Saturday, February 16, 2008

Live Blogging All-Star Saturday Night

It's All-Star Saturday Night and I'm back high above the court at New Orleans Arena for all the pageantry of this evening, highlighted by the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout and the Sprite Slam Dunk.

With all the traffic in New Orleans, thank goodness there are special lanes set aside for the media buses that ferry us back and forth the mile or so between the arena and the downtown hotels. I'm also thankful most everything else is within walking distance of the hotel - I'm getting my exercise this weekend for sure. As for the buses, they feature an interesting cross-section of the international media that makes up a good portion of the press contingent at the All-Star Game, some local beat writers and the national folks. There are also about a half-dozen of us from the various team sites here in town and it's been fun to meet guys I have e-mailed with for the Opposing View in the past.

We walked off the bus about quarter of six, earlier than yesterday (the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam got underway an hour later than tonight's events), allowing me to see the New Orleans Arena in the light of days. The outside is sort of a light teal - I've never seen anything like that with an arena. Incidentally, and I hate to make you jealous, but the weather today was gorgeous - about 70 degrees and sunny. I can't tell you how nice it is to walk around without a coat for the first time since probably September.

Note: Wireless issues kept me from blogging live until the Sprite Slam Dunk. Here's a recap of the evening.

Haier Shooting Stars: The first contest of the evening is also the most interesting in terms of the various competitors. To refresh your memory, one current NBA player, one legend and one WNBA player representing an organization/city join together to make shots from various locations as quickly as possible.

You have all sorts of player combinations. The San Antonio team had two seven-footers (Tim Duncan and David Robinson) and Becky Hammon, who goes all of about 5-6. Fortunately, no team was loaded with all shooters. Alas, skill is often secondary in this competition to luck on the three-point shot. That proved out in the finals, as the Chicago team (B.J. Armstrong, Chris Duhon and Candice Dupree) did fine through the early spots but needed 16 shots from halfcourt to just two from the victorious San Antonio squad.

Robinson, despite showing some rust on his first shot (which took him seven tries), looks like he could suit up today if need be.

Playstation Skills Challenge: This competition has drawn some great fields in recent years, and this group was no exception - three great point guards in Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams and the two-time defending champ Dwyane Wade. It came down to Paul and Williams in a fitting final round between two players from the 2005 NBA Draft who are often pitted against each other by the media. Williams was basically perfect in setting a record with a time of 25.5 seconds. Paul wasn't bad with a score of 31.2, but the hometown favorite was denied.

"He told me to go slow and he was going to go fast and he was going to win," Williams said afterwards. His response? "I can't do that."

Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout: This year's shootout got off to a slow start with subpar performances from Steve Nash (9) and Richard Hamilton (14). I'm not sure Hamilton was helped by practicing 15-footers in the warmup period instead of threes. He lost two shots for having his foot on the line.

Things got more exciting when hometown favorite Peja Stojakovic came up. Stojakovic needed a score of at least 14 to stay alive for the finals and didn't look likely to get there after missing seven of his first 10 shots. He heated up, however, and the crowd got louder with each make as Stojakovic hit seven of his last nine shots to score 15. The joy was short-lived, however, as Jason Kapono put up an effortless 20 to eliminate Stojakovic and move to the finals with Daniel Gibson and Dirk Nowitzki.

I'm sitting next to Damien Pierce of and Micah Hart of (beaming from his team's deal for Mike Bibby earlier today), both of them Texas alumni rooting for ex-Longhorn Gibson. After a score of 17, Gibson was alive, and he finished ahead of Nowitzki (14). But the night belonged to defending champ Kapono, who dazzled the crowd by making 20 of his 25 shots, including all five money balls. That gave him a score of 25, tying Craig Hodges' record from way back in 1986. He is a machine. Simply, Jason Kapono was born for the Shootout.

Sprite Slam Dunk: One round of dunks is in the books and already we've been dazzled. Dwight Howard's dunk off the back of the backboard, going from one side to the other to finish, was truly something we've never seen before. If he had pulled it off on his first try, we might have all gone home. Even on try number two, it was still an obvious 50.

Gerald Green also got creative, blowing out a candle on a cupcake placed on the rim by teammate Rashad McCants while in midair. Love the idea. Jamario Moon's 180 dunk was more conventional but equally impressive, and he's tied with Green at 46 behind Howard. Rudy Gay (37) lags behind after a relatively pedestrian dunk (which still is incredibly amazing, but we're speaking relatively here).

... The finals are set: It will be Green, the defending champ, against my pick going in, Howard. Howard earned another 50 and brought down the house by donning a cape, taking off his jersey to reveal a Superman t-shirt and throwing in - not really dunking, exactly - a dunk after taking off just inside the free-throw line. 7-footers are not supposed to be able to do that. Nobody is supposed to be able to do that!

Green's second dunk, a windmill off a McCants feed at the rim, advanced by one point over Moon. Moon hurt himself by putting the tape down at 17 feet, where he was reportedly able to dunk from, and then jumping inside the charity stripe. His dunk, a lefty finish from way out off of a bounce from the busy Jason Kapono, was still impressive but expectations built up because of the tape. If Moon had pulled off the dunk from 17 feet, it would have been the greatest dunk ever seen.

Remember that you the fans will decide tonight's winner via text message or Here's the explanation so you can cast your vote! I just can't wait to see what Howard has in store after his two efforts in the first round.

... After one dunk in the second round, the night remains Dwight Howard's. Green pulled off a very difficult dunk, going between his legs off a bounce from McCants, but it paled in comparison to Howard volleyballing the ball off the backboard with his left hand and dunking it with his right while on the other side of the rim. Are you kidding me?

... The dunking is in the books. Unfortunately, Dwight Howard's final dunk might have been his least impressive. It was a creative idea - placing the ball on a mini-basket (Magic-branded, natch) and then windmill dunking, but just didn't play out as well as the other dunks. Gerald Green's final attempt also fell flat. As Dr. J points out, what he did - dunking in his green-stockinged feet - is very difficult, but it doesn't make a great visual. The crowd definitely favored Howard and I'm going to to cast my vote for Dwight. Make yours count!

... It's official. Dwight Howard earned 78% of the votes cast by fans to win the Sprite Slam Dunk. While I enjoyed Nate Robinson's win two years ago as a proud Husky, I think this was the best Slam Dunk competition in years. I love the way the NBA used the Internet to build hype and interest. It really helped out my enjoyment. While I always enjoy watching All-Star Saturday Night on TV, being here in the arena and feeling the response of the crowd made this really special. It was a blast.

Update: Here's Dwight Howard's post-victory press conference: