Blake Griffin jumps Dunk Contest over car, into new era of spectacle

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The days of the Dominique tomahawk are gone. The Jordan cradle dunk is a dinosaur. Throwing it off the backboard to yourself is passé.

Blake Griffin dunked over a car while a gospel choir sang at midcourt. And he is your 2011 Slam Dunk Contest champion. It was impressive and entertaining.

That, my friends, is where we are headed with the dunk contest.

Saturday night the four participants — Griffin, JaVale McGee, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka — used props, skits and showmanship to make the dunks spectacle. It was made-for-television. This wasn’t just four band members in jeans and T-shirts rocking out, it was a Kanye West concert. It was pure spectacle with some dunks thrown in.

And it was the most entertaining contest in years.

It’s how things will be for years to come. Say you miss the old school Dunk Contests all you want, the event has evolved.

“A lot of the things that are possible have been done, you know what I mean?” Griffin said after the contest. “So it’s tough to come up with something that nobody has ever seen before. That’s always the big thing. Everybody is like ‘Oh it’s going to be something nobody has ever seen’ but you kind of have to use props for that. It’s kind of become — it’s kind of moved toward that.”

“All of us definitely came prepared,” said runner up JaVale McGee. “We came with props and everything. We all came for entertainment because we definitely didn’t want to be another disappointment for the Slam Dunk Contest like the year before was.

Last year, after the year of Dwight Howard’s show, guys went old school. Few props, just athleticism on display. The event got panned as dull.

Griffin is spot on — we’ve pretty much seen it all. Serge Ibaka executed a dunk taking off from the free throw line and couldn’t get a perfect score from Dr. J (who was one of the judges).

But he didn’t just do the dunk. The Congo native came out to Kanye music with people carrying African-colored flags. The flag carriers lined his path to the free throw line.

It was like that through the first two rounds — two of the best rounds the contest has ever seen. Ibaka grabbed a stuffed animal hanging on the rim with his teeth while dunking. McGee dunked three basketballs at once (John Wall assisted on that).

McGee even had them bring out a second backboard, lined up right next to the first, so he could dunk on both at once.

There was still the crazy athleticism — on Griffin’s first dunk of the final round he put his arm through the rim and hung there on his cocked elbow for a while. DeRozan got a perfect score without props and just leaping and spinning. McGee dunked from behind the backboard having to duck his head out of the way.

But that alone is not enough anymore. The contest has evolved. More importantly our expectations have evolved. It is a show. It is a spectacle. Just being athletic is not enough; you have to be an entertainer.

Could you argue that some dunks were better than the winners, that someone got robbed? Sure. Knock yourself out. I’ll even agree that with fans voting for the finals Blake Griffin won this thing a month ago. But that’s all besides the bigger point.

This dunk contest forever changed the game. Don’t accept if you don’t want to be a showman. In-game dunks don’t cut it here, this is an exhibition and the bar has been raised.

In the end, Griffin had the biggest spectacle of the night — Baron Davis lobbing an ally-oop out of a sunroof to Griffin leaping over a Kia while a gospel choir sang R. Kelly. The dunk contest has never seen anything like it.

It moved the needle and now there is no going back.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.