Wednesday night NBA grades: Greg Oden is back — that is a story worth celebrating

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering what kind of Little League coach sues one of his 14-year-old players

source:  Greg Oden, Miami Heat. He made it back, and that is the story. Tonight he had six points on 2-of-3 shooting in 8:24 on the court — what matters is that he was on the court at all. Greg Oden, the modern poster child for how knee injuries (three microfracture surgeries) can derail a career, showed what happened when he refused to give up. He may not be what was expected of a No. 1 pick but that he’s here seeking a measure of redemption is great for the game nonetheless. More than four years since he last set foot on an NBA court he was back out there for the Heat, playing in an NBA game.

We as fans celebrate the amazing athleticism in the NBA, the intelligent play we see, the drama of the game, the beauty of it, as we should. But there will be no better human story in the NBA this season than the fact Greg Oden made it back on the court — most people would have taken the money (more than $23 million in salary from his rookie deal) and spent the rest of their life on the couch bemoaning what might have been. Or, they might have crawled into a bottle. Oden had some rough years but he didn’t give up, he worked diligently through more rehab than you or I would tolerated, and he made it all the way back. That is something we should be celebrating as fans, as lovers of the game, and as caring human beings.

source:  J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers missed J.J. Redick (he just got back Friday from a broken wrist). Los Angeles likes to start games running Redick off a few picks to get a quick catch-and-shoot (think how Doc Rivers’ teams used Ray Allen in Boston) and it worked against Dallas as Monta Ellis is not exactly fond of chasing a waterbug around the court. Redick hit is first few and his confidence back — he had 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half, and 33 points for the game on 14 shots. That included a key three late to make it a one-point game during the Clippers comeback. “I’ve not seen a lot of guys that missed the amount of games that he’s missed and come back this sharp,” Doc Rivers said after the game. “When you think about it he had a broken wrist, so it’s not like he’s been hurt shooting, he’s not been able to shoot through this time and yet he comes back and… he’s a tough dude.”

source:  Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic. It was the best game of the rookie’s season — 35 points on an impressive 15-of-24 shooting. He picked up 14 of those in the second quarter on 5-of-6 shooting — he was attacking the paint in the quarter and getting to the line, then he showed his range and knocked down a three. Oladipo is one of three guys seriously in the Rookie of the Year running (Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke are the others) and it is games like this that make you think he might be the best of the group in a few years.

source:   Miami Heat. That’s three losses in a row to below .500 teams: the Knicks, Nets and now they fell by 17 to the Wizards. Dwyane Wade should have taken the night off, he was terrible at both ends of the court. Really this losing streak is part of a bigger trend — 9 of Miami’s 11 losses this season are to teams below .500 (Indiana and Golden State are the exceptions). With all due respect to the Wizards and the two teams out of New York (they are all playing better lately) this is as much about where the Heat are at mentally right now, and it’s not where they should be. They will still be the East’s two seed, the issue is they are not building good habits toward the postseason. Indiana is.

source:   Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls. This is an “A” for effort. Butler gets to be first in line for the ice bath — he played 60:20 in the Bulls triple-overtime win over the magic. That is the most by any NBA player since Jalen Rose played 61 for the Pacers back in March 2001. In all that time Butler racked up 21 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

source:   Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics. Boston snapped its nine-game losing streak and Jared Sullinger was the reason — 25 points on 7-of-14 shooting, plus 20 rebounds. Maybe it was a trade bump, maybe it was Boston being more focused on the defensive end, but whatever the reason the team looked better and Sullinger looked the best he had all season.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.