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.

Reports: Pelicans to sign Jameer Nelson with Rondo out

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With Rajon Rondo out 4-6 weeks with a sports hernia, the New Orleans Pelicans were looking for a solid backup point guard.

This week, to make room to sign Richard Jefferson, the Denver Nuggets waived veteran Jameer Nelson.

While other teams such as the Rockets were calling, the Pelicans and Nelson have reached a deal, reports both Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports added this.

Nelson, in his 14th NBA season, became the top free agent on the market and received interest from contenders such as the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder and several other franchises that hoped to add the respected and accomplished veteran. But for Nelson, the Pelicans represent an opportunity to play significant minutes and provide leadership.

The Pelicans had a full roster of 15 players, they could have waited until next Tuesday and gotten a disabled player exception to add a 16th player, but they decided to go with something more permanent.

Jrue Holiday starts at the point for the Pelicans but with Rondo out — he was supposed to start next to Holiday — there is no depth at the position. The Pelicans can have Nelson step in and get minutes from the first time he steps on the court.

Nelson is still a solid pick-and-roll point guard, but what he brings to the table the Pelicans need more is shooting — he shot 38.8 percent from three last season and is a good spot up player. He can penetrate and make plays off handoffs as well, but it’s his shooting on a team that needs it that will be most valued.

The Pelicans have started the season 0-2 with losses to Memphis and Golden State. They take on the Lakers in Los Angeles Sunday night.

DeMarcus Cousins fined $25,000 for cursing at fan

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Near the end of New Orleans’ season-opening loss in Memphis, DeMarcus Cousins started getting into a war of words with a female Grizzlies fan, an exchange where allegedly “F-bombs” were dropped in both directions.

That’s going to cost Cousins.

Saturday the league announced that the Pelicans’ center has been fined $25,000 for “directing inappropriate language towards a fan.”

Cousins got a technical foul during this exchange, and that has been rescinded.

Cousins has averaged 31 points and 10 rebounds a game through two games this season, but it hasn’t been enough as New Orleans has started the season 0-2.

It’s not about the shoes: Kevin Durant loses his, blocks two shots anyway

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Shoes? Kevin Durant don’t need no stinkin’ shoes.

Early in the second quarter of the Warriors win in New Orleans Friday, Durant came out of his shoes on a layup in the lane. He then picked up his shoe, carried it to the other end, flipped it to the bench, and played defense without it, and while he got moved out of the way allowing an offensive rebound for the Pelicans he then proceeded to block Tony Allen twice at the rim.

Durant — after deciding to play the rest of the game in shoes — had seven blocks on the night, to go with 22 points.

Joel Embiid frustrated, wants more post touches, to play back-to-backs

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Joel Embiid remains a frustrated man.

He wants to be unleashed on the NBA, and he feels he’s being held back.

Part of that is not playing in back-to-backs — Embiid started Friday night against Boston but will sit out by plan Saturday night against the Raptors in Toronto. Embiid knows the plan to help protect a body that has played only 31 games in three seasons before this one and was not cleared for most of training camp, but that doesn’t mean he likes it, as he told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I just want to feel like an NBA player,” Embiid said.  “I feel like I’m not an NBA player because I can’t play back-to-back.”

I get his frustration, but can you blame the Sixers for treating the guy like he’s made of glass at this point? Hopefully, later in the season, he can be cleared to play on both ends.

His second frustration came from the loss to the Celtics on Friday — he wants more post touches. In the video above he is clear, “I didn’t get the ball enough in the post.”

He’s right here. Embiid had three post-ups all game, one in each of the game’s first three quarters (stat via Synergy Sports). Embiid is efficient in the post — he has shot 9-of-12 on those plays overall this season and the Sixers score 1.33 points per possession when he does. That will work especially well against teams going small (for example, the Cavaliers with Kevin Love at the five), although Friday night Boston had big man Aron Baynes starting at center (in part because of Embiid, in part because Marcus Smart was out injured). Still, Embiid can score on Baynes.

Take a look at Embiid’s shot chart from Friday night.

Part of this is on him with all the threes, but they have to utilize him better. It’s part of the Sixers growing pains that will come this season.