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Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins, right, is congratulated by fans after they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Los Angeles. Brooklyn won 108-102. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

NEW YORK (AP) - NBA players insisted since last spring there would be a place in the locker room for Jason Collins.

There will always be room on the court for what he provides.

Rather than focus on his sexuality, players thought first about what Collins could do for the Brooklyn Nets after he signed a 10-day contract Sunday and became the league's first openly gay player.

"I just think about basketball," Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant said. "Physical, physical center that plays his tail off for his team."

With a limited offensive game, Collins is best known- perhaps only known- for his solid defense and frequent fouling. Dwyane Wade joked Sunday that he knew Collins "fouls very hard."

But that's a need on a Nets team that already has scorers such as Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. Collins is the kind of guy who will throw his body around to create space for his teammates or help stop his opponents, always valuable and appreciated traits.

"Jason was one of the best teammates I ever had. When you talk about being a good teammate, it's being prepared and doing your job every night, being able to be counted on. That's a good teammate," said Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn, who played with Collins on the Nets.

Collins joked in a TV interview after the Nets' victory over the Lakers in his return about getting to foul people, but he's not just some enforcer or hockey goon out there. The 12-year veteran from Stanford is an intelligent player, which means coaches might like him even more than peers.

Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek played in Utah with Jarron Collins, Jason's twin brother, and said the Suns would've signed Jason if they needed a big man.

"The guy's a basketball player," Hornacek said. "He's going to go out there and play hard. He's one of the smartest you've seen play."

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Here are 5 things to watch this week:

CATCHING HIS BREATH: With LeBron James sitting out Sunday's victory over Chicago because of his broken nose, he will have a full week off if he returns in Miami's next game, Thursday at home against New York.

CUTS COMING: The NBA's waiver wire could be busy this week with players agreeing to contract buyouts, as they must be waived by March 1 to sign with another team and be eligible for the playoffs.

LOTTERY LOCKS: The NBA's three worst teams will be in the same place over a three-day span. The Philadelphia 76ers (15-41), who have lost 10 in a row, host the NBA-worst Milwaukee Bucks (10-45) on Monday, before the slightly better Orlando Magic (17-41) visit on Wednesday.

TURNER'S TIME: Evan Turner should be in his new uniform for the first time Tuesday when Indiana hosts the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers acquired him from Philadelphia on Thursday just before the trade deadline in a deal that sent Danny Granger to the 76ers.

STEPH'S SEQUEL: Stephen Curry will be back at Madison Square Garden on Friday when Golden State visits the Knicks for the first time since making 11 3-pointers in 13 attempts and scoring 54 points in a 109-105 loss on Feb. 27, 2013.

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STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Kevin Love, Minnesota: 37 points, 12 rebounds, career-high 10 assists, in a 121-104 victory over Utah on Saturday. Two days after denying a report that he had already told Timberwolves President Flip Saunders he would leave once he became a free agent after next season, Love got the talk back to his basketball with his first career triple-double.

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AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City, Bob Baum in Phoenix and AP freelance writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report.


(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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