Kevin Durant: ‘I can do a lot more’

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Anyway you slice it, Kevin Durant is doing a lot for the Thunder.

Traditional stats say Durant is averaging 34.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals in 44.3 minutes per game since Russell Westbrook’s injury.

Advanced stats say Durant has 2.2 win shares for a team that has won five playoff games, which means Durant alone has accounted for 44 percent of his team’s wins – the highest mark on a team still playing. Stephen Curry is closest at 32 percent. (Though the incredible Chris Paul accounted for 65 percent of the Clippers’ two wins.)

The eye test says Durant is playing exactly like a superstar should when his team is shorthanded.

Via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“I can do a lot more,” Durant said Sunday. “It’s always things you can do more. I talk to one of my good friends and he said no matter how good you’re playing you always can do more.

“That’s how I look at it. I just got to find ways to help them out and put them in great positions and continue to just be a vocal leader, a positive leader on the bench and every single time down the court and we’ll be fine.”

I can’t help but think of LeBron James. In 2005-06, LeBron became arguably the best player in the NBA. That was the first season he got a first-place MVP vote, at least.

Anyway, beginning with that season, LeBron spent five years in Cleveland as arguably the league’s best player. In those five years, the Cavaliers were more likely to lose before the conference finals than reach them. The point being, carrying a team at this level is hard – really, really hard.

But it’s also an opportunity for Durant.

Durant just had the best season of his career, maybe the best season by anyone other than LeBron since the mid-1990s. But Durant got no MVP support, and LeBron again ran away with the award. As we all know, LeBron – not Durant – is the best basketball player in the world right now.

LeBron took a team that started Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic to the NBA Finals. Two years later, he took a team that started Mo Williams, Delonte West, Ilgauskas and Varejao back to the conference finals.

If Durant can carry the Thunder – a team that still has a better supporting cast than LeBron’s Cavs but plays in a much-tougher Western Conference – to the NBA Finals, the feat could vault Durant into the peripheral of the best-player discussion.

I don’t know whether Durant can do more, but I look forward to watching him try.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.