NBA Playoff Previews: Pacers/Hawks Game 5, and Spurs desperate for a win

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Three games on tap Monday night and two of them should be fascinating — Atlanta and Indiana in a crucial Game 5, and the Spurs down 2-1 to Dallas will be desperate for a win.

Miami Heat at Charlotte Bobcats (Heat lead series 3-0). Can the Bobcats win one? That’s really the only question left in this series. They can — they have played Miami tough twice in this series, they can have another close game. But what they really need is one of those Miami Heat on a mental vacation nights. You know Charlotte will bring their best effort, but if LeBron James and Dwyane Wade come ready to really close this thing out there is not a whole lot Charlotte can do.

Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers (series tied 2-2). Indiana has home court advantage and full control of its destiny back — if they can build upon the win in Game 4 in Atlanta. Building on any success is not something the Pacers have done well for the better part of a month. Vogel needs to continue to go with the small lineup of David West and Luis Scola — that means benching Roy Hibbert for long stretches — and they need Paul George to continue to play well. Atlanta needs to play the game at a faster pace, not let the Pacers grind it down, and they need another monster night from Jeff Teague. Atlanta has won in Indy already in this series, do it again and they control their destiny.

San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks (Dallas leads series 2-1). The book on Dallas was they needed big nights from Dirk Nowitzki to beat the Spurs, and for the last two games Nowitzki has been held to fewer than 20 points thanks to great defense from Tiago Splitter. Yet Dallas has still won because Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Devin Harris and the other Mavs have stepped up. Dallas needs that again, San Antonio needs to tighten up its defensive rotations and slow those other guys. Tony Parker needs a big game — he should own Jose Calderon and the rest of the Mavs point guard matchups. I expect we will see a more familiar Spurs team in Game 4 and an even series when this game is over… but Dallas keeps surprising me.

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.