First Cup: Friday

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Joakim Noah has been watching the standings. Yes, even in early January. “Of course. It’s our job. We do pay attention to it,: the Bulls center said on Thursday. And NBA players that say they don’t? “They’re lying," Noah said. That’s why at 13-18, this is a Bulls team that is suddenly starting to feel very good about itself. Not only because of the 94-82 win over Boston at the United Center, but because a lifeless Eastern Conference makes it so a team five games under .500 is still in playoff contention. Especially a team that is as close to being back to full strength as it has been all season long. “I think it’s great [to have everyone back],’’ Noah said. “We’ve just got to keep grinding, a lot of basketball left and I think that if we just keep grinding, keep our minds into it, it could be a hell of a year. We’re competing every night, and I think we just have to keep improving, keep getting better, and I think we’ll have a shot to play in the playoffs if we keep grinding. And in the playoffs anything can happen."

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: The Utah Jazz managed to win and lose Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena. With a 96-87 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Jazz earned scoreboard proof that they’re not the worst team in the NBA anymore. But while accomplishing that particular feat and improving to 11-24 with their third win in four outings, the Jazz also lost the NBA’s Lottery Bowl. The Bucks, now 7-25 after suffering nine losses in their last 11 games, strengthened their lead for obtaining the most pingpong balls when the draft order is determined on May 20. Um ... congratulations? The Jazz earned some kudos by clutching up and closing out another game in the final minutes, using a late 13-4 run to pick up their second win in a row. Don't look now, but Utah is undefeated in 2014. “It does feel good. We bring in the new year with a win,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Despite lacking in athleticism, Curry has learned to use wizardry to get in the lane consistently and set up teammates. Seeminglyevery game, he pulls off at least one pass that makes you wondering how he did it. And he's doing it despite defenses determined to nullify his production. The craziest part about Curry's growth as a passer and playmaker is that it hasn't taken away from his production as a scorer. He is less efficient a shooter, down to 44.9 percent from the field, which is on pace for a career-low. But his 23.4 points per game ranks seventh in the NBA. Curry has a chance to become the first player since Hall of Famer Tiny Archibald to finish top five in scoring and assists. "A dynamic scoring point guard with incredible range and skills," is how Miami coach Erik Spoelstra described him Thursday. In many ways, this development in Curry's game is a basketball prophecy coming to fruition. Basketball minds such as Don Nelson and Steve Kerr said when Curry was drafted they saw another Steve Nash, a two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer.

  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Until Sunday, the 76ers couldn't find a way to win away from the Wells Fargo Center. Suddenly, they are unbeatable on the road. The Sixers posted their third straight road win by defeating Sacramento, 113-104, Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena. They are now 4-13 on the road. Power forward Thaddeus Young led the Sixers (11-21) with 28 points, seven rebounds, a career-high six steals, and four assists. Swingman Evan Turner added 24 points, while reserve point guard Tony Wroten finished with 21. ... The 76ers have established an identity. Win or lose, they are known for playing with energy, getting up and down the floor and going to the rim. "To come in and have the responsibility to try to build a culture and create a system and coach new guys and bring new guys in as a team, I'm proud of where we are," first-year coach Brett Brown said.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: If the Grizzlies want to reel in Western Conference teams ahead of them in the standings to make a serious playoff push, this was a good place to start. Timing was everything Thursday night in US Airways Center where the Griz began a three-game road trip with a 99-91 victory over what had been a hot Phoenix Suns team. After both teams began adhering to the other’s style of play in the second and third quarters, Memphis (14-17) overpowered Phoenix in the fourth period. The Griz began the final quarter with a 13-2 run, took an 82-75 advantage and never relinquished the lead. "We’re looking at them on the board knowing they’re where we want to be,” Griz guard Mike Conley said. “To get there we have to really focus and win these games."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: The Blazers entered the game as the only team to have used the same starting five (Batum, Aldridge, Lopez, Lillard and Matthews) all season. "That's been very important to our success," Stotts said. "We've been very fortunate. We haven't had to talk about injuries at all." The only change Stotts has made to his rotation all season is the insertion of second-year center-forward Leonard ahead of Thomas Robinson off the bench. Stotts said the 7-1 Leonard, who has played in each of the last seven games, was brought in for primarily defensive purposes.

  • Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer: Kyrie Irving's goal to stay healthy this season and play in all 82 games came to an end Thursday when he sat against Orlando to rest a left knee contusion suffered two days earlier. But it's something Irving understood needed to happen for the long-term goals of the Cavaliers, according to coach Mike Brown. Irving was not available to speak to media Tuesday. "I think he understands what he needs to do to help make sure he takes care of his body long term and not take think about the short term," Brown said. "I don't think it was a big problem for him." This is not Irving's first injury of the season, just the first that has forced him to miss time. He suffered a broken nose that required a protective face mask for about two weeks, but he did not miss any games. Last season, Irving missed 23 games with a broken finger and hyperextended knee; he also fractured his jaw. In the summer before last season began, he broke his hand when he slapped a padded wall in frustration during a practice. His rookie season, he missed 15 games with a concussion and a shoulder injury. In all, he has missed 38 games in the NBA because of injury. In addition, his lone season at Duke was limited to 11 games because of a toe injury.

  • Al Iannazzone of Newsday: J.R. Smith admitted he was unhappy that the Knicks waived his brother Chris, but he seemed to be holding back how he really felt. Smith said he was pulled into a meeting with general manager Steve Mills earlier in the week and was told that Chris would be cut. When reporters asked about his immediate reaction, he paused for several seconds before answering. "I wasn't happy but I couldn't really do nothing about it,'' he said before Thursday night's game against the Spurs. The Knicks cut Chris Smith on Tuesday to make room to sign big man Jeremy Tyler. As the transaction was being worked out Monday, Smith posted an Instagram picture with the words: "You know the sad thing about betrayal? It never comes from an enemy." Smith avoided answering a question about that. "I'm not worried about Instagram,'' he said. "We got to play the Spurs and that's my main focus." Smith gave short responses throughout the brief interview. "I'm over it," he said. "I'm just worried about playing against the San Antonio Spurs." He also said he doesn't have any issues with anyone in the organization. "I'm fine with everybody," he said. "I don't have no problems with nobody."

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: A bemused look crossed the face of Deron Williams on Thursday morning when the Nets’ star point guard was asked if he was playing through any kind of injury. “Yeah, but nothing I’m going to talk about,” Williams said before the Nets faced the Western Conference leading Thunder Thursday night. “I’m out here playing, so that’s all that matters. That’s all that matters.” Williams certainly was playing, and playing well, in the Nets’ 95-93 win in front of a sellout crowd of 18,203 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Going up against a Thunder team missing franchise point guard Russell Westbrook, Williams played like one, finishing with a season-high 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting — including making a season-high six 3-pointers — to go along with three assists and a season-high five steals. “I think as a team, hopefully we can build on [the win],” Williams said afterwards. “I have to be more aggressive like this every day, and hopefully I can do that.” ... Thursday night showed he’s capable of doing so. If he can start doing it consistently, there’s still time for the Nets to turn this season around.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: Houston Rockets G Jeremy Lin has agreed to a shoe deal with adidas, thus departing Nike, a league source informed CSNNW.com. The source spoke on condition of anonymity due to adidas having yet to have made an official announcement on the agreement. According to the source, the announcement will come on Friday. The signing of Lin only increases adidas’ global brand. Lin, 25, is averaging 14.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 24 appearances this season.