Winderman: NBA alternate uniform craze out of control

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Finally, we have found the saving grace of this lockout-shortened season: The ratio between uniform combinations and games is drawing closer to a one-to-one basis.

Even before the Memphis TAMs took the court against the L.A. Stars on TNT on Thursday night, we had entered a world where we were facing video-game-like choices when it came to team apparel.

Remember the phrase, “Wearing your team’s colors”?

Can anyone actually afford it anymore?

It was one thing when a team had an alternate uniform. Singular.

But take the Heat as an example. Over a three-game span last week they wore three different uniforms at home. On Tuesday night against the Spurs there was the traditional home white. On Thursday night against the Lakers there was the limited-edition black-on-black variety. And on Saturday against the 76ers there was the ABA-throwback, Will Ferrell-inspired Miami Floridians look (and no, Eddy Curry and Dexter Pittman, these stripes definitely were not slimming).

Granted, no one is forcing parents to parade into the team store and purchase each variety (the Heat now had five that have been utilized this season: the aforementioned three, the road blacks and the road reds), but those spoiled kids do have a way of pressing the issue.

Soon enough, teams also will be pushing All-Star Game jerseys. By season’s end, 2012 Olympic varieties most assuredly will be made available. That’s seven potential combinations that all can feature “Wade” on the back.

So what?

Here’s what:

One of the more enjoyable elements of attending a game is being in a team’s colors . . . Knicks blue, Bulls red, Celtics green. It becomes a communal experience.

Except when someone next you is wearing white, the guy is the next row is wearing red, the couple seated above are in two varieties of black, and those hideous Floridians stripes are flowing across the way.

You might as well be seated alongside a bunch of Nets, Timberwolves and Pistons fans. It’s as if everyone is wearing those old Houston Astros rainbow editions.

In the wake of the lockout, there is nothing uniform about this season.

Or about the uniforms.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.