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VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night
NEWS OF THE MORNING
LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future
No. 1: LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest — For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line …
High expectations? No problem.
After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.
And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.
With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.
Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”
To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.
Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.
LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.
They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.
On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.
No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? — A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …
If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.
If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.
Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.
Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.
As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”
But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.
Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.
That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.
Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?
Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).
“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.
No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother — It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night …
For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.
But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.
It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.
“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.
Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.
“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”
Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.
No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future — All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day …
It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.
But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.
The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.
“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”
Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.
While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.
“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).
“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting traded … Karl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bid … Jimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star Game … Kevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.
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VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 2
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Curry re-injures leg, Warriors win in overtime | Jack injures knee, will have MRI | Pistons, Pacers end with theatrics | Pop says Crawford will be missed
No. 1:Curry re-injures leg, Warriors win in overtime — After leading the Golden State Warriors to a historic 29-1 start to the season, Stephen Curry missed the last two games while resting a shin injury. It is no coincidence that the Warriors went 1-1 without Curry, the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.7 points per game. Curry made his return last night against the Denver Nuggets, but had to exit in the second quarter after re-aggravating his injury. As Ethan Strauss writes for ESPN.com, even down to six players, the Warriors managed to win in overtime even without the MVP…
After missing the two previous games with a left shin contusion suffered Monday against the Sacramento Kings, Curry reinjured the shin and departed to the locker room with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter.
According to Curry, the injury occurred when a Nuggets player made contact with his leg in the second quarter.
“I got kicked,” Curry said after the game.
Curry confirmed it was a reinjury of his earlier contusion and said he was hit “right in the same spot, playing defense. It’s funny. I guess whenever you hurt something, [if] you try to play through a little bit of discomfort and try to get out there, something happens. Just got to deal with it.”
Curry’s injury left the Warriors with only six available players due to myriad other injuries.
Of the overtime victory Golden State gained despite depletion, Curry praised, “Chips stacked against them, short bench, guys playing 40-plus minutes, found a way to scrap and claw, get stops down the stretch, fight through the fatigue factor, make a couple plays on the offensive plays as well. Gutsy win.”
On how he felt going into the game, Curry said, “I felt pretty good, just somewhat fresh legs and didn’t have to compensate for anything. Just sucks that was the spot that I got hit in. See how it feels for Monday.”
Further elaborating on his prognosis, he added, “I know exactly what happened. It’s just a matter of how it feels tomorrow and go from there. It’s not as bad as the first time it happened, so that’s good news.”
VIDEO: Curry re-injures left leg
No. 2:Jack injures knee, will have MRI — While the Brooklyn Nets aren’t fighting for a playoff berth this season, they have had their moments, such as last night’s win over the Boston Celtics. Point guard Jarrett Jack has played a large role in their success this season, but after going down with knee injury last night that required his being carried from the court, Jack will require an MRI today to uncover the extent of the injury, writes ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo…
Brooklyn Nets starting point guard Jarrett Jack will undergo an MRI on his right knee Sunday.
He left his team’s 100-97 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday at TD Garden after injuring the knee late in the third quarter. He did not return, due to what the team called a sprained right knee.
At the time the injury occurred, it looked much more serious than that. As Jack planted his right leg on a fast break after receiving a pass from teammate Wayne Ellington, his knee buckled, which caused him to go down to the floor. He then had to be helped off the court.
“I had never felt pain like that before, so I knew it was something,” Jack told reporters in Boston. “I’m going to try to stay positive and try not to speculate. I’m still optimistic, still hoping for the best, and tomorrow we’ll find out what the future may hold.”
Jack told the medical staff he did not want crutches, “but they said it’s better to have them than not, so I’m about to go back and get fitted.”
He told reporters he had never suffered a knee injury before. While he didn’t know the extent of the injury, he posted on Instagram that it was the “worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Jack left Saturday’s game with two points and nine assists in 23 minutes. The 32-year-old veteran came in averaging 13.2 points, 7.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 39.7 percent from the field.
VIDEO: Jack injures knee against Boston
No. 3:Pistons, Pacers end with theatrics — The Indiana Pacers defeated the Detroit Pistons last night, 94-82, but it was the way the game ended that made headlines. First, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy received his first ejection as coach of the Pistons, and then Pistons forward Marcus Morris and Indiana’s Paul George tangled at halfcourt and had to be separated. As David Mayo writes for MLive, the Pistons are struggling just as they enter a key part of their schedule …
Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ head coach, had been kicked out 22.6 seconds earlier, so he had a little more time to ponder the events leading to his dismissal by official Lauren Holtkamp, but was no more insightful to the cause of the discord than Jackson.
“I just said something that she didn’t like,” Van Gundy said.
Maybe some self-awareness is in order around here.
The icy-shooting Pistons lost 94-82 to the Pacers, and while reluctance to test the NBA’s tolerance for levying financial penalties may have been at heart of the tight-lipped responses — Jackson was in the heart of the scrum, and Van Gundy surely knows the magic words that earned his first Detroit ejection — they did offer up some explanations for much more difficult questions.
Like why the Pistons are mired in a ragged 1-4 stretch just as their schedule stiffens. The Indiana game was the opener in a 19-day period during which the Pistons play eight out of nine games against teams which would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Like why this offense sometimes plays like strangers.
Like why the reserves, with Brandon Jennings triggering at point guard, suddenly look more cohesive than the first unit — a dynamic in constant flux with this team.
“Our starters tonight got destroyed,” Van Gundy said. “Our bench did a pretty good job keeping us in the game.”
But when it came to the reasons for defeat, the man with no answers about his ejection ticked them off professorially.
“Paul George got it going at the end, we shot 35 percent, we were 3 for 20 from three, and we missed a bunch of free throws. It makes it really, really tough to win,” Van Gundy said.
That pretty much covers it.
The Pistons (18-16) stayed just below the Eastern Conference playoff cut line, at ninth place, a half-game behind Boston, because George erupted for the Pacers’ final 21 points after he had been limited to 11 through three quarters.
George attempted seven field goals, including three 3-pointers, plus four free throws in the fourth quarter.
He did not miss.
“He just got hot and he made some great one-on-one moves,” Jackson said. “He took the shots we wanted him to take. Just he made them.”
Marcus Morris has drawn the primary defensive assignment against George three times this year. George has shot 18 of 51 (35.3 percent) from the field in those games. Yet the Pacers have won two of three, which is why they have pulled 1 1/2 games clear of Detroit for now.
“I cheated screens a couple times at the end and gave him some good shots at the end,” Morris said. “I take the blame on that. I thought I did a good job guarding him throughout the game and he just got hot.”
As the fourth quarter ended, George and Morris chattered. George bumped Morris with his chest and Morris shoved back.
Within seconds, at least 11 Pistons players and eight Pacers players were at midcourt. Game officials and team staffers quickly broke up the brouhaha before it escalated.
“I don’t really want to discuss too much of that,” Morris said. “We played a good game, ended up losing it, but ready for the next one.”
No. 4:Pop says Crawford will be missed — News broke yesterday that after 39 seasons calling NBA games, longtime NBA referee Joey Crawford would retire following this season. And while the 64-year-old Crawford has had interactions with nearly everyone in the NBA today, his long history with the San Antonio Spurs is often invoked. Upon hearing of Crawford’s impending retirement, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that when Crawford finally hangs up his whistle, writes Jeff McDonald of the Express News, Crawford will be missed…
Despite the Spurs’ at-time checkered history with Crawford, easily the NBA’s most famous official, Popovich said the veteran of 39 NBA seasons will be missed.
“Everybody’s got to retire sometime. You and I will too,” Popovich said before the Spurs faced Houston on Saturday. “But you hate to see someone who is that good at his craft not be doing it anymore. He’s obviously been an iconic figure for a long time.”
Crawford forever became a villain to fans in San Antonio in 2007, when he ejected Tim Duncan from a game in Dallas for laughing on the bench. The league ultimately deemed that an overreaction, and suspended Crawford for the playoffs that year.
In 2008, Crawford’s no-call at the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, when Derek Fisher bumped Brent Barry on the potential game-tying shot, allowed the Lakers to take a 3-1 lead back to Los Angeles. A day later, the NBA ruled Crawford should have sent Barry to the line, leading to one of a best quotes in the quotable guard’s career.
Even so, Crawford consistently has graded out as one of the league’s top officials. He has worked 50 NBA Finals games, a number he hopes to add to after returning in March, as planned.
“He lives and breathes what he does and he does it very, very well,” Popovich said. “He will definitely be missed.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Denver’s Kenneth Faried went to a Bay Area hospital last night as a precaution following a neck injury … Tyreke Evans missed last night’s game with a sore knee, the same knee on which he had surgery earlier this season … Jeremy Lamb talks about his time in Oklahoma City … David Blatt says Kyrie Irving‘s minutes restriction is nearly over … Damian Lillard appears to be close to returning from injury … Nets rookie Chris McCullough is working toward making his NBA debut … DeMar DeRozan didn’t do much on New Year’s Eve
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VIDEO: Beyond the Paint looks at Joey Crawford
Attention coaches, players and fans: You’d better hug Joey Crawford while you can, because he’s about to give himself a pair of technical fouls.
The controversial yet respected veteran NBA referee announced he’s ready to call it a career after this, his 39th season. It would mark the end of a colorful character in recent NBA history, a referee who often gets as much attention as some players and coaches. Curiously, Crawford had a Kobe-like and Jordan-like two word response with regard to his future plans:
That’s what Crawford told his hometown paper, the Delaware County Times, yesterday. Crawford is recovering from knee surgery and hopes to return to the court on March 1. He’s 64 and feels like his time is up.
“It’s not that you lose your passion,” he said. “But it just comes a point where you say, `I don’t want to make a fool out of myself.’ And it’s been so good that I want to go out on a high note.”
Crawford has worked 50 games in the NBA Finals, an assignment reserved for the refs who grade highest. He has also worked over 300 playoff games. Two years ago he received the Golden Whistle Award, the highest honor in his profession. The NBA family has long held Crawford in high regard, even by those who argued with him and disagreed with his calls. There has always been a long-held belief that visiting teams breathed a sigh of relief when Crawford worked their games; they knew he wouldn’t be intimidated by the home atmosphere.
“It has been a good run,” he said.
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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Phoenix Suns announced late Sunday that point guard Eric Bledsoe will have surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The damage was suffered in the Suns’ loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, adding injury to insult.
This is the third torn meniscus that Bledsoe has suffered in his six-year career, but the other two were on the meniscus in his right knee. In Oct. 2011, Bledsoe had surgery to repair the meniscus and missed almost four months. In Jan. 2014, a piece of the meniscus was removed and he only missed about two months. The Suns haven’t announced a timeframe for his recovery at this point.
Saturday’s loss was seemingly rock bottom for the Suns, who have lost six of their last seven games, playing rather awful on both ends of the floor. Head coach Jeff Hornacek is reportedly on the hot seat, 10 of their next 13 games are against teams currently over .500, and 11 of their next 17 are on the road.
They still have Brandon Knight to run the offense, but they will miss Bledsoe’s defense on the ball. They’ve allowed 107.1 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would rank 28th in the league) with Knight on the floor and Bledsoe on the bench.
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