Spurs need Duncan to step up if they want to reach the Finals

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Tim Duncan’s legacy is largely beyond reproach. The man has four NBA titles to his name, is one of the two greatest players of his generation, and just recently became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots.

And yet, his play in the Western Conference Finals hasn’t been all that special.

Duncan will get a pass from his coach and his teammates, and probably even from his fans for his lackluster performance in this series against the Thunder, one that his Spurs now find themselves all tied up in at two games apiece.

The reality is, though, that if Duncan doesn’t assert himself and play to his full capabilities for the remaining two or three games of these Western Conference finals, his Spurs may be done.

Sure, Duncan was 9-of-17 shooting in Game 4 for a team-high 21 points. But his offense came very quietly, and had virtually no impact in a game where his team desperately needed one.

No one is saying that Duncan is no longer capable of dominating a game offensively for his Spurs; in fact, it’s the opposite. San Antonio needs to feature its Hall-of-Fame big man to the point where he touches the ball on nearly every possession, with the decision to shoot or make the pass to the open man lying completely on his intelligent and capable shoulders.

In the first two rounds of the playoffs, Duncan was efficient and magnificent; excuse me for channeling my inner Clyde Frasier. He shot 23-of-49 from the field in the first round against the Jazz, and 38-of-64 from the field in the second round against the Clippers.

Those shooting numbers were good for marks of 47 percent and 59 percent respectively. Against the Thunder in this series, Duncan is just 22-of-58, for just 38 percent.

Now, it’s easy to argue that Tony Parker’s individual performance is more important to his team’s chances, considering the explosive ability he has to not only score, but to create easy opportunities for his teammates. But Parker has to perform at a certain level for the Spurs to even be within contention; to push them over the top, Duncan is the one who has to raise his game.

The Spurs have made it this far in the postseason with a surgical level of execution from role-players and stars alike. They had been getting timely shots off of open looks from seemingly everyone who touched the ball, after a series of screens and well-timed passes made their way into the hands of whomever was open at the time. But the offense by committee has stagnated in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City.

For the Spurs to get back on track, take control of this series, and earn themselves a trip to the NBA Finals, they’ll need Duncan to step up one last time and deliver as we know he can. San Antonio needs to feature him, and let him go to work against the Thunder’s front line. The defense has shifted its focus to slowing Parker and Manu Ginobili on the perimeter; it’s time for San Antonio to trust Duncan in this series, just as they have in so many series past.

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.