Vince Carter's big night

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531.jpgFor the first half of the season, Vince Carter was one of the most disappointing players in the league. In the latest chapter of a career that’s sadly become synonymous with disappointment, Carter has underperformed badly in Orlando.

On paper, replacing Hedo Turkoglu with Carter didn’t look like a bad idea. On the court, however, VC has been a disaster. Vince is shooting under 40% from the field, and he’s only averaging 2.8 assists per game. Vince’s PER is currently at 15.79, which is significantly worse than his previous career low of 18.93. 
Vince has struggled from everywhere on the floor this season, but most of his problems have come from his inability to get baskets at the rim. Even though Vince was once one of the most electrifying high-flyers in the history of the league, he’s had serious trouble when he’d tried to attack the basket this season. 
Vince is only averaging 1.8 dunks or layups per game this season, down from 2.3 conversions at the rim per game a year ago. The really bad news for the Magic is that this appears to be the continuation of a trend. Since the 2006-07 season, Vince’s makes at the rim per game have steadily decreased from 3.8 to 3.1 to 2.3 to 1.8. Worst of all, Vince’s percentage at the rim has been terrible, as he’s now making less than half of his attempts at the basket. For a long time, Vince’s head was perceived to be the only thing holding him back from greatness; now his body seems to be letting him down. 
Carter’s 48-point explosion against the Hornets on Monday night has given Magic fans hope that Vince will be able to turn it around after all. For Magic fans, the most heartening thing about Vince’s performance shouldn’t be how many points Carter scored, but how he got them. During the Magic’s fourth-quarter comeback, Carter was on fire from the outside. Carter hit two tough mid-range jumpers and three three-pointers in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game, scoring 13 points on eight shots from outside the paint. Many of those jumpers were contested shots off the dribble with a very high degree of difficulty, classic superstar shots. The highlights show just how dialed in Vince was in that fourth quarter, and how he’s still capable of taking over a game when he’s firing on all cylinders. 
What the highlights won’t preserve is that before his amazing fourth quarter, Carter got himself going by taking the ball to the rim time and time again. According to HoopData, Carter went 9-11 on shots at the rim, with 8 of those makes coming in the first three quarters. Vince only took 5 shots from midrange the entire game, preferring to to his damage from inside the paint and beyond the arc. Vince won the game by making tough shots, but he put the Magic in position to win by creating easy ones. Not only was Carter’s big night what the Magic needed to win the game, but it may serve as a blueprint for how he can be effective over the rest of the season. 

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.