The Extra Pass: Clearing out my All-Star notebook, including fixing the dunk contest

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Four days in New Orleans left me about 20 pounds heavier (at least it feels that way, time to mix in a salad) and with a notebook full of thoughts and tidbits that didn’t find their way into other posts. So, here is a notebook dump.

• Paul George said after the All-Star Game Frank Vogel’s plan was to put him on Chris Paul — particularly down the stretch — and force the ball out of his hands, even if that meant the ball went to Kevin Durant because LeBron James would pressure him. It worked.

• The other thing that sparked the East comeback — Joakim Noah in the paint. His play allowed pressure on the wings. Vogel said he thought about going back to Roy Hibbert in the paint, but Noah was playing so well he stuck with the hot hand.

• Frank Vogel told his team in the second half they needed to get back and play defense. “They all laughed at me,” he said. “I did say it with half a smile, and they all laughed at me.”

• Yes, the dunk contest needs a lot of work — the new format does not work. You can be sure the league saw the reaction to All-Star Saturday and realize things didn’t work. To me the ultimate problem is that ultimately the Dunk Contest, the Skills Competition, the Three Point Shooting contests are individual events and trying to shoehorn them into a made-up East/West competition just dulls the whole thing down.

• Here’s my idea for fixing the Dunk Contest: I liked the head-to-head idea, but if you’re going to do that go all the way. Invite eight dunkers (maybe include the winner of the D-League Dunk Contest), have them dunk once to seed them 1-8, then just have an eight man dunk tournament. The weird format in place Saturday, how it ended seemed sudden. A tournament, that we get. And the winner has to do multiple dunks under pressure.

• If you’re complaint is “there’s not enough defense in the All-Star Game” get over it. This is an exhibition.

• James Harden with an honest answer about how close the Rockets are to contending: “To be honest I’m not sure. We’re feeling pretty good, we’re on a winning streak, it may take another step or two but we’re gonna figure it out and we’re gonna play hard.”

• Trombone Shorty just rocks.

• Gary Clark Jr.’s national anthem rendition was spectacular.

• Stephen Curry on the Warriors in the second half: “We learned a lot and obviously we haven’t played to our potential so far, when it comes to playing at home and playing to our potential. Those experience toughened us up, we’re a team that’s going to come back.”

• Most surreal moment of the weekend for me: Pushed the elevator button in my hotel to go down to the lobby, the door opens and there stands Artis Gilmore.

• Dwyane Wade on taking it easy All-Star weekend: “I actually got it from other vets and how they approached the All-Star Game, how they let the younger guys kind of go out there and enjoy themselves and get feel for the game and have fun. So you know me I just kind of chilled a little bit, did a little less than I normally did, and just really enjoyed the weekend.”

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.