Thursday night NBA Grades: Mike Woodson is allowed to exhale

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Our nightly grades from around the NBA, or what you missed while singing Doe, a deer, a female deer… Ray, a drop of golden sun…

source:  Mike Woodson, coach New York Knicks. For a night, the Knicks looked pretty good and so Woodson can sleep without the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The core issues with the Knicks slow start have more to do with roster construction and injuries than Woodson. Nonetheless, when James Dolan is your owner your job is never safe, especially after 9 straight losses. Thursday night the “laughingstock” Knicks were knocking down threes, showing energy on defense and generally looking like the defending Atlantic Division champs. They cruised to a much needed win.

source:  The Brooklyn Nets. Right now they are a tire fire and this was a disaster of a game. There were no positive takeaways from a blowout loss at home to their rivals. Yes, injuries are robbing this team of Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and others, but nobody that is left played with pride or energy.

source:  Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls. Boozer has struggled since Rose went down, for whatever reason, but he showed up aggressive in this one and the Heat had no answers. He had 27 points and shot 8-of-12 in the paint to get most of those points. Plus he pulled down 9 rebounds. The combination of Boozer and Joakim Noah (17 points, 15 rebounds) was too much for the Heat up front and could win the Bulls a fair amount of games this season.

source:  Chicago Bulls’ defense. In the first five games since Derrick Rose went down with a torn meniscus, the Chicago Bulls defense was a mess. Whether they were too focused on the offense or just shell-shocked, they were giving up 13 more points per 100 possessions than they had in their first 10 games. Thursday night against the Heat the Bulls defense was back — and when they defend they can beat anybody on a given night. They made LeBron James work for his 21 points and Chris Bosh struggled against the Bulls size. Chicago is not a contender anymore, but they are back to being good.

source:  Los Angeles Clippers’ defense. Since we have talked a lot about how bad the Clips defense has been this season, we need to acknowledge when things go right — they held Memphis to 37.7 percent shooting. Part of that was self-inflicted by Memphis as they got some looks they like but couldn’t execute them — no Marc Gasol really hurts and the loss of Ed Davis and Tony Allen exacerbates things. Still, the Clips had a good defensive game, we should acknowledge it.

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.