Paul Pierce asked for the LeBron James defensive assignment for Game 4

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There are a couple questions about whether the Brooklyn Nets can replicate what got them a Game 3 win over Miami. First off, can they hit 15-of-25 from three again?

Second, can they keep LeBron James and the Heat out of the paint again?

In Game 1 of this series the Heat had 29 shots at the rim (in the restricted area), in Game 3 just 13. After a hot first quarter in Game 3 LeBron got just one shot at the rim the rest of the game. (For more detail on this, check out John Schuhmann’s work at NBA.com.)

Paul Pierce thinks he is just the guy to do it — he wants the LeBron assignment in Game 4, he told ESPN. He’s had it more in recent games and done a solid job at points.

“I went to J-Kidd [for] Game 2 and said I want that assignment. … I think I’ve guarded him more than anybody in this gym. I know his tendencies a little bit more and I just try to step up in that role and try to lead that way….

“You know you’ve got to have that type of mental [approach] when you’re going against a juggernaut,” Pierce explained about establishing a no-fear mental edge following Nets’ practice. “When you go against the best … a lot of series are won on fear factor, or the non-belief. When you have that non-belief, then you have no chance. What I try to do in this locker room and with my teammates is just try give them belief — that we can beat this team. They’re not unbeatable. You’ve got to have that mental [approach] if you’re trying to get over that mountain that you’re trying to climb.”

Pierce is right, even if he said it in an overly dramatic way — you can’t play in awe of the other team. The Nets do not play with fear.

That’s different from keeping a motivated LeBron and Dwyane Wade from getting to the rim. And in Game 4, after a loss, you can expect them to show up motivated. In the first quarter against an attacking LeBron in Game 3 Pierce was left to make a flagrant foul (and even then LeBron scored).

Watch early and see if Miami is getting to the basket or settling for jump shots. If they are making plays at the rim — and LeBron is still the best finisher at the rim in the game — it’s going to be a long night for Brooklyn.

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.