First Cup: Wednesday
January, 22, 2014
By Nick Borges
- Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The defense — particularly after the switch to the smaller lineup and moving Kevin Garnett to center, Paul Pierce to power forward and Joe Johnson to small forward — is exhibiting more quickness around the perimeter and a stiffer test for teams to score all over the court against the Nets. There also seems to be a belief around this group that didn’t exist through the season’s first two months that they can and should be winning consistently — something that didn’t seem to be the case very often earlier this season. The players all gave at least some credit for the turnaround to Kidd, the rookie coach who seems to have weathered the early storm this season presented, and now seems to be pushing all the right buttons. ... What a difference a winning streak can make.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Magic C Nik Vucevic said he is improving after sustaining a concussion, but can't pinpoint when he will be allowed to play again and be susceptible to contact. "I'm feeling better, but no time on when I can play," Vucevic said by phone from Orlando. "It's in the doctor's hands right now." Vucevic's return is governed by the NBA's concussion protocol. Vucevic was injured Jan. 6 when he fell awkwardly to the floor during the Magic's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He missed five games and didn't play for 11 days after sustaining a concussion in a game on March 19, 2013. The Magic faced the Nets on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, playing their eighth consecutive game without Vucevic. Told it was snowing nonstop in Brooklyn, Vucevic laughed and said, "I wish I was there anyway. I wish I was with my team. I miss playing." Vucevic has not attended a home game since sustaining the concussion. The Magic face the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at Amway Center.
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Got a call Tuesday afternoon from a Guthrie nursing home. A nice lady said she and her fellow residents just wanted my opinion. Why is Kendrick Perkins on the Thunder? I tried to explain it best I could. She seemed reasonably satisfied with my answer. Then Tuesday night, Perk showed her why. And Thabo Sefolosha did the same, just in case she was wondering about him, too. The Thunder beat Portland 105-97 in a showdown for the Northwest Division lead, and yes, the Thunder won because Kevin Durant scored 46 points and again went wild down the stretch. But the Thunder also won because it turned up the defensive heat. Perkins and Thabo, four-season defensive anchors for the Thunder, seemingly always have to justify their existence in the starting lineup or even on the roster. Thabo's shooting has slumped this season. Perkins' offense is a nightmare. But their defensive value trumps their offensive shortcomings.
- Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: With the loss, the Blazers (31-11) finished their four-games-in-five-nights road trip 2-2, starting the trip with wins over San Antonio and Dallas, and ending it with losses to Houston and Thunder. A .500 record on what was probably the toughest road trip of the season is certainly no disaster, but the feeling in the Blazers locker room was not one of consolation, especially after losing two in a row, just the third time this season Portland has lost consecutive games. “We’re not happy,” said guard Wesley Matthews, who finished with 21 points Tuesday. “Last year, we would’ve been happy coming off a road trip .500. We’re not that team anymore. We didn’t come out with the right energy and the right mentality against Houston, and they were ready for us. We came right mentally early in this game, and KD had a hell of fourth quarter. It’s bitter.”
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: With Dwyane Wade missing his third consecutive game to rest his knees, LeBron James said Tuesday that it has been difficult establishing a collective rhythm amid the uncertainty about whether Wade would be available from game to game. “It’s tough,” James said. “Guys think it’s easy, but it’s tough. We have a team built on chemistry, built on rhythm. With so many of the guys being in and out, and the concern with D-Wade, it’s been tough on all of us. We’ve got to go in with the mindset sometimes that he’s not playing, as opposed to: Is he playing?” Wade has missed 12 games, but this marked the first time he has skipped three in a row. He admitted feeling “a little soreness” in the knees on Monday but wasn’t available to speak before Tuesday’s game. One of the games Wade missed earlier in the season was because of flu, with “rest” listed as the reason for the 11 other absences. “What we try to do is not predetermine and have expectations about it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t predict it. You’re going to have some good days and some days where you don’t feel great. We know as long as we stick to the routine, he should get better, quicker and stronger. Now that we’re at home we can get back on the routine of strength training and conditioning.” Ray Allen said “there’s no concern” about Wade’s knees because “he’s not injured. Nothing has happened where it’s sidelined him for a long period of time. It’s management of his body.”
- Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Danny Ainge is not crushed by every Celtics loss because he expected his team to struggle with a pared-down roster filled with youngsters and journeymen. The fact the Celtics entered Tuesday night’s 93-86 loss to the Miami Heat tied with the Jazz for the NBA’s fourth-worst record yet were 3½ games behind the Bobcats for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is mind-boggling to Ainge. The Celtics have dropped 15 of their last 17 games and are underdogs on most nights with their patchwork lineup, which recently added Rajon Rondo. Ainge, as the president of basketball operations has maintained all season, is more focused on long-term success and the health of the franchise than eking out wins for a short-lived playoff run.
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Jazz backup Enes Kanter started at center against the Wolves’ Nikola Pekovic, who had his way Saturday with a healthy Utah frontcourt when he went for 27 points and 14 rebounds. Pekovic followed Saturday’s game with an 18-point, nine-rebound night on Tuesday. Missing Favors was not a good development for a Jazz team that has had discussions about whether Pekovic is the NBA’s strongest man. “We kind of joke about it in the locker room,” Jazz veteran forward Marvin Williams said. “We can’t think of a guy stronger than this guy. He’s a wide load down there.” Somebody asked Favors on Tuesday where he ranks Pekovic on the league’s strength continuum. “Oh, he might be the strongest guy in the league,” Favors said. “It’s hard to push him off the block and me trying to post up against him, he pushes you all the way out to the three-point line. He’s probably the strongest guy in the league to me, as far as strength.”
- Brad Rock of the Deseret News: So just how valuable is he? Right now he’s the best player on one of the league’s worst teams. Though he’s a restricted free agent next summer, it’s doubtful the Jazz will fail to match other offers. If the Jazz seem careful, there’s a reason. Kirilenko signed a maximum contract extension in 2004, just before his stats began to slip. That wasn’t all A.K.’s fault. The Jazz had him play numerous roles, from year to year, and once Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were aboard, he was a side dish. Now the Jazz have their newest non-Hall of Fame star. Is Hayward worth the reported four-year, $50 million deal? That would put him in the neighborhood of Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, Denver’s Ty Lawson, Golden State’s Andre Iguodala, Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic and San Antonio’s Tony Parker. That’s a good neighborhood to be lurking. Yet none is good enough to build a franchise on. Is he worth the big-dollars investment? Only if a superstar shows up to make him that much better.
- Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee: Chalk up another first for the tech-obsessed Sacramento Kings – a game broadcast in part via Google Glass. After several days of hints, the Kings made it official Tuesday, announcing that they will deploy the emerging Google Glass technology to juice up the telecast of Friday night’s game vs. Indiana. The Kings said they will become the first pro sports team to use Google Glass. Up to a dozen Kings employees and others connected to the organization – including one or two of the Kings dancers and team mascot Slamson – are expected to wear the special eyewear as they roam the sidelines and make their way through Sleep Train Arena. The glasses are outfitted with tiny cameras, and video feeds will be incorporated into the broadcast on News10 and the Jumbotron screen at the arena. What’s seen on Google Glass will supplement, not replace, the usual camera angles. “The traditional broadcast isn’t going away,” said Jon Fisher, chief executive of CrowdOptic, a San Francisco tech company that will coordinate the various video feeds.
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: New Orleans rookie center Jeff Withey made a definitive statement that he deserves more playing time based on his effort Tuesday night against the Kings. Withey, who has dutifully honed his skills in the Pelicans' post-practice player development sessions, had a break-out offensive performance against the Kings. Withey was assertive inside, crashing the rim, slamming home dunks and drawing and-1 fouls. He finished with a career-high 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting and five rebounds. He also had two steals and a two blocked shots in his 27 minutes on the floor.
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Mavericks fans have seen glimpses of Vince Carter’s greatness. They can only imagine what it must have been like to see the man they called Vinsanity, Air Canada and Half-Man, Half-Amazing when he was doing all the acrobatic dunks and hang-time highlights that made him a legend in Toronto. He’s as revered as any athlete in Toronto history who doesn’t play hockey, as evidenced by the dozen or so local reporters who wanted interviews with Carter after the Mavericks worked out at the Air Canada Centre practice court. In short, he was basketball in this pucks-crazy town. And Carter, in his second season with the Mavericks, has the memories embedded in his mind like snapshots. “I remember when Vinsanity started, from an article [in the newspaper],” Carter said. “I remember when Half-Man, Half-Amazing started. I remember making the first basket here in history [at Air Canada Centre]. You can’t change that. Winning rookie of the year here, you can’t change that. Winning that dunk contest and putting Toronto on the [basketball] map, you can’t change that. Those are all historical to me. I put all three of those as one.” Those are the first things Carter thinks of when he comes back to Toronto, where he teamed with Tracy McGrady in their young, other-worldly athletic days.