Yesterday the NBA announced the participants for the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk contest and the selections were as exciting as an episode of Mike and Molly. Unless you are an NBA degenerate you probably had a no clue who half these players were none the less which team they play for. Here’s who is they are trotting out for this year’s contest: Los Angeles Clippers Eric Bledsoe, Denver Nuggets Kenneth Faried, Utah Jazz Jeremy Evans, Indiana Pacers Gerald Green, Toronto Raptors Terrance Ross, and New York Knicks James White. That’s not exactly the Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Spud Webb, Clyde Drexel lineup from the epic 1988 contest.
I get why the NBA continues to keep the Slam Dunk contest. Like a UFC fight between two fighters that you’ve never heard of there is still a chance at seeing a killer knockout. A sweet dunk will always be awesome, regardless of who does it. The problem is that we’ve seen so many unbelievable Slam Dunk contests involving high profile players (MJ, Nique, Kobe, Vince Carter) that it’s hard to get excited about the 11th man coming off the bench for the Knicks. We’ve been down this road before with these no name players and it hasn’t ended up pretty. More often than not we are going to be disappointed because there is no star power. This year if one dunk in this contest is as good as Indiana Hoosiers Victor Oladipo’s missed dunk against Michigan then I’ll consider it a victory.
The chances of LeBron James coming to the rescue and saving the Slam Dunk contest are about as good as Lennay Kekua dethroning Katherine Webb as Miss Alabama. Since that’s not an option (which is one reason why I believe that Lebron will never be thought of as highly as Michael Jordan) we need to figure out something else. Luckily there are plenty of fantastic options to consider but one stands above the rest that will satisfy basketball fans of all ages. Get rid of the Slam Dunk contest and replace it with an NBA Jam style two on two contest.
NBA Jam is arguably the greatest sports video game ever. Anyone who was a teenager in the 90’s can probably tell you which team they used to play with (chances are it’s the Kemp/Payton Sonics or Mourning/Johnson Hornets). Since the game was so popular why not adapt it to real life and bring it to the All Star game? Aside from seeing Kate Upton naked I can’t imagine that there are many things that NBA fans would rather see than a two on two competition between the best of the best in the NBA.
Since a tournament of all 30 teams would take forever we’ll limit this to just those teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended at the All Star break. That gives us 8 teams from each conference and a perfect 16-team bracket. Sorry Lakers fans, your team isn’t as good as the Houston Rockets so Kobe Bryant will have to watch from the sidelines like he’s Brian Scalabrine (that alone would be worth the price of admission).
The format is play to 7 win by two or 10 straight up. This would allow the games to either be quick blowouts or have the potential to be down to the wire nail biters. They’ll play on a half court and when the defensive team gets a rebound they need to take it back to the three point line.
The teams would be seeded based on their regular season record. As of today’s standings (Feb 8, 2013) here’s what the bracket and potential teams would look like.
Note: For the sake of keeping this as easy as possible we are only going to allow each team to have two players. In the original NBA Jam you had the option of selecting between three players. I believe that the addition of this third player would be too much for David Stern so we’ll just keep it at two.
1 – San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan/Tony Parker
16 – Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis
8- Indiana Pacers: Paul George/David West
9- Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry/David Lee
5- New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony/JR Smith
12- Atlanta Hawks: Josh Smith/Al Horford
4- Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul*/Blake Griffin
13- Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson/Paul Milsap
6- Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson/Andre Iguodala
11- Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams/Joe Johnson
3- Miami Heat: Lebron James/Dwayne Wade
14- Boston Celtics: Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce
7- Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol
10- Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng/Carlos Boozer
2- Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook
15- Houston Rockets: James Harden/Jeremy Lin
Before the games even start there would be a few interesting storylines:
- Imagine if the Chicago Bulls had Derrick Rose. He’s still not back yet so he can’t be included. However, if he were back could him and Luol Deng have done some damage? Probably.
- Danilo Gallinari leads the Nuggets in scoring but the versatile Andre Iguodala would probably be the better option. He is an Olympian that is embracing the team concept so he shouldn’t be penalized for that.
- Once again Brook Lopez gets snubbed. Dude can’t catch a break.
- Chris Paul has been injured recently so if he’s not able to play then Jamal Crawford would fill in. I’m not sure who I’d rather see as Jamal Crawford is a crazy one on one player. Put him in a situation where you don’t have to pass and watch out.
- The basketball God’s are shining down on us as they give us two huge storyline matchup’s in round one in Oklahoma City/Houston and Miami/Boston. Will James Harden be able to give a big FU middle finger salute to his former squad? There’s no love lost between the Heat and Celtics in what will be the most explosive and heated matchup of the first round.
Here’s how I see the games unfolding.
The Spurs easily defeat the Bucks as you can’t teach winning. Brandon Jennings would be fun to watch but they don’t call Tim Duncan “Big Fundamental” for nothing. He and Parker could play with their eyes closed and still win.
The Pacers/Warriors matchup comes down to Stephen Curry vs Paul George as I consider David West and David Lee a wash. Paul George has a size advantage on Curry (6’8” to 6’3”) and even though Curry has the quickness advantage I think that George would be able to handle him. The Pacers win in a close one.
The Knicks are the most volatile and one of the more interesting teams as Carmelo and J.R. Smith both enjoy shooting like it’s going out of style. Josh Smith and Al Horford are big enough to give the Knicks a little bit of trouble but I think they can handle it as Horford and Smith aren’t the most imposing guys. You are crazy if you think that Carmelo would allow them to lose to these two guys. As long as J.R. Smith doesn’t shoot more than Carmelo then the Knicks should advance to the next round.
The Clippers defeat the Jazz easily as this is a game of two on two, not a rebounding and toughness competition. Chris Paul lets Blake Griffin do the majority of the work as he’s still not 100%. Jamal Crawford is in the stands in case Paul goes down with an injury. This could become a storyline later in the evening.
In the first upset of the night the Nets defeat the Nuggets as Williams and Johnson are just better than Lawson and Iguodola. Lawson is quick but he’s no match for Deron Williams size. Joe Johnson is also a much better two on two player than he is in five on five as he can rely more on his scoring.
In what is the most anticipated matchup of the first round the Heat defeat the Celtics 10-9 as Lebron dishes off to Dwayne Wade for the game winning shot. Kevin Garnett is one of the fiercest competitors in the NBA and he focuses solely on trying to contain Lebron. That leaves the scoring up to Paul Pierce who more than handles own versus a little longer in the tooth Dwayne Wade. Unfortunately for the Celtics you can’t stop LeBon James, you can only hope to contain him. Garnett does a great job defensively on Lebron, who under normal circumstances would score 8 out of 10 points on virtually anyone else in the NBA, but he’s just too good. He’s able to get good shots for Wade and that proves to be the difference.
The Memphis Grizzlies bring a twin towers approach and it works very well versus a Derrick Rose-less Bulls squad. Carlos Boozer isn’t known for his defense and he gets eaten alive by Marc Gasol. Luol Deng makes it interesting as he’s able to take Randolph off the dribble but it’s just not enough. The Grizzlies advance but their lack of quickness looks like it’s going to be a problem for them in the later rounds.
In what looks like a juicy matchup with James Harden coming back to play against his former team turns into the biggest blowout of the first round. Durant and Westbrook’s size and speed is harder to handle than eating at Hardee’s for consecutive meals. Jeremy Lin has more turnovers than points and James Harden is trying too hard to pick up the slack and his shots just aren’t falling. The Thunder blank the Rockets 7-0 as Durant and Westbrook flex their proverbial muscles and look like the team to beat.
In what later gets named the least exciting matchup of the tournament the Spurs lull the Pacers to sleep as Duncan and Parker’s familiarity with each other is just too much to overcome. Tim Duncan proves why he is one of the top 20 players ever to play the game and Tony Parker uses crafty vet moves like a rake to the eyes and holding on to the ropes when the ref isn’t looking to unhinge the greener Paul George. The Spurs move on though no one in the stands are excited to see them advance. Business as usual for the Spurs.
After the snooze fest that was the Spurs/Pacers the Knicks/Clippers matchup ends up being the most exciting of the second round. Craig Sager announcers before the game that Chris Paul felt some tenderness in his knee and doesn’t want to further aggravate the injury. Jamal Crawford happily steps in and starts launching shots like a battleship destroyer. Between him, Carmelo, and J.R. Smith 58 shots are taken in a 5 minute span in what is a back and forth battle early. Blake Griffin wows the crowd by throwing down some dunks that are better than anything that would have went down in the actual Slam Dunk contest. Unfortunately for the Clippers Jamal Crawford’s defense is like a combination of this years New Orleans Saints and Clemson in a bowl game and J.R. Smith ends up leading the way for the Knicks. They advance and it allows Spike Lee, who is sitting courtside, to continue to talk smack to anyone that will hear it.
The Heat/Nets matchup ends pretty quickly as LeBron James scores the first six points and completely shuts down Joe Johnson. This forces Deron Williams to take too many bad shots and before you know it the game is over. The Heat wanted a quick one as their matchup with the Celtics was both physically and mentally taxing on them.
After seeing the Heat take care of business in impressive fashion the Thunder follow suit and hand it to bigger but slower Grizzlies. The Thunder’s quickness is unstoppable as neither Randolph or Gasol can come close to stopping either Durant or Westbrook. The Thunder run away with this one and deliver what is their second consecutive blowout.
We are down to our Final Four teams and the crowd is electric. Things have played out pretty much as planned as the three biggest draws, the Heat, Thunder, and Knicks, have advanced to go with old faithful, the Spurs. David Stern is ecstatic as there is no talk of a “frozen card” to give the Knicks any sort of advantage.
The Knicks fans in the crowd are salivating like Pavlov’s dog as they see a matchup in the Finals almost a certain lock. No way the old as balls Spurs combo can hang with their savior Carmelo Anthony. What Knicks fans fail to realize is that they are the Knicks and the Spurs are the model of consistency and winning. Carmelo opens up hitting his first two shots as the crowd goes ballistic like they are in one of those NBA Action is Fantastic videos from the early 90’s. Like a veteran squad does, the Spurs don’t panic and they stick to their game plan. Play some pick and roll with Duncan and Parker mixed in with some methodical low post play by Duncan. The Spurs come back and to tie it at 3 and we’ve now got a ball game.
It’s hard to imagine any team with J.R. Smith as the focal point doing well but it’s actually happening. He’s much more athletic than Tony Parker and that’s proving to be the difference. The matchup goes back and forth and ends up tied at 7 after Tim Duncan puts in a layup. In the extra session Carmelo and Smith play some pick and roll of their own and Carmelo drills two right in Tony Parker’s face to seal it for the Knicks. The Knicks get revenge for the 98’-99’ NBA Finals as Spike Lee is losing it like he’s Dickie V watching a UNC/Duke matchup go into double overtime.
Up next is the Heat/Thunder matchup and the crowd is buzzing like it’s a Tyson fight. Everyone is there to see Kevin Durant vs LeBron James but it ends up being the Dwayne Wade vs Russell Westbrook matchup that proves to be the difference.
Durant and James go back and forth like two Heavyweight fighters. Durant with that patented jumper and James with his unstoppable drives to the hoop. They start off trading baskets but the turning point is when Russell Westbrook drives past Dwayne Wade and throws one down that has Kevin Harlan ballistically proclaiming “Russell Westbrook with no regard for human life”. This sends the crowd into a frenzy like Oprah just gave everyone a free car. Westbrook knows that he can take Wade off the dribble and this causes Lebron to have to sag on Durant. That leaves just enough space for Durant to continue to get clean looks for his J. The Heat continually match the Thunder’s buckets as Wade is making up for it on the offensive side. With the score tied at 7 Durant nails a jumper and then Westbrook grabs a long rebound off of a Dwayne Wade miss, fires it out to Durant who nails the J barely over the outstretched arms of LeBron James for the win. This looks to be a precursor to the NBA Finals yet again and hopefully will turn out to be the Magic vs. Bird of this era.
An over confident Knicks squad comes strolling in with mad swagger. J.R. Smith contemplated getting a tattoo in between games but didn’t have enough time. The Thunder walk out with a quiet confidence. They know how to win and aren’t about to buy into the hype.
With J.R. Smith feeling it after their victory over the Spurs he tries to force his shot and the tough D by the Thunder has none of it. They quickly capitalize and jump out to a 2-0 lead. Carmelo is fuming and demands the ball. He does that patent Carmelo move and nails a jumper but it doesn’t matter. The Thunder see that the Knicks are about to unravel as this is about to turn into a two on one game. Melo will no longer look to pass to J.R. Smith and that’s the end of them. The Thunder are too good, too versatile, and know how to win. They end up finishing the Knicks with relative ease 7-4, winning the first ever NBA Jam two on two competition.
Am I crazy or did that seem like way more excitement than anything that is going to go down in this years Slam Dunk contest? We want to get the conversation going so give us your thoughts below. What would you rather see and why, the Slam Dunk contest or this NBA Jam two on two competition?
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