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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer: Are the Cavs figuring it out? Are they becoming a respectable basketball team, especially at home? Is there reason for playoff dreams when it comes to this 8-13 team? The answer is YES -- to all three questions. That was evident not just in Tuesday's 109-94 victory over sad-sack New York at Quicken Loans Arena, but in the way they have played recently. Two weeks ago, the Cavs were trying to claw out of a six-game losing streak. The threatening clouds of a stormy team meeting and charges of players being selfish hung over the team. There were rumors of Dion Waiters being traded, of Kyrie Irving being unhappy and general discontent with how coach Mike Brown was driving them too hard defensively -- while the offense appeared stalled. ... Since then, the Cavs have won four of five. That's why there is reason for some optimism in the dismal Eastern Conference -- where only three teams have winning records. So yes, the Cavs are only 8-13. Worse, they are 1-10 on the road. But the first step toward NBA legitimacy is winning at home -- and the Cavs are 7-3 on their own court. Remember, this was a team with a 14-27 home record a year ago.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Here is what's significant, besides the fact the Pacers are now three games ahead of the Heat in the race for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference: On a night when the Pacers committed 21 turnovers and gave up 30 first-quarter points — "We played with the jitters," Paul George said — they still got the best of the Heat over the last three quarters, and by a significant margin. George didn't put up MVP numbers (17 points, six turnovers), but played with an MVP constitution, defending James and, at times, Wade, ultimately limiting James to 6-of-16 shooting and just 17 points. "To do what he did, scoring 15 points in the second half and guarding LeBron James, and then Dwyane Wade when LeBron was out, it's a special performance by him (George)," Vogel said. Can't we just fast-forward and get on with the business of Pacers-Heat III? Can't we just ignore the rest of the moribund Eastern Conference and move on to the business that matters? May and June is when statements are made. We'll be watching, and listening.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not need to look at game film of his team’s 116-103 victory at Toronto on Tuesday to know his offense was in rhythm. All he had to look at was one number in the box score. “We had 30 assists,” Popovich said. “That’s always fantastic if you can get the ball moving to the point you get 30 assists. You know people are playing the right way.” It marked the third time this season the Spurs had chalked up that many assists. Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with nine, the 11th time this season he has handed out at least five off the Spurs’ bench. The Spurs are 10-1 in those games. “We are moving the ball better,” Ginobili said. “We just play together. It’s not like a one-man thing, trying to create for others. That really helps my game.” Ginobili added 16 points and five rebounds, his 28th career game with at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench. Since 1985-86, only Detlef Schrempf has more (55).

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The Thunder has won 11 of its last 12 games. And in related news, here are the shooting percentages, in order, of the teams they’ve faced during that stretch: 35, 48, 41, 39, 39, 44, 41, 39, 44, 37, 40, 35. It’s not the sexiest thing to discuss, because missed shots never are, but opponent’s field goal percentage is often the best indicator of a defense’s effectiveness. And lately, the Thunder has been dynamite in that area. And that was key in the win over Atlanta on Tuesday, with OKC holding the seventh-best shooting team in the league to a woeful 35 percent clip. The highlights will be dunks, the headlines will be stats, but on a night-to-night basis, steady and rock-solid defense continues to set this team apart.

  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: With a hurting heart and rested legs, Kevin Love got back to the game of basketball Tuesday at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Nine days after he had last played, six days after his maternal grandmother, Carol Lee Craig, died and one day after his first practice back with his teammates, Love hit the floor and played with an intensity that swept through the whole team. Love scored 26 points and had 16 rebounds and seven assists as the Wolves beat up on the Detroit Pistons 121-94. The whole time, Love played like the basketball court was a refuge. “It’s really a holy place for me,” said Love said. “It has been my whole life. Any time I’ve had some sort of adversity, the best way to get back is to get on the court. It was great to get back out there. I was with my family [in Oregon] throughout the weekend. But being around these guys, it’s a family atmosphere too." Frankly, the whole team played an inspired game. After too long with not enough ball movement, the cuts were crisp and the ball moved, one reason why the Wolves had a 28-8 edge from the free throw line, why all five Wolves starters scored in double figures, why even an unbelievable first-quarter shooting exhibition by the Pistons didn’t daunt a Wolves team that ended a two-game losing streak. It was a show of consistent force that had even coach Rick Adelman smiling.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks guard O.J. Mayo suffered through a 2-for-12 shooting night and was 0 of 4 from three-point range. But the Bucks guard still made a difference with seven assists and two blocks while playing a team-high 44 minutes. "It was an ugly game but a nice win," Mayo said. "I couldn't buy a bucket but I just tried to create for others and keep playing aggressively. "If it's not going for you, find other ways to get it done." Bucks coach Larry Drew noticed the effort. "I just remind O.J., you're not going to be able to shoot the ball well every night," Drew said. "But it's important he understands he has to do other things to affect the game. "He had seven assists. He did allow the game to come to him."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Grant Hill, the host of NBA TV’s regenerated “NBA Inside Stuff,” was filling in on the set for TNT’s “Inside the NBA” on Thursday night when he dropped a couple of beauties about being Shaquille O’Neal’s Suns teammate. The first was when Roger Mason Jr. stole Christmas. Jason Richardson famously left Mason alone in the corner for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave San Antonio a 91-90 victory at US Airways Center. Hill said O’Neal came into the Suns locker room and knocked an entire postgame Christmas feast for the players onto the floor. Hill redacted a main character from his other story, sharing only that O’Neal put a sleeper hold on a teammate. It was no exaggeration. The Heat Index filled the gaps in his anecdote. It was April 2008. Imagine the Suns environment after a crushing Game 1 loss at San Antonio when Tim Duncan made a game-tying overtime 3-pointer to spur his team to victory. There was an awkward discomfort about the off days in San Antonio and a sense that an ashen Mike D’Antoni was coaching the team for a final time. Who knew just how much he was handling? It turns out O’Neal and Gordan Giricek, who had been with the Suns for all of six weeks, mixed it up verbally during a closed practice to the point that O’Neal auditioned for his WWE future. He put Giricek in a sleeper hold, except it was no fake. Giricek passed out. Giricek played in the remainder of the season, but it was his last NBA season.

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Jason Kidd may not be seeing Lawrence Frank on a daily basis anymore, but at least he’s paying attention to his daily reports. When Kidd announced Frank would be “reassigned” from his assistant coaching duties last Tuesday — adding he would no longer be present on the bench during games or at practices — he said Frank would be writing “daily reports” off of the team’s games. Since then, various reports have leaked about how the relationship between the two — one that goes back to Kidd playing under Frank for several years as a Net — has deteriorated since Kidd openly and publicly pursued Frank to join his coaching staff this summer. When asked directly about their relationship before Tuesday night’s victory over the Celtics, Kidd declined to get into it. “Unfortunately, I haven’t read anything,” Kidd said of the various media reports on their relationship. “I’ve been focused on the game plan of playing Boston, and so unfortunately I can’t answer that question. “I’ve been reading the reports [Frank is filing], and that’s as far as it’s going.”

  • Andrew Keh of The New York Times: Last month the N.B.A. issued 21 fines and suspensions — a punitive spree that amounted to about $602,882. If all those penalties raised some eyebrows, it was for good reason. The number of punishments in November matched the total from the first full calendar month of the previous three N.B.A. seasons combined. And that sum did not include fines for the 343 technical fouls and 21 flagrant fouls called in games last month. Those infractions bring automatic fines of $2,000 each. “Normally, you don’t have that many early in the season, then around the holiday season, you get more, then as you get down near the playoffs, you get more,” said Rod Thorn, the N.B.A.’s president for basketball operations. “This year, it’s started early.” The league’s disciplinary binge reflected what appears to be a growing impulse in the N.B.A. and the other sports leagues. Fines in American sports have become a fact of life, like a charge at a tollbooth.