First Cup: Monday
February, 3, 2014
By Nick Borges
- A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: The media waited nearly an hour after Boston's 96-89 win over Orlando for Rajon Rondo to emerge from the training room. The Boston Celtics have been waiting more than a year for Rondo's emergence from a torn right ACL injury. As much as Rondo will try and not make a big deal out of his play in Sunday's win, it was a big deal on so, so many levels for Boston. The four-time All-Star has had better games statistically as well as their impact on that particular season, but few have as much importance both for him and for the Celtics than the way he played on Sunday. It was the first time this season that the Celtics (16-33) came away victorious in this, Rondo's post-torn ACL era. That in itself is a milestone worth recognizing. But more than that, Rondo left an indelible imprint on Sunday's game in ways that went far and beyond his first double-double of the season of 19 points and 10 assists not to mention his six rebounds.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Rookies face one test after another when they transition into the NBA, and the Orlando Magic's Victor Oladipo is no exception. For Oladipo, however, this season has been doubly difficult. He's learning how to play point guard and initiate an offense for the first time in his life. On Sunday, he faced perhaps his toughest challenge yet: an entire game being guarded one-on-one primarily by the Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo or Avery Bradley while Magic teammate Jameer Nelson remained in Central Florida nursing a sore left knee. It didn't go so well. While Oladipo struggled with his shooting, the Magic played poorly on defense and lost to the Celtics 96-89 at TD Garden. Oladipo scored 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting. He distributed five assists, and he committed three turnovers. ... On Monday night, Oladipo will face an even tougher test. The Magic will face the Indiana Pacers, who have the NBA's best record and rank first in the league in defensive efficiency. That matchup will serve as another signpost for him in a season full of tests.
- David J. Neal of The Miami Herald: Most ridiculous is the idea Indiana signed Bynum to keep him from the Heat. Although the Heat has nothing against height, it already has a big guy with unreliable lower limbs, one who showed tremendous determination just to get back to being able to take the floor. Greg Oden embodies the diligence, grit and good citizenship the Heat likes to think of as its franchise hallmarks. Oden might not be a problem for opponents the way it hopes, but the Heat knows he won’t be a problem for them in the locker room or after midnight. The team in Oden’s hometown is laying money its locker room is strong enough to either quell or deflect any bad Bynum attitude. It probably is. The Pacers have almost as many solid citizens as the Heat. But Bynum, as stated earlier, got paid to go away by Cleveland. Cleveland throws around money like your uncle who’s wearing the same pants he wore in 1988. The Heat sold sacrifice to everybody on its roster — play for less, play out of position, etc. Bynum didn’t sacrifice jack when he was getting paid well by Cleveland, so how would he have fit on Team Sacrifice? Bynum, at best, makes the Pacers more of what they are. If the Heat can be more of what it is, it doesn’t matter. And if it can’t, Bynum might not matter anyway.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: His banner may already hang inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but it will be a few weeks before Andrew Bynum actually wears the No. 17 jersey. However, when Bynum does make his debut as an Indiana Pacer, the team can expect a 7-1, 285-pounder who can work off teammates as well as create his own low-post shot, a big whose defensive influence on the game expanded as his minutes increased and quite possibly a player who should rate as the best backup center in the NBA. Although Bynum still carries the question marks of chemistry and health concerns, the Pacers are betting that he will still plug in the areas in which they needed an upgrade. Or, as Larry Bird, team president of basketball operations, simply put it: "He's big. He can help us, and that's all that matters."
- Seth Prince of The Oregonian: The fourth time was the charm for Paul Allen, who achieved his first world championship as an owner tonight as the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. He also led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, as well as the Seahawks to the Super Bowl XL in 2006. All of those seasons ended with Allen's teams losing. It raises the question, do you think he'll be able to bring an NBA world championship to Portland with the Trail Blazers?
- Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Luol Deng was hurt and upset at how he was portrayed in a weekend New York Daily News report and said he hopes his teammates believe him when he says he’s happy to be here. “I’ve never been in a situation where I start talking and turn my back on what’s in front of me. It’s not me, it’s not who I am,” Deng said. “I’m really upset that’s written about me and I just hope guys within the team understand that. It’s something we don’t need right now.” The Daily News quoted a source close to Deng saying the newest Cavs player is shocked by the chaos within the team and called it a mess. “Obviously we’re losing, I’m not happy,” Deng said. “But to go as far as to say I’m frustrated with the guys, that to me doesn’t make sense. … We know we’re struggling, we know we’ve got to get better as a team. But writing an article like that is just giving a writer who wants everyone to read whatever he’s writing. I’m really disappointed and it hurt me a little bit because I do care about the guys in the locker room and I’ve never in my career had something like that written about me. I’m disappointed.”
- Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Bulls center Joakim Noah takes joy in proving people wrong. He did it when he came out of Florida and strutted his way into the NBA, and he did it when he was named an NBA All-Star for the second consecutive season. He isn’t done, either. Now it’s about putting a short-handed roster, without injured Derrick Rose and traded Luol Deng, on his shoulders and leading it on a playoff run. ... Noah established himself as an elite Eastern Conference center last season, but this season is different. The Bulls’ front office is open for business with the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaching, but Noah is an untouchable right now, one of only three the Bulls have.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant's month of January will be remembered for what he did putting the ball in the basket. But let's not forget the job he did putting the ball in his teammates' hands. Durant averaged 6.1 assists in January, the most of any full month in his career. While he was carving up opponents with his highly publicized scoring spree, Durant also was displaying his most precision yet as a passer. His scoring sparked so much fear into opponents that Durant began feasting off double teams and making everybody else more dangerous. With his ability and willingness to orchestrate the offense and create easy scoring opportunities for teammates, Durant quickly became a dual threat. And his playmaking became perhaps the most overlooked factor in the Thunder's recent 10-game winning streak.
- Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Right from the start of training camp, Rockets coach Kevin McHale liked what he saw when guards Pat Beverley and Jeremy Lin were on the court together. He saw them complement each other all through the preseason and was excited about what they would bring to the Rockets. Then came the injuries. Beverley, 25, was hurt in the first game of the season (bruised ribs) and was sidelined. The two-point guard experiment was put on hold. When Beverley came back, the two flourished, providing a mix of Beverley’s stifling defense and Lin’s attack-minded offense. Then came a knee sprain and back spasms for Lin, 25, then a fractured hand for Beverley. Now that both have recovered from injuries and are back on the floor together consistently, McHale sees flashes of the preseason.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Far from a burden, the Spurs’ annual Rodeo Road Trip is often a high point of their regular season, an opportunity to get away from the distractions of home and tighten up their process with the playoffs looming on the horizon. Eleven times have the Spurs ventured away for their extended February voyage, and 11 times have they returned with a winning record. At 70.5, they boast the best winning percentage in North American pro sports since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997. They’ve been even better on the rodeo trip, winning 71.4 percent of their games (65-26). With only four of this year’s nine opponents boasting a .500 record or better, the Spurs would seem to have an outstanding chance to continue their success. But not since 2010, when they dropped 6 of their preceding 9 games, have the Spurs entered their trip in such a fragile state. Indeed, with guards Danny Green (hand) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) and small forward Kawhi Leonard (hand) all sidelined for varying stretches, the Spurs are facing a rodeo trip unlike any other.
- Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings coach Michael Malone knew it wouldn’t be easy to turn one of the worst defensive units in the NBA into a cohesive group. That hasn’t made the process any less frustrating. The Kings rank 28th in the NBA in scoring defense at 104.6 points per game and tied for last in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 46.9 percent. Malone, however, won’t back down from his message: The Kings must play defense to climb from the bottom of the Western Conference standings and eventually become a playoff contender. Malone is using all his resources to get the message across, including relying on players who have seen a team become multi-dimensional. Malone asked forward Carl Landry to speak to the team about how the coach, as a Golden State assistant, saw a team not known for defense embrace it.
- Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: As his head coaching career wore on, Jerry Sloan made it no secret that he might come to work one day and decide it was time to move on. Back working for the Utah Jazz this season — after more than two years away following his abrupt resignation in February 2011 — Sloan isn’t about to make any long-term promises this time. "I don’t think it’s a number of years thing," the Hall of Fame coach said Friday. "I think it’s just a day-to-day thing, as far as the way I look at the whole thing. I’m Utah Jazz, I think everybody knows that. But the light gets a little dimmer as time goes by because I’m 71 years old." For now, though, Sloan is enjoying being back in basketball, and he is working to figure out his new role as a senior basketball adviser to the team he led for 23 years. "I’m just trying to find my way," he said. "I’ve never had a job like this before. I don’t have any guidelines to go by." So far, Sloan’s job has consisted of some scouting duties and providing some insight to his replacement, Jazz coach Ty Corbin.