Winderman: Is a Back to the Future 2006 Heat vs. Mavs finals ahead?

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With the Mavericks playing from a position of strength against the Lakers and the Heat in early control against the Celtics, in many ways it’s as if it’s 2006 all over again.

While a Heat-Mavericks NBA Finals this time would have the Heat as the home team (because of what previously seemed like an innocuous 35-point performance by Eddie House on the final night of the regular season in Toronto, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade looked on from the bench), the question on South Beach is whether this would represent something closer to a genuine champion.

For those who forget, the Heat won the 2006 title coming off a relatively benign 52-30 regular season.

It was a championship achieved with the likes of Antoine Walker starting at small forward, Jason Williams at point guard, Michael Doleac as the backup center most of the season and Gary Payton on his last cussin’ legs.

Yet when viewed beyond the Big Three, as has been well chronicled these past six months, this Heat team is full of the type of warts that leave James Jones as the most reliable wing, Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby as the middling point guard rotation, and Joel Anthony as the valued sixth man, despite the reality that he can neither catch the ball or put it through the large orange circle.

The Mavericks we know are better because, thanks to the presence of Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion, they actually play defense this time around, no longer left to the whims of enigmatic Josh Howard.

But 2011 Heat vs. 2006 Heat?

Yes, the presence of LeBron ends most debates. Chris Bosh can do more than Dirk-stopping Udonis Haslem did in 2006, at least as a two-way presence. And in many ways, Wade is a more mature presence these days, less likely to gamble for the homerun play on defense.

But the 2006 Heat did eventually close with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning in the middle, which certainly trumps (several times over) the current trifecta of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire.

And there was a legitimate perimeter stopper off the bench in James Posey. With James and Wade finding no relief in that aspect this season, left to deal with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on their own.

The reality is that if the Heat win another championship, it again will be with a flawed roster.

A champion, nonetheless. But hardly a complete champion.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.