Wall, Lillard, George headline new look All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest

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If all of us — red state, blue state, regardless of religion or skin color — could come together and agree on just two things they would be:

1) Kevin Durant’s new puppy is really cute.

2) The NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest needed some life injected into it.

The NBA has heard you on Number 2. The league is trying to do that in two ways this year in New Orleans, when the Sprite Slam Dunk contest takes place on Feb. 15.

First, they brought in some star power. Here are your contestants for this year’s dunk title crown.

Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
John Wall (Washington Wizards)
Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors)
Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)
Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings)

That’s three guys selected to the big game on Sunday night (Wall, Lillard, George) who can all throw it down, as well as last year’s defending champion, Ross.

Then there is a new format that pits the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference.

First, there is the “Freestyle Round” — for 90 seconds all three dunkers for each conference can showcase as many dunks as they want. Whatever dunks they want. At the end of each conference’s 90 seconds, the judges will choose a winner, East or West.

The winning conference gets to decide if its dunkers go first or last in the “Battle Round.”

In that second round a dunker from each conference will have a little head-to-head dunk-off pitting East dunkers vs. West dunkers. For example, it could be Wall against Lillard — they each throw down a dunk, the judges vote for the best dunk and the loser is eliminated. The first team to win three “battles” will have his team crowned the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk champions.

Then you the fans come in — you (and tens of thousands of your closest friends) get to choose the ultimate winner, the “Dunker of the Night” through votes cast via SMS, Twitter, NBA.com and the NBA GameTime app.

Traditionally I’m in the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp, but the dunk contest is broke. It has been very up and down — it’s a lot of fun when a big personality like Nate Robinson or Dwight Howard took over the event, but a lot of years it has been down. (I will add this is an event that is just not as impressive on television as it is in person.)

So why not shake it up? I have no idea if the new format is really going to work or not, but with all these big names we should see some monster throwdowns. I’m actually pumped about the event this year, which is a sign the league has gotten something right.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.