League execs on Kyrie Irving’s recent struggles: ‘He’s pouting’

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Kyrie Irving has been far from the dominating, game-changing point guard he showed capable of last season, and people around the league are beginning to take notice.

He’s had games where he’s put up some decent numbers, but has done so inefficiently in recent weeks.

After an 0-9 performance in Cleveland’s blowout loss to the Hawks on Friday, one of the Cavaliers’ beat writers shared what he heard about Irving from some executives around the league.

From Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

The whispers have been growing louder around the NBA for weeks and now Friday’s scoreless performance will get everyone’s attention. With each lousy shooting performance, more and more people want to know: What has happened to Kyrie Irving? …

I asked him tonight after the cameras and recorders were put away if his arm is still bothering him, but he said no. Irving fell on his right arm during the second game of the season at Charlotte and complained of numbness. He said afterward it affected his shot and he was taken for x-rays, but they revealed nothing and Irving was back for the next game. Irving is sensitive to his injury history, and I thought perhaps he is playing through some sort of discomfort in the arm to keep from admitting he’s hurt again. But he said no, so we move on.

Irving’s performance is baffling not only fans and his teammates, but other executives around the league. Players in the locker room have told me on multiple occasions he’s missing shots he never missed before. “He’s pouting,” was the explanation I’ve heard recently from two league executives.

Watching all of Irving’s nine misses, it was apparent that some of the shots were open looks he usually makes, but he was also forcing some difficult ones.

His first shot of the game was a spinning fadeaway from the baseline, which was tough but makable. Then came a drive into the lane and an awkward floater over a big that didn’t have a chance. Irving’s next look was an open corner three, followed by a drive to the basket where he missed a layup that rimmed out but was contested. An open pull-up three in transition followed, and it was short.

After that, Irving created a wide-open 15-footer that came after a nifty crossover he used to shake his defender. His next one was a drive left where he lost the ball on the way up, but recovered in time to get up a difficult shot. His last two shots were both wide open — a three from the left wing that his defender essentially dared him to shoot was again short, and a 15-foot jumper rimmed out with just under 10 minutes remaining in the third that was his final shot of the night with his team trailing by 20 points.

Irving was clearly pressing, but “pouting” is more difficult to prove. There have been reports of locker room issues involving Dion Waiters that could be affecting him on the court, but without knowing for sure whether the problems are physical or mental at this point, it will simply remain something to watch.

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.