First Cup: Thursday
November, 21, 2013
By Nick Borges
- Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger keeps preaching that there isn’t anything mystical about his team’s improved play as of late. The operative word is defense. “We’re just doing a better job of hunkering in on the defensive end of the floor. We’re not being so scattered,” Joerger said Wednesday night before the Griz took on the Golden State Warriors. The Griz then took the floor and acted out exactly what their coach talked about. On a night when the Griz struggled mightily shooting the basketball, they still imposed their will, their pace and their grind long enough to leave Oracle Arena with an 88-81 overtime victory over the Warriors. Memphis, which completed a four-game sweep on this road trip, dictated the game’s tempo throughout the second half to overcome a 12-point deficit and earn its 11th straight win over Golden State. The last time the Griz lost to the Warriors was Nov. 3, 2010.
- Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star: It’s been 185 days since Roy Hibbert stalled Carmelo Anthony’s drive to the basket in midair; 185 days since Lance Stephenson erupted for 25 points in Game 6, proving the worth and wait Larry Bird had invested in him; 185 days since the Pacers sent the New York Knicks abruptly into their summer vacation. Indiana added to New York’s misery Wednesday night, sticking a dagger into the heart of a struggling Knicks team in the latest chapter of a stirring Eastern Conference rivalry the Pacers have owned of late. It was Paul George this time, seizing center stage late in the fourth quarter and not relinquishing it until the Pacers (10-1) had earned a 103-96 overtime victory at Madison Square Garden. Indiana’s All-Star guard made three free throws with 5.2 seconds left to force overtime, then carried his team in the extra session, scoring nine of the Pacers’ 14 points. He finished with a season-high 35, 21 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was the latest edition of George’s growing late-game resume, one that began to blossom last season and shined throughout Indiana’s six-game victory over the Knicks in last spring’s second-round playoff series.
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: It was the way Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul made NBA history Wednesday that was so impressive. It was the way Paul shredded Minnesota's defense in passing Hall of Fame member Magic Johnson's record that was so awe-inspiring. Paul shook free of his early shooting struggles and delivered the game's most important moments in carrying the Clippers to a 102-98 victory over the Timberwolves at the Target Center. He had 16 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 20, and by adding 11 assists for his 12th consecutive double-double, Paul is alone in the history books. During one stretch in the fourth quarter, Paul scored 13 consecutive points, and 16 of the Clippers' final 21 points. "The fourth quarter is winning time," Paul said. "We all are competitive. But as the leader of the team, me and Blake [Griffin], we know that's when it's time to win." Paul was tied with Johnson (1990-91) for most double-doubles of 10-plus points and 10-plus assists to start a season. "Magic is a mentor of mine, somebody I look up to," Paul said. "His basketball credentials are unbelievable. So to be mentioned with anything with him is huge. It's an honor, a privilege."
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Terry Stotts was in the middle of answering a question during his postgame news conference with reporters when a guy wearing headphones and operating a video camera inexplicably blurted out loud: “I don’t have focus!” The question-and-answer session screeched to a halt. The group, huddled in a small circle outside the visiting locker room at the Bradley Center, went silent. Stotts’ focus disappeared. “You ruined my train of thought there,” Stotts said. “(My answer) was going to be deep.” The scrum chuckled, Stotts smiled and the news conference pressed on. Nothing, it seems, can slow down these tantalizing Trail Blazers. The Blazers continued their improbable early-season march Wednesday night, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 91-82 before 11,789. It was the Blazers’ eighth consecutive win, including their sixth in a row on the road, and moved their record to 10-2.
- Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: If the Heat is going to keep playing like this without Dwyane Wade, the team’s starting shooting guard and his weak knees should take as much time as possible before returning to the court. Wade missed his second game in as many nights due to lingering knee soreness, but it’s not like it much mattered. For the second consecutive night, all five of the Heat’s starters watched a fourth quarter from the bench as Miami’s reserves closed out the Magic in a 120-92 victory. The Heat (9-3) is now 2-1 in the second nights of back-to-backs this season after a physically difficult stretch of the schedule in the last week. James Jones once again started for Wade and once again filled in admirably, going 5 of 7 from three-point range and scoring 17 points in just 21 minutes. He was 4 of 5 from three-point range in the third quarter alone to spark the blowout. The Heat outscored the Magic 36-22 in the decisive quarter. “He is mentally tough and he always keeps himself busy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Jones.
- Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: After the Mavericks rallied from 18 points down, including 14 entering the fourth quarter, to pull out Wednesday night’s 123-120 victory over Houston, Dirk Nowitzki didn’t leave the training room and reach his locker stall until 12:10 a.m. Thursday. “The comeback was massive,” he said. “We’re still unbeaten (6-0) at home. That’s what good teams do is protect the home court. That was a nice and fun win. Seeing the crowd like that in that run in the fourth quarter was spectacular.” On the night he passed Reggie Miller for 15th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 25,298 points, the historical aspect was almost an afterthought for Nowitzki. “That’s not bad,” he said of passing Miller. “I obviously didn’t think when I first got here that 15, 16 years later I’d be in the top 15 scoring of all time. It’s great. It was a great night, but I’m really more happy about the win, to be honest. That means more to me right now than any of the records.” Monta Ellis’ 37 points and Nowitzki’s 35 gave the Mavericks two 30-point scorers in the same game for the first time since Feb. 24, 2010, when Nowitzki scored 31 points and Jason Terry scored 30 in a 101-96 victory over the Lakers.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Bobcats coach Steve Clifford was asked a very good question post-game that elicited a better answer. If a 7-5 start became a 21-61 finish last season, then what is it about this team that would make fans trust 6-6? Clifford replied that what this team has accomplished defensively, plus what they have done without due to injury, speaks well of the early record. "We’re defending and rebounding. We have yet to play any sustained minutes with our best offensive player,” Clifford said, referring to center Al Jefferson. “We’re playing younger guys, so there’s a lot of room for improvement.” Translation: When Mike Dunlap said at 7-5 last season that he didn’t trust the record, I agreed. I’m not saying the Bobcats will finish .500, but this 6-6 start feels so much more authentic of what they are.
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Long before he became the Spurs' starting small forward, the so-called future face of the franchise or indubitably the breakout star of the latest round of H-E-B grocery chain commercials, Kawhi Leonard was something else entirely. He was a football player. Leonard played safety and wide receiver growing up in Riverside, Calif. That lasted until his ninth-grade year. Then, he quit the game for good. “I hated putting on pads,” Leonard said. “I was good. I probably could have gone to the NFL. I just hated practice.” The NFL's loss has been the Spurs' gain, and it was again Wednesday night during a 104-93 victory over Boston at the AT&T Center. The Spurs were toying around in the second half with another overmatched opponent, still not in the clear but getting there, when Leonard experienced a flashback to the football fields of Southern California. Boston's Courtney Lee was looking to pass to Jeff Green near the top of the key. Reading the play like a former defensive back, Leonard jumped Green's route, intercepted Lee's throw and took the ball the other way to paydirt. “I just saw the whole game they were being really lazy with their passes, not really worried about the defender,” Leonard said. “I just picked and chose that opportunity and got the steal.”
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Washington Wizards didn't have to search for motivation on Wednesday night in their rematch with Cleveland. Just five days earlier, they blew a 15-point lead at home and made a series of miscues in the final minutes of regulation before losing to the Cavaliers in overtime. "We definitely owe them," Bradley Beal said before the game at Quicken Loans Arena.Their matchup Saturday ended with Cavaliers backup Jarrett Jack making a layup after the Wizards had conceded the game in the closing seconds. An angry Nene shouted that he would remember Jack running up the score. Beal felt the need to address the issue personally with Jack, a conversation that led to others separating the two players. In the locker room afterward, a dejected John Wall spoke in mumbled tones after being upstaged by fellow former No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving. With revenge on their minds, the Wizards built a 27-point lead behind Wall's playmaking, Beal's sharpshooting and Nene's inside scoring Wednesday but had to hold on for a harder-than-necessary 98-91 victory. When asked how his heart was doing after his team nearly lost another game it had in control, Coach Randy Wittman joked, “It’s always better after a win.”
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: In the Hawks previous two games, Shelvin Mack was the first backup point guard off the bench behind Jeff Teague. Rookie Dennis Schroder had filled that role except for his one-game NBA suspension. Mack had a double-double of 12 points and 12 assists in 24 minutes against the Knicks. He had seven points and two assists in 25 minutes against the Heat. Schroder did not play against the Knicks and played just five minutes against the Heat. Budenholzer would not say if the recent bench rotation is an indication that Mack has assumed the primary backup point guard position. “I think that Shelvin has played well, obviously the last couple games but also earlier when he’s had opportunities earlier,” Budenholzer said. “We are with lineups and combinations looking at different groups and the best combinations and the best groups. All of us have things we need to work on and improve, including Dennis. I think Shelvin is taking advantage of his opportunity. We’ll see where it goes from here.”
- Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Before playing at home for just the sixth time in his NBA career, eight-year veteran Kyle Lowry had his teammates over for dinner on Tuesday night. Lowry’s mother and wife cooked the food and a barber was even on hand to give out haircuts to those in need. A week earlier, the Raptors dined at the Memphis home of Rudy Gay. Head coach Dwane Casey said the gatherings are good for the team. “Any time you get guys together off the court, build that camaraderie, it’s pretty good,” Casey said. “He did it up right. Everybody had a great time.” Though the Rudy Gay/DeMar DeRozan combo has been derided in some quarters as selfish, the team-bonding appears to be working as everybody has seemed fine with the fact the pair takes the vast majority of the squad’s shots. “Those guys are going to take shots, they’re going to miss shots and they’re going to make shots. At the end of the day, they’re our go-to guys and we’re going to ride on them, we’re going to support them no matter what happens,” Lowry said pre-game.
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: It was a scene that happened more than once Wednesday night. When a King made a good play, multiple teammates stood and cheered with approval. It was all about the team as the Kings had multiple players contribute to their 113-106 win over the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Every King who played scored and five reached double figures. The Kings (4-7) posted their first road win of the season, scored a season high and have won consecutive games for the first time this season by sweeping the home-and-home set with the Suns. The Kings have beaten Phoenix in their last four meetings dating to last season. Phoenix played without its leading scorer, Eric Bledsoe (bruised shin), in both games. But the Kings had lost seven of their previous eight games before playing the Suns, so they’re welcoming any good fortune. And they were happy to see each other do well, something that hasn’t always been obvious from a team that’s been labeled selfish in recent seasons.