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.

Did John Beilein’s methods lead to Dylan Windler’s season-ending injury?

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein and Dylan Windler
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John Beilein gave the Cavaliers problems mentally.

Did he also give them problems physically – especially Dylan Windler, who’s missing his entire rookie year?

Shams Charania, Jason Lloyd and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Warning signs for Beilein could be traced to the Cavs’ Summer League schedule, when the rookie coach ran a collection of (mostly) G Leaguers and non-roster invites through extended practices, multiple times a day. This is precisely what Beilein would have done at Michigan, especially with an entirely new batch of players, this early in a season calendar. But players not only complained about the work, they also were drilled in games by opponents who were clearly well-rested. And this was in Summer League.

There was at least one player, though, involved in those early summer workouts under Beilein who was expecting to make a major contribution to the Cavs this season. Rookie Dylan Windler, a late first rounder, was supposed to compete with Cedi Osman for minutes on the wing. But he never played a game this season because of a stress injury in his left leg — which could be traced back at least in part to being overworked during the summer.

Would Windler have missed the season under a different coach? It’s impossible to say. Counterfactuals are complex.

But there was legitimate reason to be concerned with Beilein’s approach. Teams have learned the importance of rest. Fatigued players are more susceptible to injury.

Beilein’s longest college season was 41 games. He coached 54 games in Cleveland – and left with much of the season remaining.

Handling the grind of the NBA season was always going to be an adjustment for the long-time college coach. It probably got understated amid concern about him relating interpersonally to his players.

The Cavaliers needed practice time. They needed work to develop. That’s clearly what Beilein prioritized.

But they also needed to limit the physical toll, and it’s reasonable to question whether Beilein did enough there. Even if he was learning that the NBA is more marathon than sprint, the several months Beilein coaches the Cavs were enough to cause issues.

Bucks’ minor-league coach suspended two games for rant (video)

Bucks minor-league coach Chase Buford
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Chase Buford, who coaches the Bucks’ minor-league affiliate, went on an epic rant after the Wisconsin Herd’s latest loss. He singled out referee Matt Rafferty as a “f—ing clown” and said the officials were “bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating.”

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:

G League release:

Wisconsin Herd head coach Chase Buford has been suspended for two games without pay for a direct and extended public attack on the integrity and credibility of the game officials.

I can’t recall an NBA coach ever getting suspended for something he said during a press conference.

I also can’t recall an NBA coach ever saying something so inflammatory during a press conference.

In 2005, then-NBA commissioner David Stern threatened to ban Jeff Van Gundy from the NBA after the then-Rockets coach criticized officiating. That incident still led to just a $100,000 fine. Twice as large as any previous fine for a coach. But still just a fine, nonetheless.

Watch entire Kobe Bryant memorial service (video)

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The public memorial for Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant featured several unforgettable moments, including:

But I can’t overstate how well done the entire event was, how heartfelt the speakers and performers were. If you missed it yesterday and are in the right headspace, it’s worth watching to get a more complete understanding of Kobe and Gianna.

Joel Embiid flips off Hawks guard Kevin Hurter (video)

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Joel Embiid scored 49 points in the 76ers’ win over the Hawks yesterday.

It appeared he was gunning for 50.

With Philadelphia up 14 in the final minute, Embiid dunked. Then, he hit an off-the-dribble 3-pointer. After grabbing a rebound on the other end, Embiid brought the ball up court himself – with the shot clock on.

Atlanta guard Kevin Huerter raced from behind and stole the ball. Embiid gave him the finger.

Embiid, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

There’s always this thing about you shouldn’t shoot the ball if you’re up 20 or something like that. And I feel like it should go both ways. I’m running the clock down and I feel like the game is over. That’s why I’m doing it. But to me, if the other team is gonna keep playing defense, and they’re gonna keep shooting the ball at the other end, I feel like we should just be like, ‘Well, be better next time,’ and just go out and score.

How dare Huerter play basketball. During a basketball game.

Embiid had just been attacking for multiple possessions! He was dribbling toward the Hawks’ basket with urgency! How was Huerter supposed to know that was the suddenly the moment Embiid was done playing?

What nonsense.