Blake Griffin Wins Dunk Contest

With the Staples Center crowd standing on Saturday night, a choir singing at midcourt and his teammate Baron Davis launching a pass from the driver’s seat of a Kia parked below the rim, , caught the pass, finished the dunk and clinched the contest.

“I actually wanted to do a little bit more with it in the air, but when it came down to it, I didn’t want to keep jumping over the car,” Griffin said, acting as if jumping over an automobile was normal. “I just went ahead and put it in.”

The weekend has been trying for Griffin. A close friend died recently, but he played in the freshman-sophomore All-Star Game on Friday and will play in the varsity version Sunday.

When Griffin practiced the dunk Thursday, he noticed team executives in attendance. Griffin lost last season, which would have been his rookie year, to an injury.

“I realized everybody is kind of nervous about this,” Griffin said. “So I jumped over it, and I kind of looked at them and they are like, ‘All right, you can do it.’ ”

It was an entertaining dunk contest that included stuffed animals, crafty names and multiple dunks in one jump. With no props to his benefit, Washington’s JaVale McGee closed the contest by running from the baseline, throwing the ball off the backboard and slamming it in with his head. He had to adapt, he said, once Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka converted a dunk earlier that McGee planned to use.

In the last couple years, it seemed like every possible way to dunk a basketball was already conceived — successful or not — and the event had run its course. Saturday’s contestants took to innovative measures with the benefit of weeks of planning.

“All of us came prepared,” McGee said. “We came with props and everything. We came with entertainment because we definitely didn’t want to be another disappointment for the slam-dunk contest like the year before was.”

McGee dunked two basketballs on two different rims in one jump and, if that was not enough, he dunked three on one rim in a single leap for his next attempt with an assist on the last basketball from John Wall’s pass.

Ibaka dunked while rescuing a child’s toy that had “somehow” gotten stuck on the rim. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan named his dunks. The “showstopper” earned a perfect score, but he did not draw well on his dunk of the night and did not advance to the final round with Ibaka. DeRozan was a finalist in last year’s contest in Dallas.

The participants had reason to pull out anything and everything they could. The judges consisted of some of the game’s most electrifying dunkers: , James Worthy, Brent Barry, Dominique Wilkins and . They voted in the first round, but fans voted Griffin the winner.

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Celtics, Heat Go to Kobe’s House for All-Star Game

LOS ANGELES (AP) — needed only a quick survey of the All-Star rosters for the names to jump out at him.

“We’re playing the and ,” he said. “And the Hawks.”

Forget that last one. It’s those first two that should spice up Sunday night’s game on Bryant’s home floor, particularly the presence of a record-tying four players from that hated team in green.

“I think there will some boos in the stands. I’m expecting that,” said San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who will coach the Western Conference.

Boston’s will lead an East team that includes , Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. He also gets Miami’s Big Three, including and Dwyane Wade in his starting lineup.

“I can get used to that,” Rivers said.

Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Orlando’s and New York’s Amare Stoudemire are the other East starters, with Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Al Horford rounding out the reserves. But most eyes will be on the Celtics and Heat, both of whom already won at Staples Center this season.

Bryant denied gaining extra motivation from seeing them again, insisting he gets up to play anybody. But fans might feel differently if Rivers goes ahead with his previously mentioned plan and puts the four Celtics on the floor together.

“Four of them going out there, it might get your blood going,” said former Celtics All-Star and current Turner Sports analyst Kevin McHale. “I’m sure they’ll look out and think the Celtics are invading again.”

The Lakers beat the Celtics in Game 7 of last year’s NBA finals at Staples Center. An exhibition game could never replace that, but Rivers and his players would love to walk off their longtime rivals’ court as winners ahead of the chance they really want in June.

That will require the Celtics and Heat, developing their own rivalry, to play nice for a night. James said that’s no problem, recalling that his East winners in 2006 had four , the only other team to have four players picked by the coaches as reserves.

“For that weekend, as hard as it is, we’ll kind of put the rivalries and the dislikes aside for the better of the fans and the better of the game,” James said.

Rivers is glad to hear it — even if he doesn’t necessarily buy it.

“I’ve always been amazed by it, even when you know guys don’t like each other,” he said. “In this case, I don’t know if that’s true, but there are certain guys on different teams that don’t like each other. And then they’re in the All-Star game. I’ve always laughed when you see ’em like laughing and joking. You know, boy, they’re so … phony right now. That’s what you want to say. But that’s good. As long as we win the All-Star game, too, that’ll be fine.”

Joining Bryant in the West lineup will be the ‘ Chris Paul, NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City, Denver’s — yes, he’s still in the West, at least for now — and San Antonio’s , whom Popovich chose Thursday night to replace . The Houston center was voted in by fans despite being injured.

Among the west forwards are Dallas’ , the Lakers’ Pau Gasol and the ‘ Blake Griffin, the first rookie picked for the All-Star game since Yao in 2003.

Griffin headlines the field for the slam dunk contest during All-Star Saturday night, and his high-flying style should fit perfectly in Sunday’s game, where defense is usually absent for the first 3½ quarters. Setting up the hometown player is an All-Star game tradition, so what do you think, rook?

“I heard there’s another hometown guy,” Griffin said with a laugh.

That would be Bryant, who returns in front of his frenzied fans after having to sit out last year’s game at Stadium with an ankle injury. A three-time MVP of the All-Star game, he is one shy of the record held by Bob Pettit.

Wade won last year, and James earned the award while helping the East win two of the previous four contests. They could be even better together on the All-Star stage after a half-season as teammates in Miami — and would be OK with sharing the celebration with the Celtics.

“Every All-Star that I’ve been to, guys always put the season aside and focus on that weekend,” Wade said. “Being an All-Star, when you’re there, it’s special. It’s special to look around in that locker room and say, ‘Man, I’m blessed to be one of the best players that this game has to offer.’ It’s just a special time.”

As usual, there’s business along with the festivities. Representatives from the owners and players met Friday to discuss a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires June 30. Though there wasn’t much progress, there also wasn’t the acrimony of a year ago, when the players shot down the owners’ original proposal for a new deal at All-Star weekend.

And perhaps Denver will move closer to finding a deal for Anthony, who has refused to sign the contract extension they offered him last summer, forcing them to consider trading their leading scorer before Thursday’s deadline to avoid losing him for nothing when he becomes a free agent in July.

The events Saturday include the 3-point contest, where Pierce and Allen could go head-to-head. Pierce is the defending champion, Allen won a decade ago and will be back on the floor where he set an NBA finals record last year by making eight 3-pointers in Game 2.

They’ve exchanged some playful trash talk, but the feud with the Heat that has to be set aside the next night is real.

“I don’t think you truly relax and say, ‘Hey, we’re best buddies,’ because we’re in the All-Star game together,” Allen said. “There’s an honest camaraderie amongst all of the players, but there’s a hatred that exists.”

McHale predicts some players will get caught up trying to dazzle what’s sure to be the usual celebrity-filled crowd Sunday night, especially if the game becomes one-sided. But if it’s tight, he and Popovich agree that both teams will be focused on trying to win it.

“I think these guys are pretty happy to be doing what they’re doing, but if the game is close and it’s down the stretch, I think they’ll go after each other and play to win, I really do,” Popovich said. “They’re all competitors, that’s what they do.”

___

AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen and Howard Ulman in Boston, and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

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Celtics’ Rivers to Coach Eastern Conference All

Filed at 9:31 a.m. ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – of the will coach the Eastern Conference in the February 20 All-Star game in Los Angeles, the NBA says.

Rivers got the nod because the Celtics (37-11) have clinched the top record in the East through games of February 6.

The Celtics lead the by three games and the by 3.5.

Boston clinched the best record with a 95-90 win over the on Tuesday at Arco Arena.

Rivers, 49, coached the East team to a 134-128 victory in the 2008 All-Star Game in New Orleans.

San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich earlier was named the West coach for the game at the Staples Center.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina. Editing by Steve Ginsburg)

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