Yi Jianlian looking good so far for China. Very good.

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Jianlian_china_dunk.jpgYi Jianlian has spent the last couple years in New Jersey playing like a guy who was trying to do what his coach told him and over-thinking things, not having fun and just playing basketball.

The Nets didn’t want that, but for whatever reason the fit just seemed wrong. He was shooting 40 percent from the floor and you saw only flashes of the athleticism and promise that made him the No. 6 pick overall.

Yi spent part of the summer working out with player development guru David Thorpe, then was asked to step forward and be the lead man for the Chinese national basketball team at the World Championships.

Sure looks like he is having fun now, averaging 26 points and 11.5 board a game through the first two games of the championships, as Michael Lee notes at the Washington Post.

Yi carried China to its first win on Sunday, with 26 points and nine rebounds in an 83-73 victory against Ivory Coast. With Ivory Coast lacking much size, the 7-foot Yi had his way inside, backing down defenders and showcasing his low-post game with bank shots and jump hooks.

He also was especially aggressive. On one sequence, Yi got the ball near the foul line, pump faked, took one dribble and soared toward the rim for a vicious two-handed jam. He followed the dunk by doing a pull-up on the rim that surely would’ve been a technical foul in the NBA (international rules allow those kind of post-dunk theatrics on the rim). Afterward, Yi tapped his fist against his chest, showing the American influence on his game.

His best outing, though, came in defeat on Saturday, when Yi scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds China played a surprisingly competitive 89-81 loss to European power Greece, one of the favorites to win the Group.

China is in a tough group, they will need to upset Russia, Puerto Rico or Turkey in one of their next three games to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.

But Yi is playing like a guy who can lead a team to that. He is seeming more comfortable in the post, he is being aggressive around the rim. We know Yi can drop a three on you, but what would make him more dangerous is the threat of that combined with more aggression inside. He is showing that now. He is dunking everything he can.

We told you before Yi — running the floor along side John Wall for a revamped Wizards — may be poised for a breakout season. If he can keep up this new attitude. This is just more proof. Yi is ready to take on the mantle of best player from China (unless Yao Ming has a healthy foot, then…).

Elfrid Payton slams chasedown block on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is usually the guy handing out chasedown blocks. He’s famous for them, and has carted out his signature move in the biggest moments of his career.

He’s also not used to having his own shots blocked from behind, and certainly not by opposing point guards.

Enter Elfrid Payton.

During a play halfway through the first quarter against the Orlando Magic on Thursday, LeBron was on a drive to the hole with Elfrid trailing far behind.

Thanks to a pinch by two Magic defenders, LeBron had to try and use brute force a bit deeper in the paint than he wanted to.

That allowed Payton — running at full speed — to catch up and pin The King on the glass.

Cleveland still got the best of the Magic, as Isaiah Thomas hit a clutch free throw to win the game with 11 seconds left, 104-103.

All-Star Joel Embiid doesn’t need Rihanna: “On to the next one”

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For about as long as we can remember, Joel Embiid has famously thirsted after Rihanna on Twitter. Fans have tried to boost his standing with the singer, but it apparently that has not been enough.

In 2014, Embiid mentioned on social media that a “famous girl” — presumably Rihanna — told him to “Come back when you’re an All-Star.”

Well, today is that day.

Embiid is a starter out of the Eastern Conference, and on Thursday night he had his chance to speak to Rihanna (or whomever) via national TV on TNT.

Did Embiid decide to reach out to this famous person? Apparently he’s off it.

Via Twitter:

This is like that scene from Private Parts when Howard Stern hits No. 1 and he tells Paul Giamatti’s character to get lost.

Embiid had the chance to curve Rihanna (or whomever) and took it. Long live The Process.

Here are the weirdest NBA All-Star voting results for 2018

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NBA All-Star voting is over, and now we have the results. The starters are in, and what’s left is for us to wait until they announce the teams after they are picked in double secret ceremony.

Of course, the NBA did release the full voting results via their PR website this week, and as such there are some head scratchers. My boy Patrick Redford over at Deadspin did an excellent job rounding up some of the players who got exactly one (1) vote from other players.

The gag here is that these guys presumably voted for themselves.

Of course, what I found most interesting was actually the guys who got multiple votes from their compatriots without being All-Star caliber players.

My favorite list of player-voted non-All-Stars includes: Michael Beasley (4), Gordon Hayward (2), Boban Marjanovic (2), Jahlil Okafor (4), Quincy Acy (2), Tyler Zeller (4), T.J. McConnell (2), Elfrid Payton (2), Zaza Pachulia (3), Taj Gibson (6), Zach Randolph (5), Maurice Harkless (2), Deyonta Davis (3), Lonzo Ball (9), Mike Conley (3).

There’s a whole smattering of guys in there who either didn’t play enough, aren’t stars, are injured, or who aren’t very good.

That multiple players took time to vote for these guys really speaks to the frivolity of the NBA All-Star Game. At least outside of player contract incentives.

Bring on February!

LeBron James throws behind-the-back, nutmeg pass for assist (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is one of the best passers the NBA has ever seen, but even this is too hard to believe.

During Thursday’s game between the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron through a ridiculous behind-the-back pass that nutmegged Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

The result of the play was a bucket for Dwyane Wade.

Via Twitter:

I mean, that’s just … insane.