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.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.