Kobe says Carmelo is hardest player for him to guard

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Kobe Bryant leads his struggling Lakers into Madison Square Garden Thursday night to take on a Knicks team that is 8-0 at home and led by Carmelo Anthony, a guy playing like an MVP candidate.

As part of the hype machine for that game, Kobe sat down for an interview with ESPN (Stephen A. Smith to be exact) that the network played plenty on Wednesday. Among the things discussed in that interview was the hardest player for Bryant to guard in the NBA.

His answer was Anthony, reports the New York Post.

The Lakers star said Anthony, the Knicks’ MVP candidate, is the “most difficult” guy for him to guard in the league, even harder than LeBron James, he told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Tuesday.

“For me?” Bryant said. “Yeah….”

“I’m [180 pounds] soaking wet,” said Bryant, who is Melo’s teammate on Team USA. “Going up against that bull, it’s fun, but it’s hard.”

That kind of matchup, Carmelo on Bryant, is why Anthony at the four is such a matchup nightmare — if Carmelo has Kobe on him he can take Bryant down into the post with Amare Stoudemire not there and back Kobe down, where ‘Melo has the size and strength advantage, then he can spin and take short fade-aways over either shoulder. If Stoudemire is in the post and Anthony is out on the wing trying to use his quickness on Kobe, then Kobe can hang with him and contest everything.

The Lakers likely go with Metta World Peace — a bull himself — on ‘Melo, but he is going to need help from Dwight Howard and others.

And if the Lakers defensive rotations look anything like they did in the first half of the Cleveland game, Anthony is not going to put up monster fourth quarter numbers because he’ll be sitting on the bench resting as the Knicks bench closes out a blowout win.

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.