First Cup: Wednesday

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Dick Vitale whispers louder than Andre Miller screams. But in the pregame locker room, the Nuggets' veteran guard delivered a powerful, passionate speech, channeling the oration of, say, Jesse Jackson, who just happened to be at Tuesday night's Nuggets-Thunder game. "One amazing speech — guys were just amped up, ready to play," Denver forward Kenneth Faried said after the Nuggets' 114-104 win, Denver's 13th consecutive, a franchise-NBA record. "He said it doesn't matter that we're coming off a back-to-back, it doesn't matter that we went to overtime — we're going to play this game hard and with pride. We don't have any excuses. Andre Miller is a guy who doesn't really say much, but when he talks, everybody listens, nobody's playing around. "Everybody locks in." And sure enough, it was Miller who was locked in the most when it mattered. In just nine fourth-quarter minutes, he scored 13 points with six rebounds and three steals. Unreal. And he made two tough shots late. The second, a leaner in the lane with 1:29 left, gave Denver (47-22) a 10-point lead. What a night.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Of the 13 teams the Nuggets have disposed of consecutively, eight currently are bound for the playoffs. “We're not beating up on the little guys,” Karl said. “I don't think our team is going to let up. I think they enjoy what's going on right now.” Denver (47-22) trails OKC (50-18) by just 3 1/2 games for second in the Western Conference playoff race and owns the tiebreaker with its 3-1 series edge over the Thunder thanks to winning the last three meetings. Eight of the Nuggets' 13 remaining games are at home and only five games are against playoff teams. The Thunder has 14 games remaining, with eight on the road and seven against playoffs teams, beginning with Wednesday's 7 p.m. game at Memphis.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: It’s real simple what happened here tonight. The Thunder got sucked into the Nuggets’ style, succumbed to it and suffered its first loss in 21 home games against Western Conference opponents. That was the story of the game, and it has to be a disappointing resultfor a team that should be past the point of playing its opponent’s style of play. For a team that likes to talk about how it prides itself on defense, the Thunder sure didn’t play much of it tonight. Instead, when the high-octane Nuggets came to town and the Thunder looked awfully interested in turning the contest into a run-and-gun affair. That much was evident from early in the first quarter. OKC pushed the pace, apparently trying to out-quick Denver’s quick, and jacked shots early and often. Some of the first quarter wasn’t so bad. But about halfway through the opening period, and for all of the second, the Thunder had embraced the track meet. Kevin Durant: “It’s easy to fall into that trap. That’s what they do. They get up and down the court. Our game is a little different. We want to run, but we want to run off of our defense.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: The Bucks know they have a chance to pick up ground in the Eastern Conference race. Atlanta is one of the three teams they are chasing along with Boston and Chicago. Milwaukee trails all three teams by two games in the loss column after Tuesday's victory. "Everyone knows it," Dalembert said. "We talk about it and it's enough talk for us. We just have to beat teams we are capable of beating and let it be known it's going to be a fight. "Who knows? In the next five or six games, we might end up being No. 6 (seed). We lost some games we were supposed to win. But they're NBA players. I think we learned our lesson. Games we should win we have to go out there and let it be known." Atlanta (37-30) currently is seeded fifth while Chicago (36-30) is sixth and Boston (36-30) seventh.

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Different city. Different arena. Different opponent. Same old maddening Trail Blazers. The team that wowed and surprised for so much of the season before eventually breaking your spirit was up to its usual tricks Tuesday night in Milwaukee, simultaneously playing some of the worst basketball and some of the best en route to a 102-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center. After a head-scratching start that included their worst offensive performance in any quarter this season, the Blazers mounted a furious second-half rally that ultimately came up short. Sound familiar? It should. It’s a similar script to the one the Blazers showcased during Monday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, during their first loss to the Bucks in January and, really, in so many games this season.

  • Phillip B. Wilson of The Indianapolis Star: George Hill says he meant no disrespect to fans. He just insists more Indiana Pacers fans should be in the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And he’s not going to budge on that point. In his first home game since making critical remarks about seeing too many Los Angeles Lakers fans at the Pacers’ venue, Hill received the usual round of applause when the starting lineup was announced Tuesday night. Before that, he sat at his locker and tried to expound upon his comment, which received negative fan responses on Twitter; local sports-talk radio shows; and in emails sent to The Indianapolis Star. One fan tweeted: “I’ll be real sure to boo the (crap) out of you now on.” “I’m not saying you can’t be somebody’s fan,” said Hill, an Indianapolis native who went to Broad Ripple High School and IUPUI. “I was a Michael Jordan fan growing up, but when I did go to the games, I always rooted for my hometown team. You root for who you want to root for, but I know one day that we’re going to get it like it used to be at Market Square Arena. That’s my dream, that’s my goal from when I first got here, to help bring fans back. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: For almost two seasons now, David West has been the anchor, the backbone of the Pacers. He’s the lead-by-example veteran the team has needed. West gets injured, heads to the sidelines, Tyler Hansbrough steps in, has two good games and all of sudden some people are saying West should come off the bench when he returns. Are you serious? Is that an early April Fools Day joke? I thought people were really joking about it when they mentioned it during and after the Cleveland game. But a few people brought it up again after Hansbrough had 14 points and 14 rebounds in Tuesday’s victory over Orlando. Put a stop to it. There’s no way in hell it’s going to happen. There’s no way in hell it should happen. How quickly some people forget, it wasn’t that long ago that Hansbrough was struggling so bad that an argument could be made that Jeff Pendergraph should back up West at power forward.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: During the first two and a half quarters Tuesday night, Jacque Vaughn saw Tobias Harris absorb a shot to the mouth, Nik Vucevic receive an elbow to the face and the Indiana Pacers' defense stymie the Orlando Magic at every turn. Vaughn couldn't hold in his frustration any longer. When one of his rookies was whistled for a questionable technical foul, Vaughn complained to the referees. Vaughn earned the first and second technical fouls of his head-coaching career, resulting in automatic ejection. But not even Vaughn's uncharacteristic outburst could snap the Magic out of their offensive funk. Facing a suffocating defense keyed by Roy Hibbert's shot-blocking presence, Orlando shot a season-low 31.8 percent and lost 95-73 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "I guess it was just an accumulation of the game," Vaughn said afterward. "I got a player who was hit in the mouth. It's just part of the game. I'm not going to lose any more money, but [it was] a tough game." Vaughn became upset when referees whistled rookie Kyle O'Quinn for a technical foul along with a technical foul on Hibbert as they jostled for position as a Pacers free throw sailed toward the hoop with Orlando trailing 57-44 with 4:47 remaining in the third quarter. From Vaughn's perspective, it appeared that O'Quinn had established inside position in the lane and that Hibbert had initiated the contact.

  • Ryan Lillis, Tony Bizjak and Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee: The frantic process of hammering out a financing plan for a new downtown sports arena has reached its most pivotal day. Sacramento city officials said Tuesday night they remain on track to release a plan Thursday that will lay out how they intend to pay for an arena at the site of the Downtown Plaza. City Manager John Shirey said he believes "we'll still make that deadline" of releasing a proposal Thursday, but that "it will take every minute between now and then to achieve that." "We're still on track," Shirey told the City Council, adding "it's still a work in progress at this moment." It has been an intense effort. Shirey's office has been negotiating with billionaire Ron Burkle over the financing plan for less than a month. … A price tag of the development has also not been released, although sources close to the deal have previously told The Bee the project would cost roughly $400 million.

  • Marcos Breton of The Sacramento Bee: It's going to take leadership and follow-through to make the abstract a reality. Quite frankly, it would be very easy to poke holes in this effort. But years of recession have taken a huge economic and emotional toll on the Sacramento region. The possible departure of the Kings coincides with hopes of a new economic cycle in the next five years. The difference between wallowing in the past or creating a new future is the choice before the Sacramento region now. What are we going to do?

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Eric Bledsoe has missed the Clippers' past four games, covering a span of nearly two weeks. Bledsoe said his sore left calf is feeling better, but better isn't good enough to get him back on the floor. "It's definitely something I couldn't let linger on," he said Tuesday. "I had to rest it at some point before it got worse." The team's patience with Bledsoe's recovery, though, could be tested. In the first half against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, Chauncey Billups had to leave the game because of a strained right groin muscle. He didn't return to the game. The injury leaves Maalik Wayns as the only healthy true point guard available to back up Chris Paul. Wayns was re-signed to a second ten-day contract by the team earlier in the day. The team slid Jamal Crawford over to play point guard minutes briefly in the fourth quarter, though Crawford's not a natural playmaker who the team prefers to play off the ball. The best scenario would be to have Bledsoe return healthy, playing at the level he did before the All-Star break. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said he hopes to have Bledsoe back sometime over the weekend.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Dwight Howard is growing all on his own, single-mindedly focused on who he wants to be, and he has taken another major step forward in his career by leaving the business manager who has been Howard's primary advisor his entire career, Kevin Samples. "We had nine great years together," Howard told me late Monday night. "Just time to go separate ways." For all the intangible growth Howard has discovered recently, breaking away from Samples is a concrete gesture that the past is the past – and Howard is confident in calling his own shots in the future. "I know what I want to accomplish," Howard said. "I've always written down my goals and everything I want, and I want to make sure I get 'em. Everything I've lost, everything that's gone away, I'm going to get it back." Samples came to Los Angeles with Howard after the trade to the Lakers, and it was hard to envision him not being around considering they're actually first cousins – and Howard's parents dispatched Samples to live with Howard in Orlando right after the 2004 NBA draft as a big brother/guidance counselor/business manager. Their relationship grew into Dwight Howard Enterprises, which had two and only two officers: Howard and Samples. For Howard to sever the tie is no small statement.