Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

Lakers coach Brown says Howard is going to bail him out on defense, basically

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The Lakers were a pretty pedestrian defensive team last year, despite coach Mike Brown’s pedigree. They were 13th in the league in points surrendered per possession, giving up 101.7 points per 100 possessions (the league average was 101.8).

And they struggled against the pick-and-roll, particularly against the roll man who shot 49 percent against the Lakers on that play last year (according to MySynergySports.com). It is an area they need to improve if they want to get Kobe Bryant another ring.

Enter Dwight Howard.

The Lakers new center can score plenty, but what he does better than any Laker big on last year’s roster is defend — he is the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Mike Brown is going to look a lot smarter next year, and he knows it. Here is what he told ESPN about Howard.

“You’re talking about a guy who is seven feet, who has the feet that he has, it’s unbelievable. His foot quickness is something, to me, that stands out right away, more than anything else. It helps him run in transition offensive transition, and get easy baskets.

“But more importantly, in a pick-and-roll situation defensively he’s going to help guys like Steve Nash, and Kobe and Metta (World Peace) and whoever else we have on the perimeter defend the pick and roll game, because that is the way the league is going. Teams are playing smaller, quicker, faster, they are spreading the floor, they are playing the pick and roll game, and to have a guy like Dwight involved in that or on the weakside coming over to help is something special.”

It will be interesting to watch the USA evolve as a defensive team, it’s going to take time. With Dwight Howard’s back keeping him limited in preseason and possibly missing the start of the season, the chemistry it takes time to develop on the defensive end will be slow for the Lakers. It will be the same on both ends.

What it means is, much like the Heat of 2011, the team playing in April and beyond will very different than the team from November. At least the Lakers are counting on that. Like Brown is counting on Howard.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect. Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates:

Splash Brothers showtime: Klay Thompson beats Stephen Curry to win Three-Point Contest

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TORONTO — It came down to the Splash Brothers. Because of course it did. Just like last season.

In the final round of the NBA All-Star Saturday Three-Point Shootout, defending champ Stephen Curry hit his first eight shots and set the bar high with 23 points — the best score of the night.

His backcourt teammate Klay Thompson responded by draining his last seven shots, which included the entire money rack, and put up 27 points — tying the event record.

That gave Thompson the upset win and the Three-Point Contest title.

Although, is it an upset if the second best shooter in the game beats the best?

“It was like déjà vu last year,” Thompson said. “Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight, and I didn’t think he was going to miss. But it was exciting, just coming back to Oakland [with the title], you know. Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool.”

So does Thompson have bragging rights?

“(For) about 364 days, and then — but that’s a daily thing we do,” Thompson said. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”

The Final round was two you expected — the Splash Brothers — plus one few did, Suns rookie Devin Booker.

Getting there was not simple. In the first round, Thompson set a high bar going first and putting up 22. Curry got hot in the middle, then hit the last two money balls to reach 21. James Harden and J.J. Redick ( who stayed behind the line this year) scored very solid 20s. Later 19-year-old rookie Booker put up a 20 to tie those two veterans. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (13 points) Portland’s C.J. McCollum (14) and home-town crowd favorite Raptor Kyle Lowry (15) got bounced. .

That left Harden, Redick, and McCollum in a tiebreaker, and the rookie calmly put up a 12 in 30 seconds to advance.

Booker took a step back in the final round with a 16.

Not that it mattered with the Splash Brothers in the building.