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Three Things to Know from All-Star weekend: The new format worked, the dunk judging did not

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CHICAGO — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, or, in this case, every weekend. Here are three things to know out of All-Star weekend. (After today, three things will be off this week until games return.)

1) Team LeBron got the All-Star Game victory, but the real winner was the new format. For the past few years (maybe going on a decade), the actual NBA All-Star Game was a bland product. A dud. Players wanted to avoid injury, and there was very little real effort or competition (maybe in the final minutes). It was unwatchable. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s office was looking for a way to change that dynamic.

The found it. The format changes experimented with this year — starting each quarter at 0-0 with money for charities on the line, then the target point ending — were the biggest winners of the 2020 All-Star Game.

“It was dope,” Jimmy Butler said. “Damn sure got to compete at the end. It’s still fun to go out there and be known as one of the best players in the world in this league. Hopefully, it stays like that.”

In the fourth quarter, the very best players in the world were going at each other hard. Joel Embiid tried to take a charge. Kyle Lowry did take a charge on Kawhi Leonard. Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry were barking at the officials over calls. Coaches were calling for reviews.

Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked LeBron. Twice.

And it was close. Under the new Elam system the final point target was 157, and this game was tied as late as 152-152. In the end, it became next basket wins — and Davis got that basket… a free throw. That was a little disappointing.

Kawhi Leonard, who finished the night with 30 points, shooting 8-of-14 from three, walked off with the just-named Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award.

This was the best All-Star game in recent memory. You can bet the format will be back next year in Indianapolis.

2) Aaron Gordon got robbed at the dunk contest. Again. The last great dunk contest took place in 2016, when Gordon controversially lost in a dunk-off to Zach LaVine.

This Saturday was another epic contest, another dunk-off, — and Gordon lost again, this time despite dunking over 7’5″ Tacko Fall for the final dunk of the night.

“Jumping over somebody 7’5″ [note: without shoes] and dunking is no easy feat,” Gordon said, stating the obvious. “What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?”

That is correct, Gordon got a 47 out of 50 for that dunk and the crowd in the United Center was not happy with the judges. The judges, for their part, apparently were conspiring to send the dunk-off to a third round but screwed it up (Dwyane Wade favoring his Heat player?).

My thoughts on this Dunk Contest are a bit nuanced, and I don’t have an issue with Derrick Jones Jr. winning. If, after the four scheduled dunks, you asked me to pick a winner, I would have gone with Jones. Yes, I realize Gordon got four 50s on those dunks, a perfect score, but I think he got some of that on reputation and Jones was better.

However, there is no way the dunk over Fall was a 47. That should have broken the tie and given Gordon the win. He was robbed on that dunk.

At least we got a great show.

3) It was a weekend of Kobe Bryant tributes. Memories of Kobe and his legacy seemed to be everywhere all weekend. Players were talking about him, and pictures of him were everywhere around the city.

The biggest honor is that the All-Star Game MVP is now named after him.

Then at Sunday’s All-Star game, Magic Johnson with words and Jennifer Hudson in song gave a beautiful tribute to Kobe.

As it did with the new rules and everything all weekend long — except maybe the dunk contest judging — the NBA got it right.

Report: Brooklyn near deal with Lance Thomas for restart

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Still rounding out their roster for the NBA restart in Orlando, the Brooklyn Nets have reached out to bring back veteran forward Lance Thomas.

Thomas, who went through training camp with Brooklyn but was cut right before the season, will sign as a substitute player for Brooklyn, reports Alex Smith with SNY.TV.

Thomas is an eight-year NBA veteran who spent the last four of that with the Knicks. He can play the three or a floor-spacing small four, with New York using him more as a power forward in recent years. He’s averaged 5.2 points per game in his career and is known more as a good player to have in the locker room and guy who can soak up 15-20 minutes a night and not hurt a team. Brooklyn had Thomas in at training camp and liked his fit, but they didn’t have a roster spot for him.

They do now. Three Nets players — Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince — tested positive for the coronavirus and will not be at the Orlando restart. Wilson Chandler opted out of playing. All four of them can be replaced by substitute players for the remainder of this season, so the Nets signed Jamal Crawford, Michael Beasley, and Donta Hall. Thomas rounds becomes the fourth member of that group. (Note: The Nets cannot sign players to substitute for Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant because they are out due to injury; substitute players are only for players missing due to coronavirus issues.)

Thomas will be a free agent this offseason.

Lance Thomas and Brooklyn enter the bubble in Orlando as the seven seed in the East.

Like LeBron, Anthony Davis also to wear own last name on jersey in Orlando

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis will wear his own name on the back of his jersey when the Los Angeles Lakers return to action.

Davis confirmed his decision Sunday in a conference call from Orlando, where the Western Conference-leading Lakers are beginning team workouts.

Davis and LeBron James both declined to choose a social justice message to replace their names on the back of their jerseys during the NBA restart.

Davis, a seven-time NBA All-Star, said he was “torn between” choosing from among the 29 approved messages and sticking with his name.

“For me, I think the name ‘Davis’ is something I try to represent every time I step on the floor,” he said. “I just think my last name is something that’s very important to me, and also social justice as well. But (I’m) just holding my family name and representing the name on the back to go through this process … and people who have been with me through my entire career to help me get to this point, while still kind of bringing up things that we can do for social injustice.”

James said he decided to forgo a social justice message because the available options didn’t “resonate” for him or his particular feelings about the movement. James would have liked to choose his own slogan, but wasn’t angry that it wasn’t allowed.

Both James and Davis have been outspoken about social justice causes in the past, although the younger Davis is less vocal than James.

The Lakers open play in Orlando on July 30 against the Clippers.

 

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo fractures thumb, out 6-8 weeks

Rajon Rondo injury
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The Lakers guard depth is getting hit hard. First, Avery Bradley chose to stay home from the NBA restart in Orlando for family reasons. Now this:

Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb during practice on Saturday and will need surgery that will sideline him 6-8 weeks, the team announced.

On the optimistic side, that timeline should have Rondo back for most or all of the conference finals and NBA Finals. Rondo has a history of hand injuries.

The Lakers cannot sign a substitute player to replace Rondo (that is only for players with COVID-19 related absences, or who opted out, but not injuries).

Rondo came off the bench for the Lakers this season, averaging 7.1 points and five assists a game. More importantly, he was the guy running the offense when LeBron James was off the court, something that will be difficult to replace. He is not the defender and player he once was, but he fit with the Lakers.

Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook will get some extra run, plus it opens up room for veterans Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith.

The Rondo injury is not going to put the Lakers in danger in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but if he is not back and 100% in the conference finals (very possibly against a deep Clippers team) and the Finals, this will be a blow to L.A.

Stephen Curry, Charles Barkley join “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” on NBC family

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In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the protests that followed, citizens of the United States have started to have a long-overdue and challenging discussion of race and systemic racism in America. Black celebrities — guys such as Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley, plus other NBA stars — have stepped into the middle of that conversation and are using their voices.

That discussion, along with Barkley and Curry, comes to the NBC Sports family of networks Monday in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations.” The roundtable discussion show airs at 8 p.m. ET simultaneously on NBCSN, the Golf Channel, the Olympic Channel, and every member of the NBC Sports regional broadcast network.

The wide-ranging conversation (recorded in Lake Tahoe) included discussion both of the recent protests that swept the nation and the calls for police reform — Barkley said he wants to see that.

“The first thing we need, listen, we need police reform.  We need to, listen, I got in trouble for defending cops.  And I’m always going to defend cops.  I don’t want them out there killing unarmed Black men, but we need cops…” Barkley said. “But we need good cops.  We need to hold cops accountable.  If they do something wrong — the way the system is set up now, if cops do something wrong, other cops judge them.  That’s not fair in any aspect of life.  If you are a cop and you saw what happened to Mr. Floyd and you think that was all right, you shouldn’t be a cop.”

Curry spun the discussion of police reform into the need for people to vote for change — particularly at the local and state level.

“Same concept around reforming police, getting the bad ones out, is in every form of leadership in government in terms of how important voting is.  Not just at the national presidential level, but in our local, city, state elections…” Curry said.

“That’s where the real change happens.  So when it comes to voter suppression which we’ve seen since George Floyd’s passing in Georgia, we’ve seen long lines; people have been standing there for 12, 13 hours trying to vote.

“And that’s where a local election, as we look forward from a year from now and beyond, every single cycle, how do we continue to let our voices be heard, not just what we’re saying and crying for and asking for help, but how can we actually use our given right to go vote, to go put people in positions of power that they’re going to look out for us in a very meaningful way that’s going to make a true difference.”

Beyond the two NBA stars, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Lynn, Troy Mullins, James Blake, Jimmy Rollins, and Ozzie Smith take part in the discussion.

Tune in Monday night across the NBC Sports family of networks for a can’t miss discussion of race and sports in America.