Five best in-game dunkers in the NBA

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nba_james2_250.jpgDunking in a game is radically different than dunking in the Dunk Contest. As Eric Freeman pointed out at The Baseline — in game the “how” is often tightly defined as the dunker has a small window and defenders are closing in on him. It’s a race to the basket. The best dunks often come right  on or over that defender who closed out a split second too late.

Part of the problem with the dunk contest is we pick great in-game dunkers and expect them to be able to be brilliant in a totally different setting — one without defenders, where creativity is prized as much or more than athleticism.

Personally, give me the in-game dunks any day. Which leads to the question: Who are the five best in-game dunkers in the league? I’d say:

1. LeBron James, Cleveland. He is athletically gifted like nobody in the league, he gets to the rim on drives nobody else could, and he finishes with thunderous, manly dunks on plays when everyone else would have settled for the pull-up jumper. LeBron would make my all-time, in-game dunkers list (along with Michael Jordan, young Kobe Bryant and Charles Barkley, to start).

2. Josh Smith, Atlanta. The best ally-oop finisher in the league, and maybe the second best athlete in the league. Like LeBron his finishes drives with dunks that nobody else really finishes — and he does it with the left hand, thank you very much. (Smith is the one guy who would make the blocks and dunks top five list.)

3. Shannon Brown, Lakers. He is the prototypical player made for in game dunks, but not the right personality for the dunk contest. But the LetShannonDunk movement started for a reason — this guy can throw down and often does it over people. He loses a couple points because so many of his best dunks come in garbage time, but you can’t hold that against him too much.

4. Rudy Gay, Memphis. Out in transition, maybe the best finisher in the league. When Memphis runs there is building electricity in the air because Gay may get the chance to finish and have the highlight of the game.

5. Dwyane Wade, Miami. He does not dunk as often as some of the others on the list, but his path to the basket is always crowded with defenders, so when he does dunk it is almost always over somebody. Plus, he plays with such a reckless abandon for his own well being that he also dunks balls he shouldn’t.

Honorable mention: Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.