Wall, Lillard, George headline new look All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest

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If all of us — red state, blue state, regardless of religion or skin color — could come together and agree on just two things they would be:

1) Kevin Durant’s new puppy is really cute.

2) The NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest needed some life injected into it.

The NBA has heard you on Number 2. The league is trying to do that in two ways this year in New Orleans, when the Sprite Slam Dunk contest takes place on Feb. 15.

First, they brought in some star power. Here are your contestants for this year’s dunk title crown.

Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
John Wall (Washington Wizards)
Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors)
Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)
Ben McLemore (Sacramento Kings)

That’s three guys selected to the big game on Sunday night (Wall, Lillard, George) who can all throw it down, as well as last year’s defending champion, Ross.

Then there is a new format that pits the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference.

First, there is the “Freestyle Round” — for 90 seconds all three dunkers for each conference can showcase as many dunks as they want. Whatever dunks they want. At the end of each conference’s 90 seconds, the judges will choose a winner, East or West.

The winning conference gets to decide if its dunkers go first or last in the “Battle Round.”

In that second round a dunker from each conference will have a little head-to-head dunk-off pitting East dunkers vs. West dunkers. For example, it could be Wall against Lillard — they each throw down a dunk, the judges vote for the best dunk and the loser is eliminated. The first team to win three “battles” will have his team crowned the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk champions.

Then you the fans come in — you (and tens of thousands of your closest friends) get to choose the ultimate winner, the “Dunker of the Night” through votes cast via SMS, Twitter, NBA.com and the NBA GameTime app.

Traditionally I’m in the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp, but the dunk contest is broke. It has been very up and down — it’s a lot of fun when a big personality like Nate Robinson or Dwight Howard took over the event, but a lot of years it has been down. (I will add this is an event that is just not as impressive on television as it is in person.)

So why not shake it up? I have no idea if the new format is really going to work or not, but with all these big names we should see some monster throwdowns. I’m actually pumped about the event this year, which is a sign the league has gotten something right.

Watch Trae Young hit floater over Jimmy Butler to lift Hawks past 76ers

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Philadelphia had its chance. It got the ball with 27.5 seconds left in a tie game in Atlanta, a chance for Jimmy Butler to ice another game and… nothing. The Sixers had a shot clock violation after a scrambled play (watch the video above).

That left 3.5 seconds for Trae Young, and that’s all the time he needed.

Young’s floater has improved over the course of the season, and he was quick enough to get in a position where Butler could not block his shot. And he drained it.

The combination of a Sixers team that looked flat coming off their win over the Celtics, combined with Young’s energy was too much. Atlanta has played better since the All-Star break and teams sleep on them at their own peril.

Watch Boban Marjanovic hit the first three pointer of his career.

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Boooobaaaaan!!!

Boban Marjanovic was 0-of-6 from three in his career before Saturday night. Then this happened.

Boban is just fun. Basketball should be fun.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with his free agency this summer, but you can bet the fans in Philly want him to stick around.

Lakers reached out to Lonzo Ball wondering if Big Baller Brand shoes part of ankle issues

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Lonzo Ball has played in just 99 games through his first two NBA seasons, 60 percent of the possible games. His rookie season, it was shoulder and knee issues that sidelined him for 30 games.

This past season, he went down on Jan. 19 with a sprained ankle against the Rockets, a severe one that also had a bone bruise, which slowed the healing. Ball has been shut down for the season because of it.

The Lakers are concerned that his Big Baller Brand shoes may have contributed to the ankle issues, something Ball confirmed the Lakers talked to him about in an ESPN story by Ramona Shelburne and Paula Lavigne.

[The January injury] marked his third separate ankle injury, which left the Lakers searching for what could be the root issue of his troubles — including asking about his Big Baller Brand shoes.

“Yeah, they talked to me,” Lonzo Ball told ESPN two weeks ago. “They asked me about it, and I told ’em, ‘I feel comfortable. If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t play in ’em. If I didn’t play in [his signature BBB shoes], I’d play in Kobe [Bryant’s signature Nike shoe]. I work out in [LeBron James’ signature Nike shoe], but that’s because they’re heavier.”

Lonzo also said he told the Lakers he was open to making adjustments — “just minor things,” he said — to his Big Baller Brand shoes if needed.

There are trainers around the league who believe a lot of foot and ankle issues in the NBA are about poorly designed or ill-fitting shoes (that can include major, trusted brands, but the player wears something that does not fit his needs).

Whether the ZO2 is part of the problem or not is impossible to say from the outside.

However, Ball recently severed some ties with the Big Baller Brand over the business manager’s handling of his money. Ball also deleted pictures of himself wearing Big Baller Brand gear from his Instagram. What does that mean? We’re not going to speculate here, but take your own best guess.

Another Bucks’ injury: Pau Gasol reportedly out for month with ankle injury

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Malcolm Brogdon is out for the remainder of the regular season, likely the first round of the playoffs, and maybe longer with a plantar fascia tear. Nikola Mirotic is out likely through the end of the regular season (and maybe a little longer) with a thumb fracture. The injury bug that the Bucks avoided much of the season is catching up with them.

And Pau Gasol can now be added to the list, according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews.

Gasol is going to play a limited role for Milwaukee, but his depth along the front line would have been helpful as the Bucks try to rest guys and get right for the postseason.

If these injuries — particularly Brogdon, who is an important glue piece for them — lingers into the second round of the playoffs for Milwaukee, it could mean an earlier end to the season than they hoped.