Dunk contest contestants discuss plans for All-Star Saturday night

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HOUSTON — In advance of the main event of All-Star Saturday night, the participants had some thoughts on the overall aesthetics of the Slam Dunk Contest, and argued over who the actual favorite is to take home the trophy in 2013.

Kenneth Faried, he of the Rising Stars MVP performance on Friday, seemed to be of the opinion earlier in the day that practice wasn’t imperative, and that he would just determine what to do on the fly as the mood struck.

“I don’t know,” Faried said sincerely, when asked what we can expect from him on Saturday. “Maybe a two-hand power dunk, a behind-the-back dunk, turning a 180 or something like that. That’s it.”

Faried took to practicing for the contest on the main floor of the Toyota Center after the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, so perhaps he changed his mind.

James White is the favorite by those who determine such things, largely on the strength of his performances in dunk contests of the past. His athleticism in these events is seemingly unparalleled, with dunks from the free throw line and through the legs in his repertoire (and available on YouTube) for all the world — as well as his opponents — to see.

But White, a veteran dunk contest champion, said we might see something new from him if the conditions are just right.

“It depends, man,” he said, when asked if the fans can expect to see something different. “I mean, honestly I really don’t plan my dunks. I pretty much just go on the fly and however I feel … if I feel real good, I might try something new that pops in my head, so we’ll see.”

Even if White monotonously goes through his usual routine that opens with a dunk from the free throw line, fans who haven’t seen him perform on the biggest stage might be in awe and appreciative of his talents just the same.

“My goal is just to make it to the second round,” White said. “That’s the number one thing, and to get to the finals. And then from there we’ll see what happens. So I’m just going to come out from the beginning and do my normal thing and get to the next round.”

Despite White’s legendary dunks in the past, he disagrees that he’s the favorite going in — no matter what the oddsmakers are saying.

“I don’t think I’m the favorite, man, I’m the old guy,” he said. “Everyone out here besides me is like, 26. I’m the old guy, so I’m not the favorite.”

Gerald Green, he of the cupcake dunk in 2007, would like to beg to differ.

“Really I’m not the favorite,” Green said. “I think [James White] is. I think I’m the underdog, but I’ve been the underdog in every dunk contest I’ve been in.”

Green has had some memorable in-game dunks this season, but the dunk contest is different in that it requires creativity and showmanship to go along with those powerful finishes. He teased the fact that he may have something incredible in store for all of us.

“I’ve got a dunk that can really go down in history,” he said. “If I can complete this dunk this afternoon [in practice], this dunk can be one of the best dunks of all time.”

Of course, that’s as much information as Green was willing to give.

Regarding the use of props which has become so prevalent in the contest in recent years, all of this year’s participants seemed to be not only fine with it, but in favor of their use in the event, for a variety of reasons.

“I am in favor of props,” Green said. “I’m thinking of using this one prop, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it. If I don’t then I probably won’t use a lot of props. I’ll have to go prop-less.”

“It just depends on what you’re doing,” he continued. “I mean, if you’re doing a backflip and dunking, you obviously don’t need a prop. But sometimes, the prop that you bring out may be a crowd pleaser, so it may help you out in your favor.”

Faried echoed those feelings.

“I like the props, because it does show a little bit of ability [in terms of] how creative you were to think up certain things,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just … it helps make your dunk that much better.”

“Let’s say I go down and do a windmill, then somebody gets props involved and does a windmill,” Faried said. “Which one are you going to like more?”

And White was also alright with props being utilized in the dunk contest, never mind the fact that he’s never used one himself.

“You’ve never seen me use props,” he said proudly. “I don’t do props, man.”

“A lot of guys use it because it’s part of the entertainment, but I think it’s taken away from the dunk contest the last couple of years,” White said. “So I’m just going to bring it back to its natural state.”

One thing was certain in speaking with these guys on Friday: They all take the contest very seriously, and each has a vested interest in putting on the best show possible when they take the floor Saturday night.

Russell Westbrook assists Andre Roberson transition dunk with sweet behind-the-back pass (video)

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Russell Westbrook produced a historic triple-double in the Thunder’s win over the 76ers last night, but merely counting his misses — zero — doesn’t do him justice.

Dunk-assisting behind-the-back passes are nice in any context. Considering how quickly Westbrook pushes the ball up the floor, the degree of difficulty here makes this one even more impressive.

Probably fake Cavaliers fan wears burnt LeBron James jersey (video)

AP Photo/Brett Davis
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Update: As pointed out by several, the Cavs didn’t introduce this jersey until after LeBron left. So, this was probably staged by the Nuggets. Still funny (and still searching for more evidence of Cleveland fans reconciling their about-face on LeBron).

 

Cavaliers fans went overboard when they burned LeBron James jerseys in the street when he left for the Heat in 2010.

Many of those same fans instantly forgot the terrible things they said about LeBron once he returned to Cleveland in 2014.

And then there’s this guy…

Ananth Pandian:

I’d like to believe this guy is publicly repenting for going too far in 2010.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: LeBron says Cavs lack toughness, or are they bored?

Associated Press
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The NCAA Tournament gets back underway Thursday, but the NBA ball just keeps rolling along. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) LeBron James says Cavaliers lack toughness. Is there trouble or are they just bored with the regular season?
Here is the unquestioned fact: The Denver Nuggets trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, 126-113. There are a number of factors in this, starting with Denver is playing better than people think — the Nuggets are the fifth best team in the NBA since the All-Star break, outscoring teams by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Jamal Murray is emerging as the ball handling guard of the future for this team, Gary Harris is a sniper, and they have solid veterans such as Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler. But at the heart of it all is Nikola Jokic, who is for real. Watch what he does to LeBron James here.

Yes, Cleveland had to go play at altitude in the middle of a long road trip. Still…

What is going on with the Cavaliers?

Opponents have outscored them by 0.9 points per 100 since the All-Star break, and the Cavs are playing terrible defense (second worst in the NBA since the break). Asked in Denver after the loss what is wrong with the Cavs, LeBron said the team lacked toughness, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said… “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”

“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

LeBron is clearly challenging his team to get serious on both ends and to start getting in playoff mode.

To me, the Cavaliers look bored. As in the real season starts in a couple of weeks with the playoffs, and they feel they can flip the switch then, but right now the regular season feels like a tedious slog. That’s what it looked like in Denver. Before that, I watched the Cavaliers in person against the Lakers Sunday, and LeBron James played well enough all game, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were getting theirs, but the team lacked any urgency, and it showed on defense. The tanking Lakers hung around. Then, LeBron seemed to say “screw this” and for a five-minute span took charge of the game, looking every bit the best player on the planet, the rest of the Cavaliers quickly fell in line, Cleveland took control of the game, and they coasted from there to the win.

That was against the Lakers, the worst team in the NBA since the All-Star break and a team playing youth everywhere. Denver is legit right now, they are playing well, and the Cavs couldn’t just flip the switch on Wednesday. Jokic and Mason Plumlee led the way as the Nuggets scored 70 points in the paint.

It’s still hard to picture any team in the East beating Cleveland. However, they have not spent the regular season building good habits to fall back on when the eventual challenge comes in the playoffs. There’s been a lot of comparisons to the 2000-01 Lakers, a defending championship team that battled injuries and didn’t impress in the regular season, looked bored on defense, then flipped the switch in the playoffs and went 16-1 on the way to the title. Maybe. But teams that flip the switch are the exception, not the rule.

The bored Cavaliers are playing a dangerous game, but will it haunt them before June? Can any team in the East make them pay?

2) The Knicks have no answer for Rudy Gobert, Jazz thump Knicks. Rudy Gobert is a defensive powerhouse of a big man, the best rim protector in the game and a man on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year. That was a problem for the Knicks on Wednesday night. A bigger problem — they couldn’t stop him on offense around the rim. Gobert at 35 points on 13-of-14 shooting, with 11 offensive rebounds. The Knicks went small for stretches (with Kristaps Porzingis, but he isn’t strong enough to handle Gobert), other times Willy Hernangomez tried but could not slow Gobert, and the French big man feasted. Check out Gobert’s shot chart.

Or, just watch what he did to the Knicks.

The Knicks started hot in this game behind vintage Derrick Rose for a quarter, but they can’t sustain that kind of play against a quality team. Utah is a quality team (I think they can beat the Clippers in the first round), and the foundation of that is in the middle.

3) Russell Westbrook notches 35th triple-double with perfect shooting, Thunder attack the rim and get the win. Let us formally acknowledge that Russell Westbrook is very, very good at basketball. He had 18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds, and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field. That would be the first perfect shooting triple-double in NBA history. How’s that for adding to the MVP resume.

As for the game, the Thunder attacked the paint and the Sixers had no answers. OKC won 122–97, scoring 76 points while knocking down just four 3-pointers.

Report: Hawks’ Paul Millsap to opt out, explore free agency

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Before the season, Paul Millsap said he was undecided on opting out.

We’re one step closer to completely dismissing that shaky pretense.

Adam Schefter of ESPN:

There’s no question Millsap can earn more than his $21,472,407 option-year salary. He might even earn the max, which projects to be north of $36 million. The 32-year-old will also have a chance to lock into a long-term contract.

Opting out is an easy call.

The only question is whether anyone will offer a max starting salary and max years.

That’s a risky proposition for a player his age, but for a team ready to win now, the short-term gains might outweigh the long-term risk. (And it’s not really a “risk.” Millsap is extremely likely to be overpaid by the end of a full max deal.) Millsap is an elite defender with an efficient offensive game.

How much would the Hawks pay? They called re-signing Millsap their priority, but they’ve also sent mixed messages about their desire to win now (signing Dwight Howard, keeping Millsap past the trade deadline) vs. rebuilding (trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver).

And it’s not unilaterally up to Atlanta. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent, and if he plans to explore the market, you never know what he’ll find.