Derrick Williams

The Extra Pass: The best dunks of 2013; plus Tuesday’s recaps

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If the end of a year serves as a time for reflection and the remembrance of lessons learned, then let the video below serve as one last reminder for the small guards of the league. If LeBron James is coming at you on a break, move. If DeAndre Jordan is flying down the lane towards you, don’t jump. There’s no shame in getting dunked on — it happens to the best of us — but this is about self-preservation. Taking preventative measures and whatnot.

While 2013 gave us one of the greatest games and moments in NBA history, the dunks weren’t half bad either. Here’s NBA.com’s top-10 slams of the year:

—D.J. Foster

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J.R. Smith after it was leaked the Knicks were waiving his brother Chris.

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Wizards 106, Pistons 99: This was as good of a win for the Wizards as it was a bad loss for the Pistons. Detroit led by as many as 12 points in this one, but fell apart in a fourth quarter dominated by Washington, as evidenced by the 28-12 run they  put together over the game’s final 12 minutes. Former head coach and current ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy has said on multiple occasions that this is “a make or miss league,” and that certainly seemed to be the case late in this one, as the Pistons created open looks but mostly couldn’t get them to fall. Brandon Jennings had an especially rough fourth, going just 1-of-6 in the period with two turnovers. Marcin Gortat came up with a huge block on a dunk attempt from Josh Smith with under a minute play that was key, before a nifty fadeaway jumper by John Wall on the ensuing possession sealed it. — Brett Pollakoff

Pelicans 110, Blazers 108: New Orleans had its skill players outplay those from Portland, and in the end that was the difference. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard played with their usual level of brilliance, but Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis exceeded it on this night for the Pelicans. Davis proved his status as an elite defender on multiple possessions where he locked up Aldridge, and Holiday poured in 31 points to go along with 13 assists. The final minutes of this one were very entertaining, as Lillard and Tyreke Evans traded huge buckets with under a minute to play, with the shot from Evans ultimately deciding the contest. — BP

Mavericks 100, Timberwolves 98: Minnesota battled all the way back from a deficit of 21 p0ints, before Dallas ultimately regained control and held on for the victory. Shawn Marion had a game that not many believed he was still capable of, and finished with 32 points on 14-of-19 shooting, which included going 4-of-6 from three-point distance. Minnesota had the ball trailing by two with three seconds remaining, but Kevin Love’s attempt at the buzzer was ruled to b a clean block by the officials, despite the fact that plenty of contact appeared to take place. — BP

Bulls 95, Grizzlies 91: This was a battle between two teams facing an unfair amount of injury issues at this point of the season, and the Bulls were the ones who got enough out of their healthy performers to make the difference. Jimmy Butler matched Mike Conley with 26 points for game-high honors, and defensively Chicago held Zach Randolph to just 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Also? Chicago’s D.J. Augustin did this. — BP

Jazz 83, Bobcats 80: As fitting a game between two teams a combined 18 games below .500, this one was sloppy. But for the second time in recent weeks the Jazz beat the Bobcats, this time behind 21 points (15 in the second half) from Trey Burke, including the dagger lay-up to give us the final score. Yes, lay-up. Burke got by Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson’s help defense was as good as it has ever been (which is to say nonexistent) and the bucket was key for Utah. — Kurt Helin

Heat 97, Nuggets 94: Denver played well — they came in with a six-game losing streak but played their best game in some times and had a chance. Well, they did until the Nuggets scored just 17 points in fourth quarter. Meanwhile Miami got help from the supporting cast. Sure, LeBron James had 26 points and 10 assists but Ray Allen had 9 points in the fourth quarter Michael Beasley hit a key three as well off a LeBron kickout. It was enough to get the win. — KH

Suns 107, Clippers 88: Phoenix started off the game on an 11-1 run, started to really pull away in the second (led by 21) and by the fourth quarter this whole thing was garbage time. Phoenix simply outplayed the Clippers top to bottom, with Los Angeles only shooting 36.5 percent on the night. Here was the real difference in this game — Phoenix plays hard every night and plays coach Jeff Hornacek’s system; the Clippers are more talented but their commitment to consistent effort and playing the system isn’t there nightly. — KH

Craig Sager and his flashy suits return to All-Star weekend

Craig Sager
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TORONTO (AP) — The All-Star game in New York was a little less colorful last year.

Craig Sager, the TNT sideline reporter known for wearing flashy suits, missed the NBA’s annual midseason gala for the first time since he started doing them in 1988. Another bout with the leukemia he’s been battling for the last few years resurfaced, and Sager was forced to sit out while undergoing more treatments.

Sager considers the All-Star festivities the most important weekend of the season for him, and so it pained him to have to watch on television while receiving his treatments.

“It was hard for me not to be there, but I had to address my health,” Sager said. “To be able to get that in remission and be able to go through this year, it’s going to be extra special for me. I’ve really been looking forward to this a long time.”

That’s right. Sager is back for All-Star weekend in Toronto this year.

He spent the week leading up to it in Houston receiving his monthly treatment, which included a blood transfusion, to make sure he was healthy enough for the trip. Once he arrived in Canada, he was easy to spot.

“I just saw him,” Spurs coach and longtime foil Gregg Popovich said after the Western Conference team practiced on Saturday. “His suit spoke to me. It blinded me for a second.”

It’s been an emotional run for Sager, the longtime fixture at NBA games. He has needed two bone marrow transplants and still has to make those treks to Houston once a month. He has returned to the sideline for games this season and is feeling so well that he was scheduled to do both the Saturday night activities that include the 3-point shootout and the dunk contest as well as the game on Sunday.

“I feel great. Got my weight back. Got my strength back,” Sager said. “I’m back to playing golf.”

Two of his youngest children – daughter Riley and son Ryan – will be with him on the court this weekend serving as a ball boy and ball girl.

And of course, Sager will do a round with Popovich on television during a quarter break on Sunday. The two have turned the sideline interview into a passion play,

“He’s been an iconic figure in the NBA. He does a great job,” Popovich said. “His sense of humor is obvious. we have a lot of fun going back and forth with that. To have him back where he belongs, obviously we’re happy for him and his health. But for the league it’s great too, because he’s a fixture that everybody enjoys.”

Sager called the support he has received from Commissioner Adam Silver, coaches, players and fans “humbling” and said he was looking forward to coming back to his favorite event of the season.

“It’s been very uplifting, very therapeutic,” Sager said. “Very supportive on their part. That really has been very helpful to me, my treatment and my drive to get back.”

Kevin Hart, Draymond Green get in All-Star Saturday three-point shootout

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TORONTO — This is going to come up in the Golden State locker room.

Right before Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry put on a three-point shooting exhibition, actor/comedian/self-promotor Kevin Hart came out and challenged Draymond Green to a shooting contest. Green was ready to go. They did the three-point shooting contest, and Green put up a total of 12 (which would have been dead last in the actual three-point contest, for the record).

Then Hart stepped up — and tied him with 12 points.

Steve Kerr, if you’re ever looking for a lineup to go REALLY small….

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.