-for-10 shooting start to finish with 27 points (9-for-25 from the field) as the Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak, said he is done with the fast and looked forward to a hearty postgame meal. "I usually do it sometimes just to get some clarity in my life," Anthony said. "Spiritual reasons. I'm done now. I can't do it no more." Asked why he fasted, Anthony said: "It's a long story. I haven't had a good meal in about 2 1/2 weeks. No meats, no carbs, anything like that. I don't know how I was going through competing at a high level. Just sometimes these past three, four games where the body just feels depleted out there and just trying to find a way to get energy. But like I said, I surrender. I'm done. I'm going to get some food right now."

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Throughout their four-game winning streak, New Orleans Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez noticed how quickly his teammates made cuts to the basket, hustled for rebounds and challenged shooters. But Vasquez didn’t provide that kind of effort nor see it from his teammates in Sunday afternoon’s 100-87 loss to the New York Knicks in front of a sellout crowd of 19,033 at Madison Square Garden. Playing in their first noon tip-off of the season, the Hornets were attempting to achieve their first five-game winning streak since the 2010-11 season when they won 10 straight. Coming in, three of the Hornets' four wins during the streak had come at New Orleans Arena. But the Knicks easily achieved their eighth victory in nine games against the Hornets, which includes a 102-89 victory in New Orleans on Nov. 20. Playing the first of three road games that resumes Tuesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Hornets are now 0-15 when they allow an opponent to score at least 100 points this season.

  • Zach Schonbrun of The New York Times: Despite a banged-up roster, the revived Nets appeared to give it everything they had. They dialed up their defensive intensity and came back from another double-digit deficit to beat the Pacers, 97-86. At points, a boisterous Barclays Center crowd chanted “M-V-P” for Deron Williams, who had 22 points and 9 assists in an uplifting 41-minute performance that was all the more impressive considering that it was unclear whether he could play with a right thigh bruise sustained in Friday’s game. Williams could barely hobble out of the locker room then, but by Sunday, wearing padded compression shorts, he had 4 points and 4 assists in a fourth quarter in which the Nets outscored Indiana, 28-11. “This was a big game for us,” Williams said. “Given who it was, an Indiana team that’s been playing good basketball, you know they’re going to be in the playoffs, we needed this game.” The Nets have won six games in a row for the first time since March 2006. They are 8-1 under Carlesimo and have not lost in 2013.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Frank Vogel said he wasn't trying to send a message to center Roy Hibbert for the second time in two weeks when he sat him during the fourth quarter against the Bobcats on Saturday. It was more about how well Hibbert's backup, Ian Mahinmi, has been playing lately. "I considered sitting (Hibbert) for that game anyway because he had been dealing with back spasms and were going into a back-to-back (games)," Vogel said. For as well as Hibbert has played protecting the paint defensively, he's struggled defending the pick-and-roll an area that Mahinmi is clearly better than him at. "Ian was great at guarding the pick-and-rolls (against Charlotte)," Vogel said. "Roy was, too. Ian was doing it a little better. I knew it was a back-to-back, so there's a little more going into it other than the pick-and-roll defense."

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Manu Ginobili added to the lengthy list of injuries he’s suffered in his 11th NBA season with a strained left hamstring that forced him to miss the second half of Sunday’s 106-88 victory over the Timberwolves. It is at least the fourth injury Ginobili — nicknamed “El Contusión” by former teammate Brent Barry — has incurred this season. In addition to a sore foot in the preseason, he has missed three regular-season contests with back spasms and a thigh contusion. Head coach Gregg Popovich said Ginobili will be re-evaluated today. From the tone of Stephen Jackson’s comments, he’s anticipating Ginobili will miss some time. The Spurs’ next game is Wednesday at home against Memphis. “It sucks,” said Jackson, “but it’s a part of the game. I’m glad it’s a strain and not a pull. He’ll be back a little quicker. But we have to step up. One person won’t be able to fill Manu’s shoes for what he does. Me, Gary (Neal), a couple other guys off the bench have to do it collectively.”

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:The Wolves appear close to signing athletic European swingman Mickael Gelabale, whose defense and three-point shooting would address two of the injury-riddled team's biggest needs. The Wolves have shown interest in Gelabale, 29, for weeks. A European Internet report on Sunday said he had reached agreement with an NBA team. Wolves boss David Kahn said the team remains interested but wouldn't answer when asked if the Wolves had reached an agreement to sign Gelabale when Lazar Hayward's 10-day contract ends Thursday. "We are working on some things," Kahn said. Gelabale can leave his Spanish team for the NBA if he does so by Jan. 30. He played two seasons with Seattle from 2006 to 2008.

  • Candace Buckner of The Columbian: Given the Blazers’ recent home winning streak, matching up against a short-handed Thunder team plus a real chance for the victory should have been enough for another boisterous party inside the Rose Garden. But after the 87-83 loss, the mood matched the moment. Typically during every post-game press conference — win or loss — coach Terry Stotts opens the session with his own remarks. On Sunday, he simply asked: “Questions?” and let the reporters have at it. The locker room wasn’t much of a lively joint either. The two flat screens remained on mute. Silence filled the room, and Wesley Matthews brooded on the chair in front of his locker, still in his jersey long after the final horn for the supplementary dramatic touch to illustrate his disappointment. Certainly, the Blazers (20-17) wanted this one but felt they let an opportunity pass by. “We were supposed to win it,” Matthews said. “Didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.”

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Forward Serge Ibaka and guard Thabo Sefolosha became the first Thunder starters to not be in the lineup this season and both did not play in Sunday night's 87-83 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Ibaka suffered a contusion on the left side of his chest in the third quarter of Friday night's 116-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Sefolosha was sidelined with a sore neck. The status of both players for Monday night's game at Phoenix was uncertain. Before Sunday, the Thunder had been the only team in the NBA to use the same starting lineup every game this season. Veteran Nick Collison replaced Ibaka and DeAndre Liggins, who began this season with a triple-double playing for the Tulsa 66ers in the Developmental League, replaced Sefolosha.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Suddenly, the fourth quarter has become the Nuggets' quarter. Whether they slosh through the first three quarters or play well from the start and find themselves in a tight contest, the fourth has been the separation quarter for this team, trying to hit its stride this month. The Nuggets outscored Golden State 37-18 in the fourth quarter Sunday night to make a tough game look like an easy 116-105 win at the Pepsi Center. It was the Nuggets' season-high fifth straight win. So what's different in the fourth quarter? "Urgency and desperation and professional pride," Nuggets coach George Karl said. The Nuggets turn up the defense and shift the offense into overdrive in the final period. During this five-game winning streak, they've outscored their opponents 151-102 in the fourth, an average of 30.2 points to 20.4.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: After the Warriors' 116-105 loss Sunday night, backup guard Jarrett Jack sat at his locker with his head buried in his hands. Even when answering questions, he refused to look up. "I feel more personally responsible than anybody," Jack said. "I know everybody is going to say it's a team situation or you can't point to one or two plays. But I do." Jack had a starring role in a noteworthy collapse Sunday. The Warriors entered the fourth quarter leading by eight points after a surge to close the third quarter. Fast forward to the 1:59 mark of the fourth quarter, and Warriors coach Mark Jackson was waving the white flag. In between was a snowball of ugliness. By the time Jackson emptied his bench -- a 10-minute span -- the Warriors had turned the ball over six times, leading to 12 points for Denver. They had missed 9 of 15 shots, 11 of those attempts being jump shots, and were outscored 37-16. The Nuggets turned up the defensive pressure, and the Warriors folded. It was quick and ugly.

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: The mood in the Lakers locker room Sunday was markedly more upbeat than their previous six games. That’s what a victory, even a 113-93 victory against the lowly Cavaliers, will do for a team. Although the Lakers have been down lately, having lost six consecutive games, no one around the league is feeling sorry for them. The Lakers know that, too. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for this team that has been assembled,” Antawn Jamison said. “If things go south, not the way we want them to go, people, other teams are happy to see that.” Jamison, like his teammates, are hoping Sunday’s victory becomes something of a turning point in this chaotic season, a season that has seen its share of coaches, injuries and uncharacteristic losses. “There’s not more excuses. It’s not coaches, it’s not guys not being out there on the court (because of injuries),” Jamison said. “We have enough talent to win games and the one frustrating part about it is the defense.”

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: There have been rumors for some time that former Ohio State star and No. 1 NBA draft choice Greg Oden has been eyeing a comeback. The latest report this week, from former Plain Dealer reporter Brian Windhorst, now with ESPN.com, is that the Miami Heat and several other teams are interested in signing Oden to a multiyear deal even though he hasn't played at all since 2009 and has never played a full NBA season. But true centers have become so rare that NBA personnel folks are willing to overlook his multiple injuries on both knees -- and the fact he admitted he became an alcoholic -- to give him another shot. From all accounts, he deserves it. People who knew him at Ohio State and Portland loved him. He has worked hard to recover on all fronts and has been taking classes at Ohio State. Here in Cleveland, we have seen first-hand that a player thought to be injury-prone -- Zydrunas Ilgauskas -- can recover completely to become a two-time All-Star and the all-time franchise leader in games played. Oden deserves that chance, too.