Thursday: First Cup

  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: "Whatever happened to the NBA's Magic vs. Bird rivalry of this century? Only five years ago, the Cavaliers' LeBron James and Denver's Carmelo Anthony were supposed to save the NBA, the way Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did until Michael Jordan came along. Now the Cavs' big statement games are against the Celtics and Pistons. The individual matchups at the top of the marquee are James vs. the Lakers' Kobe Bryant or Miami's Dwayne Wade. ... 'It was hard for Carmelo and me to have a rivalry, because we only play two times a year,' James said. 'Bird and Magic played in the NBA Finals three times in four years, and they played in the NCAA championship game the year before they came into the NBA.'"

  • Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News: "It's Round 10 of Melo vs. LeBron. So far, it has been a unanimous decision. Since Cleveland took forward LeBron James with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft and the Nuggets tabbed Anthony at No. 3, Denver has won eight of 10 meetings. But Anthony missed one win two years ago because of suspension, meaning he has a 7-2 edge against James. 'Everything is cool,' said Anthony, who added he never boasts to James about the Nuggets' lopsided mark in the series. 'That's my guy over the years.'"

  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune: "The Hornets want to be NBA title contenders. The Lakers are. The delineation clearly was made Wednesday night at New Orleans Arena, the Lakers leaving the city with a 93-86 victory but without their sneakers -- which, this morning, likely still can be located where last they were seen -- embedded in the Hornets' butts. Don't let the final score deceive. The Hornets needed one of the best quarters they'll play this season -- they outscored the Lakers 34-22 while furiously trying to erase the 71-52 hole they'd dug for themselves after three quarters -- to make it close. The first three quarters were more the story than the final one, and it was no easy read."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "As Shaquille O'Neal was about to join the NBA's all-time top 10 scorers, he reflected Wednesday more on the points he didn't get. For O'Neal, it was not about passing John Havlicek's 26,395 career points to take over 10th place in NBA history. He was thinking about the 271 games and 4,952 free throws he had missed entering Wednesday. That's a lot of missed opportunities. Even modest projections would have put him in the NBA's four-man 30,000-point club by now if not for health issues. 'It's nice, but I should've been there a long time ago,' O'Neal said. 'I sit there and say to myself, 'You know how many games I missed? How many free throws I missed?' Been there a long time. But it also says that, 'Hey, the guy put in a lot of work. The guy's been around awhile, and he has a lot of accomplishments. It's good for a juvenile delinquent from north New Jersey. I'm very upset with myself. I should have been there two years ago. When it's all said and done, maybe I'll be in the top five, maybe I won't.'"

  • Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "It's not quite as catchy as 'Joe the Plumber,' but Hawks coach Mike Woodson envisions the added role of playmaker for Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson. With teams as geared up as ever to stop him on offense, as evidenced by the relentless pressure Oklahoma City and Chicago put on him earlier this week, Woodson said Johnson has to continue to find his open teammates. It worked against the Bulls, with Johnson piling up a season-high eight assists on a night that saw him make four of his 16 shots from the floor. 'That's going to happen,' Woodson said. 'I think the luxury of our team this year is that while we didn't have very many shooters around him last year when he got double-teamed, we've got some shooters now, guys that knock down shots. So you can keep them honest now when they're trying to do that.'"

  • Fran Blinebury of the Houston Chronicle: "The Suns came into the game as the NBA's best-shooting team and the second-highest-scoring team in the league and by the end of the game were looking as helplessly out of water as fish flopping around in the bottom of a boat. Here's a stat to savor: the Suns did not have a single fastbreak point in the game. Zero. Nada. Amare Stoudemire came into the game averaging 24.8 points for the Suns and finished with just 11, mostly as a harmless jumpshooter. It's amazing how different the game can look when you take the court with a sense of purpose, an extra bounce in your step, an extra firmness in your resolve and backbone. After getting waffled and embarrassed by Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Sunday, the Rockets held a players-only team meeting and supposedly talked things out. Yada, yada, yada. Talk is cheap. It was the effort that spoke volumes."

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: "Antoine Walker is the Stephon Marbury of the South. The Grizzlies refuse to play, trade or negotiate a buyout with the Walker. Instead, like Marbury, Walker is required to attend all games and practices."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Heat guard Dwyane Wade said it is no coincidence that 2008 Beijing Olympians such as himself, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have gotten off to strong starts. 'It's a lot made of playing internationally, when they say you're going to be tired coming into the season,' he said in advance of Wednesday night's game against Portland. 'Well, you've got to take care of your body and you've got to be smart about it. But, at the same time, you come in and you're kind of ahead of guys already, because you've been playing competitively, very competitively, and not just open gym. You come in in shape, you come in ready to go. And I think it's showing that guys on the Olympic team are off to a great start.'"

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Dwight Howard said Wednesday he has every intention to defend his slam-dunk title in February during all-star weekend in Phoenix. 'I thought about that [Wednesday], actually,' Howard said. 'Trying to think about what dunks I can do.' Howard put on a show last all-star weekend in New Orleans, winning the dunk title with some spectacular moves. He also won the crowd over wearing a Superman cape. Howard said he'll have a new Web site up and running within the next few days, and on it he will ask fans to suggest dunks he can perform. 'I think that will be really cool,' he said."

  • Jeff Eisenberg of The Press-Enterprise: "Massive purple ads for Harrah's Hotel and Casino paper the walls featuring slogans like 'Game on' and 'Get more playing time.' More Harrah's logo stickers adorn each individ
    ual locker. Even in the hallway outside the locker room, there's another Harrah's sign encouraging passersby to 'Run the floor. Then run the tables.' At a time when the NBA is cracking down on gambling in the wake of a betting scandal that tarnished the integrity of the league, Coach Phil Jackson said before Wednesday's game that the advertising sends the wrong signals to players and coaches. 'One side of it is saying don't gamble and the other side is an advertisement for it,' he said. 'But this is a franchise that's led by a great Christian leader (George Shinn). He has prayer before the games. I'm sure he knows what he's doing.' The Harrah's signage appears in the visiting locker room and in other parts of the arena because the New Orleans casino is a longtime corporate sponsor, a Hornets spokesman said. The team has received no complaints about the advertising and does not plan to remove it."

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: "Warriors now = Portland Trail Blazers a few years ago. I started to figure out the parallels myself, but it always helps to have Buzz Ryan call me up and explain it to me–he had it all squared up way before I did. The Warriors' political, back-stabbing, paranoia and hatchet-man senselessness mirrors the Portland situation of the mid-2000s, when team executive Steve Patterson was running roughshod over the franchise in a devastating purge. The Trail Blazers, to that point, had the most loyal fans in the league. Who went away in droves when they realized they were being taken for granted. Hmm. It wasn't just Patterson, of course, because the years of near-misses and bad behavior of Rasheed Wallace, Isaiah Rider, Bonzi Wells and many others certainly contributed to the bleak atmosphere."

  • Terry Koshan and Mike Ganter of the Toronto Star: "In a bit of a surprising revelation, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said it's Andrea Bargnani, and not newcomer Jermaine O'Neal, who might be having a more difficult time getting accustomed to his new surroundings. Bargnani still is coming off the bench, but has been playing with new point guards in Roko Ukic and Will Solomon and not Jose Calderon. 'The problem now is, we are used to having Andrea on the court with Jose, who knew where to get Andrea the basketball,' Mitchell said. 'We are trying to teach two new point guards where Andrea and the other guys like the basketball.'"

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "I just confirmed a story, originally reported by The Sporting News, that the NBA pre-draft camp is no more as we knew it. There will no longer be games or practices for draft candidates. Mass physicals will still take place, and those physicals will likely move back to Chicago from suburban Orlando, where the camp was held the past two years at Disney's Wide World of Sports. ... Player-personnel execs kept complaining about this, and those complaints got back to NBA commissioner David Stern. I'm told Stern attended a competition-committee meeting to pose a simple, firm question: If this is such a waste of time, then why waste so much money running it and flying and housing front-office staffs to attend it? At a time when the economy is doing so badly that question led to dismantling most of the camp."