First Cup: Monday

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Royal Ivey's routine as an unemployed NBA veteran could best be described as organized chaos. After being waived by Atlanta before the start of the regular season, and before receiving the call that brought him back to Oklahoma City last week, Ivey's road back to the big leagues took him on a strange journey. It included workouts inside elementary schools, pick-up games with no-names in open gyms and drill work with college and NBA D-League players he was clearly better than. ... Every day, Ivey would awake at 10 a.m., eat breakfast and go to the gym. He'd start by lifting weights. Then move on to the treadmill. Next was whatever he could get done on the court that day, which mostly depended on what he could find. The key to motivating himself through the process, Ivey said, was staying positive. “That's the main thing. You got to be positive,” he said. “You got to push yourself and say, ‘The call might be coming any day now.' You never know.” It left Ivey waiting by the phone like a teenager waiting to hear from a crush. Constantly, Ivey checked his missed calls, his voicemails and his text messages. Finally, a fateful one arrived from Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who, for now, put an end to Ivey's strange trip as an unemployed NBA veteran. “I've been through everything else but that,” Ivey said.

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Carl Landry finally made his return to the court for the Kings. Landry, who signed a four-year deal made his season debut in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 108-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Landry had been out all season after tearing his left hip flexor during training camp. Landry and coach Michael Malone discussed the idea of Landry playing after Saturday’s practice in Memphis and Sunday morning shootaround. “I told him I think you should wear your uniform tonight, warm up with the guys,” Malone said. “And if there’s an opportunity, to play you 8-10 minutes. I was hoping we’d be up 20 when we put him in but we were down 20.” Landry checked in the game with 8:51 to play and the Kings down 96-74 and finished the game. Landry had six points and four rebounds. “It was great to see Carl in, get some game minutes, work on his conditioning,” Malone said. Landry said he was nervous checking in. He hadn’t played in a game since losing in the Western Conference semifinals as a member of the Golden State Warriors.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: After their losing streak reached 10 games, Orlando Magic players and coaches realized something fundamental needed to change. Not X's-and-O's, but something intangible. Players and coaches talked together when they gathered for practice Saturday. Whatever they had been doing during the first half of the season, and especially during their 10 consecutive losses, wasn't working. They faced a choice: Either they would make a change and modify their collective spirit, or the second half of their season would devolve into a freefall of epic proportions. They made that adjustment Sunday night. Magic players repeatedly dove to Amway Center's parquet floor to collect loose basketballs. They covered for each other when they made defensive lapses. And that sustained intensity and improved cohesion, they said, played a direct role as they beat the Boston Celtics 93-91 and ended their losing streak. "I could feel no personal agendas," Arron Afflalo said after the win. "I could feel nothing but five guys who were on the court and the two guys who came off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory tonight."

  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: The second half of the season did not get off to the kind of start the Boston Celtics were looking for as the Orlando Magic rallied in the closing moments to beat Boston 93-91. But it's clear that in Celtics GM Danny Ainge's eyes, success the remainder of this season can't be measured in terms of wins and losses. "My expectations weren't that we were going to win a championship this year, when the season started," Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com on Sunday. Instead of wins, the focus will remain on getting the team's younger players as much as experience as possible. "But I understand you can't play five of those guys at one time," Ainge said. "So you have to be patient with them." That's why he's not overly concerned with the roller coaster-like play of some of the Celtics' youngsters like rookies Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey and Vitor Faverani.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Tiago Splitter (shoulder) and Danny Green (hand) continue to mend. Matt Bonner awaits a minor procedure, scheduled for Monday, to repair his broken nose. Tony Parker took the night off to rest his bruised right shin. And still the Spurs (32-9) cruised to one of their most lop-sided victories of the season, leading the lowly Bucks (7-33) by double-digits over the final 38:09 to retake a half-game lead over Portland atop the Western Conference. All 11 players in uniform scored, with Jeff Ayres (13 points) and Nando De Colo (13) setting season-highs in scoring. Do we have to? Patty Mills did have an impressive game with 20 points, but no Spur played more than 28 minutes as the game was basically in hand by the end of the first quarter.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: It was another episode of "How the Bucks Backcourt Turns" with a few new plot twists Sunday night at the AT&T Center. Three prime characters took leading roles in the drama, which played out in Milwaukee's 110-82 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. First, veteran guard Luke Ridnour sprained his right wrist late in the first quarter when he got tangled up while dribbling between teammate Ekpe Udoh and Spurs guard Patty Mills. Ridnour was not able to return, and although initial X-rays were negative, he is expected to undergo an MRI exam Monday. Another intriguing twist involved the return to the lineup of guard Gary Neal, who had not played in the previous six games following a locker room dust-up with center Larry Sanders in Phoenix on Jan. 4. But Neal returned against his former team and played 18 minutes, hitting 1 of 8 shots and ending with three points and three assists. The third development was a Nate Wolters sighting as the Bucks rookie point guard played the entire fourth quarter after riding the bench in recent weeks. And the former South Dakota State star took advantage even though the Bucks were trailing by 24 points when he entered the game.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: The lack of focus on the defensive end has gotten so far under Nuggets coach Brian Shaw’s skin, he may look at changes in the rotation – not the starting lineup – to get the effort and execution he needs. “As we go along I might have to look at changes, not necessarily in the starting lineup, but in the rotation in terms of getting guys in and out who are paying more attention to detail on the defensive end in particular, bringing that kind of activity that we need defensively,” Shaw said. “Because right now that’s what hurting our team the most."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The absence of Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe does more than take a statistical toll on the Suns. It is becoming taxing for Suns point guard Goran Dragic to take on more playmaking and more of the burden to score with more defensive attention on him. All the while, he is guarding the playmaker on the other side, a duty that usually fell to Bledsoe. “I’m not thinking about that,” Dragic said. “If I’m going to think about how I’m tired, then it’s going to be even worse for me. I just try to battle. I try to be positive. I’m from Slovenia so back home it’s no excuse if you’re tired. Even when I was growing up, my father always said there’s going to be some hard days so you have to go through that. You can sleep after the thing that you do, if it’s work or a basketball game. Now, I’m feeling tired. But when the game is going on, I’m not thinking about it so much.” Dragic had averaged 41.3 minutes over the previous three games entering Sunday night’s game against Denver. He does not back off his effort and now has a collapsing defense concentrating on him too. ... Dragic gave the Suns contol Sunday night with 15 rebounds and six assists and he got some needed rest in return, logging only 24 minutes.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: A swarm of Canadian journalists hovered around his locker, latching onto every word he spoke. Steve Nash making a return to a country where he’s served as a living inspiration for all Canadian basketball players and the national team’s current general manager? Nope. Nash is training in Vancouver to heal the nerve issues in his back. Instead, Lakers backup center Robert Sacre took over ambassador duties. … The Lakers like Sacre beyond travel conveniences. After being tabbed Mr Irrelevant as the 60th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Sacre has assumed a more relevant role with the Lakers, averaging 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds through 14.2 minutes both as a reserve (18 games) and starter (eight). I look at it as a blessing in disguise,” Sacre said of his draft standing. “It kept me hungry and kept me on my toes in getting better."

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: Jonas Valanciunas is not at the point in his young career where he plays regardless of his production on the floor on a given night. If Dwane Casey has one thing in his arsenal he might not have had earlier in the season, it’s depth at most positions and Sunday he used that depth rather than stay with his young centre. So when Casey didn’t like what he was getting from the Lithuanian centre and sat him down from the 5:52 mark of the third quarter through the end of the game against the L.A. Lakers on Sunday, it was as much a product of the depth the Rudy Gay trade brought Toronto as it was a message to Valanciunas. “He needed to do a better job on Pau Gasol and I thought Chuck (Hayes) and Amir (Johnson) did a better job on him and we went for the defensive matchup,” Casey explained. Early foul trouble limited Valanciunas to just under eight minutes in the first half but the six minutes in the second half were all a result of Casey’s decision to go with a more effective Hayes.