Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets

Wednesday night NBA grades: Don’t look now, but Brooklyn is playing with heart

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while getting your dinner out of the burrito vending machine….

source:  Brooklyn Nets. For the first third of the season the Nets were listless, seeming adrift, and continually beset by injuries. Well, the injuries are still there but these Nets are playing with a real fire and winning — four in a row now, capped off by beating Golden State and snapping their 9-game win streak. Joe Johnson has been key to this resurgence and he had 27 against the Warriors, 10 in he fourth quarter. We’ll see how long it lasts but this is more what we expected out of the Nets this season.

source:  James Harden, Houston Rockets. The Beard makes the list not just for the 38 points he dropped on the Lakers, and not just for his 17 points in the third quarter when the Rockets blew this game wide open. He’s also here because he’s the first Rocket player to score 37 or more points in three straight games since Hakeem Olajuwon back in 94-95 (one of the Rockets’ title seasons).

source:  Indiana Pacers’ offense. They shot just 40 percent and put up 87 points against a fairly average Hawks defense, with an offensive rating of 89.7 points per 100 possessions. The problem is this hasn’t been a one-game thing — Indiana has an offensive rating of 92.7 points per 100 possessions in its last five games, which ranks 27th in the NBA in that span. As good as their defense is — and it’s very good — the offense needs to find a better groove in the second half of the season.

source:  LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. In the first half (more than that, really) the Magic single-covered Aldridge to stay home on the Blazers’ shooters, and the result was a 14-point first quarter for Aldridge and 21 points by the break. Still, when Orlando switched strategies — double Aldridge, make outside shooters make their threes. That failed miserably. The Blazers took the lead and Aldridge came in late to seal it. He finished with 36 points.

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: