Pacers edge Heat in showdown of East’s top teams

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The Pacers and the Heat haven’t been playing anywhere near their best basketball as of late, and whether that’s a product of late-season malaise or simply a combination of fatigue and attrition remains to be seen.

Their matchup on Wednesday was largely more of the same, before the fourth quarter began and the competitive fire began to burn until we got an exciting finish that rivaled those that we witnessed during last year’s playoffs.

It was Indiana that managed to execute enough down the stretch to come away with the 84-83 victory, one whose score reflected just how difficult it was for either team to get what they wanted offensively.

LeBron James poured in 38 of his team’s points, and Dwyane Wade was the only other Miami player to finish in double figures. Greg Oden started the game to try to slow Roy Hibbert, but managed to stay on the court for just over six minutes as the Pacers wisely attacked him from the opening tip.

Roy Hibbert scored at will with Oden on the floor, putting in 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the game’s first 12 minutes. Udonis Haslem started the second half in Oden’s place, and logged an unusual 20-plus minutes in the rotation.

The game was largely indicative of the teams’ lackluster play as of late, until the fourth quarter when things took on a bit of a playoff-level intensity.

Lance Stephenson managed to get himself ejected with a little over five minutes to play after a minor talking incident with Wade, but only because it was his second technical of the game. LeBron received a rare flagrant offensive foul for delivering an elbow to Hibbert on a drive to the basket in the fourth, but that was mainly the referees doing everything possible to keep the peace.

Miami had a chance to win it on the final possession, trailing by one with two seconds remaining. The Heat drew up a brilliant play to get an open look, one that saw the ball inbounded to LeBron before he passed to an open Chris Bosh for the game-winning attempt.

Bosh missed the hurried look from 22 feet out, however, and the Pacers came away with the win.

The final 12 minutes were reminiscent of last year’s epic Conference Finals series between these same teams, but honestly, neither is in a place where it can climb to that level of execution. The Pacers and the Heat both have plenty of issues that need to be sorted out before their playoff rematch; one that is not only likely, but is widely expected.

The Heat and the Pacers will play once more before the regular season is finished — April 11 in Miami, just five days before the regular season is finished. Both teams have lots of work to do before then to prepare for the playoff push, but what this game showed is that when these teams battle, they raise their collective level of performance — primarily, because they understand what’s ultimately at stake.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.