Players explain dunks they had ready in case they advanced to the final round of the Dunk Contest

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HOUSTON — Only two contestants out of the field of six advanced to the final round of the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday, and Terrence Ross and Jeremy Evans were the ones who earned their way there to get a shot at this year’s title.

That means we had other capable dunkers who had to have some spectacular stunts prepared in case they were the ones battling it out for that championship trophy in the main event of All-Star Saturday night.

It turns out, there were some pretty good ones left on the shelf.

“I had between the legs from the free throw line [ready], and I was going to try to dunk from the top of the key,” James White said, and did so rather nonchalantly given the athleticism that would be required to pull either of those feats off.

White is a YouTube dunk contest legend, and a veteran champion of these types of events in the past. But he simply didn’t have it in this one, and missed over and over again participating for the first time in the NBA’s slam dunk showcase.

“I usually don’t miss dunks,” he said. “Usually that’s the one thing I do, I make the dunks on the first try. But tonight, they weren’t going down.”

White was clearly having trouble holding onto the ball, and said he tried switching but still couldn’t get enough of a handle to be able to do what he’s become famous for.

“I couldn’t grip the ball at all, man,” he said. “Both basketballs. I tried to switch balls the second dunk, and that basketball didn’t even bounce. So when I was coming out for my approach to go dunk, the ball was going everywhere.”

Kenneth Faried got some good ones to go down, but he too struggled and missed all of his tries during one of his official attempts. His plans for final-round dunks were even more intriguing.

“I was going to go under both legs,” Faried said. “If I made it, I was just going to do basically double under the legs. Then, I was going to jump over the panel of judges.”

Now that would have been impressive. But what was the plan exactly, logistically speaking?

“It was going to be more of them sitting down over the Sprite thing,” he said. “I was going to jump over them, sit down, and drink a Sprite.”

As an added bonus, that one might have gotten him a nice opportunity for a personal sponsorship.

“No, not really that,” Faried said. “I wanted to do it because it was called the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.”

Gerald Green also struggled to complete a dunk attempt, but the one he was trying was by far the most adventurous of the bunch. He opened things up by cutting down the net, before trying multiple times to throw it down with one hand, then catch the ball as it came through the hoop with the other hand and dunk it again while still in midair.

He actually did pull it off, but after his time allotment had run out and all of his official attempts had been exhausted.

While Green did not ultimately advance, his plan for what he had ready was among the most inventive.

“I was going to do a dunk where I involved Paul George and Lance Stephenson,” Green said. “It was going to be something like the halftime show, but without the trampoline.”

I needed some clarification.

“It was going to be to where, Lance was going to throw Paul an alley-oop off the glass, Paul was going to catch it, jump pretty high and throw it, and then I come out of nowhere and put it between my legs [before dunking].”

Ah, now it made sense.

Green was asked why he kept trying a dunk with such a high degree of difficulty with his time running out, and after already missing it so many times. He had no regrets with the way he chose to play things out.

“I wanted to try something that was really hard,” Green said. “That’s always been me. Even with the dunk my second year when it was in New Orleans, when I dunked without my shoes on, I didn’t really get a good score. But dunking with no shoes on is very difficult, so I wanted to try something that was just as difficult. That’s how I grew up watching dunk contests.”

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

View this post on Instagram

We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.