Dennis Smith Jr.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Report: Suns, Mavericks, Pacers may go after Aaron Gordon this summer

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Aaron Gordon is having the best season of his career in Orlando. He’s not just a dunk contest phenom anymore, he has had the Orlando offense flowing through him (an offense that is top 10 in the league the last 15 games), he is averaging 18.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, is shooting 34.6 percent from three (where he is taking 36 percent of his shot attempts), he’s still a strong finisher at the rim shooting 70 percent there this season, and while he’s a four he can guard threes fairly well on the perimeter or handle a small-ball five in the post. He has value.

How much value is what the market will determine this summer — Gordon is a restricted free agent.

He is eligible for a four-year, $100 million contract. Orlando would like to keep him but at less than that amount, however other teams — the Suns, Mavericks, and maybe Pacers — could make a run at him, reports Sean Deveney of The Sporting News.

League sources told Sporting News this week that the Suns are expected to be suitors for Gordon, who starred at Arizona for one memorable season. Phoenix has ample cap room and a roster in need of more proven players. Another team with interest in Gordon, according to sources, would be the rebuilding Mavericks, who have been eager to find a budding star to fill in alongside Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr., softening the blow of Dirk Nowitzki’s retirement, which could come in just months.

The Pacers intend to investigate restricted free agents, too, hoping to add young talent to an improving roster. Still, if any team makes a formal offer, the Magic can match it.

That the Suns are going after him says all you need to know about where they think the ceilings are for Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. The Suns will have a top draft pick again, and they are deep at the four right now, but Gordon is better than anyone not named Devin Booker on that roster and Phoenix needs talent.

There’s not a ton of available talent at the top of this free agent class. LeBron James is out there, but only a few teams have a shot at him — if he leaves Cleveland at all. If Paul George leaves Oklahoma City it’s only for Los Angeles. Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, and most likely DeMarcus Cousins are not going anywhere. The big name a lot of teams could chase is DeAndre Jordan, he is open, but also is an old-school center that does not work for every team.

Expect some teams to try to poach restricted free agents such as Gordon this summer (Clint Capela, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker are all big man restricted free agents). Gordon will have options, the only question is the price, and will Orlando match? The buzz around the league is they will, but things can be different when it’s time to sign the check.

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.”

LeBron on Laura Ingraham: ‘It lets me know everything I’ve been saying is correct’

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LOS ANGELES — Well, now LeBron James knows who Laura Ingraham is.

He said Saturday he did not know who the Fox News host was before this week — he still had to ask for her name — and said his concerns are much bigger than her telling him to ‘shut up and dribble’ in an offensive (and I would say racist) rant on her show.

“To be an African-American kid and grow up in the inner city with a single-parent mother, not being financially stable, and to make it where I’ve made it today, I think I’ve defeated the odds,” LeBron said Saturday. “I want every kid to know that. I want the youth to know they can do it as well.

“I will not just shut up and dribble because I mean too much to my two boys here, their best friend, my daughter who is at home, my wife, my family, and all these other kids who look up to me for inspiration and trying to find a way out, and find some leeway to become as great as they can be.

“The best thing she did was create even more awareness…. I get to sit up here and talk about social injustice and equality, and why a woman on a certain network told me to shut up and dribble. So thank you, whatever he name is.”

Some background: LeBron and Kevin Durant were called out by Fox News host Ingraham for their video ripping president Donald Trump that dropped this week. The pair had taped it nearly a month before, but it hit the web at the time of the horrific school shooting that left 17 dead in Florida and dovetailed well with comments calling out Trump’s handling of that situation.

Ingraham took the “stick to sports” meme to offensive levels.

LeBron shook it off like he’s shaken off many a defender in the NBA. First, he did it on Instagram.

#wewillnotshutupanddribble

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

Then he did it with his words Saturday.

“I actually laughed first, when I first saw the reports,” LeBron said. “Then I watched the video and saw exactly how it was put off. Well, first off I had no idea who she is, or what she do She won that case, because now I know who she is…

“We’re back to everything I’ve been talking about over the last few years. It lets me know everything I’ve been saying is correct, for her to have that kind of reaction. But we will definitely not ‘shut up and dribble.’ I will definitely not do that…

“I mean too much to the youth that do not feel they have a way out and need someone to lead them out of the situation they are in.”

LeBron understands his position as a role model to many African-American youth, and he takes it very seriously. That was echoed by other players.

“Just the way he uses his platform to speak on things,” Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. said of LeBron’s biggest influence on him. “For him to have the publicity that he does, when he speaks everybody hears it.”

Ingraham released a statement that said her words followed the theme of a book she wrote 15 years ago called ‘Shut Up & Sing,’ where she criticized the Dixie Chicks and other left-of-center entertainers for speaking out on politics. She said her attack was not racial.

Three reasons to be excited about NBA All-Star Weekend

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Usually, this spot is our three things to know from the night before in the NBA, but for one day we’re changing our focus onto something to look forward to — three things to be excited about for the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.

1. Dunks and threes — All-Star Saturday night is better than the big game itself. We all know this is true, can we just admit it. Sure, the actual All-Star Game on Sunday has all the biggest names (of non-injured players) in one place, but it’s not basketball. Not in any sense we recognize. It’s an exhibition played with less defensive effort than the average pickup game at the Y. We get to see dunks and slick passes, but it feels hollow.

All-Star Saturday, on the other hand, is genuinely competitive. Light-hearted, skills competitions only, but at least genuinely competitive. It’s way more entertaining.

This year’s three-point shooting competition is stacked: Eric Gordon, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, Paul George, Kyle Lowry, Devin Booker, Wayne Ellington, and Tobias Harris. Thompson is the obvious favorite, and I’d put my money on Beal, but the thing is any one of these guys could walk away with the big prize. They can all shoot the rock.

Then comes the skills competition, where bigs like Joel Embiid, Al Horford, and Andre Drummond go up against little guards such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Lou Williams — the evolution of the game is on full display.

Then there’s the highlight of the night, the dunk contest — every year I get my hopes up (and most years those hopes get dashed). This one has serious potential. Three guards with mad hops — Victor Oladipo, Dennis Smith Jr., and Donovan Mitchell — and then Larry Nance Jr., who has had a couple of the best in-game dunks of the past two seasons (plus his dad won the Dunk Contest). This should be high-flying and intense.

It will be the best show of the weekend… well, outside the Kendrick Lamar performance across the street. It’s all the stuff around the big game that makes the weekend work.

2. Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo — the NBA’s youth are taking over. The NBA’s old-guard — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, etc. — will be in Los Angeles and will have the cameras of the world (and plenty of eyeballs focused on them).

But this All-Star Game is about the future — it’s already here and taking over the All-Star Game.

Sunday we will see All-Star first-timers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic. Then there are second-timers such Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s putting the best and brightest of the next generation out there on the big stage. Joel Embiid on this stage? He’s going to say/Tweet something that will have us talking all weekend. Even if the game and the Dunk Contest fall flat, Embiid alone will be worth the price of admission.

And that’s just the Sunday game — the Rising Stars game on Friday has Ben Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Jamal Murray, Jayson Tatum, not to mention Smith Jr., Mitchell, and more. Sure, the Rising Stars game has less defense played than the All-Star Game — heck, the stationary defender cutouts used in Saturday’s Skills Competition may play better defense than we see in this game — but there is a raw energy in the USA vs. The World Rising Stars game that is just fun to watch.

3. The new All-Star Game format… it’s got to make the game better. Right? The last couple of years the All-Star Game has been such a dud in terms of effort, defense, and entertainment that the Chris Paul and the players’ union sat down with Adam Silver and the league office to figure out how to make it suck less. They decided to shake up the format.

No East vs. West. It’s Team LeBron versus Team Stephen Curry with teams those guys drafted (unfortunately behind closed doors, but the NBA will hopefully get that part right in the future). The draft already led to some drama — LeBron picking Kyrie Irving to be on his team, plus the reuniting of Durant and Westbrook on a team. James Harden throwing lobs to Joel Embiid. Antetokounmpo driving and dishing to Towns. There is so much potential with this format.

I doubt the addition of the increased payout to the winners ($100,000 per player) is going to motivate them much, and the winning team getting to donate more to charity is a nice touch but likely not doing too much. Rather, the hope is that pride — wanting to play for the guy that drafted you, against teammates and friends — will motivate the players. The dream is that will bring some level of effort and caring lacking in recent years.

We’ll see. I’m not sold. But it certainly can’t be worse.