Zach LaVine brings back Dunk Contest. At least for a night.


NEW YORK — Zach LaVine made the Dunk Contest fun again.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Timberwolves rookie brought the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest back. We thought that before only to see it fade away once again.

But at least for a night, LaVine brought the dunk contest back — it was must watch. It was thrilling. In part that was because he started out with a bang.

Next he did this.

Those two dunks had the crowd in Barclays Center on their feet and people referencing Vince Carter.

“I came up with (those dunks) in high school, I’ve been working on them since high school,” LaVine said after the game.

That he could do those dunks in high school is just frightening. But the rookie knew hot to play to the crowd.

“I just wanted to come out here, put a jolt through the crowd, get everybody out of their seats,” LaVine said.

He did that.

But it wasn’t just LaVine, Orlando’s Victor Oladipo had an insane first dunk as well.

Mason Plumlee had a couple nice dunks, but the Nets’ center laughed at the idea he had any home court advantage.

“Zach would have won this no matter where we held it,” Plumlee said.

There were high hopes for the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Greek Freak may be one of those people who is a phenomenal in-game dunker who can’t really translate that to an exhibition setting.

LaVine not only one but brings hope for future dunk contests — he said he wants to do this again. Maybe defend his title in Toronto in 2016. The best quote of the night came when asked which one of those dunks was the one Andrew Wiggins tweeted about, saying it almost made him faint.

“That’s the funny thing, I didn’t do that one,” LaVine said. “I got some tricks in the bag still.”

If the Dunk Contest is going to continue to thrive, it needs more star power. LaVine said he would try to help with that by recruiting Wiggins to do it next year (and it’s not hard to picture the Canadian wanting to do it in his native land). Maybe other bigger names will want to challenge LaVine.

But LaVine brought the Dunk Contest back. At least for a night.

Rockets’ Patrick Beverley wins All-Star weekend’s Skills Challenge


NEW YORK — Patrick Beverley is known as an aggressive defensive player, one that exerts maximum effort on that end of the floor while not needing to do much offensively. And, he was a late addition to All-Star Saturday Night’s Skills Challenge, replacing John Wall who withdrew due to injury.

But the grit Beverley is known for was on display in this one, and was enough for him to get through three rounds of competition to take home the title in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

The format of the contest changed from seasons past, and it made things far more entertaining as a result. Not only did two players go head-to-head in a bracketed format, but they went through the obstacle course on the court at the very same time.


Beverley almost didn’t make it out of the first round. He and his opponent, Isaiah Thomas of the Phoenix Suns, were both shooting layups at the same time to end it, with each other’s shots knocking themselves out before Beverley finally squeaked one in.

In both of the final two rounds, Beverley fell behind significantly. He missed all three chest passes in each, which allowed his opponents — Jeff Teague in the second round, Brandon Knight in the final one — to get out to big leads. Had either of them made their final shots before Beverley could catch up, Beverley would have been eliminated, and rightfully so.

But Teague missed a couple of three-point attempts, and Beverley made his first to advance. And, in the final round, Beverley again knocked down his first three to win the title, after misses from Knight once again allowed Beverley to catch up.

World team beats USA in All-Star weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge


NEW YORK — The Rising Stars Challenge kicked off the All-Star weekend festivities as usual, but a first-time format change made things slightly more interesting.

Instead of the rookies facing the second year players, this time they split the teams into a USA-born roster facing one comprised of players born in other countries.

The World team appeared to be stacked once the rosters were announced, and behind a 22-point MVP performance from Andrew Wiggins, pulled away for a 121-112 victory in the predictably high-scoring contest.

Wiggins’ Timberwolves teammate Zach LaVine led the way for the USA squad with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and both players finished with plenty of uncontested dunks in what is traditionally a run where defense is optional.

Minnesota had four players in total participate, with Shabazz Muhammad chipping in 10 points for team USA, and Gorgui Dieng finishing with 14 for the winning World squad.

“It just shows the future,” Wiggins said of having so many guys from his team participating. “The future is bright for us. It shoes us rising, and it shows what we can be in the future.”

Other notable performances included 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots from Rudy Gobert; 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists from Giannis Antetokounmpo; and 22 points on a game-high 21 shots — seven more than any other player — from an aggressive Victor Oladipo.

Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry coached the losing USA team, and while he was nothing but complimentary to the overall group of young talent that participated, he did have a suggestion for tweaking the format of the game in order to help others who follow in his footsteps in the future.

“I think it’s a great group of guys,” he said. “I spent more time with the USA team obviously, but if you look at the World team and the talent that they have, I think our league is in great shape.

“I also would like to say that I think we’ve got to rearrange this game,” he continued. “I think it should be North America against the World. And then that way, we get Canada. We’d have Wiggins on our team.”

Jahlil Okafor says he’d be comfortable bypassing NBA draft, staying at Duke


Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Jahlil Okafor a one-and-done player before the season even began. The center has been hyped for years as the No. 1 pick pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Sure, other players – like Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Kentucky’s Karl Towns – have worked there way into the top-pick discussion, but Okafor remains a lock to be a high pick.

If he declares for the draft.

Okafor, via Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“I know I’ll be in position to live my dream in the NBA or live my dream and stay here at Duke with people who truly love me,” he said. “I totally feel comfortable with staying here in college, and my family wouldn’t care one bit as long as I’m happy. They know how much I love being here.

“I love everything about Duke. I wish I could just stop time and be able to enjoy this as much as I can.”

Jabari Parker went through the same thing last year, and he – like most players in his position – ultimately turned pro. I’m sure playing at Duke is a lot of fun, and I’m sure Okafor would enjoy a second season in Durham. But when the money is in front of him, it’s difficult to pass up.

So fear not, fans of the Lakers and any other bad team. Okafor will still likely be available in this draft.

It’s just not a given.

Jared Dudley says he played last season with fractured knee because Doc Rivers asked him to


Jared Dudley’s numbers with the Clippers last season look like an aberration.

Three seasons ago he shot 39.1 percent from three (for Phoenix), that fell to 36 percent last season for the Clippers, then this season it is up to 44.2 percent for the Bucks. His numbers bounced like that across the board. Maybe the best example is his Player Efficiency Rating (PER): It went from right at the league average of 14.9 in Phoenix, to a “send him to the D-League” 8.9 with the Clippers, and now is back up to 14.4 with the Bucks.

Dudley says there is a reason for that: He was playing with a fractured knee. Because Doc Rivers asked him to.

That’s what Dudley told Zach Lowe on the Grantland podcast (hat tip Arash Markazi of ESPN).

“Here’s the thing with the Clippers,” Dudley said. “When I hurt my back in Vegas, I show up there in September trying to get with the training staff, and sometimes when you have an injury it leads to another injury, so basically I was nursing what I thought was tendinitis at the time in my knee, basically I really couldn’t bend my knee 90 degrees so I had to deal with that for the first month or so. I basically went to Doc Rivers and said, ‘Hey, I’ve never had to deal with this, I can’t bend my knee, all my shots are short, I can’t move laterally, I need to sit out.’ At that time Matt Barnes was out with a calf injury and J.J. Redick was out with a herniated disk and he said, ‘Hey, I need you to give me 10-15 games and when those guys come back, I’ll give you a rest.’

“Well, during that time I just couldn’t guard anyone. I couldn’t make a shot, all my shots were short and then confidence happened. By midseason, I get my X-ray and I had a little fracture in my knee so I knew what I was feeling was more than tendinitis. By midseason, [Rivers] brings in [Danny] Granger and I was sent to the pine. The trade [to Milwaukee] was the best thing for my career, where I got with a training staff that got me healthy and when I’m healthy, I’m the player you see now and the player you saw in Phoenix.”

Dudley said his understanding with Rivers was he would play through the injury as best he could and the Clippers would bring him back this season once he had the summer to get healthy. Instead, they traded him to Milwaukee.

“I talked to Doc maybe a week and a half before I got traded,” Dudley told Zach Lowe on his Lowe Post podcast on Grantland. “That was in August. He was basically like, ‘Hey, you’re young. I don’t know what happened this season.’ I basically told him, ‘You know what happened. I wasn’t right and I thought I would be able to come back.’ “

It’s worked out well for Dudley, but the Clippers might have wanted to get him healthy as they could certainly use his depth on the wing and his three-point shooting right now.