John Wall’s goal for Wizards next season: ‘The Finals’

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The Wizards built a playoff team before last season and then declared the playoffs their primary goal.

It was so short-sighted, maybe even detrimental to the franchise’s long-term future. That roster should have viewed the postseason as the bare minimum.

But it’s also understandable how a team in a five-season playoff drought would become fixated on ending it above all else.

Nobody bought into Washington’s postseason-or-bust mantra more than John Wall, who wrote “playoffs” on his shoes before each game. The All-Star point guard certainly did his part to lead the Wizards into the postseason with a controlled game that, more than ever, eliminated mistakes.

Now, though, Wall is ready to strive for more.

Wall, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post:

“The Finals. All you can ask for now is the Finals,” Wall said from Team USA training camp in Las Vegas when asked for his goals for the upcoming season. “We’ve been to the second round. We know what it takes to win. We know what we need to do. We know everybody needs to get better individually, and I think [the front office] just did a great job of adding pieces, great veteran guys that know what it takes to win.”

With LeBron James heading to Cleveland, the East is much more open the last four seasons, when the Heat won each year.

In the new order, LeBron’s Cavs should rank highest. Adding Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and a healthy Derrick Rose should help the Bulls. Beyond those two top contenders, the Pacers, Raptors, Heat, Bobcats and Nets have fighting chances.

And so do the Wizards.

They were the youngest Eastern Conference team, weighted by playoff minutes, to win a postseason series. And for the most part, they kept the squad together, swapping Paul Pierce for Trevor Ariza. Wall and Bradley Beal are also still young and growing as team leaders.

The Wizards certainly shouldn’t be considered Finals favorites or anything near that, but it’s possible – and encouraging to see Wall aspire to such a high goal.

And hey, last year, merely meeting their goal of making the playoffs didn’t cause the Wizards to rest on their laurels. They upset the Bulls in the first round and challenged the Pacers in the next. If the Wizards somehow make the Finals, there’s no reason they can’t keep going and win the whole darn thing.

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.