First Cup: Friday

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Center Joakim Noah hates Philadelphia. OK, maybe hate is a strong word. Then again, maybe not. Noah went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the playoffs last season in Philadelphia and had to endure 76ers fans’ abuse. His response has been to beat the 76ers no matter where the game is played, and Noah had his third career triple-double (23 points, 21 rebounds, 11 blocked shots) in the Bulls’ 93-82 victory Thursday at the United Center. After consecutive losses, the Bulls (33-25) picked up a sorely needed victory to go 5-8 in February. Coach Tom Thibodeau spent the 24 hours leading up to the game preaching energy and intensity, and Noah provided it.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: The effort, so rightfully questioned following an embarrassing loss Wednesday to the Orlando Magic, was there. The result, however, remained the same as the past six games. The 76ers couldn't overcome the inside power of Chicago in dropping a 93-82 decision to the Bulls. With their seventh straight loss, the Sixers fell to 22-34 on the season and for the 12th consecutive game failed to score more than 93 points. … "We were very competitive, but their front line was tremendous," said coach Doug Collins. "Noah was spectacular. He was the difference of the game and then you throw in Boozer and the two of them were [great]. Once again, if you look at the game our defense was good enough to win, we held them to 38 percent and they were 3-14 from three. We had one more field goal and one more three and they beat us by 14 points [26-12] from the foul line. So it's sort of the same old story. But we did play better."

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: Until 2½ weeks ago, I thought the most confusing thing in life was what women see in Hugh Hefner. But then the Derrick Rose situation boiled up, and now I’m not so sure anymore. What I am sure about is that the Bulls started playingtheir worst basketball of the season when everything got fuzzy concerning Rose’s near future. All the denials in the world from the coach and the players won’t change what I’m seeing: a team that has had it with the drama. A team demoralized by the will-he, won’t-he circus. Since Feb. 12, when Rose said he was “far away” from being back to normal physically, the Bulls have gone 2-4, not including Thursday night’s game against Philadelphia. They are 4-8 in February. Going into the month, they were 28-17. Before February began, the players had been operating under the assumption that things were coming along nicely in the Triumphant Return department. Then the mixed signals started flying like arrows in “Braveheart.’’ … I have a headache. So do the Bulls, who played better when they were under the impression Rose was coming back. Since Rose & Co. injected doubt into the -equation, the Bulls have played without conviction. Exactly what is going on here? It’s a question that has taken over a town and a team, and nobody is better for it. Not Rose, not the Bulls and certainly not us.

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald:Philadelphia coach Doug Collins battled a few knee injuries in his career and he understands why Derrick Rose is being patient in his recovery from ACL surgery. "Maybe sometimes I tried to come back too soon and it set me back," Collins said before facing the Bulls on Thursday. "This guy did it in eight (months), I can do it in seven — it doesn't work that way." Thursday marked the 10-month anniversary of Rose's injury, which happened against Collins and the Sixers in the opening game of last year's playoffs. "Derrick is an explosive player," Collins said. "He plays in the lane. He's landing in a lot of bodies and a lot of congestion. He's going to have to be very confident when he plays about being able to explode off that leg and be able to come down and do the things he has to do. "(Chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf and the Bulls organization, they're not shortsighted people. They view the big picture. I think they feels like they have a franchise that has a chance to be good for a long, long time and Derrick Rose is the guy who's going to make that special. I totally understand."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: As much as I like what the Pacers have built, what they’ve done since that 10-11 start and the way they’re playing right now — the exception being Thursday night’s 99-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers — they’re not beating the Heat in a seven-game series. Don’t tell me the Heat are 0-5 against the Grizzlies, Pacers and Knicks and have lost by an average of 16.2 points per game. That’s regular season. Which means nothing to LeBron and D-Wade. Here’s what locals conveniently forget when they recall last year’s playoff run: Not only did they beat the Magic without Dwight Howard, but Chris Bosh missed most of the Miami series with an abdominal injury, playing just 16 minutes. The Heat still won in six games. Everybody is talking already about a possible Miami-Indiana match-up like it’s predestined, but I’d be leery of teams the Pacers might have to play before they reach that series.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: The Clippers were up by 17 points over the Indiana Pacers with less than six minutes to play. Players were smiling on the sidelines, dancing to the music blaring and getting ready to celebrate a nice road victory. Less than three minutes later, the Clippers found themselves fighting to hang on, as the Pacers ripped off a 13-0 run to cut the lead to four. In situations like this, the Clippers lean on point guard Chris Paul to make things happen, and Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he didn't let his team down in a 99-91 victory. "I just love to see him take over games like that," Chauncey Billups said. "That's either something you're blessed to have, or you're sorry you don't have it."

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson couldn’t believe what he was hearing on the other end of the phone. Stephenson was upset when coach Frank Vogel called to tell him that the NBA had fined him $35,000 for his part in the skirmish against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. But then Stephenson’s phone rang again and it was teammate Roy Hibbert calling to tell him not to worry about the fine because the center would pay it for him. The league suspended Hibbert a game for his part in the incident. … Hibbert has more financial flexibility than Stephenson. Stephenson is making $918,000 this season compared to the $13.6 million Hibbert is making. … Hibbert’s kindness goes beyond the money. It shows what type of team chemistry the Pacers have.

  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: The Lakers are 10-5 since Steve Blake returned from an abdominal injury, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by D'Antoni. The coach credited Blake's leadership and a set rotation for the bench's inspired play during the Lakers' recent run. The Lakers have won 11 of their past 16 games thanks in part to Blake, who is averaging 4.9 points and 3.3 assists, Antawn Jamison, who leads the second unit with 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds, and Jodie Meeks at 7.8 points and 1.9 rebounds. On Thursday, the bench combined for 52 points in the Lakers' 116-94 victory against Minnesota. "(The bench) is getting a little more confidence by playing through some tough situations," D'Antoni said. "Having Steve come back settled the second team down. They have played really well."

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Dwight Howard won't ever publicly divulge whether he will re-sign with the Lakers this offseason until that moment comes. But he sounded certain on whether he wants to play in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "No doubt," he said. It remains unclear who will take over after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski declared he won't return after leading the U.S. men's basketball team to consecutive gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni served as one of Krzyzewski's assistants. Will D'Antoni return? "We'll see," he said. "That's not on my radar right now." It was on Howard's. He sounded understandably frustrated that back surgery kept him out of the 2012 London Olympics.

  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams returned home to Los Angeles for Thursday's game against the Lakers not exactly a changed man but feeling differently for sure. "Just more confident really," he said. His statistics in his past five games -- 18.8 points and 10.6 rebounds -- tell part of the story. Coach Rick Adelman's decision to draw up a potential game-winning play for him on Tuesday in Phoenix suggests Williams has earned a little more trust. Williams was one of two options on a play that ended with Alexey Shved missing a driving layup near the overtime buzzer. … In the past two weeks, Williams has delivered the double-doubles -- three 20-point, 10-rebound games in his past five entering Thursday's game -- that are nearly nightly achievements by Kevin Love, the Wolves' injured All-Star whom Williams has replaced as the starting power forward. Williams credits Love's biggest attribute -- rebounding -- for his recent play. "Rebounding really is what got me going," he said. "Trying to get every rebound has got my confidence up, not really knocking down shots. I'm focused on the defensive end and trying to get as many rebounds as possible."