NBA All-Star Weekend: Waiters, Hardaway light up Rising Stars Challenge with 3-point shootout

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NEW ORLEANS — To be perfectly honest, there are times when the Rising Stars Challenge can feel like a bit of a chore. It can’t match the talent level of the actual All-Star game, but it has all of the lack of defense, intensity, and ball movement that is usually par for the course in Sunday’s main event. Botched alley-oops, cherry-picking, jogging up and down the court, and ill-fated dribble moves are rampant.

So why is this a staple of NBA All-Star Weekend, and why do we watch? To put it plainly, there’s a very good chance that something completely insane will happen during the Rising Stars Challenge. Without so much as the pride of their conferences to play for, let alone the pressure of playing for their actual team, the players are openly out there to put on a show, and the flashes of sheer ridiculousness that come out of that mentality are often enough to make up for the apathy that makes up the rest of the game.

Last year, it was Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight going at each other, which culminated in Irving destroying Knight’s ankles with one of the nastiest crossovers you’re likely to ever see. In 2003, Jason Richardson drilled a 3 after bouncing the ball off of Carlos Boozer’s head. And of course, it was the Rookie/Sophomore game that gave us one of the most audacious moves in the history of the NBA — Jason Williams’ legendary elbow pass.

On Friday, the game started out lackadaisically, even by All-Star Friday standards. When a player wanted to get a layup, he got to the rim with less resistance than a stiff breeze would be able to offer him. 3-pointers were thrown up early in the clock at a high volume, but rarely found their mark. The cherry-picking was even more blatant than usual.

Andre Drummond dominated the game simply by camping under the basket, actually trying to get rebounds, and easily depositing the ball in the hoop time after time. There weren’t even particularly impressive dunks or crossover moves to break up the monotony. It was shaping up to be 40 minutes of a game that only barely resembled basketball, and seemed to only be fun for those playing in it.

Then Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dion Waiters happened. With 8:58 remaining in the game, Hardaway Jr., who had been shooting the ball aggressively all night but struggling to get his shots to go in, drilled a 3. Waiters came right back at him, drove, and got two free throws. Waiters and Hardaway both said they had something of a score to settle before the game, as Hardaway had made a 3 with the clock winding down in a Knicks blowout win over the Cavaliers on TNT earlier in the year, something that Waiters told Hardaway he would “get him back” for.

Hardaway said that Waiters had talked to him before the game and during the game, and that both of them were “trying to do a great job of just getting the fans involved. It was kind of dead in there, and we just wanted to start something, a little one-on-one battle here and there.”

After Waiters made his free throws, the Waiters-Hardaway show had officially begun. Hardaway came right back down the court and drilled a 3. Waiters answered with a fadeaway jumper. Hardaway went to the hole and got free throws. Waiters got fouled and split free throws of his own. The players traded layups, then Hardaway set up his teammate for a layup.

After that, the three-point contest begun, as Waiters drilled a 3 in Hardaway’s face and Hardaway answered with a pull-up 3 of his own — from 33 feet away. The crowd had come alive. Waiters came right back with a 3. Hardaway came back with a 31-footer, and the crowd was fully on its feet. When Hardaway missed a 3 after two Waiters free throws, the two players had combined for 27 points in just under 3 minutes. They weren’t completely done, either, as they went head-to-head again a few minutes later to combine for 14 points in just under a minute.

Ultimately, Waiters got the better of the rookie on Friday, as he needed only 14 shots to get his 31 points and added 7 assists, while Hardaway Jr. needed 23 shots to get his 36 points and only managed to dish out two assists, and Waiters’ team ultimately pulled out the victory. Still, the important thing is that both men combined to give NBA fans the kind of display you simply won’t see often in the games that count, and one that made the Rising Stars Challenge anything but a forgettable affair.

Gary Harris can’t contain smirk after getting away with fouling Kevin Durant (video)

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Gary Harris hit Kevin Durant‘s arm during the Nuggets’ 100-98 win over the Warriors yesterday. Except officials didn’t call a foul. They did call a technical foul on Durant for arguing about it, though.

Meanwhile, Harris made this fantastic face:

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When you hit your brother and your mom yells at him.

Report: Rajon Rondo’s girlfriend confronted Chris Paul’s wife in stands after on-court fight

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The longstanding tension between Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul boiled over with a fight during Saturday’s Rockets-Lakers game, including Rondo spitting on Paul.

The animosity apparently extended even further.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A heated Paul told teammates and coaches in the locker room afterward that Rondo’s girlfriend had sparked a verbal confrontation with Chris’ wife in the stands, according to sources.

Jonatan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Lauren A. Jones of the Los Angeles Sentinel:

One person could see a shove when another person sees someone getting in someone’s face. There’s a fine line amidst chaos.

If Paul wasn’t talking about a shove after the game, I tend to think there wasn’t one.

Still, a verbal altercation alone is a lot here.

Sixers play ‘Mo Bamba’ song after Joel Embiid dunks on Magic rookie (VIDEO)

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No one will ever claim that Joel Embiid doesn’t have fun while playing the game of basketball. The Philadelphia 76ers big man is a world-class follow on various social media platforms, and has a keen sense of humor.

Perhaps that is what led to the Sixers sound crew playing a very specific song after Embiid dunked on Orlando Magic rookie big man Mo Bamba this week.

On Saturday, Embiid gave Bamba a little jab step drive to the left side of the baseline, finishing with a dunk as the rookie recovered. Game Operations in Philadelphia immediately played a song titled “Mo Bamba” by rapper Sheck Wes.

Via Twitter:

Embiid used to be the young gun on the block, but he is now moving into veteran territory and his propensity for snark will only become more biting as his skills improve.

Who knows if Embiid had a hand in arranging this audio cue, but whoever was responsible deserved a slap on the back.

Kemba Walker sets NBA record with 19 made 3-pointers in first three games

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MIAMI (AP) There was a stretch last season spanning four games when Charlotte’s Kemba Walker missed 16 consecutive attempts from 3-point range.

That seems unfathomable now.

Walker might have been the surprise of the NBA’s first week by averaging 35.3 points per game, a big number fueled by making 19 shots from 3-point range – more than any player in the league has connected on in the first three games of a season. So in a year when Walker insists he won’t be speaking about his looming free agency, his numbers are doing plenty of talking.

“I always felt that I’ve been always put under the radar,” Walker said. “Underrated, of course.”

That might be changing.

Walker understands there’s a direct correlation between stardom and winning. He’s been an All-Star, he’s probably going to get a monster contract next summer, he played in two NCAA Final Fours at Connecticut and led the Huskies to the 2011 national championship. But if he’s going to reach the level of NBA respect that he’s perpetually seeking, it’s going to take more than 3s.

He’s going to need W’s as well. Walker has played in 537 games with the Hornets, and his team has won only 211 of them. That’s not all his fault, not even close, but Charlotte needs to be better if Walker’s stock is going to soar to that super-elite level.

“It comes with wins,” Walker said. “I know I’m in a small market and things like that, but at the end of the day, I just go out there and I try to do what I need to do to win. That’s really it.”

So far, so good.

The Hornets are 2-1 after an eventful stretch to start the season – rallying from 20 points down only to lose by one to Milwaukee, rolling past Orlando by 32 and then wasting a 26-point lead before hanging on to beat Miami by one point Saturday night. Walker delivered the game winner against the Heat, getting a foul call with a half-second left and making a free throw for a 113-112 victory.

“Our team starts with him,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “He controls the game, but he also understands that he needs trust in his teammates. When he misses a shot, I want him to take the next one.”

That’s been the message Borrego has been hammering into Walker’s mind for weeks.

That’s also been part of the teachings of Walker’s new backup.

Tony Parker‘s influence on Walker cannot be underestimated. Parker won four NBA championships with San Antonio before signing with the Hornets this summer, and he has been part of more wins – 1,001 and counting, including playoffs – than all but six other players in league history. Having Borrego telling him to shoot more, having Parker offering him a different view of the point guard position, it’s all played a role in Walker’s confidence soaring.

“Tony’s helping me read the game in a whole different light,” Walker said. “What to look for, what not to, he’s amazing with that kind of stuff. It’s an honor to have him around.”

The Hornets are 2-0 so far on their current four-game road trip, the first time they’ve started a multigame swing away from home with consecutive victories in two years. They go to Toronto on Monday, and Walker says his approach for that game and every other that awaits this season won’t deviate much.

“Just go out there and leave it all on the court,” Walker said. “That’s all I’m trying to do. And I think that’s where the respect comes from, the way I play each and every night. That’s my number one goal, regardless of if I have zero or if I have 30, I’m going to go out there and leave it all on the floor.”

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