Phil Jackson thinks the Celtics will win the East

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Legendary coach Phil Jackson has never been shy about using the media to take not-so-sly shots at rival teams, players, and coaches, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to stop any time soon. In an interview with ESPN 710’s Max Kellerman earlier today, Jackson said that he thinks the Boston Celtics will win the Eastern Conference, and also expressed doubts about the Miami Heat’s ability to function as a team:

“I personally don’t think [The Heat] can get by Boston,” Jackson said. “I think Boston is too good a team. I think a team is still going to win.

“But there’s a chance that [the Heat] … can maybe round themselves into a team by that time and [win].

“Boston is older and they have to go through the rest of the schedule without having some kind of breakdown of players. [Ray] Allen and [Kendrick] Perkins, etc., they are just really a good team.
“But there’s nothing like the great athletic skill and dynamism that [James and Wade] have and [Chris] Bosh is a terrific player in his own right. There’s no doubt about their individual skills.”

This isn’t the first time Jackson has fired a public shot at the Heat. The last time the Heat had a tough stretch of games, Jackson publicly wondered about the job security of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Over the first half of their season, the Heat have run (no pun intended) hot and cold. After starting the season 9-8, the Heat lost one game from November 27th to January 9th, and are currently on a four-game losing streak after suffering injuries to LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The Heat have also been without Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller for much of the year.

Boston’s depth has helped them be more consistent than the Heat. Despite injuries to defensive specialist Kendrick Perkins and tough combo guard Delonte West, the Celtics have gone 31-9 in the first 40 games of the season and currently hold a 2 1/2 game lead over the Heat for the best record in the East.

Jackson’s comments will almost certainly give the Heat (as well as the Magic, who can’t be happy about being omitted from Phil’s two-team race for the Eastern Conferenc) some bulletin-board material. That may end up adding some fuel to a possible Lakers-Heat (or Lakers-Magic) finals, but there’s a whole lot of basketball to be played before we should even start thinking about those matchups.

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.

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.