When Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Los Angeles phenom Blake Griffin met on Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre it was a preview of what was to come this weekend at the NBA’s slam dunk competition.
Griffin is the clear favourite, though DeRozan says the only time he has ever lost a dunk contest was at last year’s all-star weekend.
While Griffin had one spectacular jam on Sunday, DeRozan had the dunk of the night and even stared down the Clippers bench afterwards.
DeRozan said there wasn’t any malice intended or any message trying to be sent:
“It’s just fun to get out and run and get a dunk. I don’t get to dunk as much as Blake during a game,” he said.
Griffin and the young Raptor had a discussion at the conclusion of the game about the dunk contest.
“He told me we definitely have to make (the contest) fun and entertaining for the fans and everything,” DeRozan said.
“Then he tried to ask me what I was going to do and I tried to ask him the same thing. Neither one of us wanted to tell the other what we were doing.”
Griffin’s teammate Al-Farouq Aminu said he can’t wait for the event, because he knows what DeRozan can do.
“I remember DeRozan in the dunk contest when we were in the McDonald’s (All-American high school) Game, he did some pretty cool dunks,” Aminu said.
“But I guess I have to go for my Clipper since I see him night in and night out do some amazing dunks. I think it might come down to creativity. It will be fun, hopefully Blake wins it.”
DeRozan said he has settled on four dunks he is ready to try and added each of them are “ones I have never done (in previous competitions) before.”
NOT A ONE-TRICK PONY
Griffin’s teammate Chris Kaman thinks those who dismiss Griffin as one-dimensional are way off-base.
“No, I don’t think Blake’s just a dunker, I’ve seen games where teams don’t let him dunk and he still gets 30 or 35 points,” Kaman told the Sun recently.
“He has ability to do other things. He can mix it up and it’s only a matter of time until he gets his free throws locked down.”
Griffin is only about a 60% free throw shooter and could approach 30 points a game territory if he connected on a higher percentage.
Griffin said his dad Tommy, his long-time coach growing up never says anything to him about his highlight-producing jams.
“We don’t talk about dunks,” Griffin said. “He doesn’t (let the younger Griffin get a big head). “It’s more like just a normal dad talking to his kid.”
AROUND THE RIM
Boston forward Paul Pierce had an MRI on Monday on his hurting foot and hand, but he is just banged up and will play on Wednesday against New Jersey ... Speaking of the Nets, forward Troy Murphy could be dealt by the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Head coach Avery Johnson has kept Murphy out of the lineup for most of the season. New Jersey is looking for young talent or picks, but a lot of teams in similar situations – including the Raptors with Reggie Evans – have similar players to offer ... Lakers star Kobe Bryant missed shootaround on Monday with flu-like symptoms but is not expected to miss any time ... The Warriors have taken a lot of flack for choosing big man Ekpe Udoh when Ed Davis and Greg Monroe were available, but the rookie has come on of late, including a career-high 16-point effort on Thursday. Monroe is the most talented offensively out of the three, but Davis and Udoh both have shown signs of becoming standout defenders.
Pass on the Mayo
O.J. Mayo’s 10-game suspension ends on Tuesday, but quietly, the Memphis Grizzlies have done quite fine without him.
Memphis went 8-2 minus Mayo and has been one of the major surprises in the West this season.
The bench has improved without the former high draft pick and he will not simply be handed minutes upon his return.
Mayo’s name continues to be prominently mentioned in NBA trade chatter and there is a very good chance he is moved prior to the deadline.
Mayo was once the first option in Memphis, but things have changed.
For one, Zach Randolph is having a career year. Randolph was robbed of an all-star berth. Not many players are putting up the numbers Randolph is (20.2 points, 13.2 rebounds) and Rudy Gay has emerged as all-star calibre as well.
Marc Gasol continues to be a force in the middle while point guard Mike Conley has responded to a hefty contract extension with some fine play. The bench has also looked strong, especially while Mayo was out of the lineup.
Games of the week
Tuesday Utah at Phoenix
Great point guard matchup with playoff implications.
Wednesday Miami at Toronto
Chris Bosh makes return to Canada. Sure to be noisy.
Thursday San Antonio at Chicago
West’s best meet East’s darkhorse.
Wizards win ‘Like Christmas’
The Washington Wizards have been lucky enough to have their ineptitude hidden for most of the season because of the struggles of others.
But with Cleveland ending its NBA-record 26-game losing streak recently and Toronto snapping its 13-game embarrassment as well, Washington had the title of biggest loser all to itself for a few days.
However, these are bad times for fans of long losing streaks and Washington finally joined Cleveland and Toronto in the winners’ circle on Sunday when the team won on the road for the first time this season by beating Cleveland on Sunday.
Washington earned its first road victory after 14 home wins thanks to 19 points and 14 assists from rookie John Wall.
Wall said the win was “like Christmas.” Washington had gone 0-25 on the road, four off the record for road losses to start a season set in 1992-93 by the Dallas Mavericks.
The game could have been a classic if only Cleveland’s losing streak had still been running. Think of the marketing potential: “Somebody’s got to win!” could have been the tag-line.
Sad to see Sloan gone
The end of an era came suddenly and unexpectedly last week when Utah Jazz icon Jerry Sloan stepped down after 23 years on the bench there.
Sloan simply did not want to deal with the rigours of today’s NBA. He no longer had the strength or patience to deal with the headstrong athletes he went toe-to-toe with for years.
And that’s a shame.
The NBA is a far worse place minus Sloan, a Hall of Fame player with the Chicago Bulls, who led the Jazz to two finals losses to Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
The old guard of coaches is riding off into the sunset.
Sloan’s gone, Phil Jackson will join him at the end of the year, Larry Brown was let go by Charlotte earlier this season and even Rockets coach Rick Adelman, who has been involved with the NBA since being drafted back in 1968, has said he will think long and hard about his future in the off-season.
Hey, Cousins, get it together
The Sacramento Kings might have upset Phoenix 113-108 on Sunday night, but things are not good in Northern California.
Uber-skilled rookie centre DeMarcus Cousins can’t get along with reigning rookie of the year Tyreke Evans and it is causing major problems in the locker room.
Cousins was suspended by the team for the game after expressing his anger towards teammate Donte Greene when Greene ignored Cousins and went to Evans for the final shot of a recent loss.
Cousins has been outstanding on the court the past two months, so a lot of his immaturity issues have been glossed over, but it is becoming apparent why so many teams passed on a guy who talent-wise might have been the top available player in the 2010 draft (or at least second-best to former Kentucky teammate John Wall).
Minus Cousins, Montreal’s Samuel Dalembert went off for 18 points and 15 rebounds, helping Sacramento out-rebound Phoenix by 15 boards.
Dalembert is a free agent after the season, meaning Sacramento needs to find a way to get Cousins on-board with the fact that this is Evans’ team.
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Power rankings (Not including Monday’s games)
1. San Antonio Spurs (45-9) Lost to Sixers but that was just a minor blip.
2. Boston Celtics (39-14) Just 1-2 on week, but win was huge one over Heat.
3. Dallas Mavericks (38-16) Peja Stojakovic fitting in well.
4. L.A. Lakers (38-17) Loss to Magic a concern.
5. Miami Heat (39-15) Can’t beat the best teams, a sign of things to come in playoffs?
6. Chicago Bulls (36-16) Rose made recent statement by outplaying Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
7. Orlando Magic (35-21) Inconsistent, but tough to beat when rolling.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (34-19) Need an upgrade in the middle to beat the big dogs.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (30-24) LaMarcus Aldridge should have been an all-star.
10. Atlanta Hawks (33-20) Blew 22-point lead against Bobcats.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (30-26) Have to expect an O.J. Mayo trade given how they did without him.
12. New Orleans Hornets (33-23) Having a hard time getting by minus Emeka Okafor.
13. Denver Nuggets (31-24) Have to be one of biggest surprises of the season given off-court drama.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (26-28) Is Doug Collins coach of the year?
15. Indiana Pacers (24-28) Continue to surge under new coach (7-1 under Frank Vogel).
16. New York Knicks (27-26) Seem to be distracted by the Carmelo rumours.
17. Phoenix Suns (26-26) Poised for a major second-half drop.
18. Houston Rockets (25-30) Actively seeking a trade.
19. Utah Jazz (31-24) Iconic coach is gone and so is the magic in Utah.
20. Golden State Warriors (24-29) Big win over Oklahoma City.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (20-33) Would be good if they could hit shots.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (23-31) Hanging around in playoff race.
23. Detroit Pistons (20-35) Still making puzzling lineup decisions.
24. L.A. Clippers (20-34) Eric Gordon should win most improved player. L.A. stinks without him.
25. Sacramento Kings (13-38) DeMarcus Cousins a massive distraction.
26. Toronto Raptors (15-40) Ed Davis, DeMar DeRozan making major statements.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-41) Beat Houston and New Orleans on the road.
28. New Jersey Nets (17-38) A long way from respectability.
29. Washington Wizards (15-38) Road win was huge, but roster still needs to be changed.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-46) Finally got monkey off backs with a win.
— Ryan Wolstat