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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tyreke Evans Earns MVP Honors as Rookies End Sophomores' Seven Game Rookie Challenge Winning Streak

For many years the Rookie Challenge provided compelling evidence regarding the value of experience: the Sophomores beat the Rookies eight of the 10 times that the Challenge used the current format, including the last seven games in a row--but top notch performances by several first year guards plus a 20-20 effort by DeJuan Blair powered the Rookies to a 140-128 win on Friday night. Fans voted Tyreke Evans as the MVP; he certainly put up great numbers--a team-high 26 points on 11-15 field goal shooting, plus six rebounds and five assists--but he received a lot of support from backcourt mates Brandon Jennings (22 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and James Harden (22 points, five assists, four rebounds). Blair amassed 22 points, 23 rebounds and four assists, topping all other rebounders by at least 16 boards! All five rookie starters scored in double figures: Evans, Jennings, Blair, Stephen Curry (14 points) and Omri Casspi (13 points). Russell Westbrook made a strong MVP bid even though his team lost: 40 points on 18-29 field goal shooting plus five rebounds and four assists. Westbrook shot just 2-8 from three point range but he is at his best when he plays like a "power guard," bullying his way into the paint against defenders who cannot match his strength, reminiscent a bit of James "Captain Late" Silas. Michael Beasley added 26 points and seven rebounds for the Sophomores.

Sophomore Coach Patrick Ewing was less than thrilled with his team's performance: "We got our butts kicked on every aspect of the game. They had 52 rebounds. They had 140 points. I know it's the All‑Star Game, but you know, we didn't play with enough pride in my eyes. They outplayed us. They outhustled us. They outscrapped us."

Except for a few spurts, defense was just a rumor throughout the evening, though fortunately matters did not reach the farcical level that they have in some of the previous years when the game degenerated into an informal slam dunk contest. In a sense, this kind of game gives a casual fan a glimpse into just how intense NBA defense usually is in the regular season (let alone the playoffs)--because when players with NBA talent get on the court and only defend sporadically you end up with a 140-128 score in a 40 minute game!

Instead of a conventional halftime show, the NBA staged its first ever "All-Star Dunk-In" as Demar DeRozan and Eric Gordon squared off for the right to be the fourth contestant in Saturday night's Slam Dunk Contest. Each player had two minutes to make two dunks, with misses not counting. Then fans determined the winner by either voting via text message or by logging on to NBA.com to make their selection. Gordon's made dunks were probably more impressive than DeRozan's but the problem is that Gordon prefaced those successful dunks with several misses that drained a lot of energy from his performance. In the end, DeRozan received 61% of the vote, a rout by Presidential election standards. DeRozan claimed that he held something back to use on Saturday, which suggests that he was very confident about his dunking skills vis a vis Gordon--or perhaps he is just trying to plant some doubts in the minds of Nate Robinson, Shannon Brown and Gerald Wallace; we'll find out in less than 24 hours.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:37 AM

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