Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

Jeremy Evans wins 2012 Slam Dunk Contest

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Jeremy Evans of the Utah Jazz was a late addition to the 2012 Sprite Slam Dunk contest, only getting in after the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert bowed out due to injury. But he made the most of it, and the best of his three dunks — a leap over a seated Gordon Hayward, who threw two balls into the air for Evans to catch and throw down — was good enough to get the fans’ vote as this year’s champion.

In a year where skits, props, and painfully scripted slam dunks were on the agenda, this one from Evans was both athletic and sincere. He deserved to win it based on this one alone, especially considering some of the other strained attempts at entertainment that took place at the Amway Center on All-Star Saturday night.

Chase Budinger channeled his inner Woody Harrelson for some reason, and imitated (very loosely) the Billy Hoyle charachter from the movie White Men Can’t Jump. He wore a backwards snapback Rockets baseball cap and a white t-shirt, and then threw down a one-handed jam while jumping over … P. Diddy.

Yeah, I don’t know, either.

Budinger also brought out Cedric Ceballos, who won the event 20 years ago by dunking the ball while “blindfolded.” Technically, yes, there was a blindfold on Ced, but no one believes he couldn’t see through it. Same with Budinger, despite him intentionally missing his first blindfolded attempt badly by pretending he couldn’t see. How do we know that he could? Well, his second attempt was flawless — a reverse jam that went off without a hitch.

Derrick Williams rode in on the back of a motorcycle driven by the T’Wolves mascot while “California Love” blared over the sound system, then jumped over the motorcycle as it was parked in the paint for a not-that-exciting finish. Williams did have maybe the second-best, least-gimmicky dunk of the night though, enlisting teammate Ricky Rubio to throw one off the side of the backboard for him to catch and flush.

Paul George had the night’s biggest gimmick — a glow-in-the-dark throwdown, where the lights in the arena were turned out, his uniform and ball glowed (a little), and George did a spinning, 360-degree windmill that might have been the night’s most impressive — minus the schtick of course, and had we been able to see it.

The dunk contest has devolved greatly into an event that even the NBA diehards won’t buy into anymore; the jokes on Twitter ripping it to shreds were about 100 times more entertaining than the contest itself has become. There’s too much forced silliness planned, too many props and gimmicks, and an overall lack of creativity that’s really taken away from what it started out to be — a showcase of the grace and athleticism that basketball’s greatest athletes have to offer.

The only way for the league to save the dunk contest and turn things around is to enlist its biggest stars — yes, we’re looking at you, LeBron — and rule out the scripted nonsense. The dunks we remember as legendary are ones from the likes of Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, and Vince Carter, and none of them involved blindfolds, motorcycles, mascots, or — shout out to Orlando’s Dwight Howard — Superman capes.

We’ll remember this contest as the lowest point that the event has reached in recent years. We’ll also remember it for Evans, though, whose two-ball dunk over Hayward was indeed pretty sweet.

Report: Heat complained to ‘highest levels of the league office’ about favorable calls for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker

Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) is congratulated by Jeremy Lin (7) after making a basket against the Sacramento Kings in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. The Hornets won 127-122 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Heat and Hornets are clearly tiring of each other, six games of testiness culminating with Game 7 today.

One particular battle line being drawn is over Jeremy Lin (6.3) and Kemba Walker (5.5), who lead players in this series in free-throw attempts per game.

Marc Stein:

ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.

Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.

That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.

Watch LaMarcus Aldridge drop 38 on Thunder

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Oklahoma City has more than a few adjustments to make after a brutal defensive effort in Game 1 of their series against San Antonio, but at the top of the list is sticking with LaMarcus Aldridge on defense.

He was killing them from the midrange, and more than half of his looks were uncontested — the Thunder know he can knock down that shot, right?

It was a fantastic performance from Aldridge; we’ll see if he faces tougher defense in Game 2.

NBA: Trail Blazers scored after uncalled illegal screen by Trail Blazers in final minutes

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Should we be preparing for Game 7 of the Trail Blazers-Clippers series today?

If the officials had called the final minutes of the last game correctly, maybe.

Portland won Game 6 to take the series 4-2, but a missed call a key missed call helped clinch.

With 1:45 left, Mason Plumlee got away with offensively fouling Jamal Crawford, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Plumlee (POR) sets the screen on Crawford (LAC) without giving him room to avoid the contact.

A correct call would’ve meant a Trail Blazers turnover. Instead, Damian Lillard ended the possession with two made free throws.

Portland’s advantage when the Clippers began intentionally fouling: two.

Would the Clippers have won if the refs called Plumlee’s offensive foul? Impossible to say. The final 1:45 could’ve played out much differently.

But this missed call, the only error in the Last Two Minute Report, certainly boosted the Trail Blazers’ odds.

Four Things to Watch in two Game 7s Sunday

during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:

1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.

2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.

3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.

4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.