Paul George says Pacers second-half collapse because they lost their hunger

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All sorts of rumors swirled around the Indiana Pacers as they went from the team with the best record in the NBA to a team that stumbled into the playoffs and never really was a threat to the Miami Heat in the East. There were a lot of rumors about personal and clubhouse turmoil among Pacers players (the most extreme ones likely false).

Paul George said it was something far more simple — the Pacers got comfortable and lost their edge.

George, a Southern California native, was back in town for his youth camp and spoke with the Los Angeles Daily News. First the article had to focus on the ridiculous premise in some Lakers’ fans’ heads that George was going to turn down a max extension to his rookie contract to come to the Lakers (he didn’t), but eventually the article gets to the more interesting topic of the Pacers’ last season.

“Before we were hungry,” he said. “We started the year off hungry, the bad taste from the year before was in our mouths and everyone was on a mission. Once we started to win, the game was coming too easy. We were running away from our opponents and we just kind of forgot that edge….

“It was a point where we came into games thinking we could just turn it on, regardless if we started bad or not. And I think that kind of put us in a funk to where teams were starting to really play us and get ready for us,” he said.

“We weren’t the team chasing opponents. We were being chased and we couldn’t find that balance between getting that edge back we started the season with.”

Of course, George thinks the Pacers can regain their form and be a threat next season in the East.

That’s going to be more difficult to do without Lance Stephenson and his shot creation, but the Pacers are still in the mix with the Hawks, Heat, Wizards, Raptors, and maybe Hornets and Knicks in the middle of the Eastern Conference (all likely chasing the Bulls and Cavaliers). If the Pacers can get their defense back to form they can win a lot of games.

But they’ve got to get their heads screwed back on first, get past the locker room squabbles and issues with playing with a target on their backs.

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.