First Cup: Tuesday

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets did not quite match Thursday’s first half against Oklahoma City, but they were close enough. They scored 71 points in the first half Monday, a James Harden bucket that was taken off the board away from matching Thursday night’s roll into halftime. Thoughts of that night and what had gone so horribly wrong were inescapable. Rather than hide from them, the Rockets invited the memories, as if they knew the Trail Blazers would make the sort of run they have so often this season. The Rockets would have to face that heat again to finally put Thursday behind them. “I said when we came back here, ‘We did this against the Thunder and ended up having the worst second half ever,’ ” Chandler Parsons said. “I was definitely letting them know there could be no letups.” Portland made its move, but this time the Rockets did not flinch. They repelled one run and then another, doing what they had to build the lead in the first place until they had finished off the Trail Blazers 126-113 with their top-scoring night of the season. To the Rockets, the numbers piled up were not about another roaring first half, the third in a row in which they topped 60 points, but a second half in which they responded to the pressure as they could not less than a week ago.

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Atlanta Hawks beat the Miami Heat 121-114 Monday and it wasn’t a fluke. This isn’t to say the Hawks are the better team — they aren’t — but this marks three very good teams (Indiana and Houston were the first two) that have been beaten in Philips Arena since Al Horford was lost for the season. This is no small thing. The Hawks are building the San Antonio way, which is the way to build if you don’t have LeBron James, and at last check nobody but Miami does. They’re creating an identity while still in the process of fleshing out a roster, and the impressive thing about general manager Danny Ferry’s roster-building is how well everyone he has imported has fit the greater design. (Remember: Ferry didn’t import Josh Smith. But he did let him leave after one season.) ... I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m impressed with what Ferry has done and how smart coach Mike Budenholzer seems to be. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I feel better about the future of the Hawks than I have since the late ’80s, and maybe even then.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: For the first time this season, the Clippers started Matt Barnes at small forward in place of the struggling Jared Dudley. Dudley had started 42 consecutive games, while Barnes had come off the bench in the first 23 games he played in this season, but that all changed Monday against the Detroit Pistons. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers inserted Barnes into the lineup, and the veteran had 10 points on four-for-eight shooting plus five rebounds. "Doc came to me early this [Monday] morning and said he wanted to make a switch," Barnes said. "With this team, it's about winning. If he felt switching that up was going to help us go, it's good for the team." Dudley had seven points, making all three of his shots, in 18 minutes. "It wasn't that big of a difference because I've done it before. I've actually been more of a bench player than a starter throughout my career," Dudley said. "I'm still going to shoot the same type of shots. The role is very, very similar." Rivers said he had told Dudley and Barnes before the season the starting position could be fluid. "That's a lineup that I hope at some point that we can go back and forth on," Rivers said.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Kobe Bryant discussed a wide variety of topics in nearly a 12-minute media session, opining that high school players should be eligible for the NBA draft and longing for the days when defenses could play more physically. "Some of the flagrant fouls I see called nowadays make me nauseous," Bryant said. Bryant theorized you needed to be more skilled when defenses could play more physically. "You had to have a midrange game because you didn't always want to go all the way to the basket because you'd get knocked ass over tea kettle," Bryant said. Bryant also said he'd remain in the game in some capacity when he retired. Media? "Imagine that," he said, laughing.

  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: In his first interview since the NBA fined him $100,000 Saturday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he just wanted to have some fun before commissioner David Stern retired. "I love it,” Cuban said about the fine, before Monday’s 102-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s a business expense and it’s part of doing business. These franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and I literally feel that if I could impact it to have some improvement, they could be worth a lot more.” Stern fined Cuban a whopping $100,000 for confronting the referees at the end of Wednesday’s 129-127 loss in Los Angeles to the Clippers and for directing inappropriate language to the referees. ... Adam Silver will take over for Stern on Feb. 2. Will Cuban have a present waiting for the new commissioner? “We’ll see,” he said. “It depends on how things are handled. But there’s plenty to come. Now it’s time to let Adam feel my wrath.”

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Finally, the New Orleans Pelicans players were in a good mood after a game. They spoke about decisive plays they made down the stretch instead of mistakes. They talked about playing with resolve and getting big contributions from all 10 players who were available instead of emphasizing how difficult it was playing shorthanded against the Memphis Grizzlies. For the first time in 17 days, the Pelicans didn't lose. They ended an eight-game losing streak by fighting until the end before coming away with a resounding 95-92 victory in a matinee game played on Martin Luther King Day in front of 17,485 at the FedEx Forum. "It just feels good to get a win," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. ... It was the Pelicans' third consecutive victory against the Grizzlies this season. But since their 104-98 victory against Memphis on Dec. 13, the Pelicans had lost 14 of their last 18 games heading into Monday.

  • Richard walker of the Gaston Gazette: When the same team gets a strong start, a historic individual effort and holds a 30-point lead in the third quarter, it usually makes for an easy NBA victory. Instead, playing in their first game without injured leading scorer Kemba Walker, the Charlotte Bobcats had to hold on for dear life Monday afternoon in a 100-95 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Charlotte (18-25) saw what once was a 30-point lead with 4:37 left in the third quarter (71-41) dwindle to 93-92 with 25.9 seconds left. And Toronto (20-20) had the chance to tie the score at 93 but Kyle Lowry couldn’t connect on a free throw that would’ve given him a tying three-point play. ... The two most significant Bobcats injuries this season have come by stepping on the foot of Miami’s 6-foot-11 center Chris Bosh. Al Jefferson stepped on Bosh’s foot in the second preseason game in October and missed the rest of the preseason and nine of the first 12 games of the season. And on Saturday, Kemba Walker stepped on Bosh’s foot while driving to the basket and team says he’ll miss “10-14” days. “Chris Bosh has hurt us in a lot of ways this year – with his foot and his play,” Clifford said before Monday’s game.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Coach Randy Wittman made sure the Wizards were educated on the 76ers’ propensity to get inside despite the absence of a prototypical low-post player. Philadelphia likes to attack the basket on dribble drives – especially by Carter-Williams – which put a lot of pressure on the Wizards’ back line of defense to make sure that the 76ers didn’t have a layup line. Instead, Washington had a block party in its 107-99 victory over Philadelphia. The Wizards recorded a season-high 12 blocked shots – the most since the team posted 13 on Feb. 3, 2012. “We talked about it before the game,” Wittman said. “We protected the rim, and got some blocks, and got us out in transition.” Gortat matched his season high with four blocked shots, including a game-clinching rejection after the starters were put back in the game late in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards let a 21-point dwindle to single digits.

  • Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle: So this is how it will be. The 49ers are gone, bound for an offseason of regret and restructure. Nearly a month will pass before pitchers and catchers report. The Warriors have the Bay Area to themselves, and in an odd bit of scheduling, the NBA's most successful team came to Oracle Arena on Monday night within hours of Richard Sherman's wicked diatribe. The hostility vanished, but not the mood. With Marv Albert and the rest of TNT's A-1 crew in town, the Indiana Pacers showed a national TV audience why their reputation is valid and the Warriors are a step or two down from the penthouse. The scoreboard read 60-40 early in the third period, a telling prelude to Indiana's 102-94 win. Depressing as it was - particularly the sight of many fans leaving the building with the game still technically in doubt - it served as an opportunity to check on the Warriors' latest story lines: The bench, Stephen Curry's turnovers, Harrison Barnes' shooting slump, The defense, The new man in town.

  • Scott Cacciola of The New York Times: Those three words — figure it out — have become a mantra for the Knicks, and 41 games into the season, they have yet to figure any of it out. How to defend. How to make open shots. How to sustain consistent effort from one quarter to the next. That much was apparent Monday afternoon during their 103-80 loss at Madison Square Garden, where the Nets built an early 18-point lead and the crowd jeered anyone associated with the Knicks before four minutes had elapsed in the second quarter. It was an ugly scene, and a familiar one. “I didn’t think we would be in this situation,” said Carmelo Anthony, who spent the final moments of the fourth quarter sitting on the sideline with a towel draped over his head, shielding himself from the spectacle of another blowout loss. “Honestly, I don’t really know how to deal with situations like this. I’m learning.” ... The Nets (17-22) are surging, having won seven of their last eight games, and they shot 49.3 percent to embarrass the Knicks on their home floor.