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First Cup: Friday

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: It was time for the Milwaukee Bucks to make a stand. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard were in town Thursday night for the Los Angeles Lakers' annual visit, but it didn't matter. The Bucks knew that somehow, some way, they had to halt a four-game slide that was putting their playoff push in reverse gear. And they did it with a collective effort, posting a 113-103 victory that featured a career-high 21 points from center Larry Sanders and a stellar defensive performance by veteran Marquis Daniels, who had the difficult assignment to defend Bryant. "We came out and accepted the challenge," Daniels said. "We needed a win bad. We came out with more intensity and more energy. You just try to make all his shots tough and make him work for everything that he got." Bryant finished with a game-high 30 points and came within five points of passing Wilt Chamberlain for fourth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. But the Bucks (35-36) pushed the pace in the second half while scoring 60 points and delighting a majority of the 16,884 fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, despite a strong presence of Lakers fans.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The anxiety heightened as former Lakers coach Bill Sharman watched the television screen. He "felt that Miami had a very good chance" to surpass the Lakers' all-time record of 33 consecutive wins set in the 1971-72 season when Sharman oversaw the team's first NBA championship in Los Angeles. Even with Miami nursing a double-digit deficit for most of Wednesday night against Chicago, Sharman said he didn't feel fully at ease as he watched the game with his wife, Joyce, and sister-in-law until the Heat officially ended their 27-game winning streak. "We were all very nervous even when Chicago was ahead because the Heat team is so good and has come back from large deficits in other games," Sharman wrote in an email to this newspaper. "Who can say if the 33-straight winning streak will ever be broken? I am glad that it stays with the Lakers." Sharman, 87, has spent the past 23 years as a Lakers' special consultant, drafting monthly reports filled on the team's play. Hence, why Sharman flipped back-and-forth between the Lakers' win Wednesday over Minnesota and Miami's loss to Chicago.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Do the Pacers need Danny Granger? Yes. But officially shutting Granger down, which was his decision, is the best thing for him and the Pacers. Don’t get me wrong, you never want a player to be sidelined with an injury. But the Pacers need to close the chapter on Granger this season. The most obvious question was: What changed from Frank Vogel saying before and after the game in Houston that Granger would play in Dallas? As of Thursday morning, the Pacers were under the impression Granger would be play. Vogel wouldn’t publicly go on the record and blatantly lie. … This was strictly Granger’s call. He knew he wouldn’t be able to play through the pain. He made the decision to have surgery at some point Thursday. … The next question is: Will Granger ever play again? No one will know the answer until Granger has the surgery and starts the rehab process. Granger is heading into the final year of his contract that will pay him $14.2 million next season. Will he back in a Pacers uniform? Nobody knows – yet. And we may not know for some time. But for now, the right thing is to shut Granger down.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: While Rick Carlisle acknowledged that the workload for his players increases this time of year, the Dallas Mavericks’ coach realizes that he might lean more on 11-time All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki. “Dirk’s a superstar, and superstars have more of that burden on their shoulders than the other guys just because of who they are, what they can do and what they have done,” Carlisle said. “Dirk’s worked himself to a point now where he can carry that load within reason. “But we have to take advantage of the things that he does with his screens that gets guys open.” Owner Mark Cuban appreciates all the glorious moments Nowitzki has given the Mavs during his 15-year career. “Dirk will play 48 minutes if that’s what we ask him to do — and like it,” Cuban said. “It’s been 20 years of great stuff from him in that locker room. “He is the culture of this team and you can’t underestimate the impact.”

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: If there is a cliché about the importance of statistics, it probably applies here. Because when it comes to Keith Smart and his defensive grading system, he's not likely to deviate from it when substituting players. That was evident in Wednesday's win at Golden State, when the Kings' leading scorer and rebounder, center DeMarcus Cousins, and starting power forward Jason Thompson did not play in the fourth quarter, even though they weren't having bad games based on their offensive numbers. Smart's grading system isn't based just on defensive statistics such as steals and blocked shots. It rates players for being in the right defensive coverages, being in the right spots on the floor, and if they take gambles that hurt the team, among other aspects. "The one thing about the grades is it just lets you know when I make a decision, here is the reason," Smart said. "The grade and the numbers don't lie. They come together."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: At this low point, with nine remaining games, mounting losses are just fine with many fans and many in the organization who have an eye on draft lottery odds to reverse the franchise’s three-year spiral. Some loyalists could never wish for losses, question how much a weak draft class will help or just disapprove of what a losing atmosphere does to young players. The Suns players are the most united front. Their futures depend on performance. Some do not have certain returns in Phoenix or even the league. Most players are wired to compete, albeit now with a resigned outlook. Players are disappointed when the US Airways Center crowd turns purple and gold for a game against the Lakers but understand their fans’ conflicted support in the seaon’s final weeks. “I understand it because they want us to turn around as fast as possible,” Suns co-captain Jared Dudley said. “At the same time, I think the team with the worst record hasn’t even won the No. 1 pick for a few years (2004). At the same time, individual players are playing for their jobs, playing for next year, playing for reputation. We have to finish it out the right way. Hopefully, we win some games. You can’t always count on making shots. But playing hard and together you can do.”

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: After losing for the first time in 28 games Wednesday, Miami's LeBron James sat at his locker and complained about the rough treatment he received from the Bulls. From the Bulls' perspective, those comments could serve as a chapter in the how-to guide of beating the Heat. Especially if the best-case scenario occurs and these teams meet in the playoffs with Derrick Rose back in uniform. But slow down a second. The Bulls probably reached the proper limit of physical play Wednesday at the United Center, and it paid off in a 101-97 victory, snapping Miami's 27-game winning streak. There's a tradition among NBA referees where the more aggressive team usually gets away with more. That means attacking the basket, hitting the glass and making the first contact when battling for position. The Bulls executed this concept well against the Heat. Even while putting heavy emphasis on getting back defensively, they took advantage of Miami's small lineup and won the second-chance points 22-8.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Zach Randolph’s eyes grew wide with disbelief. Lionel Hollins cracked a joke. There is a growing belief that the Grizzlies’ veteran power forward and head coach aren’t on the same page as they prepare for a postseason run. However, both men dismissed that notion Thursday, saying there is no friction between them. “Our relationship is fine,” Randolph said. “I respect my coach.” … Memphis fell behind the New York Knicks by 30 points during a loss Wednesday night when the Knicks’ broadcasters suggested that there was a wedge between Hollins and Randolph. “The only beef I had with Zach is he was excessively late for a shootaround that started at 4:30 p.m. (last Saturday),” Hollins said. “I told him I can’t start you and he understood. Everybody’s got their opinion about what goes on in our locker room. But only the people in there know. I haven’t had a beef with Zach and he hasn’t had one with me.”

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: General manager Daryl Morey on Thursday disputed rookie forward Royce White’s contention a plan is in place for White to leave the Development League at the end of the regular season and skip the playoffs, indicating no decision has been made. Morey said in his weekly radio interview he expects White to play the remaining four regular-season games with the Vipers before a decision is reached about him playing in the playoffs. “We’ll see where it goes from there,” Morey said. “The plan is to play it by ear. See what the best plan is at that point when we reach the end.” But White said via Twitter on Wednesday that a plan for him to leave the Vipers at the end of the regular season has been in place for several weeks, citing the “hectic” schedule of the D-League playoffs. White had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in his first game back, but eight points with two rebounds and two assists in the second game.

  • Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune: A hypothetical question has been making the rounds lately asks if the current Warriors were to play a series of crucial games against the "We Believe" team of 2007, which would prevail. It is chewy candy for the mind and the answer, for now, is the "We Believe" bunch. Not because it was more talented; it wasn't. Not because it was more athletic; it wasn't. Not because it shot better; it didn't. Not because it played better defense; it most certainly didn't. But the "We Believe" team, inferior in so many ways, would have a decisive edge in two elements crucial to success: mental toughness and NBA experience. Those ingredients are missing from the current Warriors as they stagger through the final weeks of the regular season, and every now and then they've gotten spanked because of it -- most recently in Wednesday's distressing home loss to lowly Sacramento. These Warriors are destined for the playoffs but still digesting the rules required to gain admittance to the NBA elite, the room where the sign over the entrance says "Grown Men Only."

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: The turning point for Reggie Evans occurred when he held his tongue and stepped out of character, avoiding conflict after a teammate told interim coach P.J. Carlesimo that the forward needed to be benched because he was an offensive liability. Evans, typically outspoken, said he left it alone at that moment instead of lashing back, using the insult as motivation before progressing into the most positively surprising season for the Nets. Evans, who has more 20-rebound games (7) this season than any player in the league, traces it all back to an insult. "In the past when people play off me, I was still looking to be less aggressive on the offensive end. I still was looking to pass it and stuff like that. And (after a teammate told Carlesimo to bench me), I said, 'Let me just be a little aggressive and make them play us honestly instead of not playing me and stuff like that.' "I'm just doing my best to be more aggressive so if they respect me, cool. If they don't, cool. I'm not tripping. At the end of the day, they know I'm out there."

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Matt Barnes, a player who has made a career of not backing down from anyone on the court, didn't back down from the touchy topic, calling for the leae to be more transparent with their officials. "One I thing I will say is I know they get graded. I think their grades should be public record," Barnes said before the Clippers' victory over New Orleans Wednesday. "Everything we do on the court is public. Our fines, our techs, everything we do is under a microscope. And the refs are supposed to be a part of this league just like we are. Their grades should be public record. Everyone should be able to see." Everyone can see the Clippers' problems with technical fouls this year – the numbers are easily available. Players have been hit with 58 technicals this season, led by Blake Griffin's 12. Coach Vinny Del Negro has picked up three technicals, with the team averaging 0.8 technicals a game, tied for first in the league with Oklahoma City. Almost all of those technicals have come because of complaining to officials, including technicals against Griffin and Crawford Tuesday night in the team's overtime loss to Dallas. "It's hard," Barnes said. "When you're playing as hard as you can and you're getting beat up and nothing is being done about it, it's frustrating." Multiple players agreed that the team has developed a reputation around the league for complaining about calls.