Raptors Heat Basketball

Bigger, stronger Jonas Valanciunas pushes Heat around in Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — Not a lot of people noticed, but at Jonas Valanciunas had a nice rookie season up in Toronto: 8.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, he shot 48 percent in post up spots and 62 percent as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. He had a PER of 15.6. All of those solid numbers for a skinny 20-year-old adjusting to the NBA game.

Except he’s not that skinny anymore, and he’s adjusting pretty well. He showed that to the Miami Heat in his Summer League debut Saturday night.

Valanciunas bullied the Heat inside to the tune of 23 points on 10 shots, and had 7 rebounds (3 offensive) in the Raptors’ loss to the Heat 81-72.

Through a couple days of Summer League, Valanciunas may have had the best performance of a player that will translate well to the NBA game. He wasn’t just a shooter with a hot hand, he was an improved player showing his physical dominance.

Valanciunas just looks filled out and stronger than he did last season, broader across the shoulders. Miami’s Summer League team, much like it’s regular season team, plays small, and they had 6,9” Jarvis Varnado at center. Valanciunas is 7’0” and is listed at 240, but that weight seems dated. Valanciunas was the big guy on the block and he punished the Heat for that lack of size.

Valanciunas used his bulk to get position deep on the block. He did a good job of cutting to the basket when defenders rotated and that led to a couple big dunks — Valanciunas was drawing ohhs and ahhs from the crowd through much of the first half.

Put simply, Valanciunas was the best player on the floor.

It’s Summer League, so all good performances need to be kept in context. But Raptors fans should be excited — Summer League is about growth and development and Valanciunas showed a lot of that. He looked good. He looked like a center who could make a leap next year.

It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of team Masai Ujiri builds in Toronto, he’s just starting to move the chess pieces around the board. Now it looks like he’s got a real center to lock down the middle of the paint, one who is mobile and just coming into his own. And that makes the Raptors a lot more interesting and dangerous going forward.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: