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.

Report: Manute Bol’s birthday was made up, may have played in NBA at age 50

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Former NBA center Manute Bol was a sight to behold when he came to the United States for college. At 7-foot-7 and just 200 pounds, his slight frame was always shocking to the eye.

Bol passed away in 2010, but stories about the Sudanese big man have been top of mind lately as his son, Bol Bol, recently committed to play basketball at the University of Oregon.

A recent story has surfaced about the elder Bol and the purported age at which he entered the NBA and played.

According to former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey, he was the one who decided Bol’s birthday was October 16, 1962. This was apparently because it wasn’t clear just how old Bol was at the time.

Via Zagsblog:

“I gave him his birthday because they didn’t know how old he was,” Mackey, now a scout with the Indiana Pacers, told ZAGSBLOG.

But Mackey says Bol was probably much older and could have been in his 40s or even 50s when he played in the NBA. According to Wikipedia, Manute played in the NBA from his early 20s until his early 30s for various teams, including the Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers.

“The immigration people were in the office [at Cleveland State] and they thought it was great. They loved it. And they were big fans of Cleveland State, they used to come to all our games. They wanted to cover themselves because Manute was starting to get so much publicity. His picture was in the paper. He was on the 6 o’clock news because he was a such a different looking guy than everyone else. At that time, no one had ever seen anything like it.”
So at that point, Mackey worked with the local immigration office to come up with a birthday for Bol, Oct. 16, 1962
“It was in October, I wanted to make it after Sept. 1,” Mackey said. “I wanted to make sure he was young enough because he didn’t have an age. I think he was [in his 40s], I really do. But there’s no way of ever really knowing.”

Bol didn’t end up playing at Cleveland State, reportedly because his English was not good enough. He wound up playing at the University of Bridgeport before getting drafted by the Washington Bullets with the 31st pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.

Mackey is now a scout with the Indiana Pacers, and he is so far the only person telling this story. If it is true, it would have been an incredible feat for Bol to play in the NBA into his 40s.

Patrick Beverley after Clippers’ 9th-straight loss: “This ain’t how I roll”

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The Los Angeles Clippers are bad. The team has lost nine straight games since beating the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 1.

LA has looked discombobulated, and even their stars have struggled. Over the past 10 games, for example, Blake Griffin is shooting an unthinkable 38.2 percent from the field. Griffin’s shooting percentage now sits 10 points below his career average.

So too have guys like DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers struggled, either in scoring the basketball or in effecting resistance on the defensive end. The Clippers are ranked just 21st on defense according to Basketball Reference, a dip from 12th the year before.

Oh, and Danilo Gallinari is hurt, but you probably already saw that coming.

Meanwhile, Chris Paul‘s replacement at PG is Patrick Beverley, an equally tenacious defender and motivator of playoff squads. After Monday’s loss to the New York Knicks, Beverley spoke to reporters about the team needing to play harder and mature faster.

Via the LA Times:

“This … feels like 100 losses,” Beverley said. “Straight up. This … is weak. This ain’t how I roll. That ain’t OK and I won’t allow it to be OK as long as I’m here. That’s a fact.”

“We just got to play harder. That’s it. We just got to play harder. You get rid of the mistakes by playing hard. We’re not playing hard; the first unit, not the whole team. I challenged the first unit to play harder.”

“We too cool. We too cool. We come in this game, we come on the court like people are supposed to back down because of the name on the back of our jerseys and that’s not the case. The only thing people are looking at is the name on the front of our jersey, and that’s nine losses in a row.”

Beverley is an intense dude, but the Clippers issues are systemic and aren’t likely to right themselves. Remember, this is a Western Conference where the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, and Memphis Grizzlies have all had injuries. Portland has floundered out of the gate. If there was a time to strike, it would be now for LA.

Instead, the Clippers are one of the teams that are struggling along with the rest of the aforementioned teams. I’m not sure what Beverley will be able to do about that.

Steven Adams says Thunder late-game struggles on him, not Westbrook/George/Anthony

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In the first half of games this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. In those first 24 minutes, the Thunder are outscoring teams by 12.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA (Houston is first).

However, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder defense is 18.1 points per 100 possessions worse. Their offense stagnates late in games with a lot of “you take a turn and then it’s my turn” isolation between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.

The Thunder have nine losses this season, and OKC lost double-digit leads in six of those. Monday night it was a 19-point lead against New Orleans where the Pelicans — without DeMarcus Cousins — came back to win 114-107.

There’s a lot of blame and finger-pointing going on in Oklahoma City, but Steven Adams said less of that should be at the three stars and more of it should be at him. Via Royce Young at ESPN:

“Mainly me, to be honest (should be blamed). Because the play itself you have to execute it properly and it has to be legit down to the t. I screwed up my feet on a couple of them in terms of spacing. … Everyone plays a part in the plight so you can say yeah the shot doesn’t go in which sucks. But to get them that shot I didn’t help them.”

Adams can take on a little of the blame, but this is a team thing right now — everyone has earned some blame. Billy Donovan as coach, role players like Andre Roberson or Patrick Patterson who have not lived up to expectations this season, and yes Westbrook/George/Anthony have earned some blame, too. It’s a little bit of everything.

There’s also time for the Thunder to figure it out, but they are on the clock as this is a one-year experiment in Oklahoma City (no way they pay the whopping tax coming next season to keep all three stars and Adams, no matter what ownership says publicly).

C.J. McCollum: I told Evan Fournier during altercation ‘ you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat’

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C.J. McCollum blew kisses at Evan Fournier when they got into a confrontation during the Trail Blazers’ win over the Magic last week:

But apparently the incident was even better than that!

McCollum on The Flagrant Two podcast, as transcribed by Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com:

“I just felt like he disrespected me by putting his hands on me,” McCollum said. “Obviously, I’m not trying to get any fines or anything of that nature and I told him he was sweet. He’s French, and I said that, ‘you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat.’ “

Did McCollum actually say that in the moment, or did he come up with the line after the fact? I want the former to be true, so I choose to believe it.