Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook

Another close game, another Oklahoma City Thunder win

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Oklahoma City has been one of the best teams in close games all season — when games are within 3 points (either way) in the last three minutes, the Thunder were 13-3 coming into Monday night.

Make that 14-3. Monday night they won another close one, this time beating the Dallas Mavericks 95-91 by scoring the final eight points of the game.

Over at Sports Illustrated earlier on Monday, Zach Lowe looked at the Thunder’s late-game success and said it has more to do with their defense than their offense (which can be predictable and stagnant).

In the last five minutes of games with a scoring margin of five or fewer points in either direction, teams before Saturday had shot just 30 percent (45-of-150) against Oklahoma City and scored the equivalent of just 85.8 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among all defenses in those situations, per NBA.com.

Monday night the Thunder did stop the Mavericks… well, except for Dirk Nowitzki. In the final five minutes of this game, Nowitzki shot 3-1, 3-0 from three. Every other Maverick was 0-4 in that same time frame.

Nowitzki’s third three in the final five minutes had Dallas up 91-87, but that is when the good shots stopped for Dallas. Look at their final possessions.

• A 13-foot Nowitzki one-legged fade away over Kendrick Perkins that rims out (a bad shot for almost any other player, not a bad one for Nowitzki).

• Nowitzki drives the lane, draws the defenders then dishes to the opposite wing where he thought Jason Kidd would be, except he was in the corner. Turnover Dallas.

• Kendrick Perkins had two great defensive plays late and this was one — off a pick he got switched on to Terry but stayed in front of the smaller guard and forced him into a tough shot that was airballed.

• Not sure you can credit the Thunder with great defense on the last Dallas possession, it was just bad execution. Terry drove the right side to the baseline, where he ran into a cutting Kidd, who caught the ball off balance and falling out of bounds, he threw it back to Terry, who tried a little jumper over Perkins again. It missed. Ballgame.

Nowitzki led all scorers with 27 points. Russell Westbrook had 24, Durant 22.

There are moments this season when you think maybe Dallas — or at other times the Spurs or Lakers or Clippers — could challenge the Thunder in the West. But when you watch OKC closing out close games with great defense and two of the best pure scorers in the game, you have to question that. You can pick apart the end-of-game Thunder sets or whatever you want, but nobody has this package of players. They are the best team in the West and legit title contenders. Unless somebody makes a big move before the March 15 trade deadline, it’s hard to see anyone else coming out of the West.

Gregg Popovich: Sidney Lowe, Wizards got off easy

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe went onto the court and, according to Knicks guard Courtney Lee, verbally imitated a player.

The NBA fined Lowe $5,000 and Washington $15,000 and warned everyone more fines would follow for coaches displaying similar behavior.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t believe the league went far enough.

Popovich, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

“It’s unsportsmanlike, it’s childish, it’s inappropriate,” Popovich said. “There’s no place for it.”

“I think they got off easy,” Popovich said.

“What if that shot costs a playoff game because somebody does that?” Popovich continued. “Maybe that affects a coach being fired. Maybe a franchise winning a series. So if you think about it, maybe it’s worth it for 5 or 10 thousand to go do that.”

For the league to send a sterner warning about such antics, Popovich suggested steeper fines of $250,00 for the team and $50,000 to $75,000 for an offending coach.

“Everybody would sit their ass down,” Popovich said.

Regardless of circumstances, it’s notable that Popovich sided with the NBA against a fellow coach – especially over an incident that didn’t directly involve the Spurs. Most coaches, even those who share Popovich’s opinion, would stay out of it. Popovich and Lowe are both represented by the same union, which ostensibly tries to protect coaches’ paychecks. It’s one thing to criticize the highly unpopular president. It’s another to lash out at someone with whom you have a shared financial partnership.

Beyond that, Popovich is right. Coaches encroaching onto the court should be eliminated. Popovich’s claim of it being unsportsmanlike rings a little hollow, considering his own behavior. But coaches toeing the sideline to distract players detracts from the quality of the game and is unsafe. There are plenty of reasons to loath the behavior beyond it offending sensibilities.

That said, Popovich has the wrong plan to eliminate it. His proposed fines would be overly punitive to lower-paid assistant coaches – and still worth the tradeoff in certain situations.

The better solution: Call technical fouls, which the league acknowledged should’ve happened with Lowe. That eliminates all cost-benefit analysis and punishes teams directly within the game if they cross that line.

Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers clown President Donald Trump’s press, secretary Sean Spicer

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr calls out instructions during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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President Donald Trump’s press, secretary Sean Spicer, lied about about the number of people viewing Trump’s inauguration. Spicer’s “alternative facts” have turned him into a laughingstock – and a couple NBA coaches are participating in mocking him.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers got Spicer on Saturday. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

Talking to a group of roughly a dozen reporters, Rivers joked it was OK to inflate the attendance figures. “The largest media crowd in NBA history came to see me today, and I really appreciate it,” he said with a laugh.

Then, Warriors coach Steve Kerr took his turn. Kerr was introduced as “former Orlando Magic star” before Golden State’s game in Orlando yesterday. He scored 122 points in 47 games with the Magic.

Kerr:

Sean Spicer will be talking about my Magic career any second now. Yeah, 14,000 points, greatest player in Magic history.

Gottem.

Lakers’ 49-point loss to lowly Mavericks the NBA’s worst defeat in decades

Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) sits on the the bench during a timeout as the Lakers play the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 122-73. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
AP Photo/Ron Jenkins
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Lakers coach Luke Walton called the Lakers’ 122-73 loss to the Mavericks yesterday “embarrassing for us as a team, for us as an organization.”

Um, yeah.

At 49 points, it was the most lopsided loss in franchise history. Moreover, it came to 15-29 Dallas, the NBA’s fourth worst team.

The league hadn’t seen a loss that big to a team that bad in 24 years.

Here’s every game ever decided by at least 45 points, plotted by scoring difference and the victor’s full-season win percentage (or to date for the Mavericks and Warriors, who beat the Trail Blazers by 45 earlier this season). The Lakers’ loss yesterday is marked in purple:

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Here are more details of similar games, which appear in the black box:

Game Difference Winner’s record
March 18, 1972: Portland Trail Blazers 133, New York Knicks 86 47 18-64 (.220)
February 20, 1976: Chicago Bulls 130, Portland Trail Blazers 74 56 24-58 (.293)
January 2, 1993: Sacramento Kings 154, Philadelphia 76ers 98 56 25-57 (.305)
December 29, 1992: Sacramento Kings 139, Dallas Mavericks 81 58 25-57 (.305)
January 22, 2017: Dallas Mavericks 122, Los Angeles Lakers 73 49 15-29 (.341)
February 1, 1983: Chicago Bulls 129, Houston Rockets 76 53 28-54 (.341)
February 27, 1992: Charlotte Hornets 136, Philadelphia 76ers 84 52 31-51 (.378)

The Lakers’ loss isn’t the worst in NBA history. Four teams have lost to worse teams by bigger margins, and a couple lost by more to barely worse teams.

But, barring a Dallas turnaround, the league hasn’t seen a loss like this in quite some time.

NBA: DeMarcus Cousins got away with (more important) travel before incorrect foul of Dwyane Wade

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The NBA acknowledged the attention-grabbing officiating error late in the Bulls’ win over the Kings on Saturday: DeMarcus Cousins shouldn’t have been called for fouling Dwyane Wade, who hit the go-ahead free throw with 14 seconds left.

But before Sacramento claims the referees cost it a win, the Last Two Minute Report reveals a more significant missed call that favored the Kings.

Cousins should have been called for travelling with 56.3 left as he drove for a basket, according to the league:

Cousins (SAC) moves his pivot foot. The official is looking for any illegal contact and does not pick up the pivot foot.

The non-call directly allowed Cousins to score two points. Wade made only one free throw.

The officiating errors in the final two minutes helped the Kings more than the Bulls.

(Sacramento center Kosta Koufos also got away with a shooting foul on Jimmy Butler with 37.8 seconds left, according to the league, but Robin Lopez tipped in Butler’s miss, anyway. The Bulls weren’t shorted any points on that possession.)