Jason Kidd, Deron Williams

The Extra Pass: Nets clinch a playoff spot, and may do some real postseason damage

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NEW YORK — The Nets clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday by taking care of the shorthanded Rockets, and the team’s overall body of work since the first of the year makes you believe that they may be able to do some real postseason damage now that they’re officially in.

Brooklyn’s 105-96 victory was the team’s 14th straight at home, a new franchise record, and the team’s 13th in their last 17 games overall. Miami and Indiana are at the top of the Eastern Conference standings for their season-long excellence, but the Nets are the ones with the East’s best record since Jan. 1 at 30-12 — more than a half-season worth of dominance.

Playoffs for this Nets team seemed like a long shot in December, when they ended the month tied with the likes of Cleveland and Orlando with a record of 10-20 that had them well outside of the postseason picture. Most of the veteran stars on the club, however, including head coach Jason Kidd, said their faith never wavered following Tuesday night’s clincher.

“I’ve seen too many games,” Kidd said. “The league is very fragile. Things change quickly. For us, when you look at the group of guys in that locker room, they all believed that if we stayed together, we stayed professional and we worked, and we always never had an excuse. We never came to the podium, or never when you guys asked a question used an excuse. We took our lumps, but we felt that we could get better, and right now we are — but we still have a long ways to go.”

“It means a lot,” said Deron Williams of officially making the playoffs. “We talked about it this morning. It’s always good to know you’re in, to know you’re in the playoffs and kind of take that pressure off. We expected it at the beginning of the year, and we’ve been expecting it lately with the way we’ve been playing.”

“We expected to be in the playoffs,” Paul Pierce said. “It’s just another step toward our goal. We’re happy with the way we’ve been playing lately, over the last couple of months. But as far as making the playoffs, this is something we already expected to do. Happy  to make the playoffs, but that’s just a small goal of ours.”

The only one who admitted to being troubled early on was Joe Johnson, who was magnificent against Houston in finishing with 32 points.

“Honestly I couldn’t even see it,” he said. “I kept saying to myself, things are going to turn around, things are going to turn for us. Eventually, it did. At the start of the new year we were a different team. Our mindset was different, and the way we played was different.”

The Nets have found their way by going smaller with their lineups, a move made out of necessity once Brook Lopez was lost for the season with a foot fracture. This recent stretch of wins has come with Kevin Garnett sidelined, but rookie Mason Plumlee has been able to take Garnett’s 20 or so minutes per game in the rotation and act as a legitimate placeholder until he returns.

The reason that Brooklyn has been able to be so successful in the latter part of the season has been the coming together of what was envisioned when all of those payroll dollars were committed over the last two summers. The team has three legitimate stars in Williams, Pierce and Johnson who are all capable of taking over offensively on a given night. It’s been Pierce the last two games, getting off to insanely strong first quarter starts and leading his team in scoring. It was Johnson on this night, and it’s been Williams on several others.

As for the Nets and their postseason chances, they are 3-0 against the defending champion Heat this season, and all of those wins have been gritty, extremely close contests. They’re 0-3 against the Pacers, but two of those losses came in the early part of the season, and the most recent was by a single point on the road back on Feb.1. And, given the laundry list of problems in Indiana right now, the Nets would feel just fine about their chances in a postseason matchup.

It’s taken perhaps longer than expected, but the Nets are in a good place, and have been for quite some time. The season is long and there has been plenty to overcome, and Kidd seemed to have the patience that others lacked when assessing the team in the early part of the year — and to this point, it’s paid off as few could have imagined.

“I think when you look at the high expectations, the new faces, maybe the new defensive and offensive schemes, guys just finding their way, being traded for the first time — there’s a lot of different things that are going on, and you’ve got to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Kidd said. “You sprinkle in some injuries, and it’s just a matter of time being patient. We didn’t get off to a great start, but guys kept working and we found our way.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks at Democratic National Convention (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks at the South Los Angeles Get Out The Vote Rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Leimert Park Village Plaza on June 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. The presidential hopeful is attending a series of campaign stops on the eve of the California presidential primary election, where polls indicate a close divide between Clinton supporters and those of Democratic rival Senator Bernie Sanders.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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With so much focus in recent weeks being on NBA players speaking out on social issues, it’s worth remembering that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been one of the most vocal athletes in America on these things for decades. The Hall of Fame and all-time leading scorer in NBA history addressed the Democratic National Convention on Thursday evening, urging voters to vote for Hillary Clinton in November, and opened his remarks by introducing himself as Michael Jordan, because “Donald Trump couldn’t tell the difference.”

You can watch the video of his speech below:

Kevin Durant denies report he told Russell Westbrook he was returning to Oklahoma City

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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In the weeks since Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Golden State Warriors, we have yet to hear Russell Westbrook speak on his former teammate’s decision. This week, ESPN.com’s Royce Young indicated in a podcast interview that Durant was telling Westbrook and others in the days leading up to his decision that he was coming back to Oklahoma City. He later walked back his report, saying he misspoke. On Thursday, Durant himself told The Vertical‘s Shams Charania that he never said any such thing, or misled Westbrook or anyone else about his intentions.

“It’s false,” Durant told The Vertical on Thursday. “I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.

“I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.”

So that settles that.

Report: Spurs agree to two-year deal with free agent forward David Lee

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 01:  David Lee #42 of the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 1, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Lee will have a player option in the second year of his deal, which will be worth the veteran’s minimum.

Lee, 33, considered more lucrative deals elsewhere, but committed to the Spurs’ opportunity to win a championship and play a backup role to LaMarcus Aldridge andPau Gasol.

General manager “R.C [Buford] and coach [Gregg] Popovich put a lot of time and energy to give David a visual of how much they wanted him and would use him,” Bartelstein told The Vertical. “A lot of people talk about taking less money, and not many people do it, so the Spurs get a lot of credit for selling David on joining their organization.”

After winning a championship with the Warriors in 2015, Lee was dealt to Boston last offseason, where he fell out of the rotation quickly. He was bought out midseason and signed with the Mavericks. He was solid in Dallas, but at his age and with almost no defensive ability, he didn’t draw much interest on the market. In San Antonio, he likely won’t have a big role, but he’s a solid veteran scorer in the frontcourt off the bench in limited minutes.

Bulls sign guard Spencer Dinwiddie

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 13: Spencer Dinwiddie #8 of the Detroit Pistons in action against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated Cleveland 112-110 in overtime.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Bulls have signed guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

The Bulls acquired Dinwiddie in a trade with Detroit last month and waived him three weeks ago. He spent two years with the Pistons and appeared in 12 games last season, averaging 4.8 points and 13.3 minutes.

The Bulls announced the move Thursday.