Players explain dunks they had ready in case they advanced to the final round of the Dunk Contest

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HOUSTON — Only two contestants out of the field of six advanced to the final round of the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday, and Terrence Ross and Jeremy Evans were the ones who earned their way there to get a shot at this year’s title.

That means we had other capable dunkers who had to have some spectacular stunts prepared in case they were the ones battling it out for that championship trophy in the main event of All-Star Saturday night.

It turns out, there were some pretty good ones left on the shelf.

“I had between the legs from the free throw line [ready], and I was going to try to dunk from the top of the key,” James White said, and did so rather nonchalantly given the athleticism that would be required to pull either of those feats off.

White is a YouTube dunk contest legend, and a veteran champion of these types of events in the past. But he simply didn’t have it in this one, and missed over and over again participating for the first time in the NBA’s slam dunk showcase.

“I usually don’t miss dunks,” he said. “Usually that’s the one thing I do, I make the dunks on the first try. But tonight, they weren’t going down.”

White was clearly having trouble holding onto the ball, and said he tried switching but still couldn’t get enough of a handle to be able to do what he’s become famous for.

“I couldn’t grip the ball at all, man,” he said. “Both basketballs. I tried to switch balls the second dunk, and that basketball didn’t even bounce. So when I was coming out for my approach to go dunk, the ball was going everywhere.”

Kenneth Faried got some good ones to go down, but he too struggled and missed all of his tries during one of his official attempts. His plans for final-round dunks were even more intriguing.

“I was going to go under both legs,” Faried said. “If I made it, I was just going to do basically double under the legs. Then, I was going to jump over the panel of judges.”

Now that would have been impressive. But what was the plan exactly, logistically speaking?

“It was going to be more of them sitting down over the Sprite thing,” he said. “I was going to jump over them, sit down, and drink a Sprite.”

As an added bonus, that one might have gotten him a nice opportunity for a personal sponsorship.

“No, not really that,” Faried said. “I wanted to do it because it was called the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.”

Gerald Green also struggled to complete a dunk attempt, but the one he was trying was by far the most adventurous of the bunch. He opened things up by cutting down the net, before trying multiple times to throw it down with one hand, then catch the ball as it came through the hoop with the other hand and dunk it again while still in midair.

He actually did pull it off, but after his time allotment had run out and all of his official attempts had been exhausted.

While Green did not ultimately advance, his plan for what he had ready was among the most inventive.

“I was going to do a dunk where I involved Paul George and Lance Stephenson,” Green said. “It was going to be something like the halftime show, but without the trampoline.”

I needed some clarification.

“It was going to be to where, Lance was going to throw Paul an alley-oop off the glass, Paul was going to catch it, jump pretty high and throw it, and then I come out of nowhere and put it between my legs [before dunking].”

Ah, now it made sense.

Green was asked why he kept trying a dunk with such a high degree of difficulty with his time running out, and after already missing it so many times. He had no regrets with the way he chose to play things out.

“I wanted to try something that was really hard,” Green said. “That’s always been me. Even with the dunk my second year when it was in New Orleans, when I dunked without my shoes on, I didn’t really get a good score. But dunking with no shoes on is very difficult, so I wanted to try something that was just as difficult. That’s how I grew up watching dunk contests.”

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.

Kristaps Porzingis officially day-to-day, questionable vs. OKC

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Knicks fans can exhale now.

There was understandable concern after face of the franchise Kritaps Porzingis had to leave the game in Brooklyn Thursday night following a non-contact injury.

Turns out there is nothing to worry about. After the game, Porzingis spoke to the media and was standing on the leg, a good sign. By Friday, after a day of treatment, he was doing well. Officially Porzingis is day-to-day and may sit out Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden Saturday, but the injury is nothing serious. Ian Begley of ESPN has the details.

Porzingis’ knee was “worked on” on Friday and the discomfort in his knee decreased, league sources told ESPN. It is unclear if Porzingis underwent an MRI or had X-rays to further determine the extent of the injury but sources say he did not undergo significant testing because it wasn’t warranted based on the state of the injury.

Good. We don’t need another star down with a major injury this season.

Especially Porzingis, who has led the Knicks to a 15-13 record (sixth in the East, in the playoffs) while putting up All-Star numbers: 25.5 points per game, shooting 39.5 percent from three, plus grabbing 6.6 rebounds a game. Maybe more impressive is how he has anchored a solid Knicks defense this season with his rim protection. Stay healthy and he should make his first All-Star team this season.