Three Stars of the Night: Guys that got (or almost got) their team wins

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Lots of close games, lots of crazy buzzer beaters on Wednesday night. But it wasn’t just the Jeff Greens and Klay Thompsons that got their team wins, it was others like the three guys below. Except for the Third Star, he tried but got undone by some guy named LeBron.

Third Star: Nikola Vucevic (25 points, 21 rebounds)

Orlando almost did it, they almost came from 20 back to end the Heat’s winning streak (and they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling LeBron James). Nikola Vucevic was a big part of that, he had 15 points and 14 rebounds in the second half and provided that inside presence you must have to challenge the Heat.

Second Star: Blake Griffin (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists)

Yes, Blake Griffin can dunk. Sweet tomahawk dunks off between-the-legs alley-opp passes. But if you think that’s all he can do you haven’t watched him outside of highlights for a while. He is a load in the post right now. He has a good spin move, good footwork, and he plays to his strengths — his athleticism — and he gets to the rim and takes good shots. He was 8-of-9 in the restricted area against the Bucks (a very good shot blocking team) and made a good defender in Larry Sanders look bad a couple times in there.

First Star: Kobe Bryant (42 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds)

It feels at time like Kobe Bryant is willing the Lakers to the playoffs. At age 34. With an elbow that is flaring up and an assortment of injuries that would sideline most players. For nearly 42 minutes Wednesday the Lakers looked like they would get blown out by the Pelicans-to-be, but Kobe would not let that happen. He had 18 points and only missed one shot in the fourth quarter, plus he had a couple assists. He would not let the Lakers lose (and the Hornets helped by collapsing).

I don’t know how far Kobe’s Jedi powers extend but the Jazz and Rockets continue to give the Lakers all the help they need to let Los Angeles get into the playoffs. What once seemed out of reach is coming together for the Lakers. Much like this game.

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.