Dunk Contest gives Evans, others chance to make name for themselves

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There is no Blake Griffin. No Dwight Howard. Not even a Nate Robinson.

The NBA’s All-Star Saturday Night Dunk Contest is a showcase event this year filled with a bunch of names that had casual fans saying, “who is that?”

But for Jeremy Evans, it’s a chance.

Evans is a human pogo stick — the first chance I really got to see the Jazz’s second-year player was at the Impact Series in Las Vegas last summer and his athleticism had everyone on media row scrambling to find out more about the guy. He was impressive. His dunks and leaping ability have made him a favorite among due-hard Jazz fans.

But he’s lost in the Utah Jazz’s system, a structured team that may not fit his skill set. He’s played in just 16 games for the Jazz and averaged 5.6 minutes in those and scored 1.7 points. He’s not exactly a household name. Even in Utah.

Evans contract is up at the end of this season (the Jazz could offer a $1 million qualifying offer so they could match any other team’s offer). Evans needs to get other teams to notice him if he is going to last in the NBA, and the Dunk Contest is a chance to do that, he said.

“This is getting my name out there,” Evans said. “Not only are the fans watching, but coaches, everybody’s watching.”

It’s sort of the same for the other contestants, although Evans is the most extreme example.

Derrick Williams is was the No. 2 overall pick in the last draft out of Arizona, but he is far from the most celebrated rookie on his own team (Ricky Rubio gets that honor).

Chase Budinger is one of the better jumpers in the league and he is playing about 20 minutes a night for the Rockets, but he and his 8 points per game get lost in the Rockets system. The Rockets can (and likely will) pick up his $850,000 option for next season, but then he is a free agent who needs to get noticed.

Paul George is in his second year and is trying to break out as an emerging star on a good Pacers team and is averaging 12.1 points per game.

So while fans are watching the introductions tonight saying, “who?” the players will be seeing their chance to make a name for themselves, catch the eye or a GM or team and maybe give themselves a little security in the coming years in the NBA.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.