It’s not always about Kobe, Lakers defense keys win over Thunder

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The end of the Lakers win over Oklahoma City was the latest Rorschach test for whether or not you think Kobe Bryant is a clutch player.

Kobe scored seven of the Lakers final 10 points (all the others were Pau Gasol free throws) and he pushed the Lakers to a 90-87 win on the road. But he shot just 2-of-6 late in the game, had a key turnover and took over the Laker offense as they abandoned the triangle for a lot of Kobe trying to do it all.

So is Kobe clutch? That misses the point.

The Lakers beat the Thunder again because they cranked up the defense and held the Thunder to 31 points in the second half. Total. The Thunder shot 44.7 percent for the game.

That’s really what it all about for the Lakers. Whether they run the triangle and Pau Gasol is hitting cutters with passes out of the high post, or if Kobe is just going rogue and launching contested bombs, the Lakers are going to score.

The question is are they focused enough to stop you from scoring? They looked old and tired at the end of their Grammy road trip, but since getting a few days off All-Star weekend to rest their old legs the Lakers are 4-0. And defending well.

This game really tells us little about what would happen if these two teams hook up again in the playoffs because we don’t know what the Thunder will look like with Kendrick Perkins in the paint. He will certainly make life harder for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the Lakers bigs will dominate the game as they tend to against when these teams meet up.

But will that matter if the Lakers can hold Kevin Durant to 21 points on 8-of-20 shooting? That is why you see Russell Westbrook try to take over more against the Lakers, because L.A. is one of the few teams that can make it very hard on Durant (and you see him miss good looks at game winners). And until the Thunder can do something about that this series will continue to be dominated by the Lakers.

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.