Pacers brain trust says re-signing David West is priority No. 1

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The Indiana Pacers came into this season looking like as legitimate a threat to the Miami Heat as there was in the East (we had them with the two seed in our preseason predictions), but with no Danny Granger there were questions about how the team would respond and score.

Turns out, the Pacers without Granger were still very good — 49 regular season wins then they pushed Miami all the way to Game 7 of the conference finals.

The off-season plans for the team? First, keep everyone. Starting with free agent David West.

“He’s our priority No. 1,” Team president Donnie Walsh said at a press conference Thursday. “We want David back, we think he’s one of the anchors of our team. He’s a terrific player and we want him back.”

“I would add one thing to that,” Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard said. “He knows that we’re in a great position going forward. He’s priority No. 1 and come July 1 we will have a lot of conversations.”

July 1 is the first day teams can talk to free agents about new deals. West has said he wants to return to the Pacers, but you can be sure other teams will come calling.

But the Pacers can’t just bring back the same guys and expect to step past the Heat. They need some depth.

“I think we can get better shooting, as every team in the league can get,” Walsh said. “I think we could get a defensive player or two at different positions, playmakers. So we’re looking at those elements.”

Some of those come in the form of a healthy Danny Granger, who is expected to be healthy next season after missing one due to knee surgery.

“As we move forward and Danny gets back into the lineup, whether on the bench or starting, that allows us to have one more player that has a lot of experience out there.”

The buzz around the league is that the Pacers may shop Granger this summer, and more at the deadline. The reason is money. Paul George is on his rookie deal next season but will get a max extension this summer (kicking in for the 2014-15 season) and with that the Pacers are going to have to look to trim salary somewhere down the line. Granger could help bring in the depth they need and save money, but the Pacers are not rushing into a decision.

The other question over this team — is Larry Bird coming back to replace Walsh as team president? Walsh is okay with the idea, but he doesn’t know.

“I don’t know what Larry wants to do,” Walsh said. “It remains what I said since the day I got here and probably every day since, that I’d love to see him come back. He knows he can come back.”

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.