Miami has it in cruise control, which has Heat fans concerned

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We can come up with clever names for it — the coast of Miami; the Miami malaise.

Whatever name you want to put on it, it’s clear that the high-speed, attacking “pace and space” offense the Heat started off this season has slipped into cruise control at some safe highway speeds. They are averaging less than 90 possessions a game their last 10. A team who has based its identity on breaking teams’ spirits with energy and athleticism doesn’t even seem to try to do that anymore. Even in spurts.

The vaunted Miami Heat are 8-6 since the All-Star break, have lost two games in a row by double digits to playoff teams (the Thunder and Pacers).

They are in a slump. Heat fans are concerned. They should be. A little.

The players did not seem all that concerned. Dwyane Wade called it a “pothole” in the season. The reason there is no panic is this slump is not likely to cost them a lot — they are pretty locked in to the two seed in the East with 18 games to go. But they need to find their groove again before the second season starts.

How? We could talk about the team’s trend toward too much isolation and over-dribbling in the half court offense. We could talk about LeBron James’ elbow bothering him again. Wed could talk about the turnovers. We could talk about Chris Bosh’s mental vacation. And Mario Chalmers, too. Or Mike Miller being out. Or a laundry list of other items.

But every team deals with that and you fight through it and keep winning (see: Bulls, Chicago) or you fall apart. The Heat aren’t doing either, they keep coasting along.

The fixes are not really complex for Miami — if they apply better energy and focus to overwhelm teams with their athleticism at the defensive end they will create the fast break opportunities that fueled them early in the season. That is what made them a Ferrari early in the season. Right now they are coasting along, top down. They don’t want to expend that energy. Right now they are settling too much in the half court, not attacking. Wade and LeBron need to trust the role players a little more, too.

They’ve done it before. It just feels like the Heat players are waiting until a little closer to the playoffs to flip the switch.

The problem is that while the Bulls are out developing good habits to carry over to the playoffs, the Heat are developing bad ones. Things that could return and bite them under real pressure deep in the postseason.

Heat fans, none of this is worth reaching for the panic button. But feel free to be a little concerned.

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.