<span class="vcard">Kurt Helin</span>

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest 2015

Relive best of Zach LaVine’s Dunk Contest win in slow motion (VIDEO)

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He was so good it’s worth seeing one more time.

Zach LaVine revived the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, at least for a night. He leaps so high and so effortlessly he seems to bend gravity’s rules. His dunks were modern updates of classics, done to perfection.

Relive them one more time. You know you want to.

Kobe Bryant adjusting to older body, still leading only way he knows how

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves
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In some ways, things are very different for Kobe Bryant now.

For years, he would push his body as hard as he could and it would respond. His work ethic was legendary, and the results have been a career with five championship rings and a guy who is third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Now, Kobe can’t push his body that same way. When he tried at the start of the season — at the request of coach Byron Scott, who thought Kobe still could — he got exhausted. And eventually his body broke down.

However, Kobe isn’t walking away right now — he wants to leave the game on his terms. And while he does that he is trying to show some of the Lakers of the future how to win the only way he knows how.

All of that is the focus of a new long-form piece on Kobe that I wrote for NBC’s Sports World.

Here’s a quick taste, starting with Kevin McHale talking about great players leaving the game.

McHale played through a number of ankle injuries (that required surgery) and debilitating back pain his last few seasons. He could have retired when Larry Bird did in the summer of 1992, but McHale came back for one more go around, doing so on a team that was clearly not a contender.

There was a simple reason for that.

“I wanted to go out playing, and we made it to a playoff series and we lost but I went out playing as hard as I possibly could. I found a little magic in a bottle for a couple weeks and played pretty good, then that was the end of it,” said McHale, who averaged 19.6 points per game on 58 percent shooting during that first-round playoff loss to Charlotte in 1993. “It’s hard. You’re used to being able to do things, you’re used to your body responding, and if you’re a good player you’re used to your body bouncing back and doing a lot of stuff. You never really thought it could not hold up, but at some point it goes down.”

Should that aging body change how you lead? Not according to Chauncey Billups.

“No, it doesn’t,” Billups told me during All-Star weekend about whether his injuries changed the way he tried to lead. “The way you lead is who you are. It’s who you are no matter if you’re coming to the game in a suit, you’re on the sidelines cheering guys on, or if you’re dressed to play. That’s just who you are, it’s instinctual. So no, (an injury) doesn’t change the way you lead. Not at all.”

Kobe is going to leave the game on his terms. He’s going to go out the only way he’s known how to play the game for two decades.

Zach LaVine brings back Dunk Contest. At least for a night.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest 2015
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NEW YORK — Zach LaVine made the Dunk Contest fun again.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Timberwolves rookie brought the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest back. We thought that before only to see it fade away once again.

But at least for a night, LaVine brought the dunk contest back — it was must watch. It was thrilling. In part that was because he started out with a bang.

Next he did this.

Those two dunks had the crowd in Barclays Center on their feet and people referencing Vince Carter.

“I came up with (those dunks) in high school, I’ve been working on them since high school,” LaVine said after the game.

That he could do those dunks in high school is just frightening. But the rookie knew hot to play to the crowd.

“I just wanted to come out here, put a jolt through the crowd, get everybody out of their seats,” LaVine said.

He did that.

But it wasn’t just LaVine, Orlando’s Victor Oladipo had an insane first dunk as well.

Mason Plumlee had a couple nice dunks, but the Nets’ center laughed at the idea he had any home court advantage.

“Zach would have won this no matter where we held it,” Plumlee said.

There were high hopes for the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Greek Freak may be one of those people who is a phenomenal in-game dunker who can’t really translate that to an exhibition setting.

LaVine not only one but brings hope for future dunk contests — he said he wants to do this again. Maybe defend his title in Toronto in 2016. The best quote of the night came when asked which one of those dunks was the one Andrew Wiggins tweeted about, saying it almost made him faint.

“That’s the funny thing, I didn’t do that one,” LaVine said. “I got some tricks in the bag still.”

If the Dunk Contest is going to continue to thrive, it needs more star power. LaVine said he would try to help with that by recruiting Wiggins to do it next year (and it’s not hard to picture the Canadian wanting to do it in his native land). Maybe other bigger names will want to challenge LaVine.

But LaVine brought the Dunk Contest back. At least for a night.

Stephen Curry hits 13 in a row on way to Three-Point Contest win

Taco Bell Skills Challenge 2015
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NEW YORK — You knew he was going to win this event one of these years.

Stephen Curry, the best pure shooter in the game, drained 13-straight three-pointers on his way to winning the All-Star Saturday night Three-Point Contest. He beat the deepest field in the history of the event to do it.

“I’m very happy right now, I’ve obviously been in it four times, so I wanted to win it and get it done,” Curry said.

Why would someone come back four times to win it?

“I might be crazy.”

Crazy good.

There were two rounds to the event and for Curry to advance out of the first, he had to get hot at the end and hit four of the five money balls to score 23 points. That tied him with Kyrie Irving, one behind Klay Thompson’s 24.

That eliminated some good guys. Portland’s Wes Mathews hit eight of his last nine to put up 22 points. J.J. Redick got hot but had stepped on the line, costing him a few points, and he still finished with 17. Both Kyle Korver and Marco Bellineli had 18 points, and James Harden put up 15 as he was off his game. They were all out.

In the second round, Irving looked a little tired, a little off, put up a 17.

Then Curry lit it up — that guy just thrives on the big stage, and he hit 13 in a row, got the building screaming and put up that amazing 27. It was in the bag then, right?

“Klay Thompson was behind me, no way…” Curry said. “He’s capable of putting up 37 points in a quarter; he can knock down a few threes.”

But Thompson looked human, too, and didn’t come anywhere near Curry.

This was more than just another win for Curry. On his shoes he wrote the name Deah Shaddy Barakat to honor one of the victims of shooter in North Carolina recently.

“Obviously, having North Carolina roots, and once I got to know who Deah was as a person, and the stories everybody was telling me, it only seemed right to honor him and his family,” Curry said after the contest. “And hopefully they know that people are thinking about them, that they are not alone, and hopefully it can give them some kind of peace and comfort knowing that he was a special guy.”

NBA makes it priority to “dramaticly reduce” four games in five nights, back-to-backs

Adam Silver
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NEW YORK — If there is one thing that lowers the level of play in NBA games, its players being tired from travel condensed games. There is statistical evidence that on the second night of back-to-backs teams play 1.5 points per 100 possessions worse. It gets even worse when teams play four games in five nights.

Players complain about the density of the schedule, and coaches deal with it by resting key guys in the middle of the season — we’re looking at you, Gregg Popovich. But he’s far from the only one.

Adam Silver wants to reduce those condensed schedule games  — starting next year.

“The issue of back-to-back games, the issue of four games out of five nights: One of the things we’re hoping to address, even for next season, is to come as close as we came to eliminating the four games out of five nights,” Silver said in the commissioner’s annual All-Star address to the media. “It’s a math formula at the end of the day in terms of the number of days in the season and the number of games we play, but we think we can make a dramatic reduction there.”

Silver took care in his remarks to say that the league thinks it can dramatically reduce its four games in five nights almost immediately. Back-to-back games, however, will take time to really cut down.

“But I think we can make a dramatic impact there,” Silver said of the back-to-backs. “That may take more than one season. We’ll have a reduction based on some additional television windows.”

Right now, TNT broadcasts showcase games on Thursday night, and there are usually just those two games, maybe one other that night. ABC (Disney also wants some limited competition on League Pass on the nights it broadcasts. Silver said the league has reached out to them about loosening those restrictions, freeing up nights to have games. The league also has reached out to the arenas around the league trying to open up more nights and options, Silver said.

The other option is to add more dates to the schedule. Silver said he would talk to the teams and owners about reducing the numbers of preseason games — not training camp days and practices, but reduce some of the games — then start the season a week earlier (or so) compared to the usual start around Halloween.

“I have talked to a lot of our basketball people about preseason,” Silver said. “And my sense is that, while they feel a training camp, and a fairly long training camp, is still critically important, especially because we have a lot of young players in this league and there isn’t a lot of practice once the season starts, I don’t think they think the preseason games are as valuable as they once were.”

This change would be good for the league. Very good.

It’s not going to eliminate injuries — particularly not the freakish catastrophic ones — but it can reduce the games lost to “soreness” or other symptoms of the bumps and grinds of a season. You can see more of guys like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade, who get more rest for their bodies in the schedule rather than by missing games. It’s good for the fans, good for the product.

It’s another smart move by Silver, if he can pull this off.