Posts Tagged ‘Jason Collins’

The NBA: A colorful land of opportunity

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Clippers offer silent protest of Sterling before Game 4

DALLAS – In the final seconds of Saturday’s thrilling Game 3 between the Mavericks and Spurs, a San Antonio player of Argentine descent rolled off a screen set by a player born in the Virgin Islands, drove the lane and somehow banked in a leaner over a 6-foot-11 Dallas defender who hails from Haiti.

Moments later, Dallas’ Spanish point guard inbounded the ball to an African-American teammate from Florida, who miraculously swished a 3-point game-winner from the corner. The first player to embrace him in mutual jubilation was a 7-foot German as the home team’s Jewish owner went berserk.

Perhaps no place on Earth is as racially, culturally and ethnically diverse and accepting as on the NBA hardwood and inside NBA locker rooms. Somewhere in Brooklyn, Nets center Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, who most of us have already forgotten is the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, probably marveled at Vince Carter‘s game-winner just like everybody else from sea to shining sea.

Saturday was another brilliant day in this first week of intense playoff basketball. As for humanity, it was an embarrassing day. Audio of a racial diatribe, purportedly the voice of 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling surfaced, and the ignorance and intolerance heard incited swift reactions of anger and outrage from the Clippers’ Doc Rivers and Chris Paul, as well as from members of every race in and out of the league.

LeBron James is right, there is no place in the NBA for out-of-touch, backward-thinking individuals. On Sunday, Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki similarly weighed in.

“Disappointing, very disappointing,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not sure if a guy like that [should be] allowed to own a team in 2014.”

The NBA quickly organized to investigate as new commissioner Adam Silver faces his first full-blown crisis. In a news conference in Memphis on Saturday night where he was attending Game 4 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series, Silver vowed an “extraordinarily” swift and thorough investigation. He was in Oakland on Sunday as the Clippers returned to the court against the Warriors.

The real shame is that Sterling, the longest-tenured owner in the league and whose racial intolerance has been chronicled for decades but never dealt with by the league, chose an insular life within the greater melting pot of Los Angeles and the NBA. He refused to shed obviously deep-rooted ignorance through the unique opportunity the league affords every player, executive, coach and staff member — to interact with and learn from and about people of all races and creeds.

The NBA opened the 2013-14 season with a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 countries and territories. It includes two players from Israel and players from Turkey, where the populace is mostly Muslim. Players hail from Latin America, Asia, every corner of Europe and down under from Australia and New Zealand. And, yes, Africa.

The league has gone to great lengths to expand its global reach. Its Basketball Without Borders program sends players and coaches overseas in every direction each summer to teach the game. As part of its expanding Global Games program, the NBA last fall sent teams to Turkey, China and the Philippines, among other destinations. The world’s first NBA Cafe opened Friday in Manila.

Mavs’ second-year reserve center Bernard James, an African-American, served six years in the Air Force. He fulfilled three tours that included extended stays in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The military is as diverse an organization as the NBA is and there’s no room for that type of mindset, that old way of thinking,” Bernard James said. “I feel like the world, and America especially, has progressed a lot as far as race relations. There’s no room for people who think like that and operate like that. It’s holding everybody back.”

He went on to describe his experience with the Mavs as something of a multicultural classroom.

“I’m pretty close to Sammy [Dalembert], he’s a Haitian guy, so I’ve been learning and understanding about his culture. Here, we have Jose [Calderon] (Spain), we have Gal [Mekel] (Israel), Dirk (Germany), Sammy, all these guys are from different places. Just being around them this much and getting to know them is definitely kind of eye-opening and gives you a closer look at their culture and how their lives have been.”

The idea was floated that the Clippers should boycott the postseason as long as Sterling remains on as owner. That is not a solution. It would make the playoffs more about Sterling than the players.

Allow Silver to handle the law and order, to push Sterling, if guilty, deep out of sight and out of mind.

Doc, CP3 and the rest of the Clippers need focus only on playing ball.

Kidd has come a long way in a few months


VIDEO: Jason Kidd talks with Rachel Nichols about his growth process as an NBA coach

BROOKLYN – Jason Kidd‘s coaching career began a little like his playing career ended.

As a player, he missed his last 18 shots. As a coach, he lost 21 of his first 31 games with the most expensive roster in NBA history. He was fined $50,000 for purposely spilling a drink so that his assistant coach could draw up a play. Through December, the Brooklyn Nets were below-average on both ends of the floor and were particularly brutal defensively.

Early in November, ESPN.com’s David Thorpe called Kidd “the worst coach in the NBA.” Later that month, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck quoted an scout who didn’t think much of Kidd, the coach.

A veteran scout, interviewed earlier in the day and speaking on the condition of anonymity, called Kidd’s bench comportment “terrible,” observing that the play-calling has fallen mostly to his top assistants, Lawrence Frank and John Welch.

“He doesn’t do anything,” said the scout, who has watched the Nets several times. “He doesn’t make calls. John Welch does all the offense. Lawrence does all the defense. … I don’t know what Kidd does. I don’t think you can grade him and say he’s bad. You can give him an incomplete.”

Things have changed quite a bit. The Nets are 27-12 (best in the Eastern Conference) since the new year began, with a top-10 defense, despite a two-game slide this week.

The turnaround coincided with a seemingly sudden lineup change that created a new defensive identity. The Nets went from a bad team on Dec. 31 (when they were thumped by the San Antonio Spurs) to a good one two nights later (when they won in Oklahoma City).

But the players will tell you that they just needed time to get healthy and get to know one another. Deron Williams missed 11 of the team’s first 20 games, Andrei Kirilenko missed 26 of the first 30, and Brook Lopez missed nine of the first 24 before being lost for the season on Dec. 20. The Nets’ projected $82 million starting lineup played a total of 90 minutes together.

So, yeah, they needed some time to hit their stride. So did Kidd.

During the Nets’ episode of Real Training Camp in October, Kidd  was barely heard from. He was mostly on the sidelines as his assistants — like Lawrence Frank here – ran practice.

Kidd should have known when he hired Frank that he would look to take charge. That’s who Frank is. And Kidd, in hindsight, probably could have found a way to tone down his fiery assistant. Instead, as the losing mounted, the two knocked heads and in early December, Kidd kicked him off the bench.

It was a key moment in Kidd’s development as a coach.  Once his lead assistant was gone, he had no choice but to find his own voice.

Finding his way


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Jason Kidd during the Nets-Spurs game

“Everybody has to know who’s in charge,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said back in January. “And that’s the head coach. He’s the one calling the shots. I’ve never seen any one of the Pips try to lead. That’s Gladys’ role. Let Gladys be Gladys.”

In Brooklyn, Gladys is singing stronger than ever.

“He wasn’t being involved as much [in training camp],” Kirilenko said of Kidd recently. “He was watching more and observing. Now, he’s involved more and he’s talking more.”

Observing Kidd at one recent shootaround, Nets general manager Billy King said to assistant GM Frank Zanin, “From November to now, it’s night and day. It’s been a joy to watch.”

Kidd will tell you that he and the team grew together, that it took “everybody” to get through those first two months. King believes the improvement started with the coach.

“I think he developed the group,” King told NBA.com, “by spending time talking to individual players and the players as a group. I think he molded them to become a group and be one, rather than be individuals. It comes from sharing the basketball, being accountable.

“And that was him from the beginning. He challenged the guys to share the basketball, to sacrifice for each other.”

After a loss in Boston earlier this month, Kidd looked at the box score and didn’t lament that the Nets shot 4-for-30 from 3-point range, but that their shot distribution was unbalanced. Only four times this season has a Net attempted more than 20 shots in a game, and two of those games went to overtime. Only the Jazz (two) have fewer games of a player taking 20 or more shots. Fourteen teams have 20 or more.

Though five guys are getting paid like stars, it’s a team thing in Brooklyn. Ask Kidd about how a particular player impacted a game and he’d rather talk about the group. Ask him about himself and he probably won’t give you an answer at all (though he did say last week that he never regretted his choice to become a coach just days after retiring).

“We had a lot of long coaches meetings,” he said of his team’s early-season struggles. “We had a lot of long conversations with players. But there was never a panic of, like, ‘Maybe I should have kept playing, maybe we should have went on vacation a little bit longer.’ Sometimes you have to face adversity right off the bat and you get to find out who’s really in and who’s out. And those guys in the locker room are truly in and that’s what makes it special.”

Relying on ‘instincts’


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Nets improved play

When the Nets were looking for a coach last summer, Kidd told ownership, “We need a leader.” They suggested Kidd and, after an interview, King bought in and sought advice from his college coach.

“Don’t put him in a coaching box,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told King. “Let his instincts take over and he’ll be fine.”

Indeed, there’s probably more Jason Kidd in the coach than coach in Kidd. Or maybe he’s been a coach all along. Those who have watched the New York Knicks the last two seasons would certainly make that argument.

As the best point guard of the last 20 years, Kidd has had his teammates’ respect from Day 1. Now, he’s the closest thing the NBA has had to a player-coach since Dave Cowens in 1979.

“I look at him as the head coach,” Joe Johnson said. “But then I still look at him as a good friend. It’s almost like he’s still a player.”

The respect that players have for Kidd can go a long way. He hasn’t been afraid to bench one or more of his high-priced stars for the entire fourth quarter of a close game. Now that his team has found its identity, he has a feel for what is working and what isn’t.

Orchestrating a successful season


VIDEO: Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck explains the Nets’ path to finding their identity

“From my seat [a few feet away from the bench], I get to see him orchestrate, from offense to defense,” King said. “He’s telling guys where to go and changing plays on the fly.”

And Kidd’s knowledge of what his team needs goes beyond his in-game decisions. Shaun Livingston was his choice for the back-up point guard spot last summer, a decision that has worked out brilliantly. In February, Kidd believed that his team could handle the addition of Jason Collins, and he was right on that one, too.

“The thing that really has struck me is his attention to detail as a rookie coach,” King said, “like player minutes to rotations to sticking with the bench longer than some other people would as a rookie coach. I think he’s managed players’ minutes to try to keep them as fresh as possible. A lot of times, as a rookie coach, they don’t, because they got to keep their best players out there to win that game.”

As a player, Kidd was usually the smartest guy on the floor. As a coach, he’s allowing his basketball mind to flourish.

“There are several teammates who I’ve played with where you can see that they just think the game, and their basketball IQ is off the charts,” Collins said. “J-Kidd was always that way as a teammate. Now, it’s turned into the Xs and Os.”

Kidd knows he still has a long way to go. Asked how comfortable he’s become as a coach, he replied, “I’m still working at it. There’s no comfort level here.”

The playoffs will be another huge test. Given that the Nets, overall, have fallen short of expectations, there are better Coach of the Year candidates. Kidd is still making questionable decisions, like intentionally fouling with the Nets up four points in the final seconds against Toronto earlier this month.

But considering how quickly he has developed and how well he’s recovered from his early growing pains, it’s clear that the Nets have found themselves a winner.

“He’s not going to do something just to be average at it,” King said. “He wants to be great at whatever he does, whether it’s golf, coaching, playing, he wants to be great at it. That’s the approach he took from Day 1 here.”

Back to that early-season criticism of Kidd: When he was hired, there was a consensus among observers that he would need some time to adjust to his new role. In retrospect, that’s exactly what happened in November and December.

Since then? Well, at this point, it would be nice to hear from Beck’s scout again.

“It’s a marathon,” Kidd said. “That’s the nice thing about the NBA season. You can be judged on the first game, but the ones who know best, you’re not judged until the end.”

He was speaking of his team. But he might well have been talking about himself.


VIDEO:
Rod Boone of Newsday talks about the Nets’ recent surge in play

Morning Shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A “defining moment” for the Heat | Warriors talk it out | Lillard becomes a leader | Beal goes down in Wizards’ win | Lakers can move on without Jackson

No. 1: A “defining moment” for the Heat — When they won their first six games after the All-Star break, we thought the Miami Heat had flipped the switch in preparation for the playoffs. But they’ve since lost five of their last six, falling to the below-.500 Denver Nuggets at home on Friday. There’s still a month left in the regular season, but LeBron James believes this is a “defining moment” for the champs, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald writes:

This shrine of basketball on Biscayne Bay hasn’t known tedium for some time, but a little bit of that stuff has crept into the cracks of the hardwood in recent days. The Heat (44-19) has lost five of its past six games and is 3-5 in March.

“A tough loss at home, and we just have to figure it out,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s not the way this streak started. Sometimes, it just happens to you in this league where things turn and moment changes and you find yourself in a hole you feel like you can’t get out of. Obviously, we’ll be able to get out of it. When? We don’t know.”

Said James: “We’ve been here before. It has been a while, but we’ve been here before, and this moment will either define our season or end our season. … We always have one defining moment, and this is it right here for us.”

***

No. 2: Warriors talk it out — The Heat weren’t the only good team to suffer an embarrassing loss at home on Friday. The Golden State Warriors gave up 68 points across the second and third quarters in a 103-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s not acceptable for a team that has mostly won with defense this season. So the Dubs aired it out in a post-game meeting, as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News writes:

Mark Jackson took extra, extra time to come out to speak to the media and spoke about as harshly as he has allowed himself to during his Warriors tenure–so the mood was clearly a little different.

Why? This season has been built on defense, and the Warriors built a huge early lead and then got shredded by a bad Cleveland team, which is just about what Jackson said.

Then, after Jackson’s presser, maybe 30 minutes after the game ended, the locker room was opened to the media and players were noticeably still talking to each other – not at all heatedly, but with nods and solemn expressions.

One player stood out – Stephen Curry was still in uniform and walked up to Jermaine O’Neal, Andrew Bogut and David Lee (among others) and had long one-on-one discussions in the locker room corridors.

***

No. 3: Lillard becomes a leader — Speaking of locker room meetings, the Blazers had one after Wednesday’s loss in San Antonio, their fourth straight. And it started with Damian Lillard, who doesn’t want to settle for having just played hard. He wants results and Jason Quick of The Oregonian writes that the point guard’s speech may have been a turning point for the Blazers:

“Hold on,” Lillard said.

And from there, a passionate, pointed and spontaneous flow of emotions and leadership came from Lillard. His interjection, and subsequent soliloquy, sparked a team meeting. The players and coaches want the details of the meeting to stay in house, but Lillard said the essence of his speech was that it was up to the players, not the coaches, to step up in crunch time, and to not accept the “we competed hard” as a pacifier for losing.

“He took control,” said Dorell Wright, who is in his 10th NBA season. “It was a big step for him.”

Added Wesley Matthews: “It showed he’s grown. He’s one of those guys who has always led by example, and he put it on himself. He was tired of losing so he voiced his opinion. It was good.”

***

No. 4: Beal goes down in Wizards’ win — The Washington Wizards came back from six down in the final 65 seconds of regulation to win in Orlando on Friday. But Bradley Beal turned his right ankle in overtime, meaning that the win may cost the Wizards in the long run. They play a big game against the Nets – with whom they’re tied in the standings – in Washington on Saturday. Michael Lee of the Washington Post had the story from Orlando:

The night didn’t end without a brief scare. On the next possession, Beal forced rookie Victor Oladipo (15 points) into missing a driving layup and rolled his right ankle when he landed. Beal hit the floor, weeping in the hardwood, thinking that he had broken his ankle, as his concerned teammates gathered around him. Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter Jr. eventually had to carry Beal to the locker room but he walked out of the arena on his own power.

“I was just hoping it wasn’t broken. That’s always a player’s first instinct — hope and pray it’s nothing too too serious and fortunately, it was only a sprain,” Beal said. “We just keep going, keep attacking. You’re not always going to stay hot all the time. You’re not going to make all your shots. For us to get this win up underneath us is a great feeling.”

***

No. 5: Lakers can move on without Jackson — It’s been almost three years since Phil Jackson left the Los Angeles Lakers, but only now can the franchise finally have some closure. Lakers fans may still want Phil, but he was never going to get what he wanted (full control) in L.A. Ramona Shelburne has a good read on the Jackson story from the Lakers’ perspective:

Over the past three years, he’s been neither coach nor consultant. His fiancée, Jeanie Buss, is the one still receiving Laker paychecks, not him. But in his absence, Jackson’s presence has only grown larger among the Lakers and their fans. By remaining in the shadows, his enormous shadow has hung over the franchise. The “We want Phil” chants still ring out at Staples Center from time to time.

People got used to it that way. It was comforting to know Jackson was still there, close by. Just a tweet away. That also made it hard for other things to grow, but it was better than the alternative.

When legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away last February, Jackson was still the one subsuming that patriarchal role in this very strange, dysfunctional saga. The Lakers and their fans never really had to stare into the abyss in front of them.

Now they do. That it took a full week for Jackson to formally sign on as the Knicks president after word of their serious mutual interest leaked only prolonged the torture for Laker fans.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In a response to an Op-Ed by agent Jeff Schwartz, Chris Paul detailed the NBPA’s search for a new executive director … In an up-and-down season, Jonas Valanciunas had a big night against the Grizzlies … Nikola Pekovic couldn’t play through ankle pain on FridayThe Nets have signed Jason Collins for the remainder of the season … and O.J. Mayo is out of the Bucks’ rotation.

ICYMI of The Night: Lillard backed up his words, scoring 27 points (including 16 in the fourth quarter) in Friday’s win in New Orleans:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 149): The Brooklyn Nets … Featuring Joe Johnson And Jake Appleman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s rare that we get to examine issues like freedom of speech, civil rights in sports, the ongoing debate about the “N” word being used on the court and field of play and locker rooms and other hot button topics of the day beyond the game of basketball.

Then again, is there a better forum for a closer of examination of those issues and how they impact the broader context of sports than right here? From Jason Collins to Michael Sam to the current state of affairs of the Brooklyn Nets and where they are headed, we’ve got it all on Epispde 149 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Brooklyn Nets … featuring All-Star swingman Joe Johnson and Brooklyn Bounce author Jake Appleman.

Collins and Sam are breaking new ground in their respective sports, Collins as the first openly gay player to suit up and play in one of the major North American sports and Sam as the first openly gay NFL draft prospect. Collins has history with the Nets, having played for the franchise earlier in his career (during their Finals days) and as a former teammate of Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and even Nets coach Jason Kidd.

Our friends at NBAE also provide us with a fantastic look back at All-Star Weekend in Sounds of the Game and the basement gets a new tenant in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

You get all of that and more on Episode 149 of the Hang Time Podcast: The Brooklyn Nets … featuring All-Star swingman Joe Johnson and Brooklyn Bounce author Jake Appleman …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Jason Collins makes history with the Brooklyn Nets

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe on Collins and courage “domino” effect | Oden’s makes waves, first start for Heat | Clippers finally get what they need … win over the Thunder | Wizards turn to veterns for help down the stretch | A “shoe war” over Lillard?

No. 1: Kobe insists Collins courage will have domnio effect – Making history surely wasn’t on the mind of Jason Collins Sunday night, as he became the first openly gay athlete to suit up and play in one of the four major American sports. All Collins, of the Brooklyn Nets, was trying to do was earn his 10-day contract keep and help his team win. Whether he likes it or now, though, Collins is taking groundbreaking steps that will generate what Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called a courage domino effect across the landscape. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports explains:

“His impact [Sunday night] is greater than what people think,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports before the game. “You look at it from the context of having the first openly gay player. But they missed the domino effect that it has way beyond sports.”

Collins, now in his 13th season, was a free agent at the time of his announcement and the Nets were the first team to sign him. Bryant said his initial reaction to Collins signing with Brooklyn was, “It’s great. Let’s hoop.”

Along with having an impact on the gay and sports communities, Bryant says the news teaches the youth “it’s OK to be yourself” and will motivate people from all walks of life.

“It’s fantastic. It sets an incredible precedent,” said Bryant, who is currently out of the Lakers’ lineup indefinitely with a knee injury. “I think the most important part about it, what I’ve learned on the issue is that one person coming out is showing this type of courage that gives others that same type of courage.

“It’s dealing with a lot of issues for kids who are afraid to be themselves. Afraid to be themselves because of the peer pressure that comes with it. A lot of these kids have depression issues or they’re being teased from other kids for being different. You wind up seeing a lot of suicides, kids injuring themselves and getting hooked on things that they should not be hooked on.”

On the impact of Collins’ first game, Bryant said: “There is a kid out there who … is going to say, ‘Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.’”

Collins, who was scoreless in 10-plus minutes of action, said in response to Bryant’s praise, “That’s along the same lines of what I would say to every other professional athlete. … Realize that there is support there waiting for you. That’s the only thing I can say about encouraging people to be their true self.”


VIDEO: Jason Collins waxes on his season debut with the Brooklyn Nets

***

No. 2: Greg Oden’s first start for Heat (sans LeBron) ends with a win – Greg Oden made some news of his own Sunday, earning his first start for the Miami Heat in their win over the Chicago Bulls. The former No. 1 overall pick reached yet another milestone in his long journey back from what once appeared to be career-ending knee injuries. His start came without LeBron James in uniform, the Heat superstar sat out with that broken nose suffered against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week. But this day was about Oden and his milestone, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Oden’s big-picture perspective is unwavering.

He’s just happy to be here.

“For me, each game getting better and walking off healthy — they’re all milestones to me,” said Oden, who is attempting to revive his career after a series of knee injuries. “It has been a long road, so every one is a good one for me.”

Sunday might have been the best of all. He started his first game since December 2009 and played nearly 13 minutes in Miami’s victory. During his brief time in the game, Oden matched up against Bulls center Joakim Noah and had five points and five rebounds.

“He’s an active player for someone that big,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He makes multiple efforts, he gives you extra possessions and he’s very intelligent, so he has a pretty good grasp of what we want and how we want to play already.”

With LeBron James out with a broken nose, Spoelstra went to Oden for his size inside against the Bulls and also to keep the Heat’s second unit somewhat intact. Chicago is one of the league’s most aggressive rebounding teams and it showed early. The Bulls held a 32-19 rebounding advantage after the first half.

“We knew the minutes would be short for Greg still — 10 to 12 minutes — so we figure that [it would] be best to get him in that starting lineup,” Spoelstra said. “We get to keep our rotations somewhat similar.”

Oden said he could have played more than 13 minutes, which is a positive sign for the Heat. He is expected to be an important piece in the playoffs, especially against teams such as the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, which feature big frontcourts.

On a contending team for the first time in his career, Oden is following the lead of his more experienced teammates and Oden’s health is returning just in time for the Heat’s playoff push.

“They’ve all been through this before,” Oden said. “This is one of my first times going through this. This is that push you’ve got to get for first place. That’s what we are aiming for right now the next push is going to be when the playoffs come.”

***

No. 3: Clippers finally get that much-needed win over The Thunder – The Los Angeles Clippers fancy themselves a championship team, as do the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers, though, needed a win over the Thunder, on the road, to legitimize their claim. And they finally got that Sunday, solving their Thunder issue on the big stage and sending a message that they are indeed going to be a part of the power mix in the Western Conference playoff chase. As Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports, it was long overdue:

The Clippers needed this.

A 125-117 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday carried restorative powers for a Clippers team had been unsuccessful against the NBA’s elite on the road.

The Thunder owned the league’s best record — until the Clippers’ victory took their opponent down a peg to 43-14, percentage points behind Indiana (42-13).

The Clippers won with all five starters scoring in double figures. Jamal Crawford led the way with 36 points, but Matt Barnes (24 points, seven rebounds), Blake Griffin (20 points, seven rebounds, six assists), DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (18 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds) all played significant roles.

“It’s definitely a good win for us,” said Paul, who played despite a sprained right thumb. “We were on the plane [Saturday] flying here and we were just talking about how we hadn’t beat any good teams on the road, and this would be the perfect time to start.”

The Clippers lost here earlier this season. They also have lost at San Antonio, Miami, Indiana and Portland, teams that rank among the best in the league.

The Clippers have won at Houston, but that was only one win against five road losses against the top teams.

Now the Clippers have a victory against a Thunder team that has lost only five games at home all season. They also have their first win since the All-Star game, after stumbling out of the break with losses to San Antonio and at Memphis.

“It was a very important win, especially having dropped our last two,” Griffin said. “This win was big for us. We haven’t really made a statement on the road. We’ve won some games, but we haven’t won big games. So it was terrific for us.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ big win in OKC

***

No. 4: Wizards turns to veterans for help down the stretch – Trades and injuries have a way of opening doors for NBA veterans this time of year and the Washington Wizards are not different. After their work on deadline day, the Wizards had a new point guard in Andre Miller and an opening for a few minutes for guys like Al Harrington and Kevin Seraphin. An injury to Nene created even more space for those two veterans and they answered the call for Randy Wittman‘s team. Michael Lee of The Washington Post with the details:

Kevin Seraphin couldn’t get overly concerned when he saw Nene crumple to the ground in pain, then hop off the court and through the tunnel toward the Wizards’ locker room on his good, right leg. Coach Randy Wittman called on Seraphin immediately after Nene went down with what the team is calling a sprained left knee in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Seraphin had to be ready.

“Yeah. I saw him leave, but when we’re in the game, we have to be focused on the game,” Seraphin said.

The Wizards (28-28) were only up by three points at the time of Nene’s departure and they have typically become flimsy when their most gifted big man is unable to finish a game. Washington squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead when Nene was ejected with roughly three minutes left in Oklahoma City, lost in overtime to Milwaukee when Nene strained his right Achilles’ tendon, and suffered a controversial defeat in Houston after Nene fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

After Luol Deng completed a three-point play to bring the Cavaliers within 73-72 with 93 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wizards were once again in danger of letting a winnable game get away from them. Then, Wittman put veteran Al Harrington on the floor and he made two huge shots – a driving layup and a three-pointer – to send the Wizards into the fourth period with a six-point lead.

“I was just looking for an opportunity. I was ready, obviously, the situation with Nene allowed me to do a little more,” Harrington said. “It’s tough. He’s been playing some great basketball, so that was tough to see. Hopefully we can get him back sooner than later, but guys got to step up. I think we got enough guys that can do that.”

Harrington didn’t score for the rest of the game. But Seraphin came through with two huge, 10-foot jump hooks to push the Wizards ahead 82-74 early in the fourth quarter.

“He’s capable of doing that,” Wittman said of Seraphin. “The more he simplifies his game the better. Sometimes he likes to trick people, and we got to get him just to be simple. That’s his move and he does it very well. Big couple of shots he hit.”

Harrington finished with two rebounds and an assist and tried to extend the lead but missed a three-pointer and Wittman replaced him with Marcin Gortat. “I thought Al gave us a big lift in the second half. He was panting like a dog out there but we got to continue to get him rounded into shape,” Wittman said of Harrington, who played just 31 seconds the night before against New Orleans as Nene matched his career high with 30 points.

***

No. 5: It’s gotta be the shoes for Portland’s Lillard – Portland All-Star point guard Damian Lillard made waves with his busy schedule during All-Star Weekend. There could be more waves on the horizon where he is concerned, courtesy of a budding tug of war over his shoe company. It’s been a while since a battle between shoe giants made noise in the NBA, but Lillard’s story is about to get interesting as Adidas and Nike get ready to tussle over the young star. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com provides the minutiae:

Lillard, 23, has a profitable rookie shoe endorsement deal with adidas, though that could change abruptly due to clever language in his contract.

Being that he took home the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year award, became an NBA All-Star and reached other unique incentive clauses in his first two seasons, Lillard will be able to opt out of his shoe contract at the end of the basketball season and either renegotiate a more lucrative deal with adidas, or open negotiations with Nike, Brand Jordan, Reebok or Under Armor, league sources informed CSNNW.com.

Another source that’s vastly briefed on Lillard’s situation added, “There’s no doubt about it, he’s opting out.”

Rival shoe companies have been well-versed on the matter for months and are expected to make competitive offers, but CSNNW.com is told that Nike stands the best chance of luring Lillard away from adidas.

Adidas is in no position to lose their accomplished young standout point guard.

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is currently viewed as the basketball face of adidas. However, his string of knee injuries in addition to the fact that he has only participated in 49 games in three seasons has adidas apprehensive he can remain the company’s headliner.

In 2012, Rose signed a multiyear deal in the upwards of $200 million.

Lillard hasn’t missed a game in his one and half years as a professional and the way in which he carries himself on and off the court is without glitch if a company seeks to market him as the face of a national corporation.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sunday proved to be a great day/night for quite a few players from around the league. that lists include Kevin DurantJamal CrawfordGoran DragicRudy GayDanny Granger is still MIA for the Sixers on the practice court. The buyout has to be negotiated if he plans on moving on without suiting up in Philly … The Commissioner speaks on openly gay pro athletes … Harvey Araton of The New York Times weighs in on Collins, too, and the impact he can have going forward

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Thomas Robinson showed up and showed out for the Trail Blazers in so many ways …


VIDEO: The Thomas Robinson affair folks

Collins And Nets Breaking Barriers

VIDEO: Jason Collins signs with the Nets

Less than two months ago when they were 10-21 following a New Year’s Eve thumping, one might have believed there was a better chance of seeing an openly gay athlete in a NBA game than seeing Brooklyn in the playoffs.

Now Jason Collins and the Nets will try to break down barriers together.

By signing the 35-year-old 7-footer to a 10-day contract, it could be said the No. 8 seeded team is clawing desperately to hold onto the last playoff spot in the moribund Eastern Conference.

“The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision,” Nets general manager Billy King said in the statement. “We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract.”

And maybe if this were 10 or 20 years from now, that’s all it would be, a line of agate type in the transactions column.

For now though, it is one giant leap for sportskind, if only because it is the official opening of the societal and cultural closet door.

“Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team,” said commissioner Adam Silver. “Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment.”

Athlete Ally ambassador and Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said: “With Jason Collins signing with the Nets today, I believe our world as professional athletes will open up and become less ignorant of gay male athletes playing and more accepting and embracing of the whole situation.”

It was back in April of last year when Collins revealed himself in Sports Illustrated to become the first openly gay male athlete in one of the four major American sports.

That announcement brought praise from President Obama, an invitation to the State of the Union address and a much higher profile than Collins had ever achieved with a 12-year NBA career in which he averaged just 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Yet it didn’t bring a training camp invitation from any of the 30 NBA clubs.

In the meantime, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam jumped into the headlines with his announcement that he is gay. Coming from the SEC co-defensive player of the year ahead of the NFL draft and from a 24-year-old at the start of his pro career, Sam’s revelation was immediately considered much more a test of tolerance in the testosterone filled air of sports, even if it had been met with a collective shrug in his own college locker room last fall.

“We would accept it greatly and it shouldn’t be a problem, man,” Nets guard Joe Johnson told reporters last week. “We’ve got a veteran group and I think everybody is pretty comfortable in their own skin. It’s about what he can do to help us out there on that court. That’s what it’s about.”

Point guard Deron Williams said if Collins’ addition would help the team, he’s in favor.

“I think it’s definitely going to be a media circus just because of the situation,” Williams said. “But I think with the type of team that we have, veterans who have played with him before and know him, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

The Nets, in fact, are probably the most logical and comfortable fit for Collins. For one, team owner Mikhail Prokorov campaigned for gay rights during his presidential bid in Russia. What’s more, veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are former teammates of Collins and Pierce was his most ardent backer when Collins came out last spring. Coach Jason Kidd also played alongside Collins with the Nets and will surely help foster an inclusive attitude.

“To each his own,” Pierce said back in April. “It’s probably going to open the door to many more. There’s so many professional athletes, there’s so many human beings, that are scared … because of the exposure of sports and what people might think about it. But I think what he did was a great thing, just to kind of open the door for other athletes who probably now are going to have the courage to come out.”

There has already, of course, been an outcry from some on social media that it is all a story manufactured and overblown for a player whose career has been marginal at best. No one is interested, they say and post and tweet. Yet the fact they have read and posted and tweeted is the clearest contradiction of themselves.

Collins has put himself in the spotlight. However, the Nets also deserve credit for looking past any potential distractions to help shoulder the burden and make history.

Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade got the news and summed up what matters on the court about Collins: “One thing I know about him is he fouled very hard. …Welcome back.”

For a chance to pull on the jersey, to lace up the sneakers, to try to help get the once forlorn Nets into the playoffs, smashing one previously unthinkable notion at a time.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron bloodied in Heat’s win | Report: Magic reach buyout with Davis | Report: Nets mull signing Collins | Failed Paul trade shaped several teams’ plans

No. 1: LeBron bloodied in Heat’s win over Thunder – The Miami Heat were en route to an eventual 103-81 thrashing of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena and LeBron James drove to the basket midway through the fourth quarter. James got popped in the face by OKC’s Serge Ibaka as he made his move and finished at the rim with a flush. But after the dunk, James crumpled to the floor and was bleeding profusely from his nose. Our Jeff Caplan was on the scene and reports that James is fine and cleared concussion tests from the injury:

LeBron James left Thursday night’s showdown against the Thunder midway through the fourth quarter after getting clobbered in the nose on his way to completing a highlight-reel play at the rim.Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said James’ nose was swollen and bleeding, but confirmed that he passed concussion tests. Asked if James had X-rays on his nose, Spoelstra would only say that his superstar will be checked out Friday back in Miami. The Heat just finished a six-game road trip and don’t play again until Sunday against Chicago.

“He’s got a swollen nose right now, it’s bleeding. We’ll evaluate him when we get back to Miami,” Spoelstra said. “It’s sore, he took a shot; probably should have been at the free throw line after that, but he was aggressive and it was a heck of an attack right there. He got hit pretty good though in the nose, so we’ll just have to see when we get back.”

With the fourth-quarter clock ticking down to the six-minute mark, James drove to the basket and appeared to get walloped in the nose as he blew through the lane. James soared across the front of the rim, left to right, against Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka looking for a right-handed slam, Ibaka kept him far enough away that James couldn’t stretch far enough for the dunk. High above the rim, James still managed to score before crashing to the floor.

Game action resumed at the Thunder’s end as James squirmed on the Heat’s baseline. It wasn’t until play stopped on an OKC travel call that Heat guard Ray Allen made it back to the other end and was first to reach James. As soon as he saw him, Allen waved for the trainers.

Heat players circled around James and everybody in Miami black held their breath.

“You just don’t know what it is,” Spoelstra said. “I’m like everybody else, you’re used to seeing him like Superman and get up and sprint back even after tough hits and tough falls, so you knew something was up.”


VIDEO: LeBron James takes a hit to the face in Miami’s win over OKC

***

No. 2: Report: Magic reach buyout with DavisGlen “Big Baby” Davis came to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2011 via a sign-and-trade deal with the Celtics that sent Brandon Bass to Boston. After Dwight Howard was traded from Orlando to the L.A. Lakers in the 2012 offseason, Davis got off to a solid start last season with the Magic. But injuries derailed most of 2012-13 for him after 25 games and this season was marred by his well-publicized blowup late at night at an Orlando-area hotel. The Magic have one of the youngest teams in the league and have decided to buyout Davis to free up more minutes for younger players, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Magic and Davis have reached a buyout agreement that will end the burly power forward’s tumultuous tenure with the franchise.

“It became apparent that they felt it was necessary to try to allow their younger players more time on the court and were in a full rebuild mode,” said Davis’ agent, John Hamilton.

Davis was under contract for $6.4 million this season and was due to earn $6.6 million from the Magic next season.Hamilton would not disclose the terms of the buyout.

Davis, 28, didn’t figure into the Magic’s long-term plans.

The move subtracts Davis’ well-documented volatility from the locker room, where there are impressionable youngsters.

Parting ways with him also allows the team to allocate more playing time to second-year big men Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson. The team also could shift Tobias Harris from small forward to power forward, which would enable coach Jacque Vaughn to utilize a three-guard lineup in which Victor Oladipo, Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo play simultaneously.

Magic officials had trade talks with multiple teams about Davis in recent weeks but couldn’t work out a deal before the 2013-14 NBA trade deadline expired Thursday afternoon.

Davis enjoyed highs and endured lows during his Magic tenure, which began in Dec. 2011 following a sign-and-trade deal with the Boston Celtics.

For most of the 2011-12 season, Davis backed up Ryan Anderson and struggled to earn the playing time he wanted.

On Feb. 3, 2012, Davis spoke up during a team shootaround and got into a screaming match with then-coach Stan Van Gundy; after Van Gundy dismissed Davis from practice, Davis damaged a wall as he stormed into the Magic locker room.

That season, Davis also had a verbal altercation with a fan in Portland, Ore., before a game.

The Magic made Davis a co-captain for the 2012-13 season, and Davis embraced the role and flourished under Vaughn. Davis helped lead the rebuilding Magic to a 12-13 start. But Davis dislocated his left shoulder during the team’s 25th game and later fractured a bone in his left foot. His injuries helped doom the Magic to an 8-49 finish to their season.

Early this season, while still rehabbing his foot, Davis had an off-court incident at a downtown Orlando motel. After a discussion with a front-desk clerk, Davis threw one of the motel’s keyboards against a wall. Davis was never charged with a crime.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, several teams are already lining up to add Davis for the playoff stretch run:

The Magic tried hard to move Davis before Thursday’s trade deadline but were unable to find a deal to unload him. The Los Angeles Clippers are the frontrunners to sign Davis, league sources said. Clippers GM and coach Doc Rivers coached Davis with the Boston Celtics and had discussions with Orlando in recent days about acquiring him. The Brooklyn Nets, who like the Clippers are searching for a backup big man, have signifcant interest in Davis too, league sources said. Also interested, according to one of the sources, are the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors.

***

No. 3: Report: Nets mull signing Collins — Veteran center Jason Collins hasn’t played in an NBA game since April 17, 2013, but the Brooklyn Nets are reportedly considering bringing him in on a 10-day deal. ESPN.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein report that Collins, who made history last year when he became the first openly gay active NBA player, would theoretically fill one of the team’s two open roster spots. Brooklyn’s lone trade before yesterday’s trade deadline was to send guard Jason Terry and forward Reggie Evans to Sacramento for Marcus Thornton in a deal that took place on Feb. 19. The Nets were unable to land any frontcourt players, though, thus leading them to potentially add Collins, who played for the Nets from 2001-07:

The Brooklyn Nets are giving strong consideration to signing Jason Collins to a 10-day contract that would position the free-agent center to become the NBA’s first active openly gay player, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets, after letting Thursday’s trade deadline pass without making a deal for Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, have identified Collins as a prime candidate to fill one of their two open roster spots and bolster a depleted frontcourt rotation via a 10-day deal.

No final decision has been made, but the Nets on Thursday night confirmed an earlier ESPN.com report that Collins was auditioned by the team in a private workout in Los Angeles earlier this week to assess the state of the 35-year-old’s game.

Nets general manager Billy King acknowledged the workout in an evening conference call with local reporters after the passing of the trade deadline but said he did not attend it in person. When asked to share the feedback he received on Collins, King said: “He’s in shape.”

“He’s one of the names on the list,” King said of Collins. “We will look at anybody that’s a free agent that’s big that’s out there. We’re looking at any guys that are free agents and he’s one of the guys. But we’ve got other guys that we’ll look at.”

“We’re going to look to add a guy,” King said, “that we feel will help us.”

King scoffed at the suggestion that Collins was being considered for a 10-day deal for mere publicity reasons, saying: “We’re going to bring in a basketball player. It’s not about marketing or anything like that. … We are trying to get a guy in who can play basketball at this point. That’s my focus.”

Yet King did concede that the aforementioned media blitz that would likely engulf the Nets, at least to start, is something that had to be accounted for in the decision-making process.

“You look at it from every aspect when you add a player,” King said.

King went on to say that a well-rounded defender, as much an outright rebounding specialist, would appeal to the Nets, which would appear to enhances Collins’ chances of landing at least a 10-day deal given that his specialties are positioning, pick-sitting and post defense. No Net could use a hand more than Garnett, who has been starting at center in place of the injured Lopez and anchoring the Nets’ defense but could find himself rested in several games during the regular-season stretch run given Brooklyn’s eight remaining back-to-backs.

***

No. 4: Failed Paul trade to Lakers hurt many teams’ rebuild plans — It is perhaps known as the most famous offseason trade that wasn’t in recent memory. The Los Angeles Lakers’ failed attempt to pick up Chris Paul from the then-New Orleans Hornets before the start of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season put a kink not only in that season, but in L.A.’s plans for its next great era of hoops. Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding, who covered the Lakers for the Orange County Register at the time, has an excellent, long look at how that failed trade affected not just L.A., but all the teams involved:

Twenty-six months have passed since the Lakers had the deal done to acquire Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in a three-team trade sending Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets and Lamar Odom to the Hornets. As much as has happened to the team in the past two years, CP3 going in and out still remains the missed shot at the forefront of the minds of Lakers staffers, executives and fans.

The Houston Rockets are in town Wednesday night to play the Lakers, and if the trade had gone through, the Rockets would be altogether different now—presumably led not by James Harden and Dwight Howard, but by Gasol.

Instead, Gasol still sits here by the shore, sweating the Thursday NBA trade deadline as the time the Lakers might finally ship him out.

The question of whether Howard would’ve become a Laker at all and might still be there is just one of many that are fascinating to consider. At heart, though, there is no arguing how poorly things have turned out for the Lakers without Paul.

A clear parallel universe was established…and then never allowed to exist.

How would that alternate reality have looked? Rarely do we get to do analysis that is both prospective and retrospective, but let’s take an in-depth look and figure it out.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant tweeted his displeasure with the Lakers’ trading of Steve Blake … Hours after acquiring Earl Clark from the Cavaliers in their trade for Spencer Hawes, the Sixers have cut ClarkDanny Granger had mixed feelings as he heads from Indiana to Philadelphia … Rockets GM Daryl Morey explains why Houston made only one move on trade deadline day when many more were expected

ICYMI of The Night: Crafty little baseline move here by Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin


VIDEO: Jeremy Lin nails the contorting layup along the baseline

Hibbert Crossed The Line!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s a good thing Roy Hibbert isn’t worried about being fined for his comments after the Indiana Pacers’ Game 6 win in the Eastern Conference finals, because the penalty for his words is surely on the way.

It’s one thing to take shots at the media for not recognizing his defensive prowess the way he thinks we should have, it’s another thing to use an expletive with live microphones and a worldwide audience on NBA TV and NBA.com when you do it.

“Y’all m————- don’t watch us play throughout the year to tell you the truth,” Hibbert said. “So that’s fine. I’m going to be real with you, and I don’t care if I get fined. We play and we’re not on TV all of the time and reporters are the ones that are voting and it is what it is. And I don’t make it, that’s fine. I’m still going to do what I have to do.”

The gay slur used to punctuate his point about the defense being played against four-time MVP LeBron James that wasn’t intended to be a slur, well, Hibbert will try to make amends with Jason Collins and others, but the damage is already done.

Like I said, the fine is coming. The dent Hibbert put in his own reputation, however, is already there. He crossed the line in this instance — and for no reason. Hibbert is playing well enough right now that just going out and dominating the Heat would suffice. He could skip the podium every night and still make his point in this series.

You could almost see this coming, with the increased intensity in the series and Hibbert’s continued escalation of the verbal escapades directed at Shane Battier and anyone who doesn’t believe in him and his Pacers teammates. It’s an unfortunate and unnecessary storyline for the lead up to Game 7, Monday night in Miami (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

You rarely need any extra hype for Game 7 of a playoff series, though, let alone the conference finals.

Hibbert’s play has provided all the hype needed through the first six games of this series anyway. He has been an absolute nightmare for the Heat, averaging 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 39.8 minutes while shooting 55 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the free-throw line. He’s absolutely destroyed the Heat frontcourt in this series.

He and Paul George came up with 52 points and 19 rebounds on their own in Game 6, outscoring the Heat’s weary “Big 3″ of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (44 and 13). Hibbert has been the most consistent force on both ends of the floor in this series, and that includes James.

Hibbert is getting air time with the NBA’s global audience that he’s never had. The first impression is an important one, especially for a player who aims to make a significant climb up the “best big man in basketball” ladder between now and next season, no matter how this series plays out.

I’d hate to see Hibbert ruin that momentum with one liners and verbal missteps that take away from the utter brilliance he’s shown on the court. Finish the Heat off and maybe then you will garner the respect you think you’ve already earned.

If it’s respect that Hibbert wants, he’ll earn it with another monster effort in Game 7 and not anything that comes out of his mouth before, during or after this series is done.

Meanwhile, Hibbert issued this apology on Pacers.com:

“I am apologizing for insensitive remarks made during the postgame press conference after our victory over Miami Saturday night. They were disrespectful and offensive and not a reflection of my personal views. I used a slang term that is not appropriate in any setting, private or public, and the language I used definitely has no place in a public forum, especially over live television. I apologize to those who I have offended, to our fans and to the Pacers’ organization. I sincerely have deep regret over my choice of words last night.”


Celtics, Rockets Eye Long Odds, History

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – No team in NBA playoff history has ever lost a best-of-seven series after surging ahead 3-0. So the odds of one team choking it away are worse than a freak Midwest snow storm in the heart of spring.

Suddenly we have two teams trying to make it rain on their opponents’ parade.

The Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets return to their respective home arenas Friday night with the objective of extending their first-round series to the wire after losing the first three games. Trying to avoid postseason infamy and outright humiliation is the second-seeded New York Knicks, the clever characters who dressed in black on Wednesday for a Game 5 “funeral” at Madison Square Garden. However, as Knicks Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith dutifully pointed out afterward, they were the ones that got buried by the resilient Celtics.

Over in the Western Conference, the eighth-seeded Rockets in Game 5 dominated a discombobulated Oklahoma City team without their heart-and-soul point guard Russsell Westbrook. Former Thunder guard James Harden splashed seven 3s for Houston and scored 31 points.

So what are the odds that either the Celtics or Rockets can at least get their respective series to a Game 7? Cloudy, at best.

Only three teams down 3-0 have ever won the next three to go the distance: The Knicks did it against Rochester in the 1951 Finals; the Denver Nuggets against the Utah Jazz in the 1994 West semifinals; and the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2003 West first round. The latter two were double-digit victories for the home team.

“Mainly because the other team is a lot better,” Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said when asked why teams down 3-0 typically bow out in Game 4 as his injury-depleted club did against the San Antonio Spurs.

And truth be told, if Westbrook doesn’t tear the meniscus in his right knee, the Thunder are likely sitting back waiting to see if the Memphis Grizzlies close out the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 or if those two are headed back to L.A. for one final bludgeoning.

But Westbrook’s absence has changed everything. The Rockets, the youngest team in the playoffs as the Thunder once were, are feeling confident. They have to believe that if they continue to run-and-gun and don’t allow anyone not named Kevin Durant to go crazy that they have a great chance to force a Game 7 back at Oklahoma City on Sunday.

The Celtics, logic insists, don’t have as good a chance as Houston because they don’t have a built-in opening like the Rockets with the catastrophic injury to the all-important Westbrook. The Knicks aren’t missing a star player. They possess the league’s scoring champion in Carmelo Anthony (18-for-59 from the field in Games 4 and 5), the Sixth Man in Smith (suspended for Game 4, 3-for-14 in Game 5), last season’s Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler, a more threatening offense and they’re deeper at just about every position, if not at every position.

But, as long as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are wearing green — and add cold-blooded Jason Terry, a champ himself in 2011 with Dallas — the Celtics just don’t die. A raucous TD Garden on Friday will put the Knicks’ veteran poise to the test.

The Knicks must dig down to avoid the No. 1 derogatory label in all of sports — chokers. And the Thunder must figure out how to pick themselves up without Westbrook.

The odds remain steep for the Celtics and Rockets. Then again, as Jason Collins proved this week, there’s always a first for everything.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 115) Featuring Michael Lee and Rick’s Lakers Rant!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A groundbreaking revelation from Jason Collins. A season-ending defeat for the Los Angeles Lakers, with reactions from Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and others included. And season-best rant from Rick Fox.

You get all of that and more on Episode 115 of the Hang Time Podcast, a discussion, debate and a diatribe from our very own resident Lakers expert.

Collins coming out as the first openly gay professional athlete in one of the four major American sports is a topic that certainly deserves our attention. What his coming out means for the rest of the league and the future was a discussion we had to have with the man, Mike Lee of The Washington Post, during what could very well have been his final NBA season.

Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and nearly every other Lakers great of note has weighed in on Dwight at one time or another this season. The reviews have usually been pretty harsh, too. But no one has been as consistently pointed in their analysis and criticism of the young(er) Superman in his lone season in Lakerland.

Rick pulls no punches in his latest, raw assessment of what Dwight did in LA this season (not much, according to Rick), what he needs to do to repair the damage (take the Lakers’ $119 million max deal and now) and what his legacy will be (damaged forever) if he can’t find a way to finish what’s been started in purple and gold.

It’s a must listen, right here on Episode 115 of the Hang Time Podcast …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.