Don’t look now but Celtics have won four in a row, lead Atlantic Division

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The Boston Celtics have won four in a row, improved to .500 (4-4), and right now that is good enough to lead the Atlantic Division (tied with Philadelphia).

After a 0-4 start I didn’t think I’d be writing that sentence. It certainly beats even Celtics’ fans expectations.

There are things we can pick apart with this streak, we certainly can question its sustainability, but the fact is the Celtics are hustling, getting some easy buckets in transition and winning games. Combine that with the slow starts for the Knicks and Nets, and you have an Atlantic Division upside-down cake.

During this mini-streak the Celtics’ defense has been almost flat with the start of the season, maybe marginally better but not significantly — it is the Boston offense that is fueling the run.

During the last four games the Celtics have scored 6.4 more points per 100 possessions than their season average, in part because they running a little more (three more possessions per game — they really got out and ran against Orlando Monday night). Along with that they also have cut their team turnovers down from 18 percent of their possessions for the season down to 13.9 percent. They are assisting a little more (they love the handoff from a big to a guard using him as a pick), shooting a little higher percentage, and hitting the boards a little harder. Their offensive numbers are up across the board.

Gerald Wallace, for all his talk, has been a hustle and glue guy during the streak. Avery Bradley is averaging 15.3 points a game on 52 percent shooting the last four games. Jordan Crawford is putting up 12.8 a night. And the combination of Brandon Bass (13 points), Jared Sullinger (12.3 points and 6 rebounds) and rookie Kelly Olynyk is averaging (11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds) has given Boston solid front line play.

Yes, it’s four early season games so it’s a tad early to plan playoff watching parties. Yes, three of the four wins came against teams looking hard at next year’s draft in Utah and Orlando (twice). But remember, they did beat the Heat in Miami as well.

And they are doing it all without Rajon Rondo.

Celtics fans should savor this. Things are going to get tougher as you look at the teams coming up on the schedule; stop and enjoy these things while you can. As coach Brad Stevens said after the game, things can turn on a dime in this league.

But today, Tuesday Nov. 12, the Boston Celtics are atop the Atlantic division.

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.