NBA, TNT sit down to talk dunk contest changes

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This year’s dunk contest stunk. Everybody but Nate Robinson’s mother is on board with that. The competitors were plenty athletic, but save one throw down by DeMar DeRozan it seemed like we had seen it all before. And we were bored.

The NBA and TNT don’t want that — the dunk contest gets as much publicity as the All-Star Game, you don’t need people saying they would rather watch a Law & Order rerun — so they sat down today and started talking about how to fix it.

Any changes to the event ultimately will have to be made by the NBA, but TNT has carried the event for 25 years, and Levy’s opinion is certain to carry weight in league circles.

While Levy would not be upset to have LeBron James compete against Kobe Bryant in future dunk contests, he does not believe that the event necessarily needs that kind of star power to thrive. Levy, Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting’s president of sales, distribution and sports, is more interested in having the players who agree to participate put more effort into it. In some cases this year, it appeared that dunkers were trying to make up dunks on the fly.

Star power drives the entire NBA — any glance at the ratings over the last 20 years show that. Or look at how once Kobe pulled out of the NBA All-Star Game ratings in Los Angeles dropped 40 percent from last year. David Stern and crew chose from way back with Magic vs. Bird to make the NBA about the individual stars, so when an event lacks star power you have to expect some level of excitement to drop off.

But the dunk contest needs more than just Dwight Howard slapping stickers on the backboard to get it going again. Ratings for the dunk contest were good again this season, second best in the history of the event, people want to see it. But they don’t want to see what they have seen before, and Levy is right that previous years seemed to have more preparation. But on the flip side, where do you expect these guys to go? Expecting three guys every year to come up with something nobody has ever done before is not realistic.

Like any serious debate — and this isn’t serious, really, it’s the dunk contest — there are a variety of options. And a variety of people laying in wait to shoot down those options once they go public. But even if it leans toward the radical — letting in amateurs such as Taurian Fontenette, for example — something needs to be done. Because we won’t keep watching what we have seen before.

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 Cavaliers 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. Especially against a team going small — the Cavaliers start Kevin Love at center — Embiid should be fed down low.

Instead, look at his 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.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.