Don’t ask Shaq about facing Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum in the playoffs

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Shaquille O’Neal has only appeared in 36 games for the Celtics this season, and hasn’t appeared in any since Feb. 1. But Boston didn’t add Shaq for the regular season, they added him with the hope that he’ll provide some size and depth at the center position for what the team hopes will be another long run deep into the postseason.

O’Neal is targeting April 1 as a return date, and since he’s been expected back for the playoffs all along, ESPN’s Marc Stein wanted to get his thoughts on the possibility of facing two of the league’s elite big men: Orlando’s Dwight Howard, and the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum.

Bad idea. The exchange went like this:

Q: How much do you look forward to the opportunity to go up against guys like Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum in the playoffs?

A: Excuse me? Don’t ask me a question like that.

Q: But that’s what people want to know. Those guys are playing so well and everyone wants to see if you can match up with them one-on-one.

A: First of all, they won’t dare play me one-on-one, even at the tender age of 39. And you know what? Playin’ those teams, it ain’t gonna be about the [center] matchup, so I don’t really worry about that.

Despite being 39 years of age, having a diminished skill set, and being limited by injury over the past couple of seasons, O’Neal’s ego is still as big as ever. He’s always taken offense when others are mentioned as being better or greater, especially in the case of these two players. O’Neal has often bristled at Howard’s usurping of his Superman persona, and he’s never been fond of the idea of Bynum becoming an immediate and effective replacement for him in Los Angeles.

Shaq may not be able to contribute as he once could to his team’s run at a title, and his assertion about teams not playing him one-on-one (defensively) might not be correct, simply because he’s not a focal point of the offense, and isn’t really a threat to get a significant amount of touches down on the low block. But if he can defend and rebound while staying out of foul trouble, and just clog the middle enough to make things difficult for his opponents’ slashers, then he may still have the impact he desires in the postseason.

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.