By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Feb 12 2010 11:43PM
The tricky part wasn't winning, DeMar DeRozan said, a few moments after he did that Friday night in the NBA's first-ever Dunk-In preliminary round at All-Star weekend.
The tricky part was winning while holding something back for the real deal, the Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
DeRozan, a Toronto Raptors rookie swingman, beat Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon in a one-round, two-dunks-each, single-elimination competition decided by fan voting via text or online clicks. DeRozan received 61 percent of the votes in results tallied almost immediately after the halftime event in Friday's Rookie Challenge game.
"I got a lot more for tomorrow. A lot more energy,'' DeRozan said. "I just wanted to make sure I got past this. Try to not, y'know, not show too much.''
DeRozan, a wiry 6-foot-7, advanced to the dunk finals with two masterful if unspectacular attempts. On his first, he drove in from the right side, put the ball under his right leg, then jammed home a reverse with his left hand. On his second and last, he slashed in from way on the left side before cranking down a windmill slam.
In between, the powerfully built Gordon tried for something a little more dramatic but fell prey to repeated false starts. First he tried to bounce the ball for a catch-and-finish but one of his five set-ups went into the basket by itself and the other four were off target. Then the Clippers' second-year guard tried to bounce the ball off the glass and slam the carom, but it took two tries to complete that one.
After DeRozan's final dunk, Gordon brought Memphis guard O.J. Mayo, a teammate on the sophomore squad, for an assist. (Gordon was a participant in the Rookie Challenge, so having to perform during halftime might have been a little much.) Mayo had to scoop an alley-oop for Gordon a couple times before Gordon caught and threw one down.
The moral of this story: Don't miss. Recent protracted dunk ordeals involving Nate Robinson and Chris Andersen might have made fans and viewers appreciative of DeRozan's efficiency.
"Oh yeah, you can't miss, especially in a dunk contest,'' the Raptors player said. "You try something, you get all the aahs. But then you miss and you've got to try it again. You don't get as much oohs and aahs as you would have if you made it.''
Then there's the effort expended, Gordon said. "I was getting tired and when you keep on using your energy on each dunk, and you keep on missing, it takes a lot of energy out of you,'' he said. "Luckily I finally finished them.''
Of the misses and the votes they might have cost him, he said: "I wasn't consistent enough. If I would have finished them, then toss [the verdict] up on the air.''
DeRozan mounted a mini-campaign -- complete with a Web site (www.letdemardunk.com) -- to get invited to this weekend's proceedings. Now he'll be on center stage in Saturday's nightcap event. "I've got some stuff for tomorrow,'' he said, revealing only that Toronto teammate Sonny Weems will serve as his set-up man at some point. Seems that Weems won a dunk contest himself in college and has been offering some ideas.
"That's the whole reason he's going to help me,'' DeRozan said.
The rookie sees Robinson, the undersized-but-no-longer-underdog Slam Dunk champ in 2006 and 2009, as the favorite in the finals. "I've got to go with Nate. Nate is the defender,'' DeRozan said. "He's about 5-foot-nothin'. You know he's going to try to come with something special and something new. You can't count him out.''
For another 24 hours, you can't count out DeRozan either.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
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Anderson Varejao fights for the rebound and comes down awkwardly on his left leg and would sustain a leg injury.
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