Bulls barely, and we mean barely edge Magic without Dwight Howard

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Bulls 102 Magic 99.

This was a fantastic ballgame that will be overshadowed by narratives about the MVP. The questions will be about how the Magic nearly beat the Bulls with Dwight Howard spending a one-game suspension for hitting 18 techs, and what that says about Howard’s MVP candidacy. The other side will respond with how another brilliant game from Rose nearly resulted in a loss due the defense, which many say is the real MVP of the Bulls, and what that says about his MVP candidacy. In reality, both of those questions are stupid. It was a great game for Rose, an example of why he’s probably winning MVP, and shows that the Magic have some teeth left in them.

Perhaps most notable in the game was how the Bulls were undone by an effective defense and how the Magic’s ability to create ball movement inside led to cuts. The Bulls’ normally tenacious defense was pretty meek today, allowing cuts inside and Ryan Anderson to be active at the rim. On the flipside, the Magic played solid defense in terms of bringing doubles in the post. This gave Bulls fans a full look at what they’re getting from Carlos Boozer in the playoffs. Boozer was terrific in the first quarter, using a nice array of moves to create points in the post. In the fourth, he was mostly a disaster, including a terrible pass out of a soft double that led to a transition bucket from Jason Richardson.

But all the doubles the Magic brought? None of them were committed to keeping the ball out of Rose’s hands on the perimeter. Time and time again Rose caught a kickout pass with a defender trying to recover, ball faked and went right around the defender. The result was a blistering 39 points, 5 assists performance. Though Rose did have five turnovers to those five assists, he also scored those 39 points on just 17 shots. Crazy efficiency. And that was the difference in the game. Well, that and about .000001 seconds.

Jameer Nelson had a shot to tie the game at the end of regulation. He caught and had to pump fake to free himself from Rose. He rose, and fired from 38 feet, making it. The ball left his hand just a tenth of a second late. Waived off, Bulls win.

A great game that showcased that if these two meet in the second round, this could be tougher than most people are counting on.

Provided that Gilbert Arenas doesn’t get minutes. Yeesh.

Some notes:

  • Chris Duhon actually played really well in limited minutes to keep the Magic in it late. Then Gilbert Arenas came in and, well, yeah.
  • Joakim Noah played terribly in the first quarter and was benched for most of the game. Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau each took turns screaming at Noah early. Strange.
  • Taj Gibson hit a three loooong two. Actually happened.
  • The Magic still needed that player everyone says they need, who can create perimeter penetration to open up lanes. Turkoglu did some, but wasn’t fast enough and the drives wound up bogging down.

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.