First Cup: Thursday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: These days — on the nights he plays — he waits out warmups on the midcourt line, intensely staring at the floor. Over the past few weeks, however, four of his teammates have resurrected his ritual, tossing the powder together as they gather underneath. “I think it was mostly J.J.,” Ray Allen said of James Jones. “We just started doing it,” Jones said, also referring to Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis. “I had never used it. Nothing special.” “It’s part of the routine now,” Lewis said. And there’s one part that never fails to make Lewis laugh. “Let me tell you the funniest thing,” Lewis said. “Before we do the powder toss, watch Ray and Mike. They run into the ref every time. Watch ‘em. Just watch ‘em.” Allen smiled when told of Lewis’s suggestion. “We set it up,” Allen said. “First, it started where Mike will shoot the little sticky tape over the thing, so then I started trying to block it.” Allen found that, as he did this, an official was always in the way. “So now he tries to fade away to where I go into the official,” Allen said. “We always find one to bump into. One official, he stepped in, and he was like, ‘Charge!’”

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Deron Williams looks ready for the playoffs to start. Williams was spectacular against the Celtics last night, finishing with 29 points and 12 assists as the Nets came away with a 101-93 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 18,624 inside TD Garden. With the win, the Nets moved closer to wrapping up fourth place in the Eastern Conference and clinching homecourt advantage in the first round. They own a 3 '/₂ -game edge over idle Chicago with four games left to play in the regular season. … The reason the Nets (46-32) were able to get the win, more than anything, was the continued excellence of their star point guard. Williams was sensational from start to finish, slicing and dicing his way through Boston’s typically stingy defense with ease. Williams even was able to make Avery Bradley, one of the league’s elite on-ball defenders, look silly. Bradley, Boston’s starting point guard, managed to play just 10 minutes after Williams saddled him with four fouls, and none of Bradley’s teammates fared much better. It’s the kind of virtuoso performance the Nets have come to expect from Williams in recent weeks, as he continued his dramatic resurgence since the All-Star break. Williams came into last night’s game averaging 22.5 points and 7.8 assists a night.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Worse, there was speculation their best two players - Blake Griffin and Chris Paul - were at odds. And Paul and Griffin both sensed it, which is why they decided to sit down and talk to each other. The gist of the conversation being the Clippers fate rested on theirshoulders, and that their actions from that point on would set the tone for the entire team. "We talked about how we always need to be on the same page. We always need to be communicating," Griffin said. "Even if we might not have a good offensive game we can still contribute defensively and by passing the ball and in how we talk and how we lead during timeouts. Things like that, we can always do well. We always have control over those things." Paul agreed. "It definitely starts with me and Blake," Paul said "On the offensive end and the defensive end. When me and him are on the same page everyone else has no choice but to fall in line. Me and Blake realize we have to bring the energy every night and everyone else will feed off on it." The Clippers have won three straight games since the meeting, their defense picking up and their offense playing smoother and at a more up tempo pace in the process.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The Lakers' 113-106 victory Wednesday over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden cemented a one-game edge over the Utah Jazz (41-38) for the Western Conference's eighth playoff spot with three games remaining. The Lakers also swept their first back-to-back set this season after 15 unsuccessful attempts despite playing in a venue where they have gone 5-17 since 2002. It all started with Bryant scoring 47 points on 14 of 26 shooting in 48 minutes, an output that eclipsed the Rose Garden record held by LeBron James. "He's just determined to get us into the playoffs," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "That's what happens when you open your mouth and guarantee we'll get in the playoffs. Now he's got to do it." Bryant became the first player in NBA history to record 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals in a game. … Bryant converted on two free throws, thanks to a clear-path foul from Lillard. Bryant then followed that up with a 23-foot jumper that put the Lakers up 106-100 with 4:09 left. Once Bryant stepped to the free throw line with 28.2 seconds remaining, Lakers fans drowned out the Rose Garden with "MVP" chants. "That's very unexpected, particularly in this building considering all the history that we have," Bryant said. "But I appreciate it especially at this stage of this career."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: Milwaukee's Larry Sanders blocks a lot of shots. And what came in the mail Wednesday? Larry Sanders blocks. See, the Bucks made wooden children's blocks that spell out LARRY SANDERS on one side and DEFENSIVE POY on another. Adorable. NBA teams like to send out these cutesy things to get award voters to consider their candidates. Nice gesture, but I believe the Nuggets' Andre Iguodala is the league's defensive player of the year — based on statistics, advanced statistics and the old-fashioned eye test. But it would be hard for the Nuggets to do something with "Andre Iguodala," short of sending out "dala" bills. That would be creative, though unethical. (That being said, my crowning achievement this season was the creation of the Iguodala nickname, in the spirit of a particular Wu Tang Clan song: "Andre Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.A.M. Get The Money Iguodala Dala Bills Yall.") The last time a perimeter player was the NBA defensive player of the year, Iguodala wasn't even in the league. That year, the former Ron Artest won the award. And since then, there has been a litany of big-man shot blockers, be it Ben Wallace, Marcus Camby or Dwight Howard. Could this be the season the trend shifts? Well, this should be the season the trend shifts. Iguodala has transformed Denver's defense, and for all players with at least 100 possessions, he has the fifth-best points allowed per possession in one-on-one scenarios, according to Synergy Sports.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks got the energy — and the result — they needed. A day after a meeting between coach Larry Drew and three team leaders, the Hawks snapped a three-game losing with an impressive effort. Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the addressees, combined for 77 points in a 124-101 victory over the 76ers on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. “That is where this whole game began,” Drew said. “… The way we played against this team the last time we played them I thought was just a total embarrassment from an energy standpoint. The point I made to all of those guys are they are the guys we fuel off of. They can’t come out lethargic. They can’t come out just going through the motions. They have to come out on top of their games, particularly with their energy. That is where everything begins.” … Drew wrote two words on the white board in the team locker room before the game. Energy. Purpose. “Forget about our coverages,” Drew said. “Forget about our matchups. Forget all that. If we bring those two things, we’ll put ourselves in good position.”

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: A creature of habit who lives by a day-planner, J.J. Redick didn't want anything to throw him in his return Wednesday night. "I need to be in the moment," he said. But Redick was caught off guard, learning only 90 minutes before the game that the Magic had prepared a video tribute in his honor. It was a classy gesture by the club and fans rose to give J.J. a standing ovation midway through the first period. Hmmm, don't remember the Magic showing a single Dwight Howard highlight when he came back a few weeks ago. Probably just an oversight. A fan held a sign that read, "Thank You J.J. We miss you." Redick teared up and waved to the crowd, his coolness having melted away. There was a shot of Redick's wife, Chelsea, on the Jumbotron, wiping her eyes, retouching her makeup. A nice, bittersweet moment of a forgettable season, a season of rebuilding and reunions. No need for anybody to shed any tears for Redick, though. J.J. is fine. He hated to leave Orlando, have his routine broken, his comfort zone detonated. But after the initial shock waves wear off and the annoying change of address forms are filled out, players adjust. J.J.'s adjustment has just included playing with a few ball hogs and waiting for Lake Michigan to thaw so he and Chelsea could take a walk around a park in Milwaukee. This is merely the business of the NBA, but a loud, unnerving wake-up call for guys like J.J. who are moved for the first time.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns’ youth movement has frequently included a pair of 30-somethings. Luis Scola, who turns 33 in 19 days, returned to the starting lineup for the past 10 games, including a 38-minute outing Tuesday night at Houston. Jermaine O’Neal, 34, entered Wednesday night having taken at least 10 shots in his previous four games off the bench. In Tuesday’s loss at Houston, O’Neal and Scola closed the game on the floor together as they often have. The potential game-winning play was drawn up for O’Neal, who got it blocked, setting up Scola for a potential winner that he missed. “We kind of just go with the guys who are playing well,” Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter said. “Our young guys contributed really well throughout the game. Whoever’s playing well, you let them play. They root for each other.” Hunter said that he has felt the Suns needed O’Neal and Scola in the games at times for their steadying veteran influence, particularly on offense to bail the team out of extended ruts. “That’s important because you don’t want them to get in a situation where they’re trying to carry too much,” Hunter said. “You want them to learn and have as many positive things to build off than negative.” Scola and Markieff Morris are the only Suns to appear in every game this season.

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Each time he was intentionally fouled, Andre Drummond calmly stepped to the free-throw line, ignoring Cavaliers coach Byron Scott's intimation he couldn't make free throws and the raucous Cleveland crowd jeering at him. Drummond, a 34 percent free-throw shooter, merely went about his business in his career-best night, and the strategy wound up working against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who fouled Drummond one time too many, leading to a 111-104 Pistons win at Quicken Loans Arena. Drummond finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes, the best night of his young NBA career. Drummond was intentionally fouled seven times between the 5:20 and two-minute mark, when it's well within the NBA rules to send bad free-throw shooters to the line. He split each time except for the last trip, when he made both. Most players take the move as disrespect, but the 19-year old Drummond playfully looked at it as an opportunity to pad his stats, which is why he didn't flinch when Cavaliers players told him, "I'm about to foul you." "It gives me more points, puts us in the lead," said Drummond. "At first I tried to avoid it but there's no point because they're gonna see the fear. What are you going to run for? I tried to build confidence and that's what I did today."

  • Tony Bizjak, Ryan Lillis and Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee: The Maloof family has given Sacramento an ultimatum: Come up with a solid bid to purchase the Kings by 5 p.m. Friday, or we won't even entertain your overtures. A source close to those negotiations told The Bee on Wednesday that the Maloofs have given the ultra-wealthy investors seeking to keep the team in Sacramento two more days to submit a written, binding "backup" offer that matches the deal the family has in place to sell the franchise to a group in Seattle. If the Maloofs receive a matching offer by the end of business Friday, they will consider it as a serious backup proposal should the NBA nullify their tentative deal with Seattle, the source said. If the offer doesn't arrive in time – or falls short of matching the Seattle bid – the Maloofs said they wouldn't negotiate with the Sacramento group. The source, who was not authorized to speak about the deal, said the NBA a few weeks ago forwarded a "statement of interest" in buying the team to the Maloofs from Sacramento-based investors. … State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in an interview Wednesday that the Sacramento offer is "strong and fully competitive." "I don't want to get too precise here, but it is as strong as the Seattle offer," said Steinberg, who took part in Sacramento's presentation to the NBA in New York. "It is equivalent to the Seattle offer." Steinberg declined to reveal the value of the Sacramento offer.

  • Hillel Kuttler of The New York Times: For the eclectic Stoudemire, who has also written children’s books and is the subject of a documentary that will have its premiere April 19 on EPIX, the coaching role is new, but the destination will not be. He visited Israel in 2010, shortly after signing a free-agent contract with the Knicks. That trip, he said then, was spiritual in nature. The coming visit promises to be uplifting, too, especially ifCanada earns the gold medal, something it last accomplished in 1997. Canada has scored a coup just by getting a star of Stoudemire’s magnitude to Israel, notably a star who professed in his previous trip that he believed he might be part Jewish. That Stoudemire is coaching rather than playing does not disappoint the Canadian organizers, who see his involvement as spurring interest in their team and in the international Maccabi sports movement. “It was a bit of a dream scenario to reach out to Amar’e because of his discovering his Jewish roots and his playing basketball,” Alex Brainis, the head of Maccabi Canada’s delegation, said. “We figured that if he said yes, this would be a big recruiting tool.” When offered the post, “Amar’e was nothing but enthusiastic,” Brainis said. Stoudemire, who is recovering from knee surgery and may be able to return to the Knicks in the first round of the N.B.A. playoffs, will be one of the most recognizable faces at the Maccabiah, as the event is known.