San Antonio is back — and interesting this time

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The San Antonio Spurs, even at their peak, felt like your father’s favorite team — quiet and efficient. Good defense, methodical pace, the backboard is your friend. Fundamental. Controlled. That’s not bad, I love my father — I wish I were more like him in a lot of ways — but that doesn’t mean I want his style.

And that style (or lack thereof) seemed to have finally caught up with them in recent seasons. They were destroyed in five games by the younger, quicker Suns last playoffs and it felt like time to consign this roster to the History Channel.

This season’s Spurs, these 12-1 Spurs? They are not your father’s team. They are winning and dynamic and a little reckless. Heck, they even have an off-the-court scandal.

They are taking risks, playing at the seventh fastest pace in the league — four more possessions per game than last season, five more than the last time they won a title. For years now Gregg Popovich was giving lip service to the idea of playing faster, but this year everyone really bought in.

They can do it because they have the best backcourt in the league right now — Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. First and foremost, both are finally healthy. They also are being versatile — and versatility in the attack was something the Spurs lacked. Now this pair is slashing and creating finding holes in the opposing defense early in the clock before the defense sets. Parker is scoring nearly 20 points a game and still assisting on 40 percent of his team’s buckets when he is on the floor.

And they are doing it all with less Tim Duncan. Oh, he is still crucial — he is the defensive anchor and the primary rebounder. He remains one of the best centers in basketball (spare me that forward crap).

But he has gotten a step slower in recent years and now he is a supporting player in the Spurs offense, not the hub of all action. His offensive usage rate is the lowest of his career. This is not the “dump it in to Timmy” Spurs offense, they seem to be using much more guard action out of the sets they have always run. Richard Jefferson has found his comfort zone in the system, and that zone includes a corner three where he has been deadly this season.

All of this comes with the other signs of a more dynamic team — the attacking means they get to the line more. On defense they are pushing to get steals, with turnovers fueling the running game.

It is illegal to write a Spurs story without the phrase “if they stay healthy” because we are 13 games into the grind, and the grind has worn this team down the last few years. We get that.

But this start has to have you asking, “what if?” Because if one team could really challenge the Lakers in the West, it would be a team with championship pedigree. A team that knows how to get it done, even if they got it done differently in the past.

Frankly, if the Lakers are healthy it may well not matter. For anyone, East of West. But the Lakers have not been healthy at the end the last couple years either, and this year they may not get by that way. And if the Lakers are not right… why not the Spurs? This team is primed for one more run at a ring.

But when your Dad sees them play, he’s going to be shocked.

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.