SPORTS SPECTACULAR & KVBFF PRESENT: KOBE UP CLOSE Hosted By Jimmy Kimmel

Kobe Bryant doesn’t know if he’ll be ready for opening night

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The Achilles injury Kobe Bryant suffered would keep most players out until the middle of next season or longer — at his age that injury is career threatening.

But he has targeted trying to be back for opening night. Thursday night he was center stage at the Nokia Theater across from Staples Center for an event called “Kobe Up Close Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel” which was really a fundraiser for the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation, which is trying to reduce homelessness.

Of course Kimmel asked Kobe about when he’ll be back (Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times was on hand for the event).

“I don’t know if I’ll be ready for opening night. I really don’t know,” Bryant said. “I know I’m really, really ahead of schedule….

“With an Achilles’ injury, it’s just one of those freak situations,” said Bryant, who didn’t want to blame his April season-ending tear on playing too many minutes.

Achilles heal at their own pace, it’s not an injury where more therapy or pushing through the pain really solves everything. There is also a risk of setbacks. Kobe will be back as fast as any human, but when is up in the air.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told ESPN Radio in Los Angeles (as reported by the Times’ Pincus) that when and how well Kobe returns will be the key to the Lakers season.

“Kobe is a big question mark,” said General Manager Mitch Kupchak to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio on Thursday. “We’re very optimistic. He’s getting treatment every day. He’s in the facility right now, but he hasn’t been on a basketball court.”

At his charity event, Kobe said what he hoped for was a reduced role this season.

“That’s the goal,” Bryant said. “We got a little younger and picked up a couple of wing players who I really think will help us tremendously next year — Nick Young and Wesley Johnson. I really look forward to them easing the load.”

Sure. Kobe is just the kind of guy who will take his foot off the gas so the erratic Nick Young can get extra minutes in an important game.

If things go well these Lakers will still be fighting for one of the bottom playoff seeds in the West. Kobe has been offended than an ESPN panel picked them 12th in the West (I think it will be 10th), and he’s going to want to be out there to prove everyone — including Mother Nature — wrong. It’s how he operates.

What kind of player he is when he returns will determine what seed they are fighting for.

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: