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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Paul Millsap's 34: The Hawks forward shrugs off any notion that he is under pressure to fill in with Al Horford lost for the season. He poured in a season-high 34 points and added 15 rebounds in the victory. He scored 11 first-quarter points to keep the Hawks in the game after they started 1-for-9 and finished the period 8-for-21. He also scored eight points in the fourth quarter as the Hawks rallied from an 11-point deficit. “It was important because, let’s face it, if I didn’t we would have been down by a lot more," Millsap said of his early success. "Guys just told me to continue to keep going and eventually their shots would fall. In the fourth quarter, everybody started getting their shot up and we got into a little rhythm.” In the three games without Horford, Millsap is averaging 28 points and 11.7 rebounds. That includes a 33-point and 34-point game. “I don’t think about it," Millsap said of picking up for Horford.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Veteran guard Luke Ridnour was inserted in the Bucks starting lineup on Tuesday, and rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo moved from shooting guard to small forward. Khris Middleton came off the bench, and the Bucks had their 18th different starting lineup. "Just change it up," coach Larry Drew said of the reason for the switch. "Put another ball handler out there; put another guy out there with experience. "Get another guy out there that's capable of making plays. Get another guy out there that can make the three. Just give it a different look." Ridnour had seven points and five assists in 20 minutes off the bench against Brooklyn on Friday, but he did not play due to coach's decision in the home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. He missed the first seven games of the season due to back spasms and has four DNP-CDs this season after starting all 82 games for the Timberwolves last season. ... Ridnour has played more in the last few weeks, including a 21-minute stint against Cleveland (11 points in an overtime loss). "At this stage, I have to be open to looking at lineup changes and different combinations out there," Drew said. "And I will continue to do that."

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: “I’m glad your flight arrived at halftime,” is how Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge greeted Nicolas Batum at the team’s locker room entrance at the end of tonight’s game. Batum held the leading scorer in the league in Kevin Durantto one point in the fourth quarter and Batum posted 15 huge points in the second half that helped the Portland Trail Blazers break a two-game losing skid with a 98-94 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. LaMarcus Aldridge went for 25 points and 14 rebounds. Damian Lillard contributed 21 points, four rebounds and 11 assists. Wesley Matthews supplied 16 points. This story sounds all good and dandy but that’s not the way things started out, especially for Batum. Zero points. 0-for-3 and three turnovers was his statline at the end of the first two quarters. Not to mention his assignment on the defensive end being Durant, was scoring at will with 22 first half points. Batum had disappeared. He was nonexistent and quite frankly, he was a burden to the team. “It was one of those nights where you don’t know why,” he said. “I had the same routine. I got my sleep. I can’t explain it.”

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It’s always a sad thing when NBA legends play past their expiration dates. And while not many Spurs fans will shed too many tears for Tim Duncan’s long-time antagonist, Kevin Garnett, they might at least take pity on him after he endured one of the worst games of his career, going without a bucket for just the second time since his rookie season in 1995-96. Tim Duncan, in contrast, continued his recent strong play with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting. He might have had his stretch of double-doubles snapped at nine in the past 10 games, but he was so much more active and productive than Garnett that it was nearly impossible to grasp that the two rivals, both 37, are separated by just one month. Especially when you consider that Garnett has played only about 3,000 more career minutes than Duncan when playoffs are included. Not a small sum, to be sure, but not nearly enough to account for the difference between the two first-ballot Hall of Famers as Duncan rounds into form while Garnett endures the worst season of his career. The Spurs improved to 32-19, including postseason, when Duncan and Garnett play.

  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Though Indiana had some rough shooting stretches (34-of-77 from the field), the Pacers suffocated the Cleveland Cavaliers, forcing 51 misses and just 1-of-12 shooting from beyond the 3-point line in a 91-76 victory. "Tonight's game was a perfect example of how you can still go out and win a basketball game when your shot's not falling," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "So you got to win the game in other ways and we won it by really buckling down on the defensive end." Also, Pacers point guard George Hill primarily defended the Cavs' prime player, Kyrie Irving, and held him to 10 points – tied for his second-lowest mark of the season. "What George Hill did was as special of a performance as we've seen all year," Vogel said. "He's a special point guard defender. He's impossible to screen, he gets over everything and he's just got the length and really just did a great job on Kyrie all night."

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: Once again turning up the intensity, the attention to detail, the effort and the toughness when it came down to winning time, the Raptors rolled in another excellent fourth quarter, holding the Bulls to just four field goals on 24 shots in the final 12 minutes of an 85-79 victory. They did it in what is becoming typical Raptors fashion: Turning the screws when the game got tight. The Raptors went from five in arrears to start the final quarter to up 12 with about five minutes left on the strength of their bench. “Honestly, those guys who started the fourth quarter — I believe it was DeMar (DeRozan), John (Salmons), Greivis (Vasquez), JV (Jonas Valanciunas) and Pat (Patterson) — those guys won that game for us,” said Kyle Lowry. “I tip my hat to them, they won that game for us tonight. They played with toughness and got things going.” Toughness was the buzzword of the night for a game that at times was barely watchable. There were no moments of sustained offensive flow, no fast breaks or transition baskets; it was tough, hard-nosed, beat-’em-up basketball and the Raptors never retreated an inch. Digest that for a moment: A team that used to have a reputation for softness more than anything, hit first, hit often, hung around and beat a veteran team at its own game.

  • Jimmy Durkin of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors started their New Year's celebration early with a 94-81 blowout victory over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday. The Warriors' starters sat for the entire fourth quarter as the bench put away the game before 15,062 at the Amway Center. They won their sixth straight game -- their longest streak since a six-game run in November 2007 -- and are 2-0 to begin a season-long, seven-game trip. Golden State (20-13) avoided the potential trap of looking ahead to Thursday's showdown with the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat -- not to mention spending New Year's Eve in South Beach -- and delivered a complete performance. "That's what the good teams do," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "They handle their business."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The partnership between Michael Malone and Isaiah Thomas continues to develop as the coach consults the point guard on the best ways to improve the Kings. Malone said fixing some of the Kings’ late-game problems comes down to him calling better plays, and that’s where his relationship with Thomas can help. “Those things take time,” Malone said. “And one thing I like about Isaiah is we’ve had a lot of conversations, a lot of dialogue, and he’s open, wants to learn and he’s trying to figure it out. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s just a matter of going through it and picking the spots for when do I attack.” Thomas has referenced Malone and himself more often when talking about plays the Kings should run and the best way to get the ball to players. He and Malone spend a lot of time talking about the Kings. ... Malone’s goal is to create synergy between himself and Thomas because he plays most of the minutes at point guard. ... Malone said consulting with Thomas or any other player is part of his job and he wants his players’ input. “I preach trust a lot, and if I don’t trust my players, it’s just a hollow word,’ Malone said.