Suns will look to push the tempo under new head coach Hornacek

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PHOENIX — Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek conducted his first official practice with the team on Tuesday, but only a handful of the players who will fill out the regular season roster were in attendance.

The session was for the Suns’ Summer League squad, which will play its opening game in Las Vegas on Saturday. But returning players Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, and P.J. Tucker will play, in order to try and gain some personal improvement, as well as some experience learning what the expectations will be from their new head coach.

The message from Hornacek during his first practice with the team was made crystal clear.

“He wants us to run,” Marshall said. “He definitely wants us to run. We covered some secondary things — drags, getting the ball to the other side of the floor, making sure we’re getting our bigs the ball. But we definitely want to get up and down the court.”

Phoenix ranked 29 out of 30 teams in points scored per 100 possessions last season, but the pace the team played at ranked them at ninth. Having an uptempo offense is one thing, but being efficient while doing so is something else entirely. The Suns were also near the bottom of the league in turnover ratio, and that’s an area Hornacek knows can come with the territory of pushing the pace if guys aren’t in shape.

“We want to push the ball, and that’s the hard thing,” Hornacek said. “When you’re pushing the ball you have a tendency maybe to have more turnovers. Guys, when they do get tired, that’s when they lose their focus. We’re going to expect that we’ll have some of that. We obviously don’t want the turnovers, but it’s going to happen.”

Hornacek is trying to install some basic offensive principles while also focusing on the conditioning aspect.

“Some of them are used to just walking the ball up the court, or not getting into the post quickly,” Hornacek said. “We’re making our first big down the court get to the post, and they’re so not used to doing it that even when the bigs go in there, the guards aren’t hitting them with the ball, so the guy probably feels like he’s running for nothing. But they’ll get that as the practices go on.”

The Suns have some players, especially at the guard spots, that should be able to get things initiated quickly. Goran Dragic likes to play at a fast pace, and newly-acquired Eric Bledsoe was described as a blur during the postseason by his then-Clippers teammate Chris Paul.

With the uptempo style being part of the message from day one, the Suns should have plenty of time to get the team acclimated to what Hornacek wants to do. The new head coach was pleased with how his players handled it, at least after just one day.

“It was an extremely difficult practice,” he said. “But nobody really dogged it at all. They basically ran for almost two hours, so it was good to see.”

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.