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First guess at who makes Team USA for 2014 World Championships

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The FIBA World Cup – the basketball World Championships coming to Spain next summer — don’t play as big in the United States as the Olympics. It can get overlooked… unless Team USA loses, then newspaper columnists who hadn’t given the thing a sideways glance will pontificate on how this is some kind of disaster.

That said the World Championships do matter. First, it’s at the very least the second most important international basketball tournament in the world (some countries would argue it trumps the Olympics, but it doesn’t play that way here). Second, win event in Spain next summer and you are automatically qualified for the Rio Olympics. Come in second or lower and you need to put together a 2015 Team USA good enough to win the qualification tournament to get into the Olympics. And Mike Krzyzewski would like a summer off.

So who makes our 2014 roster?

We know that Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are both in, and we can guess a number of guys from the USA mini-camp just held in Las Vegas make it.

What follows is my guess, based on past play with past national teams and the recent camp.

But this guess starts with some assumptions: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala and some other elite stars will not play. That could change, but my guess is 2014 is going to be the league’s young stars, with some of those established guys coming back in 2016.

The roster:

Russell Westbrook
Derrick Rose
Kyrie Irving
Stephen Curry
James Harden
Paul George
Kevin Durant
Kawhi Leonard
Kevin Love
Blake Griffin
Anthony Davis
DeMarcus Cousins

If your first thought is “that’s four point guards” you’re right, although I think in international ball I would use Curry as a two guard off the bench who comes in and starts lighting the scoreboard up with shots from three feet behind the arc. At the 2012 Olympics Team USA carried three points and only four bigs, but it’s easier to do that with LeBron and his versatility on the roster (both LeBron and ‘Melo could play the four). I think Kenneth Faried played his way into a bubble spot on this roster if Griffin or someone does not want to go.

I think Durant is going to play some four. I think Leonard takes over as the defensive glue player. Davis showed in the USA scrimmage last week that he’s improved and his shot will be great in the international game. I think Coach K can’t go wrong starting Westbrook or Irving.

The USA Basketball brain trust is going to watch the first half of next season before making any calls — how do Rose and Love come back from injuries, for example? Plus, it is possible guys like Andre Drummond play their way into a spot.

But I think the Team USA Roster will look pretty similar to that next spring.

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: