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Cavaliers practicing patience during long postseason layoff

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Kyrie Irving misses the sounds, the sights, the stress of the NBA playoffs.

The All-Star point guard isn’t the only one.

“We’re itching to play,” Irving said.

The Cavaliers are still waiting.

With Washington and Boston headed to a Game 7 on Monday, Cleveland’s break since sweeping Toronto in the second round just grew a little longer. By the time the Cavaliers take the floor for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals next Wednesday, it will have been nine days between games – the longest layoff since LeBron James took them to the postseason back in 2006.

For Irving and his teammates, the break has grown boring and somewhat burdensome, testing their patience and willpower. Coach Tyronn Lue has resisted the temptation to let his players scrimmage 5 on 5, instead limiting their workouts to glorified walk-throughs.

Irving said the unbeaten-in-the-postseason Cavs are ready to run.

“We’re not necessarily shooting the ball, we’re just running through plays, some guys get a little bit antsy and mad and they want to go to the basket and finish plays,” he said. “Just get everything firing again because you miss the contact, you miss getting hit and being able to be there for your teammate and get hype and go in transition. Just the little nuances that make this game so beautiful and competitive and you love it.

“When you’re not playing it, as of right now, you try to do anything to keep you sharp.”

Lue has been doing everything he can to keep his players focused and energized during the long layoff. On Saturday, the team worked on some defensive rotations in preparation for either the Wizards or Celtics, both of whom have star guards and high-scoring backcourts.

“You got to keep them engaged and show them new things,” Lue said. “I’ve got to trick them at times, but they’ve been pretty locked in and we’ve just got to continue to do what we do. It is what it is, and we just got to continue to work on what we need to get better at and then whoever we play we just got to be ready.”

Lue’s decision not to scrimmage was initially met with some resistance, but the players now understand his logic better after backup center Walter “Edy” Tavares broke his right hand during an organized pickup game between Cleveland’s reserves before Thursday’s practice.

While Tavares’ injury won’t tilt the balance of power in the East, his loss does deprive Lue of another big man for depth in case of injury or foul trouble. It’s also the latest setback for a Cleveland backup center. Earlier this season, Chris “Birdman” Anderson and Andrew Bogut suffered season-ending injuries and Larry Sanders, signed after sitting out two seasons, was released on the eve of the playoffs.

The 7-foot-3 Tavares signed on the final day of the regular season and scored 10 points with six rebounds and six blocks in his debut. He may not have played in the postseason, but he was another body for practice and insurance in case Tristan Thompson or Channing Frye got hurt.

Irving said seeing Tavares go down was a quick reminder that it’s better to be safe than sorry while waiting for the next round.

“I understand how important it is,” Irving said. “I was about to come out and play 5 on 5 and the incident (Tavares getting hurt) happened three seconds later as T-Lue comes out of the door. Nah, I’m not for scrimmaging right now until the game.”

The Cavaliers have been passing the time with some intense conditioning sessions on a VersaClimber, an aerobic contraption Irving calls “a beast.” They’ve worked on their shooting and each day has ended with the players doing yoga while the lights inside Cleveland Clinic Courts are turned off.

Soon enough, Irving and his teammates will return to the bright glare of the postseason.

Until Cleveland knows its next opponent, James has abstained from talking to the media, a decision his coach didn’t know about.

“I didn’t know that,” Lue said. “No wonder he has been wanting to have practice every day, he didn’t have to talk. Oh, OK. That makes sense.”

 

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.