First Cup: Monday

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Here lie the 2012-13 Boston Celtics. They teased their fandom with a six-game winning streak only to fall back into a string of losses so disturbing that their coach threatened to “get some guys out of here” if things did not improve. It is not up to reporters to sign dribblers’ death certificates, but it is worthy of note that even Karl Rove was ready to pronounce the Green were turning blue. The physics say this team can still confound expectations and make a run for (not in) the postseason. The Celts have, after all, been performing at a level less than the sum of their parts. But the only real question now is whether management signed organ donor cards. There was word last night from two league executives that teams will now look more closely at the Celts to see if a piece or two can be harvested for other clubs’ runs. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge will most certainly receive offers for captain Paul Pierce, and even some complementary pieces could draw interest. … But now that the ghost of contending for the 2013 NBA championship has been freed from Celtic confines, perhaps the club can work the edges for something that will facilitate the rebuilding process.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: With Rajon Rondo out for the season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, recently retired Celtics guard and now player development coordinator Keyon Dooling told the Globe that he would think about a comeback. Dooling, 32, retired after last season following shocking revelations that he was sexually abused as a child. He joined the Celtics front office in October and has been working in an advisory role, taking selected road trips with the club. He said he has entertained thoughts of return to the court, and the Celtics now have a need for a veteran point guard. “I’m not in shape, but I would [consider it],” he told the Globe after the Celtics’ 100-98 double-overtime win over the Heat Sunday at TD Garden.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: On any other regular-season afternoon, this circumstance, this scene, this story would have been sufficient. There was the ornery Boston crowd, first booing, then clapping, then standing as atribute video played during the first quarter, the video scored by The Killers’ song “All These Things That I’ve Done” and featuring shots of Ray Allen scoring over the course of five Celtics seasons. “When you saw it, all of those emotions just came back, from all the great things that we did here,” said Allen, who acknowledged the crowd with a low-key wave. On any other afternoon, that alone would have made this occasion memorable, especially as Bostonians eschewed any sweetness thereafter, jeering the villain in Heat black — and especially as he shook off the jeers to score a season-high 21 points, including a 3-pointer with 25.1 seconds left in regulation. Instead, on this Sunday afternoon, in this 100-98 double overtime Heat defeat, the Allen return quickly became secondary to a number of other occurrences, some on the floor and one at a local hospital.

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: Gush City. Everyone loves everybody now. There were Lakers hugs all around, with fans at Staples Center on Sunday joining the party, getting rally towels and the feel of a playoff game. Happy 79th birthday, Jerry Buss, as Gush City flattens Oklahoma City and holds the top-scoring team in the NBA below 100 points. The Lakers not only bring back excitement to Staples but look as if they will never lose again while shooting guard Steve Nash sets sights on the NBA's scoring title. "Kobe Johnson," meanwhile, puts on another show, more assists than shots, with the unselfish one now tweeting just as much as his namesake. In a season filled with too many restarts to count, finally confirmation the Lakers might have something going. How about the Lazarus Award for Mike D'Antoni for being comeback coach of the year? Or the Lakers reaching the .500 mark again? Happy days are here again, as the world turns. … When Howard announced after Sunday's win he was having fun, I asked, "So now that you are having fun does that mean you will be back with the Lakers next season?" I thought it might be better to check with Howard rather than seek out unnamed Lakers insiders. I got the big Howard smile in return.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant knew the Thunder was walking into a game against a desperate team. And that’s exactly how the Lakers played Sunday. Desperate. Everything to gain. Nothing to lose. “You could tell, the whole arena felt that way,” Durant said. “They needed a win. It was a must win for them, and they came out and performed well.” Dwight Howard certainly didn’t deny it. “We are desperate,” Howard said. “We can’t keep losing. From now on, we can only go up. We’ve been at the bottom. So now we just got to look up and get up.” Thunder players have known all season that opposing teams will look at them as a possible pick-me-up. A win against the Thunder, Durant has repeatedly said, can turn around a team’s season. But the Thunder just couldn’t do enough to slow down the Lakers and stop them from notching this win. L.A. shot an opponent-high 55.4 percent from the floor, got six players in double digits and simply dominated in crunch time. After the game, everyone with the Thunder tried to stay positive. But that positivity reeked of spin. The defense was the worst it has been all year (statistically), yet nobody seemed to want to own it.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: In the final 4:07, Jason Smith calmly made two open jump shots that helped the Hornets hold their lead and come away with a 91-83 victory at the FedEx Forum that ended a two-game losing streak. It was exactly what Hornets Coach Monty Williams wanted to see in the first game of a grueling five-game road trip that resumes Tuesday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers. It was only the Hornets' second road victory in six games against Southwest Division opponents and they improved to 15-28 this season. … Coming in Sunday, the Hornets had allowed their previous four opponents to score at least 100 points. The Hornets have lost 18 of 19 games when they allow 100 points or more. They didn’t have to worry about that problem against the Grizzlies. New Orleans stepped up its defensive effort in the fourth quarter, limiting the Grizzlies to 15 points on five-of-21 shooting. The Grizzlies missed all seven attempts from behind the 3-point line and forward Rudy Gay, who is the Grizzlies’ leading scorer with a 17.2 average, was held to one point in the fourth before finishing with 10.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: What appeared inconsequential at the time loomed larger and larger Sunday evening, and rendered the Grizzlies unable to cope. Griz point guard Mike Conley didn't look badly injured when he turned his left ankle during the opening minutes of a 91-83 loss to the New Orleans Hornets in FedExForum. But Conley had to leave after just four minutes. He didn't return because of a left ankle sprain and ended up wearing a walking boot. His absence left the Grizzlies' offense fractured and in a virtual cast by the fourth quarter. The Griz had used pick-and-rolls effectively and efficiently to rack up 100-plus points and victories in their previous two outings. However, Memphis became limited and predictable while New Orleans exploited Conley's absence by crowding the paint. … Conley said pain and an inability to make hard cuts didn't allow him to return. Conley departed with the left ankle sprain when 7:40 remained in the first quarter. He's listed as day-to-day. "It's more of a bone bruise than a sprain," Conley said. "There's a lot of pain."

  • Mark Herrmann of Newsday: It would be an exaggeration to say that Raymond Felton has more savvy in his little finger than other players do in their whole bodies, plus it is a sore subject. But you get the idea. Felton has a way of spreading calm and confidence, as well as the ball. Felton still isn't all the way back from suffering the injury to his right pinkie finger, but he did enough Sunday night to get the Knicks on the way. The spark they had expected with his return Saturday night came Sunday night at the Garden, with the point guard getting a double-double -- 12 points and 10 assists in nearly 38 minutes -- in a 106-104 win over the Hawks. He had one thing in mind this night: "Be aggressive," Felton said. "For sure, these are big games for us. We wanted to come out aggressive offensively and defensively, get the ball moving." The veteran got the whole team moving, making his first three shots in the opening 1:56. It was as if he were making a statement that the blowout loss in Philadelphia on his return was just an aberration. For much of the rest of the night, Felton was feeding Carmelo Anthony for his 42 points and chasing Jeff Teague, who had 27 points for the Hawks. But those first three shots set a tone.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: There is an opening on the Eastern Conference All-Star team as it was announced Sunday that Celtics guard Rajon Rondo was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Hawks coach Larry Drew made a case for Al Horford or Josh Smith to be named his replacement. “No doubt about,” Drew said before Sunday’s game against the Knicks when asked if he thought his two stars should get the call. “I think both of my guys have been overlooked. It’s unfortunate what happened to Rondo but certainly my guys should be in strong consideration.” … There is no timetable as to when the NBA office will name a replacement.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Rodney Stuckey's coach-imposed absence from Sunday's win against the Orlando Magic sure came as a surprise to a few of the players in the Pistons locker room. Coach Lawrence Frank was coy when asked about his inactive list in his pregame availability, and he denied there were any injuries or illnesses as far as personnel. Minutes later, the team revealed Stuckey was inactive, and he joined his teammates on the bench after the first timeout. "Just a coach's decision. Right now, let's talk about the game," Frank said. … One can infer something occurred at Saturday's practice but telling from the players' various reactions, it doesn't appear to be anything similar to Stuckey's history of run-ins with previous coach John Kuester. A knock-down drag-out confrontation? No, this doesn't appear to have that tone. Something verbal? That usually happens between players and coaches during any given stretch of a season. That seems to be the more plausible explanation. … When things like this happen, it prompts more than a few questions but for the moment, no trade involving Stuckey is imminent, nor have the Pistons been actively shopping him. He told The News on Friday he has no issues with Frank. It appears to be something minor, a disagreement of sorts to be sure, and Prince hopes whatever issue is between the two is done. He believes Stuckey will play Tuesday night at The Palace against the Bucks, and that he won't have to lobby on Stuckey's behalf before then.

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: Forgive me my press passes. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe Jacque Vaughn was right after all: Removing J.J. Redick from the game Sunday night while he was hot as July was exactly the thing to do, coach. If J.J. keeps playing like this, his value will continue to soar. And perhaps the Magic won't be able to afford him when he becomes a free agent this summer. Play him at two-minute intervals. Make him start shooting lefty. Put him on a 3-shot limit. Protect the team's interest. I'm kidding, of course, but this is no joke: J.J. might be shooting his way out of town. He is blessed with the one gift many teams desperately need as he reminded the Pistons by hitting 8-of-11 3s enroute to a career-high 31 points. Suitors are already circling J.J. before next month's trade deadline. And if the Magic hang onto him, which they should, lines of league GMs this offseason will form to threaten Orlando's chances of re-signing him, which they should. Will J.J. say no to a contender who offers him a two-million dollar raise to $8 mil per? Will the Magic give him that much even with another shooting guard, Arron Afflalo, earning $7 mil as the starter? Folks, they shouldn't even let the team accountant have an opinion. Give J.J. more money and more shots.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: The Dallas Mavericks have guaranteed point guard Mike James' contract for the remainder of the season. The Mavs made that decision after Sunday's 110-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns at American Airlines Center. James' second 10-day contract with the Mavs expired Sunday at midnight, and Dallas had the option of signing him for the rest of the season or waiving him. The Mavs like the calming influence James has brought and the way he's helped young point guards Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois. "He's done a really terrific, solid job since he's been here," coach Rick Carlisle said. "So it's good news for us." It's good news for James, too, since he doesn't have to worry about pulling up stakes and changing addresses again. "I'm just going to continue to keep working," said James, who only played 1 minute, 28 seconds Sunday. "We've got a good chance to still do something special this season and I've just got to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that Coach gives me."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Suns coach Lindsey Hunter said the goal for the remainder of the season is to improve with every game and every practice. A loss like Sunday night’s 110-95 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center will remind him just how much there is to improve with a team that sank back to the bottom of the Western Conference. The Suns were again the team that had lost its first eight games on the second night of back-to-backs, the defense that ranks second-to-last in the NBA for defensive field-goal percentage and the team that has not won in Dallas on its last 10 visits. Playing for the fourth time over four cities in five nights, the Suns did not offer up the same positives that they had in their first three games under interim head coach Lindsey Hunter with two victories and a stiff challenge to San Antonio on its home court. “We made some changes, and since we’ve made those, we’ve been having good games,” Suns power forward Luis Scola said. “This is the first bad game. For now, it’s just a bad game.”

  • Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times: There still is no set date for the return of injured Clippers point guard Chris Paul, Coach Vinny Del Negro said Sunday. "Day to day, no timetable," Del Negro said of Paul, the team's star playmaker who is out because of a bruised right kneecap. "With a bone bruise it's just a matter of letting it calm down," and then the Clippers have to wait "until he gets out on the court [in practice] and see how he reacts," Del Negro said. In the meantime, "it's a matter of when [head trainer] Jasen [Powell] gives him the OK to get out there and start working," Del Negro said. Paul, 27, sat out his fourth consecutive game Sunday and seventh overall because of the bruise. In the 39 games he has played, Paul averaged 16.6 points, nearly 10 assists and more than two steals per game. Eric Bledsoe, 23, largely has assumed Paul's point-guard duties and "we have confidence, the whole team does, in Eric," Del Negro said. "He just has to be more consistent. No one can fill Chris Paul's shoes, that's a difficult thing."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: At least you didn't have to endure another close game. After subjecting themselves -- and their fans -- to harrowing game after harrowing game during a topsy-turvy January roller coaster ride, the Trail Blazers finally came out and laid an egg, falling 96-83 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night in a game that didn't seem that close. With Blake Griffin playing like an MVP and his team playing defense like it mattered, the deeper, brawnier Clippers (33-13) asserted their dominance over the Blazers (22-22) before a sellout crowd of 19,060 at the Staples Center. Before the game, Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Sunday would not be about Xs and Os. The two teams had finished playing one another less than 24 hours before tipoff on Sunday, with the Blazers winning a 101-100 thriller at the Rose Garden, so scouting reports, new plays and gimmicks wouldn't matter in the rare home-and-away back-to-back.