Three Stars of the Night: MVP Candidates shine on Christmas

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Christmas Day is a showcase day for the NBA. No NFL. No college bowl games. Just hoops. And as you can imagine any league run by David Stern doing, it put its biggest stars on display on the biggest early season stage. The second opening day, if you will.

The stars on Christmas were the three guys at the front of the MVP race. With apologies to Kobe Bryant, who came in fourth in the stars voting by our committee (of one).

Third Star: LeBron James (29 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists)

He won the MVP last year and voters seem a little weary of voting for him, but you simply cannot have an MVP conversation without the single best player on the planet in the discussion. He almost put up a triple-double, which he seems to almost do a lot of nights. He showed off the full range of skills, from a couple monster dunks to a no-look pass late. If you think the MVP has to be the single best player in the league, you have to vote for him.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists)

He is doing more than just scoring this year, but when he does score the Knicks take leads. Like when Anthony put up 17 points in the third quarter when the Knicks seemed to take control of the game. He had seven in the fourth but the Lakers focused their defense more on him and his teammates could not make Los Angeles pay for that. Anthony deserves to be in the early MVP conversation, but now it falls on him to stay in the talks.

First star: Kevin Durant (33 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assist)

He didn’t have a huge first-half impact because he was mired in foul trouble, but he had 14 in the fourth quarter when you expect your stars to make plays (although he missed a tough three to tie it with LeBron in his face. He did. He has been the most consistent of the big stars this year and I get the feeling voters are going to give it to him because “it’s his turn.” But it’s more than that, he came back to the NBA off the Olympics a better player and he has led the Thunder to the top spot out West.

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

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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

Associated Press
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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.

Devin Booker’s 3-point-contest victory bright spot for Suns (video)

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Los Angeles – Devin Booker‘s Suns have the NBA’s worst record (18-41).

“I think everyone is fed up with the losing, from the top to the bottom of the organization,” Booker said this afternoon. “So, for us, it’s what’s next?”

A 3-point contest victory.

Overcoming Phoenix’s poor record to draw an invite to All-Star Saturday Night, Booker won the 3-point contest with a whopping 29 points in the final round.

That score left little margin for 2016 champion Klay Thompson, who capped the event with a 25-point round that was otherwise the night’s high. Clippers forward Tobias Harris, in his new home arena, finished third.

Booker was all smiles after the rare victory.

“Season not going how we planned, but I know a lot of the city was ready for this All-Star Weekend, having somebody participate,” Booker said. “So, I’m glad I could win it.

Where he and the Suns go from here is still questionable, but he has a plan.

“I’m going to win the dunk contest next year,” Booker said. “No, I’m just kidding.”

Full results

First round

Klay Thompson 19

Devin Booker 19

Tobias Harris 18

Wayne Ellington 17

Bradley Beal 15

Eric Gordon 12

Kyle Lowry 11

Paul George 9

Second round

Devin Booker 29

Klay Thompson 25

Tobias Harris 17