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.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.