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The Extra Pass: Handicapping the All-Star Saturday events

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A week from now the eyes of the basketball world will be on New Orleans for the NBA’s Damian Lillardapalooza. … er, I mean the NBA’s All-Star weekend.

While Sunday’s All-Star Game is the big show, I’ve always found Saturday night’s series of skill contests more fun than the no-D exhibition that is the All-Star Game itself. So, in the spirit of gambling (I guess), let’s take a stab at handicapping the three big events of All-Star Saturday night.

SLAM DUNK CONTEST

All predictions here must come with this caveat — they have changed the format this season to start with a freestyle round where everyone is dunking, then a series of head-to-head dunk “battles” to decide if the East or West wins. I have no idea how this will change the feel of the event and how the format will effect who wins it. That said, I’ll make a prediction anyway on who wins the “Dunker of the Night” as voted by the fans.

Favorite: Paul George, Indiana Pacers. There are three factors in his favor. First and foremost, the fans vote on the award and George is a popular budding superstar. This is a popularity contest to a degree. Second, he has done this before. George has been in the dunk contest and that matters because there is a distinct difference between an in-game dunk and an exhibition dunk and having done this before he should get it. Third, and most importantly, he can really throw it down.

Others at the front of the pack: Terrence Ross and John Wall. Ross won the Dunk Contest last year and did it without props — he knows how to win and we know he can throw down. Wall has the perfect combination of athleticism and showmanship to win the Dunk Contest, plus he is a name known by fans.

Dark Horse: Ben McLemore of the Kings. He was supposed to be the best shooter in the last draft but he has real hops and has shown some impressive dunks this year.

SKILLS CHALLENGE

Favorite: This is the hardest event to predict, but I’ll take Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns — he’s quick, he’s precise, and he grew up in a European system where they practiced the fundamentals more than most AAU coaches do stateside. Besides, the Suns deserve some recognition.

Others at the front of the pack: Watch out for the two rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke. This is the kind of event that traditionally goes to skilled guys who are quick with the ball, your Tony Parkers of the world, and these two guys are both quick and skilled.

Dark Horse: Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks… okay, I’m not sure he has a real shot at this, but I just want the Greek Freak to win.

THREE POINT CONTEST

Favorite: It’s got to be Stephen Curry. There are guys who have higher in-game shooting percentages but this is a contest about finding a groove and hitting big shots under pressure and nobody in the game right now does that better than Curry.

Others at the front of the pack: Really any of the guys in this group could get in a rhythm and win, but keep an eye on Marco Belinelli — he is knocking down 44.3 percent of his looks from beyond the arc this season, the highest percentage of anyone in the competition. Also don’t sleep on Kevin Love, who won this same competition two years ago and we know he can find a rhythm and win.

Dark Horse: I would say Kyle Korver, but somehow he isn’t there participating. I would say Klay Thompson, but somehow he isn’t there participating. You sense a theme here?

SATURDAY NIGHT’S BIGGEST WINNER

Kendrick Lamar.

He’s performing before the Slam Dunk Contest and he’s the only thing I know I’ll love all night.

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Nets 103, Spurs 89: The Spurs were without their big four (no Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard) yet they led in the first half by as many as 12 because they are the Spurs and they run their system. But eventually talent wins out in the NBA and Brooklyn just had more of it — although Alan Anderson may not be the first name you think of in Brooklyn he had the hot hand and had 22 points on the night as the Nets pulled away in the second half for the win.

Warriors 102, Bulls 87: Out of the gate Golden State just was not ready for the hard charging, aggressive style of Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls — they only know how to play one way. But again, as in the Nets game, at some point talent wins out and Golden State has guys who can create on offense that the Bulls just do not — Stephen Curry had 36 points on the night as the Warriors came back to get the win. But it was closer and harder fought than the score indicates (the Warriors closed on an 11-2 run).

Kevin Love says there will always be stories about his fit with Cavs, he doesn’t care

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love gets photographed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
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If anyone in the NBA should have a thick skin when it comes to talk of player conflicts and trade rumors, it should be Kevin Love. Those stories have been like a cartoon cloud following his every step since he landed in Cleveland.

And he doesn’t give a… you know.

The Cavaliers just won a title with Love playing a key role, and yet the cloud still follows him. Love was asked about the stories of his fit with his team after practice Friday (video below, if you’re easily offended by language don’t hit play).

“I love this team. There will always be stories. I don’t think they’ll ever leave. Frankly, I don’t really give a s—.”

It’s amazing what winning can do. If the Cavaliers had not come back from 3-1 down in the Finals, the consensus around the league was that Cleveland would have made significant roster changes last summer and Love likely would have been the big name out the door. In some parallel universe that happened.

But not in this one — Love has a ring. And he’s still a Cavalier. And he doesn’t care what his critics think of that.

Chris Bosh: “I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done.”

WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 14:  NBA player Chris Bosh attends the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2016 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 14, 2016 in Westwood, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Pat Riley has said he is not working to bring Chris Bosh back to the Miami Heat roster. After blood work with a preseason physical showed signs of the blood clotting issues that ended Bosh’s last two seasons early, the Heat will not clear him to play.

Bosh wants and intends to play.

His latest video at The Uninterrupted shows Bosh getting the news of what Riley said (at media day) and his reaction to it.

“Got the news. I was in disbelief for a couple seconds, then I threw my phone down and I stormed out the room… But I’m glad I didn’t break my phone. I wanted to break it, but I didn’t….

“I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done. I did not expect that at all…. That does not mean my NBA career is over. There are 29 other teams, it’s a whole league. One team does not make up the opinion of everything.”

Bosh also fired a couple shots at Riley and Heat management.

“I didn’t see my career in Miami ending like this. I didn’t get a call or a test or anything like that…

“I want to tell everyone in Miami this is not how I planned it to be. They don’t want to hear Dwyane (Wade) is gone. They don’t want to hear, ‘oh yea, Chris is never going to play for the Miami Heat again.’ People don’t want to hear that. I just feel for the fans. I wanted to give them more, I wanted to give them something better. Because they deserve better than what they’re getting right now.”

The next question is where the Bosh saga goes from here — there are no easy answers.

The Heat will look to trade Bosh, but that is a longshot. What other team is so desperate as to give up quality assets so they can take on the three-years, $75.8 million remaining on a contract of a player who may never be cleared by the league to play, and if he does play may not be able to finish seasons? Would the NBA even approve a trade if its doctors think some team is ignoring serious medical issues just to land an All-Star level player?

Can the two sides reach a buyout? Only if Bosh agrees to a ridiculously small share of the $75 million he is owed, because that money would still be on the Heat’s books. Miami would love to be able to waive Bosh then in February apply to have his salary wiped off its books. The problem there for the Heat is that if Bosh does come back and plays 25 or more games for any other team over the course of his career, that entire $75 million goes right back on the Heat books and kills their cap space.

Expect the NBA and players union to be part of whatever negotiations may take place here.

About the only things we know for sure is Bosh wants to play again, and that will not happen in Miami. That bridge has been burned.

Ben Simmons rolls ankle in practice, likely out for preseason opener next Tuesday

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons poses for a photographer during media day at the NBA basketball team's practice facility, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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If you’ve been impatiently waiting to see No. 1 pick Ben Simmons in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform, you likely will have to wait a little longer.

Simmons rolled his ankle at practice Friday, reports Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com. While not considered serious, the Sixers took Simmons in to have an MRI and get a better look at what happened. They also may rest him next week when the Sixers first take the court, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Cautious is the right move by the Sixers here. Ankles, once sprained and the ligaments are stretched out, are easy to re-injure if not fully healed. The last thing the Sixers want is for this to be a running issue Simmons’ rookie season.

Sorry fans, but maybe you at least get to see Joel Embiid.

Watch the 50 best long-distance shots of last season (video)

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There’s something majestic about the ball floating through the air on a long shot headed toward the rim, especially when it splashes through the net.

Enjoy the top 50 of those baskets from last season.