D’Antoni is not going to bench Howard during hack-a-Dwight

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It’s not about winning the battle, it’s about winning the war for Mike D’Antoni.

That’s why he hasn’t done what a lot of Lakers fans are calling for — sub in Jordan Hill for Dwight Howard when the other team starts hack-a-Dwight. Both the Magic and Rockets were able to make fourth quarter comebacks against the Lakers that started with hack-a-Dwight. Not only because he leaves half the points on the free throw line but also because it throws off the Lakers rhythm and their defense gets worse at the same time. The Lakers start to press and get flustered.

D’Antoni needs his best big man on the floor to win come late in the season and the playoffs, so he got a little heated when asked after the game why he doesn’t listen to what Lakers fans asking, why he doesn’t sit Howard when the hacking starts (via the Los Angeles Times):

“Because they have no clue what they’re talking about,” D’Antoni said. “It’s pretty simple. You don’t do that to a guy and he made his foul shots. He’s not the reason that our defense breaks down. He’s not the reason that stuff happens. He’s got to work through this.

“If you take him out now, then what are you going to do? Are you going to take him out all the time? You’ve got a player who’s going to be your franchise player, you don’t do that to him. And it’s not him that’s causing the problem.”

In the two games against Orlando and Houston, Howard has shot 50 percent from the line during the hack-a-Dwight strategy (12-of-24). The first reaction is that is too many points left on the table, and there is validity there. But Howard is in his ninth NBA season and is a career 58 percent free throw shooter — he’s worked on this for years and it’s not going to get a whole lot better.

And D’Antoni is right — the problem is when it happens the Lakers defense falls apart (they gave up 74 fourth quarter points in the last two games combined) and they start to press. They get out of the game plan and when that happens the lead evaporates — Kobe Bryant was scoring and distributing most of the game, but was 1-of-4 shooting after the hack-a-Dwight ended.

D’Antoni is right about this, too — he can’t go into the playoffs against the Spurs with Gregg Popovich knowing he can get Howard on the bench for five minutes of the fourth quarter by fouling him. If Popovich or any coach can get the Lakers best interior player off the floor a key stretch of the game they will. Without hesitation.

The problem is the Lakers continue to lose a lot of battles as they try to win the war, and they are now 8-10. More frightening for Lakers fans in the short term, the team is 1-5 on the road this season and six of the next seven are away from Staples Center.

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.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?