Versatile Boris Diaw draws raves from teammates, becomes Heat challenge

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SAN ANTONIO — If you just looked at a traditional box score, you’d shrug at Boris Diaw’s Game 1 — 2 points on one-of-5 shooting, although he did grab 10 boards.

But to do that would miss his impact completely.

Diaw was a team best +30 in Game 1 for San Antonio. He had 71 touches and made 63 passes (both second on the team to Tony Parker, showing how they ran part of the offense through Diaw), he had six assists, and his size and floor spacing changed everything for the Spurs — their offense scored at a 133.9 points per 100 possessions pace when he was on the court, 78.9 when he was off. Plus he spent some time defending LeBron James, giving Kawhi Leonard a break.

Boris Diaw was essential for the Spurs’ Game 1 win and he’s a guy the Heat have to account for in Game 2.

“He’s a very versatile, versatile player,” Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich said. “Some players have a feel for the game that is better than others. And he’s one of those. He can pass the basketball. He sees the floor in a spatial relationship sort of way. He knows where people are. He knows where the ball should go. He anticipates. On defense, although he’s carrying around a little bit of luggage, he does his work early and positions himself pretty well.

“He allows us to play big and play small at the same time, is what it amounts to.”

And that’s why he is so key against the Heat — Miami wants to go small (with Chris Bosh at the five), the Spurs can counter with Diaw (he played 30 minutes in Game 1) and match that while keeping some size on the court to protect the paint and grab rebounds. Technically you would call Diaw a stretch four, but his ability to put the ball on the floor and serve as a distributor on offense makes him much more than that.

“I was always doing a little bit of everything on the court,” Diaw said of his career. “Always been pretty much a three who could play up at the one or two, or could help at the four or the five. Now for a few years I’ve been more on the four side, but always playing away from the basket, trying to face the basket more than being inside and pounding. I think my whole career I played pretty much the same way.”

Diaw has been important at both ends of the floor (the Spurs defense was more than 30 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court in Game 1). While Kawhi Leonard has the main LeBron James assignment, Diaw gets some turns as well.

“If I’m guarding him I try to use my length because I’m a little taller than if it’s a guard guarding him, he’s way faster than me so I have to give him a little room,” Diaw said.

It can get lost on some fans, but Diaw’s teammates get how important he is to the Spurs.

“I think coming in here he was a point guard or he was a guard all of his life, and he has those skills,” Tim Duncan said. “He has that skill set, and to have the body that he has and to do what he’s done especially in these playoffs this year, it’s been a huge boost for us and it’s really changed our team.”

“It’s been an incredible journey to play with your best friend on a championship team, and I hope we can do it and try to win a championship with him, it would be his first one,” said Tony Parker, a fellow Frenchman who has played with Diaw since youth national teams. “We dreamt about the NBA when we was in France, so we keep living our dream.”

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.