Kurt Helin

Three things we learned Sunday: The Lakers are playing fast, having fun, winning

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It’s still early in the NBA season, there’s a lot of small sample size theater going on, but we are starting to get a sense of who teams are and what they are about. That was true Sunday, here are three things we learned while you were being touched inappropriately by a ghost

1) The Lakers are playing fast, having fun — and winning. The Lakers love basketball.

It sounds simplistic, but that mantra is at the core of what Luke Walton has done to turn a young team into one of the must-watches of League Pass so far this season. The Lakers are unburdened by expectations, have been freed from the shackles of Byron Scott, there is no Kobe Bryant to soak up half the shots — and the result is entertaining and occasionally beautiful basketball. And they are winning. The Lakers are playing at the fastest pace in the NBA this season, averaging 110 points a game, and after a victory over Phoenix Sunday night they are over .500 at 4-3.

There have been transformations. Nick Young, Lou Williams, and Julius Randle are thinking pass — Young led the team with 24 points Sunday and has looked like a mature, complete player. A year ago, Randle would have gone right at Tyson Chandler in a little 1-on-1 they were having, instead at a crucial moment he kicked it out to Jordan Clarkson for a big three. Not that Randle isn’t going to the rack and finishing, too.

Walton also brought the Warriors switching all picks defensive mentality, and it’s working fairly well (the Lakers are middle of the pack defensively), particularly late in games. There’s a lot of Warriors actions in the Lakers offense now (more on that to come later today) — and that’s a good thing, it means ball and player movement, not isolation and stagnation. There are still steps the Lakers need to take — D’Angelo Russell is shooting 35.6 percent, the team as a whole is turning the ball over too much, and Brandon Ingram is a work in progress — but you can see the growth curve for this team. And you should see them; the Lakers have become fun to watch.

2) Harrison Barnes has been impressive despite Dallas’ record, leads team to first win. Harrison Barnes in the preseason had Mavericks’ fans asking “what did we get ourselves into?” With reason. But once the games have mattered he showed he has figured out how to be a No. 1 option and he has impressed — Barnes dropped a career-high 34 on the Bucks Sunday, the second time five games he put up 30 (something he did once his entire time as a Warrior). Sunday it included a driving layup with :13 on the clock to force overtime against the Bucks, then was a force in OT (with smaller players switched onto him) to get the Mavs the win.

Barnes is a work in progress — it still looks like he is thinking a lot out there, he’s not fluid and instinctive with his moves. However, he is fundamentally solid and is scoring almost an equal amount off the catch and off the bounce. He gets in a good triple-threat position with the ball and makes the smart decision. When he drives he explodes. And right now, he is killing it in isolation and from the midrange. Check out his shot chart for the season.

Barnes shotchart

Barnes isn’t playing in a way that makes you think “I need to vote for this guy to be an All-Star” but he is playing well. He just needs some help around him.

3) Utah looked much better on offense with Gordon Hayward back. Early on Sunday, Gordon Hayward looked like a guy who had been out injured, a guy trying to shake off the rust of missing much of camp and the start of the season with a broken finger. Because he was.

But with the game on the line late against New York, the Jazz rolled out a lineup of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Joe Johnson, and Rudy Gobert (when Gobert fouled out Derrick Favors came in) and it was smooth. Just flat-out better than what the Knicks could muster. Hayward gives them another shot creator besides Hill, plus Hayward can space the floor from three and gives a good defensive effort. Hayward finished with 28 points on the game to lead the Jazz, and it was nice he got to ease back into the NBA by playing against the Knicks.

That Utah went 3-3 without Hayward is a very good sign for their playoff chances, I expect this team to be a top-five seed when we head to the playoffs, If they can just stay healthy.

Bonus Thing We Learned: We found out what happens when Kristaps Porzingis and Rudy Gobert run into each other in the paint. Damn. First this:

Then this.

gobertblock

Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. gets concussion from tumble

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. will be sidelined for Los Angeles’ next game after incurring a concussion Sunday night.

Nance was hurt late in the first quarter of the Lakers’ game against the Phoenix Suns.

Nance was undercut by a diving P.J. Tucker while they chased a loose ball near midcourt. Nance tumbled to the court, stayed down for a long moment and got up slowly, heading to the locker room.

According to the NBA’s concussion protocol, Nance also must miss Tuesday’s game against Dallas.

Nance is averaging 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in his second NBA season for the Lakers, playing a valuable role off their bench. The son of former NBA player Larry Nance also has inherited his father’s reputation as a fearsome dunker.

Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor to remain on minutes restriction until at least Christmas

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The cap is 24 minutes a night. He has played as much as 25:15 in a game, but he also sat out a back-to-back.

The only thing seemingly holding Joel Embiid back this season is the minutes restriction placed on him by the team — a move made out of caution after he missed the first two full seasons with foot injuries.

That restriction is staying in place for both Embiid and Jahlil Okafor at least until Santa has made his rounds, according to Sixers coach Brett Brown, as reported by Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

The team will evaluate Embiid’s playing time around Christmas. There is a possibility they could keep him at 24 after that.

“I think as I watch them and we judge their fitness, I think at times going beyond four five-minute segments is not good for them,” Brett Brown said. “I feel like fatigue sets in given the amount of time that they’ve been able to play and practice, etcetera.”

Embiid is averaging 18.5 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, shooting 48 percent and with an All-Star level PER of 25 this season. All in those 24 minutes.

The restriction is still the smart move by the team — you can see how special Embiid is, it’s obvious he can be a franchise cornerstone (maybe along with Ben Simmons, whenever he gets healthy), so don’t push it too hard yet. There’s no reason, the Sixers aren’t going to playoffs this season, they are still figuring it all out and building. It’s still a process, the difference is fans can now see the light at the end of the tunnel (which has nothing to do with the veterans brought in or the “change in attitude, it’s just guys got healthy). Don’t risk an injury relapse by pushing too hard now.

Joel Embiid with impressive chasedown goaltend on LeBron James

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Joel Embiid did not get the best of LeBron James Saturday — the play above was a goaltend, LeBron went at him later and scored, the Cavaliers still won the game — but as he has done since Day 1, Embiid turned heads. He looks special.

No more so than on the play above, when Embiid tried take LeBron’s signature move of a chasedown block and turn the tables. Embiid was a step late and it was a goaltend — the ball hit the backboard first — but it didn’t make the play less impressive.

Embiid had 22 points on the night, he hit four threes, and he showed all the reasons he is going to be a force as he develops. LeBron, well, he was LeBron. He finished with 25 points and 14 assists. The result was a 102-101 win for the Cavs — and those two put on a show.

Sevyn Streeter to sing anthem at 76ers game Dec. 16, wear “We Matter” jersey

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NEW YORK (AP) — Sevyn Streeter and the Philadelphia 76ers have decided on a date for the singer to come back and perform the national anthem after the team didn’t allow her to sing wearing a “We Matter” jersey.

In statements to The Associated Press on Saturday, the Sixers and Streeter said she would perform wearing her “We Matter” jersey at the team’s Dec. 16 home game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“After thoughtful conversation, the 76ers and Sevyn Streeter have worked together to develop a plan we hope will bring meaningful action in the Philadelphia Community,” the team’s statement read.

Streeter was supposed to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Oct. 26 in Philadelphia, but was told before the game she could not sing the anthem. The team later apologized.

“I have accepted their apology,” Streeter said. “In order to move forward, it was important to me that we take action and use this as an opportunity to create positive change and dialogue throughout the community.”

She said she and the team plan to “work together through multiple community outreach programs to promote inclusion and acceptance.”

The Sixers said they plan to make a donation to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia.

Streeter has written songs for Chris Brown and Ariana Grande and had a hit with “It Won’t Stop” in 2013.