slam dunk wall george ross

John Wall, Paul George lead East to 2014 Slam Dunk Contest title

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NEW ORLEANS — John Wall’s final dunk of the night won the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest for the team representing the Eastern Conference, but the drastic format changes to the event, and not any of its dunks, are what will be remembered most from this year’s All-Star Saturday showcase.

“I think it was cool,” Wall said of the new format. “It was fun. Brought some excitement to it in the first round. And basically the second round you go toe to toe with the guy from the West, and you got to have a great opportunity to beat those guys.”

Judging by the fan responses coming in live over social media channels, he was a member of a very small minority.

The event began with a 90-second freestyle round, where each team took turns throwing down dunks with all three of its respective members on the court at the same time. This resulted in a lot of teamwork, and one of the better dunks of the night — Terrence Ross drove and threw it off the backboard, Wall caught it and passed it off the shot clock, and Paul George finished with a thunderous one-handed flush.

The West struggled in the freestyle round, missing too many attempts overall. But Lillard saved it with an athletic attempt that saw him catch the ball off the bounce, before putting it through his legs in the air and then throwing it down.

After that it was onto the Battle Round, which featured a player from each team going head-to-head in competition. The winer of each round was voted upon by judges Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson and Julius Erving, though there was little drama because there was a decisive victor in every single round. The team to win three rounds would be declared the contest’s winner, and the East was able to sweep it.

The first battle featured Lillard against Ross, and while Lillard’s pass to himself and finish with a one-handed, 360-slam was impressive, Ross brought more creativity with him to his performance — along with a fellow Canadian, rapper Drake, as a prop.

Drake held the ball in an outstretched arm, and Ross ran up, grabbed it and put it through his legs before finishing a one-handed slam.

Neither was amazing, but Ross got the 2-1 nod from the judges.

The second battle matched up Harrison Barnes against George, and this one was really no contest. Barnes put a device of some kind in his pocket before taking a few attempts to complete an extremely modest dunk by Dunk Contest standards.

We saw once it was over that the device somehow was meant to capture Barnes’ motion, and we then were shown an NBA2K video game version of the dunk that he had just finished. The lack of creativity of the actual dunk, along with the forced product placement were an underwhelming combination.

George took advantage, and considering he was one of the more athletic dunkers in the event, his entry appeared effortless by comparison. It took him a few tries, but George completed a between-the-legs, 360-dunk that most felt was the best of the night. All three judges voted for George, so all that was left was for Wall to finish things off.

With the assistance of the Wizards’ mascot G-Man who began holding the ball, Wall leapt over him, taking the ball and bringing it down below his knees before finishing with the two-handed reverse slam. That was far better than a nonsensical routine performed by Ben McLemore before him, who had Shaquille O’Neal sit in an elaborate throne that was placed in the paint before jumping over him for his turn at a slam.

Another easy 3-0 decision for the judges, and the contest was over.

It was a bit anti-climactic, and the format was initially confusing to fans, before most decided along the way that it wasn’t a change for the good. Seeing a team awarded the event’s trophy messes with the iconic history of the signature All-Star Saturday event, too, where we’re used to seeing one dunker crowned as the Slam Dunk champion.

But Wall didn’t seem to mind so much when all was said and done. He was voted as the Dunker of the Night by the fans (even though George’s body of work seemed more deserving), and discussed how he came up with his final, contest-winning attempt.

“Somebody sent me a YouTube link on my Twitter and said 27 dunks that haven’t been done in the NBA dunk contest,” Wall said. “And the first one was that one, and it seemed hard, but for me it came out to be easy.”

Wall then detailed just how meaningful it all was to him personally.

“It’s a humbling experience for me, a great opportunity,” Wall said. “I wouldn’t be here without my coaches, my teammates and my fans in the city of DC supporting me for my first three years. So I did it for all those guys and did it for my mom that’s in the hospital sick right now, so it was a big moment for me.”

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.