First Cup: Monday

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Greg Oden started his first game for the Heat on Sunday in Miami’s 93-79 victory against the Bulls, and the big center is finally becoming familiar with the Heat’s offense and defense at this important time of the season. But the former No. 1 overall pick still isn’t focusing on the day-to-day minutia or his impact to the team. Oden’s big-picture perspective is unwavering. He’s just happy to be here. “For me, each game getting better and walking off healthy — they’re all milestones to me,” said Oden, who is attempting to revive his career after a series of knee injuries. “It has been a long road, so every one is a good one for me.” Sunday might have been the best of all. He started his first game since December 2009 and played nearly 13 minutes in Miami’s victory. During his brief time in the game, Oden matched up against Bulls center Joakim Noah and had five points and five rebounds. “He’s an active player for someone that big,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He makes multiple efforts, he gives you extra possessions and he’s very intelligent, so he has a pretty good grasp of what we want and how we want to play already.” With LeBron James out with a broken nose, Spoelstra went to Oden for his size inside against the Bulls and also to keep the Heat’s second unit somewhat intact.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers needed this. A 125-117 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday carried restorative powers for a Clippers team had been unsuccessful against the NBA's elite on the road. The Thunder owned the league's best record — until the Clippers' victory took their opponent down a peg to 43-14, percentage points behind Indiana (42-13). The Clippers won with all five starters scoring in double figures. Jamal Crawford led the way with 36 points, but Matt Barnes (24 points, seven rebounds), Blake Griffin (20 points, seven rebounds, six assists), DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (18 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds) all played significant roles. "It's definitely a good win for us," said Paul, who played despite a sprained right thumb. "We were on the plane [Saturday] flying here and we were just talking about how we hadn't beat any good teams on the road, and this would be the perfect time to start."

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was understandably excited and proud Jason Collins became the first active openly gay athlete in the four major American professional sports after signing with the Nets Sunday and playing in their 108-102 victory over the Lakers. But Silver also said it’s disappointing it took this long for this moment to finally happen in the sports world. “I have mixed feelings, because I’m enormously proud that the first openly gay player is playing in the NBA,” Silver told The Post in a phone interview prior to Sunday’s game. “On the other hand, this is so long overdue that I don’t think this should necessarily be on the list of the greatest accomplishments of the NBA. “This is an area where no one in sports should be too proud. Sports has led society in so many critical areas ... this is one where we fell behind.” Collins came out publicly in a Sports Illustrated article last spring, making his potential employment a topic of debate up to and through training camp last fall. ... “I know it’s a big deal for Jason,” Silver said. “It is a big deal for this league, and hopefully, in the way that sports can uniquely impact society, that this is an area where, for the next Michael Sam, they feel that much more comfortable coming out.

  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: Good for the Nets for recognizing Collins’s intangible assets, which have not changed since his announcement, and for helping him send the inspirational message that, as Taylor said: “No longer can you say that professional sports aren’t ready. It’s here, and it’s now.” Far from a distraction or liability, Collins can be counted on as an adult who embraces his role, no matter how few minutes he gets or how many weeks he lasts. As he did Sunday night on a few hours’ notice, Collins will be ready to plant himself in the lane, grab a rebound, give a hard foul. Rivers also said of Collins in October, “He’s a really, really tough guy.” Except Rivers used a noun much more colorful than “guy,” speaking the foul language of the locker room and making clear that Collins is the right man at the right time to be in the groundbreaking position he’s in, openly gay and back in the game.

  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: It was thought that some team would give Jason Collins a job after he came out because it would make them look good and make the rest of us feel good. Then nobody called until the Nets did. At the same time when Michael Sam comes out as he is entering the NFL draft, Collins, who beat Sam out of the closet, becomes a member of the Brooklyn Nets. Now we find out if the 7-footer can still be a useful and productive player against other big men in his sport, straight, gay, or still closeted. Sam was thought to be a third- or fourth-round draft choice before his announcement. In Collins’ best seasons, he never averaged more than six points a game or six rebounds. But now both of them are more famous for their sexual orientation than for their ability. Gay defensive end. Gay center. Small steps from a couple of very big guys. Now let’s see how high-minded everybody feels about all this when it’s some player like LeBron. Let’s see how everybody feels when somebody like that is the one slamming the door behind him.

  • Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: Damian Lillard, 23, has a profitable rookie shoe endorsement deal with adidas, though that could change abruptly due to clever language in his contract. Being that he took home the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year award, became an NBA All-Star and reached other unique incentive clauses in his first two seasons, Lillard will be able to opt out of his shoe contract at the end of the basketball season and either renegotiate a more lucrative deal with adidas, or open negotiations with Nike, Brand Jordan, Reebok or Under Armor, league sources informed CSNNW.com. Another source that’s vastly briefed on Lillard’s situation added, “There’s no doubt about it, he’s opting out.” Rival shoe companies have been well-versed on the matter for months and are expected to make competitive offers, but CSNNW.com is told that Nike stands the best chance of luring Lillard away from adidas. Adidas is in no position to lose their accomplished young standout point guard.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Suns designated Sunday’s game ‘KJ Dunk Night,’ celebrating the 20th anniversary season of Kevin Johnson’s spectacular dunk over the Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon in Game 4 of the 1994 Western Conference semifinals. “It was one of the greatest dunks I’ve ever seen,” said Matt Bullard,a member of the Rockets 1994 championship team. “The fact that it was on Hakeem made it incredible because KJ is only 6-ish feet tall. But the bottom line is we won the game, we beat them in the series and that’s all that really matters.” The Rockets won the game, 107-96, and the series in seven games, going from ‘Choke City’ to ‘Clutch City’ and eventually, the first of consecutive NBA championships. Johnson said he has never spoken to Olajuwon about the dunk, but Olajuwon did speak to him moments after it happened. “When I did the dunk and I was hopping all around and I was all excited, I’m at half court and I could see this big shadow coming,” Johnson said.

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The Raptors know they are playing a dangerous game with their habit of easing into games with sluggish first halves that demand superior seconds. They know they are talented enough to do that against the Orlando Magics and Cleveland Cavaliers and the other dregs of the NBA, but there will come a night — and it may come soon — when they are not able to turn things on when they want, and they will lose. And they will say, collectively, “we all saw this coming”. “I can’t put a finger on it, maybe we just like a challenge sometimes; put ourselves in tight situations so we can fight our way out,” said DeMar DeRozan after the Raptors did it again, coasting through the first half before ultimately dominating the Magic 105-90 at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday night. “We’ve got to stop it; we have to come out of the gate so we don’t make the game that hard on us."

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings coach Michael Malone has been looking for more players who wouldn’t assess their performance on scoring. In Reggie Evans, Malone has such a player. Evans made his Kings debut Sunday during Sacramento’s 109-95 win over the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Evans was active for Saturday’s win over Boston but did not play. He was acquired along with Jason Terry on Wednesday from Brooklyn in exchange for guard Marcus Thornton. Evans played eight minutes in the second quarter. He grabbed five rebounds and had a steal. The Nuggets were poised to blow out the Kings in the second quarter, but Evans energized the team without scoring as the Kings cut a 13-point deficit to four by halftime. Evans said his intent was to set a tone and let the Kings know it was time to pick up their intensity.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: When asked how he held up after receiving his most extended playing time in more than three months, Harrington chuckled to himself and admitted that he asked out of the game. “I was fatigued,” Harrington said. “It’s nothing you can do to simulate an NBA game. You can run as many sprints as you want, cut as much as you want, but there is nothing like getting out there banging and getting that adrenaline going. It was a step in the right direction for me, so I’ll just keep working.” The Wizards traded Jan Vesely in order to acquire veteran backup point guard Andre Miller. While he rarely played for Wittman, Vesely was a 7-footer and his absence left the team without much size. Primary backups Seraphin and Trevor Booker are both shorter than 6-10. The 6-11 Gortat is the tallest player on the roster. Wittman has been reluctant to go small much this season but it might have to be an option if Nene has to miss an extended amount of time. For one night at least, the Wizards were able to find a solution. “We have older players on this team that know when somebody goes down, it [stinks] but it also opens up opportunities for other players,” Trevor Ariza said. “They came in and did what they needed to do in that situation."