2013 Slam Dunk Contest: Jeremy Evans will defend title against Green, Bledsoe, Ross, Faried, and James White

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Utah’s Jeremy Evans — the human pogo stick — will be back to defend his All-Star weekend Sprite Dunk Contest title.

But a repeat will not be easy because the NBA has lined up some high flyers to step up to challenge him — Gerald Green of the Pacers, James White of the Knicks, Eric Bledsoe of the Clippers, Terrence Ross of the Raptors, and Kenneth Faried of the Nuggets. It all takes place All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 16 — and on paper this should be fun.

A lot of casual fans will look at the lineup and shrug. Who are these guys? The six participants lack the star power the league would love — LeBron James has said no, and Blake Griffin is not going to try and top himself — but if you follow the game you know these guys may be the best choices for this event. Guys like White and Green are dunk contest legends in other venues.

Then there is Evans, the little used Jazz forward (he’s stuck behind a good and deep front line) but is tall and skinny and jumps out of the building. He won it all last year with this dunk.

He’s going to have to top himself this year because there are some smaller guys who can get up — and little guys dunking usually beats big guys dunking.

That starts with Indiana’s Gerald Green, the 6’8″ forward who was built for this competition. He may have the best hops in the NBA — he can get his entire head over the rim. He has put together a collection of monster dunks in the past year or so, here is a personal favorite.

James “Flight” White is another guy where fans watching at home on TNT may say “who?” but who people who follow the game go “oh yes, nice choice.” White has bounced around the NBA and Europe since 2006 and he’s still getting paid because he is a freak athlete. And freak athletes can dunk the rock. White won a D-League dunk contest, he won one when he played in Russia, and he’s a plague all over YouTube with dunks. Here White is winning a dunk contest in Europe last season.

Finally there is Eric Bledsoe, who can get overlooked in the Lob City show with the Clippers but who can get up and throw down with the best of the guards in the league. Everybody likes his dunks… well, except Mark Cuban in this clip. And really, Cuban’s reaction is the reason to watch this.

Ross and Faried can each bring it, as well. This might be one of the more exciting dunk contests in recent years.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.

LeBron James: Reporter warned me about question on Gregg Popovich’s wife before live TV interview

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In her on-court interview with LeBron James following the Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over the Pacers last night, TNT sideline reporter Allie LaForce asked him about the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife.

LeBron appeared emotional as he gathered his thoughts.

That prompted some to criticize LaForce for ambushing LeBron on a sensitive subject on live TV. But that’s not what happened.

Uninterrupted:

LeBron:

I’m not on social media right now, but I was made aware through some friends through texts that a question was asked to me postgame, and a lot of people feel I was blindsided. That is absolutely false. Allie LaForce told me that she was going to ask the question and if it was OK.

And once I started talking about it, once we were on air, actually my emotions kind of took over. And that was just my emotions coming straight from my heart about the late Erin Popovich.

It’s unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss. My thoughts, my prayers, once again goes out to the Popovich family, to Gregg, to the Spurs family, to the whole Spurs fan base.

And also guys, please get off Allie LaForce’ back, because she followed the proper protocol and she warned me. So, get off her back, man. She’s very professional, and she does a great job at her work.

Like I said, thoughts and prayers to the heavens above. We all know the man above never makes mistakes, even when we question it. But it’s a sad, tragic time right now for the NBA family, and we’re all praying and hoping for the best.

It would have been surprising if LaForce hadn’t done that. Somewhere between nearly nobody and absolutely nobody in her position is trying to embarrass players.

PBT Extra: If Portland is going to turn series around it starts with Damian Lillard

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This was the year the Trail Blazers were going to break through. They were defending better as a team. There was some depth on offense. And Damian Lillard was playing at a level that will get him on many voters’ MVP ballots.

Instead, they are down 0-2 to Anthony Davis and New Orleans, having dropped both games at home to open the series. Portland is on the verge of being bounced in the first round for the third time in four years.

If Portland is going to turn this series around, it starts with Lillard, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. C.J. McCollum needs to get more buckets, Jusuf Nurkic needs to contribute more on both ends, but for Portland it all begins and ends with Lillard and it’s on him to start the turnaround.

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith
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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.