Reggie Jackson tries to steady Thunder without Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

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BOSTON – Reggie Jackson is the last player remaining in the Thunder’s locker room, and the team’s final bus is scheduled to leave in a few minutes.

He frantically throws items into his shaving kit. He grabs his hoodie, clumsily knocking its hanger onto the floor.

Then, he reaches for the top shelf of his locker.

“Got my baby,” Jackson said as he clutches his basketball.

Growing up, basketball helped Jackson, the son of an Air Force officer, find his way while moving between Italy, England, North Dakota, Georgia, Florida and Colorado. Now, those frequent moves are helping Jackson – at one of the NBA’s most interesting crossroads – find his way in basketball.

Jackson was the only player last season to start 40 games and come off the bench in 40 games, including the playoffs, but that understates the volatility of his role. He has played point guard shooting guard. He has played with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and without those two stars. He has been asked to lead and asked to follow.

If navigating these ever-changing roles weren’t enough, Jackson is preparing to become a free agent next summer, his first chance at a monster NBA payday.

“I think moving has really helped,” Jackson said. “I never really know what tomorrow is going to bring, so it makes it easy for me to just go out there and just work as hard as I can to be the best player I can. Then, whatever circumstance I’m thrown in, I just try to go out there and perform to the best of my ability.”

Lately, the circumstances have meant playing without Durant and Westbrook, both whom aren’t expected back until next month as they rehab from injury. In their absence, Jackson is leading Oklahoma City with 22.8 points and 7.5 assists per game.

He’s filling the role he always envisioned for himself: starting in the NBA.

“I came out and said I wanted to be a starter, so I have to take this opportunity head on,” Jackson said.

At times, the adjustment has been rocky. In Jackson’s first game of the season, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka froze him out after he played selfishly.

“Reggie can play. He can flat out play, Perkins said. “I think the thing that Reggie has to learn is how to make other people better.”

Oklahoma City is scoring just 99.5 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on the court. Though that’s better than when he sits, the mark would rank in the league’s bottom 10.

Still, it’s unfair to blame Jackson for all the Thunder’s offensive problems. Even beyond Westbrook and Durant, they’re missing several players due to injury, and Jackson has a larger – positive – sample on his résumé. Last season, Oklahoma City scored a respectable 106.8 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on and Westbrook off the court.

Give Jackson a decent supporting cast, and the results could turn quickly. With Anthony Morrow seeing extended minutes for the first time this season after injury, the Thunder played their best offensive game last night in a 109-94 win over the Celtics, posting an offensive rating of 118.9.

Jackson, who had 28 points and eight assists, made good on Boston coach Brad Stevens’ pregame fears of the Oklahoma City point guard crashing into the paint. Jackson shot 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, and he matched that inside game with strong 3-point shooting, including this deep bomb to end the third quarter.

Even more impressive that that buzzer beater, at least in the long term, was Jackson’s interactions with Steven Adams a few minutes earlier.

Before the game, Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained Jackson’s role while Westbrook and Durant sit.

“Continue to lead as that point guard,” Brooks said. “That’s the job of a point guard. It’s to be an extension on the floor of the coach, and he’s done a good job with that.

In that same media session, Brooks also emphasized getting center Steven Adams more involved offensively.

Jackson took care of that by throwing Adams and alley-oop and then setting him up for another good look at the basket. When Boston called timeout, Jackson got in Adams face to hype him up.

“I’m a point guard. That’s my job, to be a coach on the floor,” Jackson said, echoing his coach’s pregame comments. “I was just in his to let him know keep going.”

Can Jackson, who knows his role will change again soon, keep going?

When Durant and Westbrook return, Jackson will return to being a third (or maybe fourth behind Ibaka) option. He’ll get better shots but less of them, and he’ll have fewer opportunities with the ball in his hands.

These are his final opportunities to prove to other teams, not only that he can be a starting point guard, but that he’s worth the huge offer sheet necessary to pry him from Oklahoma City. Whether or not Jackson actually wants to leave the Thunder to start elsewhere – which he reportedly does – it’d be nice to have the option.

For the Thunder, who committed not to trading Jackson  like Harden when they couldn’t agree to an extension with him, a dangerous and costly standoff could lurk ahead.

Jackson, joining Daequan Cook and Robert Swift, is slated to become just the franchise’s third player on a rookie-scale contract to become a restricted free agent since Sam Presti became general manager in 2007. Everyone else either signed an extension (Ibaka, Westbrook, Durant and Thabo Sefolosha), was traded (Eric Maynor, James Harden, Lazar Hayward, Cole Aldrich, D.J. White, Byron Mullens, Jeff Green, Johan Petro and Delonte West) or was waived (Mouhamed Sene) before getting that far.

Obviously, Jackson’s negotiations will be much higher stake than Cook’s and Swift’s. The Thunder, who already have $63,569,558 in committed salary for next season plus whatever they agreed to pay Josh Huestis, will carefully consider the luxury-tax implications of keeping Jackson.

What team will Jackson play for? What position will he play? Will he start?

The answers, total mysteries for next season, are only slightly clearer for the rest of this season.

After a childhood of not knowing where he’d live, Jackson is taking the uncertainty in stride.

“I can only deal with today,” Jackson said. “Life is day by day. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m not worried about.”

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.