Monday, March 3, 2014
First Cup: Monday
By Nick Borges
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Tony Parker returned from his six-game, 19-day break on Sunday, giving the Spurs a full roster for the first time in two months. Manu Ginobili joked that he almost didn’t recognize everyone, so strange was it to see the entire team suit up for the same game. While there were hiccups, including ball protection and defense, Parker’s strong play brought encouragement that the Spurs (43-16) are finally ready to begin fine-tuning for the real battles on the horizon. Parker’s forced convalescence to heal his aching body seems to have worked out perfectly. He looked sharp as ever, scoring 10 points in the first 7 1/2 minutes and 22 overall to go with seven assists. “I felt good. I felt fresh. I felt like I had my legs,” he said, something he hadn’t been able to say since perhaps even before last year’s Finals, when a slight hamstring tear marred his series before another summer with team France bled into his 13th NBA season.
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: The Thunder will be without two of its defensive cornerstones for the foreseeable future. Not long after it was announced that Kendrick Perkins would miss up to six weeks with a strained groin, the Thunder were hit with more injury news. Starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha will be out for a similar timeframe after straining his left calf against Cleveland on Friday. “He may come back a little sooner than this, he may come back a little later,” Thunder general Sam Presti said. “But we’re gonna (say) 4-6 weeks.” ... Although the acquisition was made before Sefolosha’s injury news, the Thunder’s signing of Caron Butler now gains added importance. “I think Caron’s signing is definitely at the right time,” Durant said. “A veteran guy that plays with a lot of toughness, that can shoot the basketball extremely well.” Butler was originally scheduled to join the team on Sunday but, because of weather delays, likely won’t join his new teammates until Monday’s practice.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns were piling up points early Sunday night, but their defensive stops could not keep up until Markieff Morris and Ish Smith entered the game. Markieff Morris’ presence can swing a game, and it usually has been for the better — like Sunday night, when he posted 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in 14 first-half minutes to swing the Suns from trailing to a double-digit lead. “Of maybe all of our guys, he’s probably the biggest key,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “If he plays well, we usually have a pretty good chance of winning the game. When he isn’t active, then we struggle. We rely on him a lot coming off that bench, and we run a lot of stuff to him. He’s a great passer. He’s probably one of our better passers on the team.” The Suns need Morris to be aggressive in the post to create plays for himself and others, especially when Goran Dragic is resting. He has become a Sixth Man Award candidate by scoring in double digits in 21 of the past 22 games. The last Suns reserve to do that was teammate Leandro Barbosa, when he won the Sixth Man Award seven seasons ago. The Suns have not strayed from the usual starting five except for injuries, using the second-fewest total of starters this season (seven) in the NBA. Morris’ connection with his twin, Marcus, makes it an effective bench unit with Smith pushing the tempo.
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Jimmer-mania officially began when the sellout crowd of 21,739 warmly greeted his Bulls debut with 3 minutes, 8 seconds remaining on Sunday. It continued when he drained his first shot, a 20-foot jumper. But it didn’t reach epic proportions until after the game, when a media scrum featuring eight television cameras surrounded his locker in a scene reminiscent of the dynasty days. “It was great,” Jimmer Fredette said of the fan reaction. “I appreciate the support I already have. This is a sports town. They love the Bulls and their teams.” There won’t be any statues built for Fredette, officially signed Sunday morning to a prorated portion of the veteran’s minimum contract. The Bulls would be content if he merely bolstered their anemic 3-point shooting given they rank tied for 25th and he’s at 49.3 percent. “We feel he’s got a skill that’s as good as anyone,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “To shoot the way he can, I think it complements our primary scorers.” That said, though he complimented his makeup and said he wouldn’t prejudge him defensively, Thibodeau placed plenty of qualifiers on Fredette’s potential role. “You also have to look at how your team is playing,” Thibodeau said.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: In a decision that's certain to raise accusations that the Orlando Magic are trying to tank to improve their chances for the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery, the team sat veteran guards Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo for the team's game Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Magic withstood their absences and won 92-81. Magic officials said Nelson was suffering from a sore calf. Afflalo now has missed five consecutive games. He sprained his right ankle on Feb. 21, and then an illness prevented him from making the trip to South Florida prior to Saturday's loss to the Miami Heat. Before Sunday's game, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he wanted Afflalo to practice before he plays in a game again. The Magic won't play again until they host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. "I like to see guys practice, and the day we were supposed to practice [on Friday], he got sick," Vaughn said. "So what it does is it gives us two days in-between games. So we'll take advantage of that and make sure he's comfortable and feeling back to 100 percent when he gets back on the floor for us." In the Magic's locker room before Sunday's game, Afflalo said his right ankle has healed but added he wasn't 100 percent recovered from his illness. "I feel better, though," Afflalo said.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: But the question remains for Bynum: Does he truly want to grit his teeth and play? How broken can he stand his body to be at 40 when he's trying to fold into his fast cars? Even back in Cleveland, as he went through hours of rehabilitation almost every day, he wondered if it was worth it for a team on pace for another lottery pick. Retirement at 26 did not seem that far fetched. "Yeah. My knees hurt. It's not fun playing and having to (freakin') like sit at home and just feel like an old person, you know?" Bynum says. "My niece or nephew, they just want jump on me and play around and (stuff) but I got to be worried about something instead of just doing that, and that gets a little frustrating sometimes. "Obviously, when I'm not playing, I tend to feel better because I'm not doing anything." It is moments of pure honesty like this that has deepened the divide between Bynum and his detractors. He still carries baggage filled with "ifs." If he's healthy. If he's committed. If he gets with the program. In spite of the doubts from others, there's an elixir for Bynum's banged-up knees and tattered reputation. And he found it in Indiana.
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: This would be the kind of attitude that makes coaches proud. Landry Fields was dusted off and handed a significant assignment by Dwane Casey on Sunday afternoon, inserted into the starting lineup for an injured Terrence Ross as the Raptors faced the Golden State Warriors. Fields had played a grand total of 15 minutes in Toronto’s previous 29 games — he’d been injured and inactive and an afterthought. But when his number was called in a big game against an impressive Warrior backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Fields figured, “oh, what the heck.” “Would you have it any other way?” Fields asked rhetorically after the game. “Just go out there and be somebody.” Fields, who ended up playing 25 minutes with eight points and six rebounds, wasn’t the sole reason the Raptors emerged with an impressive 104-98 win at the Air Canada Centre, but his attitude spoke volumes.
- Andrew Keh of The New York Times: As the week went on, Jason Collins was inundated with support, including texted congratulations from Billie Jean King. His No. 98 jersey became the top seller on the league’s online store. He spoke to packs of reporters in every city the Nets visited. Over the last week, Collins has needed to straddle dual impulses, acknowledging and appreciating the huge positive response he has received while stressing that his focus will be on playing basketball, that he wants to be known as a basketball player rather than a social crusader. Even so, his presence on the court has carried an unmistakable significance as professional sports in North America have struggled to create work environments that are perceived as welcoming to gay athletes. It has seemed a small but noteworthy happenstance, as well, that Brooklyn has once again become the home base and backdrop for a pioneering change in professional sports. It was on opening day at Ebbets Field in 1947 that Jackie Robinson became modern major league baseball’s first black player. Jonathan Eig, the author of “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” said Robinson’s debut occurred in a rather lukewarm atmosphere. “The word I would use to describe Brooklyn’s immediate reaction is ambivalence,” he said.
- Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle: Rockets guard Jeremy Lin has run into some shooting woes since his return from the All-Star Break. In the last six games, he is shooting 26 percent from the field. Despite the small slump, coach Kevin McHale isn’t worried about Lin snapping out of it. “You have ebbs and flows,” McHale said. “We are going to need him to pick it up and play better, there is no question about that. And he will. He is working hard and I think he will find his rhythm. “Everybody does a little of this during the season. We need to get him on a high note again."