Dwight Howard says Lakers told him he will not be traded

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HOUSTON — Dwight Howard was among the more popular players in terms of media attention on Friday, and it wasn’t because of his sparkling smile or fun-loving personality.

All of the players participating in the events of All-Star weekend had group availability sessions, and between the constant struggles of the Lakers this season and Howard’s impending free agency, he was a prime choice to be targeted in order to get his thoughts on both of those topics.

While Dwight chose to continue to avoid getting into the specifics of whether or not he’ll re-sign with the Lakers, he did make it clear that he’s not worried about being dealt by the team before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

“They told me they weren’t going to trade me,” Howard said. “I’d be surprised. They told me they wouldn’t trade me. That’s what [Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak] said.”

Now that Howard has assurances from the team that they’re committed to building a winner around him, it would only have been polite to reciprocate by saying he’d stay in Los Angeles beyond this season. He’s not ready to do that, however, and tried to explain his reasoning for keeping his options open.

“The only thing that matters is the present,” Howard said. “And right now there’s no need for me to talk about what happens at the end of the season. There’s no need to go back and forth about it, I just feel like at the end of the year, I should have my opportunity to make my decision.

“I shouldn’t be pressured criticized for waiting until the end of the year,” Howard continued. “I don’t think its fair for my teammates. I don’t think it’s fair for the fans or anybody to be worried about what’s going to happen at the end of the year. Our job is to come out and play hard every night, and we have to live in the moment. Nobody can control what happens at the end of the year.”

When asked if it’s fair to be criticized for keeping quiet about whether a return to the Lakers is likely, Howard simply said he didn’t want to go through the drama that followed him to the very end of his final season in Orlando.

“I had to deal with it all last year, so I’m not going to do it again,” he said.

Howard admitted the first half of the season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Lakers, but said the team is doing a good job of tuning out the distractions as they continue to try to make things work from a basketball standpoint.

“I didn’t expect for it to go as sour as it’s going,” Howard said of his time thus far in Los Angeles. “There’s always room for improvement. We’ve had to battle a lot of things this year — guys getting injured, us not winning, and just all the drama that’s outside of the locker room.

“We’ve had to deal with a lot. But I think for the most part, as a team, we’ve done a good job of staying strong and staying together. It’ll get better.”

And if it doesn’t, Howard has the option to move on. When asked what would ultimately make him choose between the Lakers and another team this offseason, he summed it up rather succinctly.

“I’m going to do what makes me happy,” Howard said. “That’s it.”

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.