Mike D’Antoni defends Pau Gasol, says he fits his system

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After the Lakers loss Tuesday night to the Pacers — when Pau Gasol got out too high into a no-man’s land trying to defend George Hill on the final play, got his hips turned and watched Hill blow by him for the game winning shot — Lakers fans frustration with Gasol reached a new high for this season. Gasol trade talk is everywhere in Los Angeles (most of it wildly unrealistic).

But Tuesday night coach Mike D’Antoni came to Gasol’s defense and didn’t sound like a coach willing to trade him for any warm body. From Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“He’s another seven-footer who can guard the rim and he’s extremely smart,” D’Antoni said. “So there’s no reason why he can’t fit. Ideally, you’d want a guy like Jesse Owens who can run. But he’s a big part of what we’re going to do.”

“I don’t see how a player as smart as he is, as talented as he is and efficient as he is, doesn’t fit in anybody’s schemes,” he continued. “I got to reevaluate myself if I can’t play with Pau Gasol. Come on. He’s won two championships.”

Of course, what did you expect D’Antoni to say? He’s a guy focused on the positive as he tries to get the Lakers playing his kind of basketball, so he’s not going to trash Gasol.

As for all those Gasol trade rumors….

“I don’t get it,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, shaking his head. “It definitely doesn’t come from us. But it’s like New York. In Los Angeles, that’s what you guys do. That’s good. You guys talk and most of the stuff is wrong. You get people interested. I’m OK with that.

For the record, and as we told you Tuesday, the Lakers are not actively trying to trade Gasol right now. That might change once the Lakers get Steve Nash back, look at how the team shakes out and decide that that they need shooters more than two elite post players. And even then, there is a limited market of teams that will take on a 32-year-old player making $19 million a year.

But for now, D’Antoni is singing Gasol’s praises. Even if Lakers fans are increasingly not.

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.